Sunday, 9 February 2020

Valparai Trip

Aliyar dam and reservoir

Quite naturally, Valparai!


Click here for more photos from Valparai


Valparai is a place that is still a good spot for those who would want to have a good taste of the nature. Though there is a steep increase in the tourist and commercialization off late, some place still holds its natural beauty!

The tea estates have replaced the forests in quite a few places, which has let to a forced state of co-existing of the animals and humans. The estates might look quite green and beautiful for the average person, but the conflict between humans and animals have increased indeed.

Bison entering one of the numerous tea estates for its favorite grass

At least there are clear markings throughout the town on where animals usually inhibit during the day. This helps in both spotting animals from a safe distance and also avoids conflicts to some extent. Here is one such place where the lion tailed macaques can be seen.

This one seems to be abandoned by its group and lives near the vicinity of humans where it can get some easy food.

Lion tailed macaque

While the animals are trying to adopt to such changes in the environment, some of the smaller ones like this Malabar giant squirrel still have their natural environment to an extent. I really hope it remains that way and measures taken to further improve the natural environment.

Malabar giant squirrel

The place is still abundant with some birds. Within the tea estates and and on the forests, there are still a good amount of birds. Though the environment for some of the birds like the Great Indian hornbill are shrinking, there are still a few of them which calls valparai its home!

Here are a few of them.

Common flameback woodpecker

Orange minivet - Male

Orange minivet - Female

Hill myna

The lakes, dams and water bodies within and outside the tea estates offer a good hunting ground for the raptors or the birds of prey.

Crested serpent eagle


Osprey


Changeable hawk eagle

Shikra



There were a couple of things that we really wanted to see in Valparai, but it did not materialize. At least not to the extent we wanted to have it.
Seeing a leopard and the Great Indian hornbill was high on our "expectation" list. We did see it, but only a glimpse. During one of the night outings we did near our home-stay, we did see a leopard coming down from a rock with its menacing eyes glowing green in the night. But that was it. Could not get a proper sighting in day time and much less photograph it.
Leopard photographed in Nagarhole national park. Not in Valparai

Similar situation with the hornbill. While returning from Valparai, there is a specific view point for the hornbills. We did see a couple of them flying right above our head with their wings making swooshing sound. Just for 2 seconds! That is it! Before we could even say we say it, it vanished behind the trees. Running behind it in the wooded rocky place was next to impossible. Need to visit again looks like!

However, what will not disappoint you is if you are there for a some beautiful views and pleasant weather! Valparai, despite its commercialization and modernization still has offers some amazing views and weather for sure.

On the far edge of a tea estate

Magical misty morning

Photo from previous trip

Church and stream - photo from previous trip


Mobile shot

Sun shining through the mist - mobile shot

A good fun filled trip with friends and a mixed bag of experience. If some of the natural habitats can be maintained or improved, Valparai is definitely a wonderful place to experience!

Sun after the sunset?

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Nagarhole Safari

Golden fronted leafbird

A Wildlife Safari at Nagarhole Sanctuary

Recently got a chance to do a safari in Nagarhole sanctuary. We had time to do a couple of safaris, one in the evening and another in the following morning.

The naturalists had already got a tip off that there is a leopard in the buffer area which had a deer kill and might come back for the kill to finish it off for its dinner!

So took the jeep with the naturalists in the general area where the leopard might be spotted. After reaching the place and a wait for a few minutes, we were able to spot the leopard perched on a tree. Though the light was very less, we were lucky to get a good view of the leopard and a few photographs of it in half sleep after a good meal.

Sleepy leopard @Nagarhole

Apart from the star of the evening, there were glimpses of a few other MUST SEE list which we were able to spot on that day. The JLR resort in which we stayed itself has a decent bird life, so we were able to make use of the time very effectively.

Asian Paradise flycatcher



Brown capped pygmy woodpecker

White bellied drongo

Two of the critically endangered species in a single tree. Not a very common sight.

White rumped vulture and Red necked vulture

This guy was thinking whether to take the plunge or not!

Grey Heron

On the second morning we started the safari as early as 6:30AM. They early morning treated us with some delightful sighting of the Dhole (Wild dogs), Brown fish owl, eagles and elephants

Dhole

Brown fish owl

A young male

Changeable Hawk eagle

If you like the photos, click the following link for more high-res photos.

