Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trip to Uttarakhand - Chopta, a mesmerizing beauty

This was a trip that I had somehow betrayed last year. A solo trip then, a solo trip now!
And what a trip! And what a place, what sceneries….slices of heaven!

Reaching Chopta

Last minute bookings landed me on the LTT HW AC SUP express to Haridwar. If anyone is taking this train, please be aware that there is no pantry and it stops at very few stations. So food is a major problem. I arrived at Haridwar at 2:00 pm. The good part about traveling in trains is that you spend considerable time in it and then…you strike conversations, with strangers, unknown faces and you realize how similar and how different the lives of others are. This time around I struck lots of such conversations and it was fun – right from the stories of the Pilsbury chef from Rishikesh to the loud mouth guy from Delhi!

If you are traveling to the mountains in Uttarakhand, you need to bear in mind that reaching them itself is an arduous task and you can spend your entire day just traveling to your destination. It is very important that you go as forward as you can on that single day so that you save time the next day for the rest of the travel. I wasted no time, had a quick bite of aloo parathas (which I was to regret extensively later) at a joint near to the Haridwar bus stand, and embarked on my journey to Rishikesh.  As the bus snaked out of Haridwar, I noticed that that the river bed where the great Ganges would have been flowing some months back was devoid of the holy water and all that was left over was countless white pebbles with children playing and others defecating. Not a drop of water considering the devastation the torrent had caused a few months back; destroying entire houses and families in the deluge.

From Rishikesh, I managed a bus only to Garhwal Srinagar and not Rudraprayag as I had wanted to and halted there for the night. A point to be made here is, if you can spend some extra moolah; please prefer jeeps than the state transport or private buses. The way they drive will get your innards jumping and you will feel pukish in no time. I too let out a torrent in no time. Even though the jeeps stuff you like chicken, yet better than the buses. The cold was catching up now.

Early morning I was out in the cold waiting to be taken to Rudraprayag. If you decide to travel in a jeep, rest assured to spend at least an hour waiting and consider that in your travel time because the vehicle will not leave until it is jam packed. You might have to wait for as long as 3 hrs sometimes as I did while returning back at Rudraprayag. Finally I traveled by bus. From Rudraprayag I went to Ukhimath in a jeep. Rudraprayag is a small town boasting the confluence of two huge rivers viz. the Alakananda and the Mandakini. It is a halt over destination for most travelers traveling to Kedarnath, Badrinath and other popular tourist and religious destinations in upper Uttarakhand. The drive from Rudraprayag to Ukhimath gave a glimpse of the devastation that had happened a few months back. In some places, the roads were completely missing, gone down, washed away by the flood. The makeshift roads were just spacious enough for one vehicle and if you saw a vehicle already entering that path, you had to patiently wait till he covered the entire stretch and crossed you. At some places, the roads were really dangerous, both due to the floods and due to the landslides. At places, there are chances of the vehicle toppling as it steers on the edges of the mountains. From Ukhimath to Chopta, where my camp was, the roads are very smooth. Driving through the jungle ghats with Garhwali music playing on the car stereo and tall forest trees lining the roads, we reached the Alpine Adventure Campsite in Chopta.

The campsite is strategically and scenically located 7 kms from Chopta in a place called Dugalbitta, in a meadow, a small valley with a panoramic view of the tall mountains. The view that lay in front of my tent was mind boggling. The snow clad peaks of Kedarnath, Mandani and Chaukhamba right before me eyes and the naked Chandrashila peak behind me was right out of a picture postcard. Looking at my Swiss tent brought a contentedness. It was big enough with a king size bed, a small table, 2 chairs, attached toilet and bathroom. Smoothened stones formed the flooring of the bathroom. Taking a quick hot bath, I sat for lunch facing the snow clad mountains and it couldn’t have been a better ambiance. Soaring eagles, chirping birds, magpies dragging their tails like gliding paper airplanes, the looming silence, the clear skies, a distinct cloud looking puny floating across a mountain; the food just felt like an excuse!

I sat out with my book for quite a while and then went for a walk with the camp owner Manoj Negi and his friend. He showed me the nearby bungalow built by the Britishers which had the privilege of having Mrs.Indira Gandhi as its guest. We walked till an opening which gave a clearer view of the mountains. Then we trekked for a few minutes to an opening in the middle of the forest which gave an even better panoramic view. As we walked back to our campsite, the sun was setting and the golden hue engulfing the mountains was unbelievable.

Another magical sight I saw at the camp was the rising of the moon exactly from the peak of Chandrashila; a full moon. It felt like an undeterred romance between the moon and the mountain, the silhouettes of the swaying trees in the dark like a performing choir, the gleaming snow on the slanting slopes blessing the couplet. If this was not a marriage made in heaven, then what was? The spreading light of the moon made the snow clad mountains look white washed.

As I crawled in the thick blankets donning my monkey cap and gloves, the temperature fell to just a little above zero degree Celsius. Ever tried turning pages wearing leather gloves? Quite a task, I must say, so I read only for some time and then pushed off early in anticipation of a great trek to Deoriatal the next morning.

Distances, time and modes of transport

Travel itinerary
Time required (may vary with traffic, land slides and road conditions)
Mode of Transport
Haridwar to Rishikesh
20 kms
1 – 1 ½ hrs
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 33 (Bus)

Rishikesh to Srinagar
106 kms
3 – 3 ½ hrs
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 140 (Bus), ~ INR 100 (
Sharing Jeep)

Srinagar to Rudraprayag
35 kms
1 hr
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 45 (Bus), ~ INR 100 (
Sharing Jeep)

Rudraprayag to Ukhimath
43 kms
2 – 3 hrs
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 80 (Sharing Jeep), ~ INR 80 (Bus)
Roads were in a bad shape when I visited
Ukhimath to Chopta
30 kms
40 mins – 1 hr
Car./Jeep Sharing jeeps don’t ply here and you need to book a vehicle. Buses used to go through this route but due to the recent disaster, that service has been discontinued until further notice. The frequency of buses anyway is poor.
INR 800 – 1200
The road conditions are very good

A misty morningin Garhwal Srinagar as I waited for the bus for Rudraprayag

The Malabar whistling thrush

My tent at Alpine Adventure Camp, Dugalbitta

View of the Kedarnath and Mandani peaks from the campsite

Alpine Adventure Camp

The range of snow clad mountains

Zoomed kedarnath peak


Ghar ka khaana

Picture perfect


The guest house built by the Britishers in 1925

Me and Manoj Negi

Chandrashila peak

Magpie Jungle Camp

Alpine Adventure Camp

Kitchen of Alpine Adventure Camp

What a view!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nagaon - Cricket on the beach!

Nagaon Beach (09th Nov 2013)

Nagaon beach - all to ourselves!
          Beaches somehow don’t enthrall me that much, but I guess the group was a little weary of the same old trekking and needed another kind of getaway. So we planned a short visit to Nagaon beach near Alibaug. The list of beach bums was more or less constant this time, 10 former and present colleagues to be precise. Special migratory couple from Gujarat also joined us on this trip and PP, the profile princess also joined (He just couldn’t stop requesting for profile pics for facebook). The new entrant was Sumit Jagtap. It was also different this time since we behaved richer and went by cars instead of the usual local transport. Andy’s Ertiga and Jitesh’s Vento flew us to our destination.

          Our initial plan of leaving early was disturbed by Andy and group coming late and I had to face the brunt throughout the trip from Chu Chida and Profile Pravin. On the way we halted at Ekveera restaurant near Karnala and had our usual missal paavs and wada usals, the only things available on the breakfast menu – a huge relief for Chu Chida since he was almost fainting from hunger - Never bring children on such trips!

          We reached Nagaon by around 1 pm and were desperately hunting for our booked hotel Niwant. Hotel Niwant ( is an MTDC approved homestay type of hotel and is about a km further from the way to the beach. We had a room to accommodate ten people together with an open terrace. There are other a/c and non/ac rooms downstairs. The service is good. We immediately ordered for our lunch and really feasted on it. It was fantastic local food, both the veg and non-veg grubs. Once the feast was over, the lazy bums wanted to rest their bums and spoiled the initial plan of going to Kankeshwar Temple which is around 14 - 16 kms from Nagaon. Nagesh and I tried every possible way to disturb the sleeping fancies by playing cricket in the room and hitting the ball all over them but then we expressed pity on them and went to play downstairs.  Sumit, Nagesh and I played one-tappi out below the coconut trees and Sumit was clean bowled for at least 5 times…haha!!

          It was waky waky time for others as we kicked and abused and finally left for the beach at 4 pm. When I had visited Nagaon beach about 4 years back, it used to be pretty secluded but now there were huge crowds of people come out to enjoy the weekend. The beach is clean and is a long stretch where you can pick up your own spot either for a romantic rendezvous or mingle in the crowd. The beach is lined with Suru trees. There are water sports available at Nagaon like Banana boat ride, para sailing, speed boats etc. Horse rides and cart rides also feature! It was low tide when we entered into the water and till quite a distance the water level was pretty low. Water anywhere is pretty luring and we had great fun jumping and splashing in the water. As usual, no event can end normally with Chu Chida around and everyone involuntarily cornered him and hurled sand all over his body. As the sun was setting Chida was turning brown!

          Then came the main event of this beach trip…Cricket! Nagesh’s Ch… vs Soumen’s Bhoots! We won the toss and elected to bat and pulled out a decent score in spite of Profile Pravin wasting the entire over and then getting out. Till then we didn’t know that he was an impostor in our team and was bought by the opposite team. We almost won the match but Profile Pravin, like Ishant Sharma, as they say….showed his aukad and was hit sixes on practically every ball and we lost. Nagesh and Chida danced jubilantly like the ‘Chak De’ hockey team girls.

          Returning back, we saw lots of wet stuff walking on two legs. Everybody drooled – just human man! Returning back at the hotel, we cleaned ourselves of the beach sand by the spouting water from the pipe in the garden. That was fun too!! Then we went for a walk in the countryside, had ice creams and bought booze for the boozers. As usual Profile Pravin had his unique demand of Tuborg…we are getting used to him! Back at the hotel, the boozing party begun with a singing session but wasn't enjoyed as much as we did on the Bhimashankar trek. Then came dinner and with it came Bhai stories which was listened to with rapt attention. Pravin had just read the book ‘From Dongri to Dubai’ and was narrating excerpts from it and Jitesh had his own incidents to tell.

          While others went to sleep, 5 of us played cards till the wee hours of morning. In fact we were planning to drive home with the first rays of the sun but finally left at 7 am. Chida lost a lot, Pravin and I won and Chida has promised not to play again with us. Khelega kya Chida? ‘Tereko actual mein chu banaya’ J . Nagesh as usual knew all the roads and misled us continuously, but we reached home earlier than we anticipated (Pravin, Chida, Sumit and me not having slept a wink – and I drove most of the journey…pat my back please!!). A fun trip with a big enough group and it turned out to be the lowest budget trip.

A bit about Nagaon
  • Nagaon is about 10 kms from Alibaug and though currently not secluded, you can find your own spot and have fun if you do not want to mingle with the crowd. It’s a long stretch of sand.
  • The water levels are pretty low during low tide.
  • As I have mentioned water sports are available.
  • There are a lot of staying options around the beach and a little away from it too, depending on the damage you can handle on your pocket.
  • Try the local culinary treats and have sol kadi for sure (I had 5-6 glasses each time!)
  • The other spots nearby are Alibaug beach and Colaba fort on Alibaug beach, Kihim beach, Akshi beach and Kankeshwar Devasthan which is supposed to be scenic since on a hill top (We missed it this time).
  • Mumbai to Nagaon distance - around 100 kms

Idhar paani udhar pathar aur beach mein hum

Beach buddies

Ghoda gaadi pe sawaari

Bhai's from Gujarat

Ever seen so many wicket keepers?? Nobody wants to field!!

Waving flag

Cricket on the beach

Watch tower - Baywatch ishtyle

Frolicking in the water

Chal Dhanno!!

Lakdi ki gaadi - asli ka ghoda

Bat man

The group minus Nagesh

Posing at Cadbury Naaka Thane - where it all began

Hungry faces at Ekvira Restaurant

Hotel Ekvira - Near Karnala

Feasting on local food!

What a banquet!

Hotel Niwant entrance

Our room at hotel Niwant

Hotel Niwant - Courtyard

Hotel Niwant

Standing tall