Jackdaw

Looks like a good place to loose ourselves.

Waterhen

The best things in life aren't things.

Jungles of Tadoba

Fear exists in the one place you can never escape... Your mind.

Chariot - Hampi

Let go of the past and the past will let go of you.

Tigress

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.

Little Ringed Plover

Clear conscience never fears midnight knocking.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

The reason birds can fly is because they take themselves lightly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Birding in Ladakh - Part Three (The End)

We were now totally acclimatized to the climate, we could walk and breathe normally. As every day the mornings would start with a couple of Ginger lemon tea, freshly made with honey as a sweetener and gazing into the open skies and mountains around us.

View from the room - LEH
Our backpacks were out and camping material had arrived.

We drove to the outskirts of Rumbak valley (2 hour drive) to the base camp Zingchen. Here we had our mountain horses ready for us. A couple of horses were there to ferry our luggage and one for each one of us.
Getting ready to mount the Mountain Horses - The Big Five !
Nothing made me feel lesser than a cowboy today, as had a cowboy hat on my head, one camera rested on the bean bag placed on the saddle and the other one around my hand. It was fun, when the horse would climb up gorges and cross streams.

 

In about 4-5 hours we were at the Rumbak Valley. A lovely village, with just nine families, the villagers of Rumbak take turn to host their guests.
Rumbak Village
Rumbak, which locally means “into the mountains”, located in a valley, with stunning peaks around, all the houses are clustered on a side of the mountain which included a monastery and a community hall. There were lush green fields that surrounded the village. Something that was unique was the dry composting toilets.

The villagers work hard during these four months, to keep supplies that would last them through the harsh winters. The modest room that was offered to us had mattresses and blankets. The solar energy is used to charge and store power, which in return is supplied to them in the evening hours. There is no mobile network, no television signals. The host offered us their staple food of momos and thukpa (tibetan noodle soup)

A full two day birding in Rumbak Valley sighted the Himalayan griffon, Lammergeier, Chukar, Fire-fronted serin, Sulphur-bellied warbler, Brown and Robin accentor's, Tickell’s leaf warbler, Streaked rosefinch, Pigeons, Magpies, Common & Fork-tailed swift, Red-billed chough, Twite to name a few. We also sighted the blue sheep.
Chukar (Alectoris chukar)
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)
Himalayan Griffon Vulture (Gyps himalayensis)
White Wagtail · Motacilla alba
Robin Accentor (Prunella rubeculoides)
Twite (Carduelis flavirostris)

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)
Fire-fronted Serin (Serinus pusillus)
Hill Pigeon (Columba rupestris)
Brown Accentor (Prunella fulvescens)
Returned to Leh after a two day stay and headed towards pangong lake early morning.

(Remember to get your permits (permits are given at DC office in Leh city, it's a must to have permits if you're heading towards Pangong Tso). Thanks to Ramesh ji, we had no hassles in getting the same)

We drove through Karu, which is about 45km from Leh city, here we had to take left for Pangong lake. Till Karu, a few monasteries can be sighted on either sides of the road. The road goes parallel along the river Indus.

As we were ascending higher and higher, the temperature fell drastically and As we approached closer to Chang La pass, the roads had sharper curves. Chang La, is considered to be the second highest motorable pass in the world at 5360m, the weather was mind-numbingly cold.

Foothills of Chang La Valley
Soon we reached Pangong Tso lake, which was is a 130km long pristine blue lagoon at an altitude of 4250m, is shared between India and China, about 40km of it lies in India and the rest in China. The lake had a mesmerizing effect. The most magical moment is when the colours change from being green to blue to purple to shades of gold, all these vary on the angle of sun rays.

Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso
The cold winds from the lake made us shiver and dried our lips, yet it was a pleasure to promenade on the banks, watching the waves of crystal clear water, Brown-headed Gulls, Common Merganser, Grebes. There is absolutely no fauna, probably due to the brutally cold temperatures. Overnight we stayed in a self contained tent.
Common Merganser
Brown-headed Gull
As we started the drive back to Leh, passed through lush green meadows, the Himalayan Marmots were seen basking and gathering reserves for winters that would arrive with the next two months.

By now, even our driver had turned into a bird watcher too and would drive slow and stop, the moment he sighted a bird along the terrain.



Himalayan marmot
Himalayan marmot
White-winged Redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogastrus)
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
The next day headed towards Khardung La. Known as the highest motorable pass in the world Khardung La is the gateway to the Nubra valley, one of the most picturesque locations in Leh.

The drive to Khardung La was very bumpy, as the weather and landslides that frequently happen here doesn't allow the road to remain well maintained! Having said that the drive to the summit of Khardung La is relatively easy compared to a few other rides in Leh.
Black Redstart- female
Yellow-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)
Brandt's Mountain Finch or Black-Headed Mountain-Finch (Leucosticte brandti)
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

Finally, the trip came to an end and had loads of memories, a few memory cards full of images, a promise and desire in the heart to return to this mystical location again!

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Birding in Ladakh - Part Two

Fine morning it was, couple of cups of tea and a great breakfast to begin the day. We packed our backpacks, loaded them on to the vehicle, and moved out of Kargil Town.
Kargil Town
Just to be safe, the driver Rinchen said “We need to re-fuel as due to the tough terrain, not many fueling stations en-route”. While, the tank was being refilled, out we were in the fresh air. Camera in the hand, clicks on the mind. Soon we were on the road again, and this time the climb was even steeper.

Our main objective of the day was to reach Leh town, before dark. But this hadn’t dampened our spirit to look around for Small Monasteries and stop to turn the prayer wheels (locally called Mane), spot birds and stare into hill locks for grazing sheep's and goats. We also stopped by the famous Lamayuru or Yuru Gompa
Mane - The prayer wheel
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)
Villages - En-route
Sheep and Goats - Grazing on Hill
Chukar - Chicks
Lamayuru or Yuru Gompa
Lama Kids - Outside Lamayuru or Yuru Gompa
As we neared Leh town, we transited through the magnetic hill, which claims to have the capacity to take the vehicle uphill, without driving it!!. 

Rinchen, made us stand out, while Rajesh continued to sit inside. We did see or should i say experience the phenomena. Was it real, was it an optical illusion is debatable.
Drive along the Magnetic Hill
Soon, we were covering the distance, which earlier seemed never ending. As the evening approached, the skies were changes shades and views all around were mystical.
Rainbow
Soon, we reached Leh town. Mahi Resort  is where our bookings were made by Mr. Ramesh Rawat. Ramesh was not only a good friend but also our host for the coming two weeks. He just said a couple of sentences and stressed on them initially. Stay calm, walk slow and drink lots of water!!!

The basic concept was to get acclimatized to the weather and to the altitude of 11,000 ft., as the oxygen levels were really low. We would feel breathless the moment we tried to walk fast. All we did was relaxed in the room and later in the evening took a stroll into the market lane which was situated in the heart of the city. The market  was more of  a medley of shops both old and new. Be it  shawls, woollens or pizzas from Italy could see it all.

After, a proper meal at the Mahi resort, it was time to catch on some good sleep, as the next day we were to head to the Zanskar river for rafting.

Personally, i had never ever done rafting and was a little anxious. Our new driver Rinchen (again a common name) was there at the reception to pick us up.

It was day three and was already falling in love with the mountains. We drove for a couple of hours, on a tiny road. The road had a steady climb and moved along the Zanskar river for about 28Kms.

Finally, we reached the starting point. Here is where we were got the rafting tips. Soon we were into our body suits and felt the gears. The moment we got on the raft, realised that it was self supported. The raft passed through the steep gorges which were carved out, by the river over countless years for sure. The Zanskar gorge has been referred to as the 'Grand Canyon' of Asia by many explorers.

The river is graded as Class IV, and it passed through very remote and difficult to access terrain. By the first hour passed, had gathered the courage and skill. Soon there was a rapid and we were asked to jump, if we wanted to experience the river's water. 

I did jump and within seconds could  feel, i was  frozen and fingers went numb, the water was very cold (around 7 degrees Celsius). Lying on my back, with the safety jacket on, kept floating until the rescue team had a lady from UK who was kayaking along our rafts on the mighty Zanskar River took me back to my raft. 

The dramatic 28Kms return journey through the Zanzkar gorge was completed in about three hours. The journey ends just at the confluence of Indus and Zanskar river near Nimmu town.

For me this is one of the most exotic rafting expedition.

In the winters, the Zanskar river freezes, and the local inhabitants use it for accessing the outer world. While the trekkers’ use it to see the exotic Zanskar village popularly, known as the 'Chadar Trek'.

It was the only day, when the gears were resting in the room.
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