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Old 31st October 2019, 18:09   #1
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Default Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods

Abode of the Gods.

This is a travelogue about a drive we made to Kumaon side of Uttarakhand during October 2019 from Ahmedabad. About the timeless beauty of the mountains, the pristine atmosphere, the friendly people and the almost spiritual experience proximity to Nature gives you. Yes, even to an old sinner like me.

In this report, you would find:

1. Tantalising views of the Himalayas:

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2. Places of breathtaking beauty and peace:

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3. Nature at its wondrous best:

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4. Nature at its worst:

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5. The beautiful, almost magical wonder place:

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6. The magic of the mornings:

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7. The abode of the Gods:

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8. Realisation of our insignificance:

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The Mission and planning

The urge to drive to Uttarakhand and visit the mountains had been strong since the past 2 years. Unfortunately, some mishap or other forced us to abandon our plans time and again. This year, I started planning anew, determined to make the drive.

We enjoy going to the forests too, but decided against combining the two - This was since availability of permits and rooms at FRHs would dictate the schedule and we did not want our main target to get compromised in the bargain. We would visit forest and parks on the way-but only as a recce for a future trip.

The must visit destinations were: Binsar, Chaukori, Munsiyari, Narayan Ashram, and Mayavati Ashram. We would check out Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, stay at Ranikhet (with friends who make a-twice-a-year retreat there), and have overnight pit stops where ever necessary. The broad plan was to leave on the 4th October and come back before Diwali-around the 26-27th of October. We had limited ourselves to Kumaon, since doing the whole of Uttarakhand would demand much more time, if one has to do justice to it.

I wish I had the luxury and freedom of NOT booking any stay options in advance and have the option to stop where ever one feels. However, this is easier said than done since winging it on the fly or roughing it, is unfortunately, not an option for us any more. We do require some degree of comfort along with clean bed-sheets and toilets. And iI do not mean 5 star comfort. Clean, decent rooms, with friendly hosts and good food. What with Puja and Diwali holidays, both in October this year, so would some tens of thousands of travelers. Luckily hotel bookings and Ashram stay permissions all fell into place with less than 2 weeks to go.

The route plan was thus:

A抌ad ?Jaipur ?Bharatpur ?Ramnagar ?Ranikhet ?Binsar ?Choukori ?Munsiyari ?Narayan Ashram ?Dharchula ?Mayavati Ashram- pit stop - A抌ad.

Last year, when we had visited some forests in Madhya Pradesh, we had a tyre blow out right in the middle of a forest, with the nearest city (Bhopal) some 200 kms away. We had to limp along with the baby spare wheel till Bhopal and found that the required tyre was not available off the shelf. We made do by purchasing a tube and patching the tyre the best we could. With that incident fresh in my memory, I tried to shop around for a used 18?rim for the GLE. However, none was available in Ahmedabad and getting one from Mumbai (if available) would take time. The best option was to take a spare tyre as well as the tube I had purchased last year. These, along with the baby spare wheel, should provide reasonable cover, I hoped. Next took the GLE to the service station and the service manager personally supervised all checks and gave it the 慳ll clear?signal. He threw in a litre can of engine oil-just in case. Most decent of him.

Apart from our personal stuff and my camera bags and tripod, the other essentials loaded up were: Air compressor, puncture kit, tow rope, jump start wire, additional tools, pillows, bed-sheets and comforters, water, food (dry nasta and some quick cooking meals), electric kettle, electric saucepan, a bag containing assorted shoes and chappals. In addition some steel plates, spoons and tumblers were also thrown in. (We have stopped using disposable plates and glasses). Phew. All this stuff must have weighed more than 100kgs. With the spare tyre wedged in between the driver抯 seat and the back seat, the car was fully loaded! Definitely over kill.

Last edited by aah78 : 5th November 2019 at 00:13. Reason: Fixed on request.
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Old 31st October 2019, 18:30   #2
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Default A'bad - Jaipur - Bharatpur.

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We started off at 0700 hrs on the 4th October and we reached Jaipur at 1630 hrs. We took the Palanpur-Abu Road route since the Udaipur route (NH 48) was reported to have road works all through (4 to 6 lane). I am ashamed to state that the Gujarat roads were in a pathetic state of disrepair, whereas the roads of Rajasthan were very good. Nevertheless we ambled along and reached the Marriott, Jaipur near the Airport. Since I am on an 16:8 IF, had a club sandwich dinner at 1830 hrs and to bed by 2100 hrs.

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I must say that the Marriott was very comfortable and the hospitality was first class. Jaipur is quite clean (as compared to A抌ad) and I went for a walk at 0500 hrs in the neighbouring Jawahar circle. The park is well maintained and big.

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Left by 0800 hrs for Bharatpur, after getting my breakfast packed (to eat at 1030 hrs).We reached Bharatpur leisurely at noon and checked in at The Birder抯 Inn. The place was empty save for another lone guest. It is a comfortable hotel, mainly frequented by birders (who else?) and photographers. Though migratory birds had not yet arrived, I decided to take a chakker and check out the lay of the land. It was my first trip to the National Park.

Cycle rickshaws are readily available outside the hotel and I picked up the first in line, Sarwan Singh. It was hot and the conditions not suitable to take photographs of birds, but as I said, it was a recce of sorts. Spotted a pair of spotted owls, sleepy and lazing up a tree. Not ideal conditions for photography at 2 in the afternoon, but took some shots anyway.

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Pair of spotted owlets

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Rose ringed Parakeet

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Wanted to see if there were young ones inside that knothole, but the parakeet would not oblige.

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Indian Pond Heron

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Indian Cormorant

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Painted Storks

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Green Bee eater

A green bee eater flew ahead of me and caught a dragon fly. I, as usual, missed capturing the capture ( seems i am full of puns today!), but could get a decent photograph once it perched.
There were some Blue tailed Bee eaters - a migratory bird from the NE, i believe - but quite high up on a tree.

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The painted stork protects its nestlings from the harsh sun by spreading it's wings and remains thus for hours on end. Talk about dedication.

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White throated Kingfisher

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The park consists of a straight road about 5 kms in length which can be traversed by a cycle rickshaw. There are off shoots from this road, where one can explore on foot. The road is lined by trees on both sides and makes a pleasing sight, as can be seen above.

Most of the cycle rickshaw pullers are very knowledgeable about the birds, their habitat and behaviour. Sarwan Singh was no exception and it was a delight listening to his commentary, though at times I had to decipher his pronunciation.

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Sarwan Singh

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There were, understandably, not many visitors in the Park and we had a good time going around. There was the obligatory stop at Sunset point, and I took vantage position hoping for a painted stork to cross the sun. Alas, it was not to be. After taking some shots, we repaired back to the hotel, had a frugal dinner and off to bed.

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Last edited by aah78 : 5th November 2019 at 00:14. Reason: Spacing.
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Old 1st November 2019, 14:26   #3
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Bharatpur - Ramnagar



As is our usual practice, we got up early the next day and were ready to leave with our breakfast/brunch packed. As mentioned earlier, we have stopped using disposable stuff (as far as possible) and carry an old fashioned small tiffin carrier, small steel plates, tumblers and spoons. After having seen the devastation done to pristine natural sights by tourists who enjoy a meal and then casually throw the plastic or thermoform plates and containers right there; we have decided not to use any of the disposable stuff. We do use packaged water, though. Yet to find a practical and convenient alternative for that. Everywhere I go, there seems to be a heap of rubbish, discarded bottles, smashed up beer bottles, liquor bottles, waste and what have you. We need to educate our young. I don’t see any hope in curing the adults.

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We took the road to Mathura, caught the Yamuna expressway and then proceeded to Ghaziabad and then on to Ramnagar. Exiting the Expressway to get on the Eastern peripheral Expressway was tricky and I lost my way. However, with some local’s help, got on to the EPE eventually. I am disappointed with the quality of this new expressway. The A’Bad-Vadodara Expressway, built more than a decade back is far, far better. In fact the Yamuna Expressway is good too. While the speed limit for cars has been pegged at 120 kmph, driving at that speed leads to frequent jumps and bounces. The trucks seem to prefer the extreme right hand (fast) lane too, and it is a constant weaving from right to left and left to right . Most annoying. The NH 9 in comparison was far better and we proceeded at a good clip till Moradabad. The road from Moradabad to Kashipur was okay (2 -lane) but with a lot of traffic, mainly two wheelers. Again, from Kashipur till Ramnagar, it was just your average state roads.

I had been to Jim Corbett National Park during 1978, when I was studying at Delhi. At that time, we had just waltzed in ( I don’t think there were any permits). We spent two nights fooling around with B&W film cameras. I believe we bunked in some dormitory. This time, as I stated earlier, we did not want to get diverted from our main goal (going around Kumaon) and hence we had decided to stay a couple of nights to see the other offerings of the area. (When you visit a NP, one goes for safaris morning and evening, with little time devoted to anything else).

The core zones of the NP were closed and slated to open only after November. However, the buffer zones were open for day safaris, but closed for night stay. We had wanted to stay in one of the FRHs, but that was not to be. We had, therefore, booked ourselves in a private resort called Namah. A typical family resort with games for the children and for the family. Situated like a couple of hundred establishments on the bank of the river, Kosi.

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Kosi river


Well, we enjoyed our stay and the quality of food was quite good. Staying without any agenda gave me the time to go for extended morning walks and excursions to nearby places by car.

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Garjiya Devi temple


About 4 kms from our resort was the much revered Garjiya Devi temple. The temple attracts devotees from 0600 hrs in the morning and by noon, one can see a serpentine queue waiting patiently under the midday sun. I had started early and reached there at 6 am and did not have to wait at all. The early bird gets the darshan. I came back again with my wife at noon when we witnessed the long queues. Every visitor is given a good meal (prasad), consisting of puris, sabzi, dal and kheer. If it was not for my IF, i would have accepted the offering.

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The photographers were doing brisk business and some of them looked askance at me, thinking that i was trying to muscle in their territory. In due time they decided that i was harmless and left me alone.