More Photos from Nagarhole sanctuary

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Sikkim - The Natural Beauty - Part 2

Khechopalri Lake

Enjoy the Sikkim photos here

On returning from Lachen, we heaeded towards Lachung, after having lunch in Thangu Valley. We had to come all the way back to Chunthang Valley and take the diversion to Lachung. Once again unless one knows the terrain well, it is extremely difficult to drive in these route. Nevertheless the route is never devoid of its natural beauty!

Not a very high altitude place, but the small town on Chungthang is beautiful by its own right. Since this is the junction where routes from Gangtok, Lachen and Lachung all join, it can get really congested in traffic.

Teesta river and dam as seen from Chungthang

We got stuck in one such traffic and it took us almost an hour before we could proceed on towards Lachung. It was well past 8:00 PM when we reach Lachung. So we had only enough time to check-in, have dinner and close for the night.

The hotel was compact and really cozy, so no problems on the resting. Considering the long journey, comfort really would not have been a problem in any case. The plan for next week was start early and head towards Zero Point

Rivers and Mountains

Zero Point is again on the northern tip of Sikkim bordering China in the North. The place is covered with snow throughout and weather was much colder here. We spent a few minutes here taking in the majesty of the place. There were quite a lot of tourists and the tourist vehicles can be seen everywhere.

Zero Point

Unpaved roads leading to Zero Point

If you are planning to visit this place, do keep in mind that more than half the journey will be in roads as you can see in the above picture. Virtually non-existent roads, so the time taken for this covering the distance of about 50km would be about 90 minutes!

Is it worth? In my opinion, a big yes. You are free to explore the place, but ensure you are breathing deep as the oxygen level here is also low, just like Gurudongmar lake. Though not in the same altitude of Gurudongmar lake, this is also about 15,300ft. So it means something for sure.

While returning back, do stop at the Yumthang river in Yumthang Valley also known as Yumesomdong Valley. This beautiful place is known for its Rhododendron flowers and Yaks.

Yak near the Yumthang river 

After spending enough time in Yamthang valley, we headed back to Gangtok. On the way we stopped at the beautiful small town of Namok to have a delicious but simple lunch. Once again the hospitality of people is just wonderful in these places.

A quick lunch and then on the way back Gangtok. We reached Gangtok late in the evening and the plan for next week is to head towards Pelling in West Sikkim and visit a couple of places in South Sikkim on the way.

Char Dham

We started leisurely after breakfast and the first stop, on the suggestion of the tourist operator, was a place called Namchi, where the major attraction is the Char Dham temple. Though a good place, it would take a solid 2 hours to see the entire place. If you had not planned to visit this place, you are certainly in for a big delay.

Statue at Char Dham temple

After spending enough time in the temple, we had lunch in a small shop, which again was quite tasty (do not go to the expensive ones suggested by taxi operators. Just not worth!). Then proceeded on to Ravangala Buddha Park. Unlike Chardham, this is a place which we wanted to visit.

Unfortunately, it was already 5:00PM when we reached there, since we spent quite a lot of time in Char Dham.

Nevertheless, the Buddha park is still a worthy visit. Apart from the huge Buddha statue, you can see beautiful paintings on the life story of Buddha in the temple.

Ravangala Buddha Park

For anyone who is interested in art and culture, this place is highly recommended.

Buddha

We reached Pelling city well past 7 in the evening and had our dinner and shut for the day. We were told that from the hotel that we are staying we there is a beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga peak, one of the highest peaks in India. We were told that we should get a good view as early as 5 in the morning when the first rays of sun hit the peak. But since it was too misty the entire week, we were not that lucky!

So we finished our breakfast about 7 AM and headed over to the Khechopalri lake, which is about 30 KM from Pelling city and easily take more than an hour due to narrow roads. The road was not as bad as what it was in the Northern Sikkim, but still takes time to reach the place.

Khechopalri lake

Khechopalri lake, just as most of the lakes and rivers in Sikkim is very sacred for the Buddhists. There is also a monastery near the lake. From the parking lot, it is a good 1 km walk to reach the lake. The lake is full of big fishes, which can be fed with fish food that is sold near the parking area.

What makes it even more beautiful is the fact that the lake is nestled inside dense woods, even though it is just a kilometer away from the nearest motorable road. Since the lake is considered sacred, it is clearly instructed to take the foot wears off, if want to go to near the lake and feed the fishes.

Well, how do you actually get to view the full beauty of the lake? