LOKTAK LAKE – WORLDS ONLY FLOATING WILDLIFE PARK

Manipur, located in a lush green corner of North East India, is an oval shaped valley surrounded by nine ranges of bluish green hills intertwined with cascading rapids, carpets of flowers and lazy lakes. Blessed with an amazing variety of flora and fauna, over two–thirds of the geographical areas of Manipur are hill tract covered with lush green forests. In addition to vast tracts of bamboo forests, Manipur also has alpine forests dotted with pines, grasslands and meadows at Dzuko. Some of the most beautiful and precious blooms of Siroi and other colourful orchids abound in their natural habitat in these forests. About 500 varieties of orchids grow in Manipur out of which 472 have been identified. The Hoolock Gibbon, Slow Loris, spotted Linshang, Mrs. Hume’s Barbacked pheasant, Blyth’s Tragopan and Hornbills form only a part of the rich natural heritage of Manipur.

In Manipur, all rivers and rivulets, except for a handful converge and meet at the Loktak Lake.  Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and is home to a diverse range of aquatic plants and animals.

This lake is a unique tourism destination, offering visitors excellent opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the lake and its several islands of floating “phumdis” of different geometrical shapes. Loktak is also called the only floating lake in the world due to these floating phumdis. Phumdis are a mass of vegetation, soil and other organic matter that accumulate over a period of time that resemble a landmass that float freely in the lake.  The largest floating island covers an area of 40 sq. km. and constitutes the world’s only floating park, Keibul Lamjao National Park. The Sendra Tourist Home itself is located on a large Phumdi in Loktak Lake.

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This ancient lake plays an important role in the economy of Manipur. It is considered to be the lifeline for the people of Manipur due to its importance in their socio-economic and cultural life, besides influencing the climate of the State. It serves as a source of water for hydropower generation, irrigation and drinking water supply. The lake is also a source of livelihood for the rural fisherman who live in the surrounding areas and on phumdis by constructing khangpok (huts).

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Loktak lake has a rich biodiversity with 233 species of aquatic plants. More than a hundred species of birds live in the lake, and 425 species of animals including rare animals such as the Indian python, sambhar and barking deer.

Considering the ecological status and its biodiversity values, the lake was initially designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on March 23, 1990 and later in 1993 under the Montreux Record

Over the past years the lake has shrunk considerably because of human encroachment and the Phumdis filling up the lake. An initiative was taken by the government to save the lake and conserve the unique biodiversity. The phumdis is one of the major threats to the lake. The growth of phumdis blocks the sunlight falling on the lake and thus affects the fishes in the wetlands.

The floating park, Keibul Lamjao National Park is home to the Manipur Eld’s Deer or Sangai also called the Dancing Deer, which has been listed as an endangered species by International Union for Consevation of Nature. This park which was initially declared as a Sanctuary in 1966 was subsequently declared as a National Park in 1977. This national park is always worth a visit because of Sangai, which was once thought to be extinct and for which the park was made. The Manipur Tourism Festival has been renamed Manipur Sangai Festival to showcase the uniqueness of the shy and gentle Brow-Antlered Deer popularly known as the Sangai Deer

Manipur is a little paradise on Earth with her rich cultural heritage and sublime natural beauty. Contact Road2Travel for more…..

Kumbhalgarh – The Unbeatable Fortress

Kumbhalgarh, a small town in district Rajsamand is known world wide for its great history and architecture. It is about 90 km from Udaipur (about a two hour drive). Here lies the great Kumbhalgarh fort which was built during the 15th century by Rana Kumbha.

Under the rule of Rana Kumbha, the kingdom of Mewar stretched right from Ranthambore to Gwalior. The kingdom also included vast tracts of Madhya Pradesh as well as Rajasthan. Mewar was defended by about 80 fortresses from its enemies. Rana Kumbha, himself, had designed about 30 of them and Kumbhalgarh is the most famous of them all.

It was only once in the entire history that Kumbhalgarh was taken and its defenses breached. It was when the combined armies of Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber and Raja Udai Singh of Marwar attacked the fort of Kumbhalgarh. That too happened because of the scarcity of drinking water. A thick wall that is 36Kms long surrounds this remarkable fort. The perimeter of the wall is said to be the longest after the Great Wall Of China. The width of wall varies from 15 to 25 feet. It is mentioned in the various books of history that eight horses could run on this wall side-by-side. This wall runs through surrounding mountain cliffs of the Aravali range. The wall is a great example of architecture brilliance of Rajput Era. Its architectural brilliance is proved by the fact that in spite of being around 700 years old it is still intact and in a very good shape.

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The fort is about 1100m high from the sea level and offers a marvelous view of the surrounding area. The main attractions of the fort consist of mesmerizing palaces along with about 360 different types of temples inside it with 300 being Jain temples and the remaining being Hindu temples. The Badal Mahal Palace is right at the top of the fort. The palace has beautiful rooms and is painted in the colours of green, white and turquoise, thus providing an interesting contrast to the raw and grim fortress. 13 mountain peaks surround the fort of Kumbhalgarh, 7 huge gates guard the fort and immense watchtowers further strengthen it.

Kumbhalgarh is the same place where prince Udai was smuggled to in 1535. This happened when Chittaur was under siege. Prince Udai who later became the successor to the throne and also became the founder of the Udaipur City. The renowned Maharana Pratap, who fought against the army lead by Akbar in the battle of Haldighati in the year 1576, was also born at Kumbhalgarh.

There are a number of interesting ruins around the fort and there are many magnificent palaces and havelis. There are ancient remnants that you can explore while you decide to take a stroll through the ravines of Kumbhalgarh Fort. The adventurer can enjoy a horse safari and the thrill of riding and camping in the Reserve Forests around Kumbhalgarh.

The nature lovers could take a hazardous, barely jeepable track to the 586 square kilometer Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. The main attraction here would be panther, sloth bear, wild boar, four-horned antelope or crocodiles.

The reserve forest is a delight for bird watchers. Good forest cover, jungle berries, fruits and nuts, water grasses, algae, and fish provide sustenance for thousands of flamingoes, sarus cranes, spoonbills, painted storks, cormorants, purple heron, egrets, duck, and rosy pelican in winter. One also finds plenty of chakor partridge, crow pheasants, jungle warblers, golden orioles, gray jungle fowl, and the usual peacocks; parrots, pigeons, and doves.

The best time for a trip to the land of the Rajput Warriors is October to March. Contact Road2Travel for information

Landour

Landour, the lesser known twin of the “Queen of Hills”, Mussoorie, is an idyllic town, dotted with old country homes reminiscent of the days gone by.  Landour is located at an altitude of 6,600 to 7800 ft with spectacular views of the snow clad Great Himalayas, dense deodar forests, and peaceful slopes.

Landour is technically about 2 km from Mussoorie , its name comes not from any Garhwali word….but from the name of a tiny Welsh village, in Carmathenshire in Southwest Wales ..Llanddowror!. It was the custom, during the British Raj, to name towns after those “at home” being homesick and nostalgic. The Clock Tower at the beginning of Landour Bazaar is a landmark which is held to separate Landour and Mussoorie.

The Cantonment Act that came into being in 1924 had a far-reaching positive ecological impact on Landour. The title to all trees were clearly mentioned as being with the Army, and this has prevented a lot of deforestation, and as a result, Landour remains green, compared to Mussoorie. Another clause, which terms all non-governmental and non-military buildings post-1924 as “illegal”, has saved the town from rampant construction. In fact the British made a point of preventing Indians (even the royal families) from building in Landour, and so there is not a single residence of an Indian prince in Landour, which can only be found in Mussoorie.