I do enjoy starting every day with a clean car. Never mind if it gets dirty during the course of the day, but the next morning or when ever i start the next leg of the journey, the car must be clean. In the Jaipur Marriott, the concierge assured me that he would get it cleaned properly. However, much to my annoyance, it was just a shoddy job.
At the Namah, i tried the front desk and was informed that it would cost me Rs 500/-. And sorry, no hose pipe and i cam not allowed to it myself* since the parking area would get dirty; but the boy shall clean it with a bucket of water. No, thanks. When we went to the town to check it out, i came upon a car cleaning service and without further ado, i got the car cleaned. First class service and only Rs 150/-


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* later on, i saw the drivers cleaning their cars with a hosepipe in the parking area. Maybe the front desk clerk had a bad night and hence was not obliging?

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Old 1st November 2019, 15:37   #4
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Ramnagar-Ranikhet



After spending an idyllic 2 nights at Ramnagar, we left after breakfast on the 8th October at about 1000 hrs for Ranikhet. Much has been said about the road that goes through the forest via Bhatrojkhan and Tarikhet. ( The other route is via Nainital). While on the one hand, many describe the route as very picturesque, some also mention about the single track and the possibility at times to having to reverse to allow the vehicle coming from the other direction to pass.

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Allow me to put the issue in the right perspective. Yes, the road is narrow at places, and mostly through the forest-hence picturesque-however, the road is bad now after the extended monsoon. Further, the so called treacherous route cannot hold a candle to the roads further north in Uttarakhand which we had the pleasure(?) of using. Maybe this is the first ascent from the plains and from a highway- and hence the reactions.

We reached Ranikhet at 1300 hours or so and joined our friends who were just sitting down for lunch. We spent 5 nights here with more or less the same routine. Go for an 7 km walk up Chaubatia hill or a 8 km walk to Mankameshwar temple and back in the morning. Depending upon what and how much you had for lunch, you would have to do a short walk of 6 kms to Jooladevi temple and back in the evening. It is with considerable pride that I report here that I stuck to my IF without any cheating. Our friends go twice a year to Ranikhet and spend 2 weeks there, every trip. The routine never changes. The staff are used to our demands of the palate and we have no complaints about the quality and taste of food.

Ranikhet allows us to catch up on our reading, and our time spent there is most relaxing with absolutely no pressure of having to ‘see’ sights, having a check list, having to find ‘value’ in the time spent. Think about it. Most of the times, we are in a mad rush to ensure we pack in as many sights in a day or trip as we can-more for bragging rights-rather than for the sheer pleasure the sight offers. We take photographs in a hurry so that we can view them later at leisure (which never comes). We don’t spend time taking in the sight with our eyes, our minds and our body-which may leave a lasting impression on them. Sorry. Didn’t mean to preach.

There are no photographs to post here of Ranikhet, for the excellent reason that I didn’t take any ( having been here on three other occasions).

The only incident that warrants a mention is the puncture that my left rear wheel had on the last day. I had taken the car for filling up at the only pump situated in the most crowded part of the market and after filling up, i was returning to the hotel when the tyre pressure alarm went off and the pressure was dropping fast. I stopped and used the compressor to fill up-which was easier said than done. Luckily, there was a shop nearby and i got it fixed. The culprit was a large nail.

This incident warrants mention for two reasons. One- we always have a puncture in nearly all our trips- and hence this having been done and dusted off, was reassuring. Two- the recommended tyre pressure for the GLE is 35psi, which maybe fine on smooth surfaces, but does tend to cut the tyre on bad roads strewn with sharp, jagged stones. I increased the pressure to 42psi on all tyres and faced no issue on some of the worst roads i have seen. Comments welcome on whether this is advisable or not.

Last edited by earthian : 1st November 2019 at 17:35.
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Old 1st November 2019, 19:28   #5
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Ranikhet - Binsar

After spending 5 nights at Ranikhet, we proceeded to Binsar on the 13th morning. The recommended route was via Almora, not through it but bypassing it. It was a pleasant drive.

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One of the reasons, we like to do short stretches, as and when time permits, is due to the freedom to stop where ever the sight takes your fancy. We like stopping by small teashops on the roadside and talk with the owner. In one of such halts, we met a young man who aspired to 揃harti?/i>-meaning enlist. Most of the young men here join the army, and apart from weight and height, there are demanding physical fitness tests. It is common to see young men running in the morning to train themselves, in these parts of India. We assured the young man of our best wishes for his success, gave him a packet of Gujarati Chevdo to remember us by, and proceeded on our way.

We were to spend three nights at the Binsar Forest Retreat run by a young couple-Preetam & Pallavi, along with their 9 year old daughter Anna. This is one of the few properties that is situated actually inside the National Park, and one has to get an entry permit at the forest gate before proceeding about 8 kms inside. The drive from the forest gate to the retreat is challenging at places. It is a single track and due to the KMVN property ( and a couple of other ones) which is also situated inside the sanctuary, it can get a mite busy at times. We had to back up a couple of times to allow the opposite traffic to pass and vice-versa. It抯 a mountain road and hence one is prepared for the outer side having a sheer edge. But what complicates matters is the deep gully that has been made on the inner edge for passage of water. Small cars are loath to get into the gully which made passing quite difficult at times. Still, the view was very pleasing and as such the forest raises the primordial feeling.

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Binsar Forest Retreat is situated right in the thick of the forest and from our rooms we could see the Trishul every morning. A great delight. Preetam & Pallavi are both very environment conscious and except of the 憄lastic?light switches, I could not find any other plastic in our room. The buckets, the mug, the water bottles are all metal. Pallavi is a naturalist and has good knowledge about the flora and fauna in the area.

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Preetam

Everyone gathers in the dining cum living area for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner and we had a whale of a time mixing with other guests. One of them happened to be a Master Chef participant from Australia (of Indian origin) and he prepared some ordinary (common) dishes with a twist. It was very good. He is an aspiring restaurateur and stays at Bali, Indonesia.

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Eggs, over easy, with a twist.

One morning, a young man who lived nearby had come to the property to do some paragliding. It was fun to see him go about his preparations meticulously and then take off.

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There is an old Forest rest house situated near the 憐ero?point (a point where one has an unfettered view of the range). Swami Vivekananda had spent a couple of nights here.

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Forest Rest House, Binsar

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I went up to the FRH by the metalled road approximately 4.5 kms away and returned by the forest path that Swami must have taken more than 100 years back. (about 2.5kms) The path had been laid by stones which had a coating of moss and algae which made walking quite difficult. I thought that if I fell and broke a leg, there would be probably no one around at least for a day or two. Just then 3 dogs, an Alsatian cross, a Lab cross and another of indeterminable cross breed, emerged suddenly and after I had played with them, escorted me all the way down to where a small restaurant was situated. The restaurant owner, with whom I used to chat during my comings and goings, was surprised that these dogs, which belong to a lady up in the mountains, had come down to the valley with me.

We had the 'Trishul' room and in the mornings had a good view of the Trishul peak and other neighbouring peaks.

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The sunsets are magnificent too and I had a good time trying my hand at photographing the setting sun.

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Once it got dark, I wanted to photograph the Milky Way since my window of opportunity was limited to the advent of moon-rise. I had just taken a trial shot when there was a shout from below (I had walked up a bit to get a clear view of the sky). A sambar had raised an alarm call followed by the guttural roar of a leopard. I was asked to come down.

It seems that the leopard was walking on the trail I had used that morning.

Last edited by aah78 : 5th November 2019 at 00:16. Reason: Spacing. Typos
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Old 2nd November 2019, 15:15   #6
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Binsar-Choukori

After spending 3 nights at Binsar, we left for Choukori on the 16th October morning. My brunch was packed in the small tiffin carrier, Puris and alu sabzi. We had originally planned to go directly to Munsiyari from Binsar, but on second thought dropped it. We wanted to enjoy our drive, take in the sights, stop where ever you wished and not just rush. Accordingly we had planned for a night halt at Choukori, after visiting Bhageswar on the way.

There is no two opinions about it - The drive is very scenic and the fresh, invigorating, mountain air makes one feel very energetic and relaxed at the same time.

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One could spend hours gazing at such beautiful canvass. I remember when had visited Ladakh, i had a similar feeling. Uttarakhand, after the monsoon, is better. Or maybe i should say different, since each place has its own beauty.

We stopped for my brunch on the way, with the mountains as a backdrop. After relaxing for 30 minutes or so, we proceeded to Bhageswar, and after a couple of wrong calls managed to get parking fairly near the famous temple. Situated on the confluence of Saryu and Gomati rivers, Bageshwar was a major gateway for trade with Central Asia and Tibet. The town was bustling with activity and it was pretty crowded at the market near the temple, though the temple itself was nearly deserted. A lot of womenfolk, attired in their best were milling around. Could it have been a festival day?

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The temple had it's usual infestation of pandas, though I must say that there were only a handful present here. They made their usual calls, advising us to apply 'tilak', as it was the norm here. I avoided most of them, but one of them was quite persistent. I got the blessing and his photograph too in the bargain-which was what I was angling for in the first place!

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While walking back to our car through the crowded marketplace, I came upon this guy making fresh jelabis. Having considerably reduced my sweet intake (due to the IF), my mouth watered at this sight and we bought Rs 10/- worth of jelabis - quite sufficient too. This guy posed for a picture too.

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The local government had installed artworks depicting life in the village in these parts, no doubt. I often wonder whether such beautification inserted at odd places would be a priority than better civic services, hygiene and health?

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In due course, we left town and after a last photograph showing the town in the valley; we made haste to Choukori.

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I could not get any rooms in the KMVN hotel at Choukori and had accordingly booked at Ojaswi resort. Generally, i try to avoid hotels which are not recommended by trusted fellow travelers or members of a forum. Moreover, the webpage of Ojaswi Tea Garden Resort claims: " The resort, gazing the mighty Himalayas, offers the best rooms and suites in Chaukori with breath-taking vistas of sunrise and sunset. And unsurpassed facilities, best restaurant, personalised services and a host of adventure activities like nature walks, angling, trekking, bird watching are bound to make your holiday experience unbelievably awesome. Head to the best hotel in Chaukori to experience an enthralling holiday experience."(sic)

That claim is enough to make me suspicious. Still, we had to stay somewhere and I had telephoned the manager to enquire about rooms - to which he had answered in the affirmative and asked me to send a deposit, which was done.

Ojaswi Resorts was a nice hotel - had clean sheets and bathroom. And the food was tasty too. And the manager was helpful as were the other staff. They picked up our bags from the car and showed us our room and departed - unlike at other places where they shuffle from one foot to another, waiting for the tip. I had to later hunt them out and express my thanks. Well, the one thing that I did not like was the multicoloured curtains and the inevitable dark maroon velvet coverlet on the bed. Wonder why they use it?

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After checking in, we decided to go for a walk. We were told that there was an ashram nearby and we decided to check it out. Paramhans Ashram was established at Choukori in an old tea processing unit (donated by a devotee) and hence the layout and buildings were not depictive of your usual ashram. Notwithstanding that, it was quite peaceful and hearing us a baba (Surendra Baba) came out and made us welcome. The main ashram where the current head resides is near Chitrakoot in UP. We paid our respects at the small puja room and walked around.

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We came upon another baba, basking in the sun besides a small tin+wood hut of sorts. He had a beatific smile and we chatted with him It seems that he stays in that small hut come rain or snow or what ever. And he is happy!

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Every hill station has a sunrise and/or sunset point and Choukori is no different. We went to the inevitable sunset point, couldn't find it and entered a small farmers dwelling from where the view was good. The farmer, uncharacteristically, was not pleased at us encroaching his premises and I wondered why?

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Do you recognise the shrub that has been silhouetted in the sunset picture above? No? Perhaps a better picture would clear things up.

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That's the reason the farmer was not too pleased. The Government is now cracking down on illegal cultivation of the weed it seems.

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Old 2nd November 2019, 18:56   #7
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Choukori

I was up at 0500 hrs and put the D850, and a couple of lenses in a backpack and was off to shoot the peaks at sunrise. The previous night, I had asked around for a good location, and I had a hazy idea. A brisk walk of some 1.5 kms and i got a good spot.

Soon the nautical twilight was giving way to civil, andIi could vaguely make out the panchchuli peaks. The colours of Dawn are so beautiful. There was I, alone on top of a lonely place, and watching the night sky give way to the morning.

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Try as I might, I always manage to screw something up when out shooting. Once in Tadoba, a tiger was following our jeep and in my excitement I pressed the video record button on the camera twice, thereby stopping the recording! Could have kicked myself. Here in Choukori, I was in time for the grand event. There was no hurry. Yet I managed to screw up! I mentioned that I took the D850 in the beginning of the post. It was for a reason. I have two cameras: The older D3s and the newer D850. The bracketing tab "BKT" is on the left hand dial of the D3s, whereas on the D850 it is on the body near the lens connecting slot. Worse; on the D850, the left hand dial has a "QUAL" tab at the same place where the "BKT" tab is on the D3s. So with plenty of time,Ii wanted to get proper exposure done and hence bracketed for exposure- only I had inadvertently changed the Quality from RAW to JPEG.

All the photographs taken with so much pain and effort on this morning are in JPEG. I would be unaware of this till the 19th October!

I wanted my wife to see this beautiful sight and hence I called her up and asked her to be ready, quickly returned to the hotel, collected my wife and this time took the car since time was slipping by and went back up there to enjoy the sight.

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-c11.jpg

The only solace is that I really enjoyed the sight with my eyes.

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Old 2nd November 2019, 20:00   #8
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Choukori - Munsiyari

After our morning excitement, we returned to the hotel and got ready. For a change i too had breakfast at 0900 hrs - Alu and Gobi Parathas. Our hotel in Munsiyari had called up to say that they would be keeping lunch ready. Well, as per Google maps it was only 3.5 hours - We should be there in time for lunch. I was having a good day as far as meals are concerned.

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-m1.jpg
Choukori-Thal Road

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Big mistake. The road from Choukori to Thal was okay but from Thal to Munsiyari was awful. The monsoon had taken a toll of this stretch, no doubt. We had water crossings about 6" to a foot deep. Nothing much, right? Think again. There was no road under these and at best you had big rocks that had tumbled down and managed to resist the flow of water; whereas the smaller ones got washed away. I had these occasions to try the 'off-roading' feature of the car and it seemed to work fine, since we didn't get stuck anywhere.

The heartening part was the BRO guys were on the job.

But the views, man, the views! The bad roads were forgotten when you get to see Nature in all its glory.

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-m3.jpg

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I just get very angry when I see the trash and waste thrown about such beautiful places. There were a group of tourists traveling by Tempo Traveler, who had stopped here to have lunch.

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How could anyone throw such trash without a care? I saw this after they had departed or there would have been a scene for sure.

Just before Thal, we came upon a gigantic waterfall. In the pictures below, see if you can spot the humans at the base of the falls and you would get an idea of the sheer size of this falls. The bad news was that it involved a climb for about 20 minutes. Oh well. The meal of Alu and Gobi Parathas did come handy. i fooled with variable density filters etc, without realising that the camera was still on JPEG quality mode!

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We reached Munsiyari at 1400 hrs, instead of around 1230 hrs, and the powers that be were not done yet with us. There was a massive traffic jam right in town and we had to cool our heels for nearly 45 minutes before it cleared. 12 seater vans were parked all over the place with Boleros and Sumos thrown in for a good measure. Hence the jam. Seems it happens quite regularly, but nobody seems to do anything about it.

We reached our hotel- Himalayan Glamping - at 1500 hrs

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Old 2nd November 2019, 20:29   #9
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Munsiyari

Ever since i had read TRs in various fora, I had wanted to go to Munsiyari. I imagined it to be quiet, lonely, without electricity (one TR mentioned that solar powered lights were switched off at 2300 hrs) and only 3-4 hotels to stay, out of which KMVN was the recommended one. And the views of the mountains were to die for.

Well, the only thing right was the views.

Munsiyari is a crowded, bustling, noisy town with many, many hotel choices. And home stays. And tourists to match. Along with cars, jeeps, Tempo Travellers, and the occasional bus thrown in. And traffic jams.

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-img_20191018_080425.jpg

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See what I meant about abundant home stays? And we could see many, many home stays such as this one.

Luckily, our hotel, Himalayan Glamping, was away from the crowd and the only noise we had were two water falls on both sides of the property and the roaring sound of water. It was pretty eerie in the beginning, but we soon came to like it. Glamping = Glamour Camping. We stayed in tents.

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The place has been nicely designed and at one time must have been very good too. However, two issues that we found not to our liking: One- the house keeping was sloppy. There were a cobweb and dust inside the bathroom. No dusting being done, obviously. Two- we were the only guests. While solitude is a rarity and much sought after, we do like to have company, especially during meals and when hanging around. The staff, save one- Dheeraj - were lackadaisical too, no doubt, the absence of the owner/manager contributed to it. Expensive too. That probably raises expectations and when you feel let down, one starts to nitpick, as i am doing now.

However, the location is very good, and away from the crowd. And waterfalls for company and soothing sounds. That is if you find the ROARING sounds soothing. We had no complaints on that score and did enjoy the water fall sound. We sleep soundly (sorry for the pun). And best of all, you get a magnificent view of Panchchuli from the property.

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Old 2nd November 2019, 22:04   #10
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Munsiyari (continued)

Pandey's lodge in Munsiyari was probably the first hotel that was established there, according to popular folklore. It is touted to be the clearing house for information and the next day I walked down from our camp to meet Mr Pandey. Pandeyji was very helpful and had all the information. He urged me to do the Khaliya trek, which i chickened out, both since we were cutting a day at Munsiyari and would be there for two nights only and since there was no company for the trek. Further i wanted to take the photo of the mountain peaks in all their morning glory and this would have necessitated going the previous evening and staying overnight at the basic facilities there.
Oh well. Gives me a chance to go there once again.

Pandeyji advised me to do the next leg of the journey i.e. to Dharchula via Madhkot. He said that the road till Madhkot was bad, but after that it was okay. Going via Thal was worse. I filed away this information to finalise the plan that night.

We visited the usual tourists spots in Munsiyari. The first order of the day was a visit to Nanda Devi temple.

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We then visited the tribal museum and then went to the centre of town to hang around a bit. We filled up fuel at a new filling station that had been opened. In the mountains, it is always advisable to stock up on fuel when ever you get an opportunity. Even if pumps are available, they may be dry, since the stock tanker may have been delayed or held up due to a landslide.The GLE's tank can carry 93 litres - more than enough - but yet I filled up.

After our half day of sight seeing, we came back to the tent to relax. I took the opportunity to check the car, tyre pressures, oil levels and the usual routine. Got the car washed too.

Next day, we leave for Dharchula and then on to Narayan Ashram. And the roads are not good.

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-m31.jpg

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Old 3rd November 2019, 11:43   #11
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Munsiyari - Dharchula

We cut short our stay at Munsiyari by one day and left by 0800 hrs for Dharchula. The hotel chef had kindly packed puries and sabzi ( seems we packed the same breakfast every where) for both of us. We had decided to take Pandeyji's advice and go via Madkote.

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The road, as predicted, was very bad. Madkote was 22 kms away and the fine alkali dust thrown by the vehicles in front got into every thing. I usually drive with my window open, so as to be able to hear a warning horn of a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, and this made it quite intolerable. God only knows what would be the state of the air filters. I think we took 1.5 hours to reach Madkote. The road from Madkote to Jauljibi was better relatively. We were able to appreciate the scenery now.

We came upon a beautiful waterfall over the road. We had to pass under the waterfall and the car got a free wash. Where can you find such sights?