Landour is a great destination as it is, even today, less touched by the evils of rampant modernization and tourism compared to its twin, Mussoorie – a green reminder of how life once was everywhere in the foothills of the Himalaya. What started as a convalescent depot for the British troops is today the preferred getaway of artists, writers and nature lovers. The seclusion and verdant mountain scenery are perfect to spend some quiet time and commune with nature. The area has long winding roads that are lined on one side by majestic deodar and pine groves. Here the air is nippier compared to the lower hill, and cleaner too as it is far away from shops and vehicular traffic.

Heading up from the Clock Tower to the top of the hill, a stiff climb takes you to Landour. The once cobbled streets of this tiny bazaar have now been tarred. The Castle Hill Estate where the Survey of India office is now, was the place where Sir George Everest mapped the Garhwal region. Also located in the serene environs of Landour is Woodstock School which was set up in 1854. The cantonment area here is home to the famous Sisters Bazaar. Shop here for home-made jams and cheeses. Landour was also one of the first places in India where an American classic such as peanut butter was made commercially.

The Landour Language School is housed right behind the Kellogg Memorial Church and foreigners come here to learn the local tongue! The school, which dates back to the 19th century, was founded to teach Hindi to newly arrived missionaries. They practise their skills at the  must visit Char Dukan, a neat little Landour hangout, a cluster of shops that sell tea and light snacks (a favorite hangout of Sachin Tendulkar, the famous cricketer) . It is here that you can have a breakfast of pancakes and Waffles, sip chai and people-watch.

Landour has a big imprint on the cultural map of India. The best-known of its citizens is the writer ,Ruskin Bond, The noted actor Victor Bannerjee, has a home here. Among the Britons who moved to Landour were the parents of Jim Corbett. Both had lost their spouses in the First War of Indian Independence of 1857, and would meet and marry in Landour. Tom Alter, the famous movie and stage actor, also lives here for part of the year. Bill Aitken and the travel-writer duo of Hugh and Colleen Gantzen also live in Mussoorie.

For your rendezvous with nature @ Landour contact Road2travel.

Before getting LEH’ed get LAHAUL’ed

Travel See Write

The best cure of Himalayan Hangover is to get high on Himalayas again.

Not even fifteen days had passed since I returned from Leh-Ladakh and I had already started dreaming of returning to my favourite abode – The Himalayas.

So when an opportunity of a long Dusshera weekend knocked the door, I planned a Himalayan quickie – a trip to Lahaul-Spiti.

Along with my friend and her 4 years old daughter I left for Manali on 1st October night. As usual, against the promise of reaching Manali in 14 hours, the bus took more than 20 hours. And it was a very treacherous and arduous journey.

Nevertheless, as I landed in Manali, the whiff of fresh Himalayan air worked like a soothing balm. We checked in our Conifer Woods cottage at Simsha village. Conifer woods experience was beyond words. If I could use one word to describe our hosts…

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Jogini Falls : Manali

Walk  upward along The Beas River approx 4 km from Manali, and you come across the village Bhang. You could drive to Bhang or take a leisurely walk before the short, off road hike, to Jogini Falls. Since we were in a hurry, we drove to Bhang.  The entrance to the village is a narrow lane of cobbled stones, which you can easily miss.  As you enter the path, the village homes with their small and large Apple Orchids pass by. We went in the Apple season, September, therefore the trees were laden with ready to pluck red, mouthwatering Apples. As we move up , the  cobbled stone path turns to a dirt track steadily climbing up.

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The dirt path narrows down to an uneven strip where you have walk in a single file, over rocks, and slippery loose stone. The small rivulet from the Falls , flows by, sometimes along our path and at other times disappearing behind the rocks and the foliage.

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About 100m after the village ends one comes across a cluster of small rooms surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. A lot of large pipes entering and leaving these small rooms. On talking to the villagers, we were told that a private company was setting up a micro hydel project for generation of electricity using the flow of the Jogini falls. But the Villagers objected and the work has stopped since then.

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After about a 500 mts, mildly treacherous climb, we reach the Jogini Falls.

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It was a great sight. The roar of falling water and quietness of the mountains. you can see the pieces of the pipeline which was being laid for the micro hydel project.

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You can take a rocky path from Jogini falls to Vashisht temple and hot springs or walk back through Bhang Village to the Main road.

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As we returned back through the village , we realized that non of the houses, big or small, in the village have fresh water. The entire village fulfills their daily water requirement from the public piped water of the Jogini falls.

A short exciting hike, a great place for a picnic, a great view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malana: Athens of The Himalayas

Malana is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. A remote, primitive little village, in the Himalayas. Malana was isolated from the outside civilization for thousands of years, was never invaded or ruled by an external administration. The people here have been living in harmony with nature, with their own language, their own world, their own democracy. Malana is a 4 km hike from Jari Village, which lies on the road from Kullu to Manikaran. About 2 hrs drive from Manali.

According to tradition, the residents of Malana are the descendant of Aryans, and they acquired their independence during the Mughal reign when the Emperor Akbar walked to the village in order to cure an ailment that he was afflicted with; after having been successfully cured he put out an edict stating that all the inhabitants of the valley would never be required to pay tax. An alternative tradition suggests that Malana was founded by remnants of Alexander the Great’s Army. Their ancestral roots may be debatable but their democratic setup with participatory court procedure has similarity to that of ancient Greece.

This People’s Republic has been governed by a village council with an upper house and a lower house like the bicameral assemblies of our parliament. The council members are chosen by the village folk through a process of unanimous selection – not an election. Their court has been resolving all their internal disputes. The social structure of Malana in fact rests on villagers’ unshaken faith in their powerful deity, Jamlu Devta. The entire administration of the village is controlled by him through the village council. His decision is ultimate in any dispute and any outside authority is never required. It is although a real fact that Malanis through this council perform a political system of direct democracy very similar to that of ancient Greece. Thus Malana has been named the Athens of Himalayas.

Malanis admire their culture, customs and religious beliefs. They generally do not like to change though some traces of modernization are visible. People in Malana consider all non-Malani to be inferior and consequently untouchable. Visitors to Malana village must pay particular attention to stick to the prescribed paths and not to touch any of the walls, houses or people there. If this does occur, visitors are expected to pay a sum, that will cover the sacrificial slaughter of a lamb in order purify the object that has been made impure. Malani people may touch impure people or houses as long as they follow the prescribed purification ritual before they enter their house or before they eat. Malanis may never accept food cooked by a non-Malani person, unless they are out of the valley (in which case their Devta can’t see them). The interaction with the outside world is slowly changing these traditions.

Kanashi, the language of Malana, does not resemble any of the dialects spoken in its neighborhood but seems to be a mixture of Sanskrit and several Tibetan dialects.  This sort of amalgamation makes it difficult for an alien to understand it.  Language is also considered to be one of the secrets of the village and outsiders are not allowed to use it for communication.

Another claim to fame of Malana is the very good quality cannabis plant that grows in abundance there. For ages the use of cannabis has been an integral part of their lives, from medicine to footwear. But in the past they had never traded it; neither did they know the value of it. Their only trade with the outside world had been sheep wool. In the seventies came some white men. They taught the villagers how to rub the cream – the cleaner and more potent hashish suitable for an international market. Those foreigners drew them into business. Malana cream became an international brand. Hashish production grew like a home industry for each household, without being aware that processing of cannabis is a crime. Although the state administration, occasionally cracks down on this illicit trade, but the small town of Kasol, nearby, is home to a large number of international backpackers.

Some fanciful stories about this village called “a little greece,” as also its drug mafia with its do’s and don’ts, are often published in newspapers and magazines. However, what distinguishes this village in the interior of  Himalayas is its architecture, language, worship rituals and autonomous administrative system.  The unique geographical location of Malana has enabled it to preserve its biodiversity and it is an ecological haven.