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-md1.jpg

I am zooming the relevant portion and one can see that the road passes under the waterfall.

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The whole area from Madkote to Jauljibi was full of waterfalls. There were big falls, small falls, tall ones, short ones, mountain-springs-a-leak falls. (pun unintended)

The whole mountain was leaking as can be seen here:

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Presently we came upon some children playing badminton under an open sky and what else? - a waterfall!

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My wife also tried her hand with the children, while i walked up to the falls and gazed at it with wonder.

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There were many landslides which resulted in many disruptions and hold ups. The BRO team was at it, trying to carve another access. The work is highly dangerous and stressful, since the mountains are not made(only) of hard granite rock, but also of limestone, slate and just dry crumbled packed rock fragments. It is the last which is so dangerous.

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See the picture below. The earth-moving machinery (two of them) is busy carving out a new passage from the side of the mountain. Very dangerous work and they have to stop time and again to let the traffic go through. Difficult to concentrate under such conditions. See the rubble. One slip and it is all the way down.

Uttarakhand: Abode of the Gods-md9.jpg

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Old 3rd November 2019, 12:12   #12
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Dharchula - Narayan ashram

Though the distance between Munsiyari and Dharchula is about 96 kms and ideally supposed to take about 3.5 hours, we reached Dharchula only at 1400 hrs. We went to the KMVN hotel, where the Manager had kindly agreed to allow us to park our car. KMVN Dharchula is situated in a crowded market place, along the banks of the river Kosi. Dharchula is a town that has been split by the international border, along the natural geographical contours of the river Kosi. So on either side of the river, we have Dharchula - only one of them is in India and the other in Nepal.

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Dharchula

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Crowded street at Dharchula

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Dharchula enlightened (India) and in darkness (Nepal)

The route from Dharchula to Narayan ashram is a single track, boulder strewn, unprotected road; where the local taxis (Boleros) feel it is only theirs to ply. During one of our frequent consultations, some one had opined that it would be highly risky to take the GLE on that road, since if it got stuck or broken down; it would be very difficult, if not impossible to get it back to Dharchula. My wife that got that bee firmly under her bonnet and hence we parked the car at the KMVN facility at Dharchula and took a private taxi to Narayan ashram. It is about 56 kms or so; but can take anything from 2.5 hours to 4.5 hours.

Yes, the road was bad. Not in the risky sense of steep, unprotected flanks (which were there from time to time) but more from the sharp, rocky, boulder strewn, and loose gravel coated track. Ravi was a good driver and gave us a running commentary about India, Nepal, the local customs, trade, the state of the economy and the history of Narayan ashram. We reached Narayan ashram at around 1730 hrs.

I had made the mistake of not changing the tyres of the GLE and I cursed myself for my thrift. If I had AT tyres, I would have put my foot down on going by the GLE to Narayan Ashram. With the soft HT tyres and our track record for blow outs and punctures, I tended to listen to caution. We had a military truck ahead of us and we were docilely following behind, looking for an opportunity to overtake. Around a bend came a Bolero, speeding like a cat on a hot, tin roof. Saw the truck and slammed the brakes, while trying to swerve to one side. The left front wheel came out of the ball and socket joint and the car was stranded. It was overloaded too with 12 people. Happened before our eyes. We helped the driver reverse the car some 10 meters and push it to the inner side of the road, giving just enough clearance to pass.

On a side note, this market is entirely Boleros and Boleros only. Not one Sumo.

Last edited by aah78 : 5th November 2019 at 00:26. Reason: Spacing. Typos
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Old 3rd November 2019, 14:30   #13
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Narayan Ashram

This warrants a separate chapter all for itself.

I am not going into the history of the ashram or the swami. I am sure those interested can and will find out about it themselves. However, I am available for any questions.

The ashram engages itself in propagating the values Sri Narayan Swami had initiated. Education, Social reforms, economic upliftment of the tribals are amongst those pursued.

The ashram is situated at a height of about 3000 m and is, or rather was on the old walking trail of Kailash Mansarovar. With a new path, this trail is no longer used. The road ends here and the place is very quiet and remote. There are visitors who come during the day, spend a few hours and then depart. But they are few and far in between. There are about 10 employees working at the ashram, tending the vegetable gardens, the apple orchard, cooking and general maintenance and upkeep.

The ashram can host upto 45-50 people at a time including the dormitories. Food is served in a centralised kitchen cum dining area. Many guests do kitchen work or serve others. I made myself useful by getting veggies for a salad from the garden, washing them and then cutting them.

The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. It does get cold after 4 pm and there are no heaters. While conventional electricity is available, there is a back up with solar. The ashram closes from the 15th November till 15th March due to the extremely cold weather.

The Ashram temple:

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This was built in 1932.

The kirtan and puja room:

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The kitchen and dining area:

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There are offices above the kitchen. An old writing desk of the Swami is still being used (by others).

Surroundings:

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Click image for larger version

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Vibrant colours:

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Permanent resident:

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Oldest resident ( who worked with Narayan Swami):

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Surrounded by heavenly bodies:

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Old 3rd November 2019, 15:26   #14
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Narayan Ashram - Dharchula - Mayavati Ashram


We had earlier planned to arrive back in Ahmedabad around the 27th October, but due to some change of plans had to come a day or two early. We, therefore, cut short our visit at Narayan ashram by a day and after lunch on the 21st, we left for Dharchula where we would stay at the KMVN hotel.

The ride was uneventful, save for a Bolero, which was ferrying 13 passengers and 3 dogs, that had broken down on the way. Our driver asked me if he could accommodate them? We had already accommodated 2 passengers who had come to Narayan Ashram for a day visit. 13 passengers + 3 dogs? In addition to the 4 of us and driver? No way. I agreed that maybe 3-4 passengers could come in - but instead the driver of the broken down Bolero joined us. He would get another Bolero from the nearby village.

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We stopped for a quick convenience break near this waterfall and i seized the opportunity to get a couple of shots. In due time we reached Dharchula and checked into the KMVN property. Requested for an early meal and that was provided at 1900 hrs.

The next morning, inspected the car and found rat droppings inside the engine bay. If the rat had cut any wires, we were done for. I mentally added rat spray to the list of odds and ends that we carried. The engine started without any fuss. No harm done. After cleaning it and checking the essentials, loaded it and we were ready to go on our next leg: Mayavati Ashram.


The road to Lohaghat is being widened and hence there are possibilities of delays on the way. Secondly, our booking at Mayavati was only from 23rd, and there was no chance of their accepting anyone earlier. That had been made clear to me. I asked the Manager of KMVN at Dharchula to suggest any hotel at a good location. He suggested the KMVN at Chandak, near Pithoragarh. He spoke to the Manager there and reserved one room for us for one night.

That done, we were on our way.

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There were many photo opportunities on our way and we stopped and enjoyed the sights. In fact near one town, I entered a police station (shown in the above picture) which commanded a vantage view of the range. The policemen were amused to see a GJ car come all the way to take photographs.


We reached Pithoragarh without any fuss and sought the KMVN property. It was just 1230 or so. The property was not good and a hand-me-down version of the other KMVN hotels. I asked the Manager whether there was any KMVN property at Lohaghat and when he replied in the affirmative, I requested him to reserve a room for us there which he did.

We decided to see the sights at Pithoragarh and went to the sight seeing point at Chandak , the fort in the town and the Mostamanu temple. By now we had become spoilt about the view opportunities that we had of the Himalayan range and any view which was partially obstructed evicted disdain.


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We reached Lohaghat at around 1600 hrs and found the KMVN property. It was a shabby affair. The Manager was also out. I spoke to him over the telephone and he made me welcome. I asked him if there was any chance we could go to Mayavati ashram this evening itself and he advised that I should try talking to them. It was 9 kms away only. Accordingly, after many attempts, I got in touch with the Manager Swami and requested for preponement of thebooking. He said he would revert in 5 minutes. Before the time was up, he rang up and agreed.

We were now on our way to Mayavati ashram.

Last edited by navin : 4th November 2019 at 11:18. Reason: typos
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Old 3rd November 2019, 16:13   #15
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Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati

This ashram was established by an English couple during the 1890's and Swami Vivekananda stayed here for 15 days or so. This is a well organised Ashram, with the guest residence facilities about half a kilometre away from the Ashram. Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are served in the dining room of the Ashram and hence visitors have to walk 4 times up and down every day. Some private cabs have been hired who transport the elderly and the infirm up and down for a fee. It gets dark by 1800 hrs and hence walking for dinner is not for the fainthearted, since it is also cold.

Photography is prohibited since they frown upon guest treating the ashram as a tourist destination and indulging in selfies. They had been kind enough to give me permission, after ascertaining that I was not the selfie kind.

There are about 10 monks living there, each pursuing his area of study. In addition, they do every day chores for managing the ashram. Short 30 minute a day discourse on Gita is conducted every day after breakfast. People are encouraged to go for short treks, as well as for walks with the senior monks.

The ashram is quiet, extremely well managed and efficient. There is a diary, a farm and a hospital surrounding the ashram which is also run by the monks. During our stay, there was a group of tourists who spoilt the serenity of the ashram and residences by continuous loud chatter and gossip. They were reprimanded severely by the manager Swami when they had come to pay their respects prior to departure.

We spent two nights here and iI enjoyed my stay.

The house in which Swami Vivekananda stayed: (being renovated)

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The building that housed the printing press and library:


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Vibrant colours:

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Splendour of the Ashram amongst the celestial bodies:

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We departed on the 24th morning. The Swami was kind enough to order my breakfast packed- Rotis and sabzi. We made haste and reached Alwar by 2000 hrs. Checked into a rather nice hotel - Ramada Neelrama on the highway itself and left for Ahmedabad the next morning at 0800 hrs. reached home by 2000 hrs.

The return trip of the journey, if by the same route, makes one rush back home. I can say the same with this TR. I am rushing to finish it since it is nearly done.

Last edited by aah78 : 5th November 2019 at 00:29. Reason: Spacing. Typos
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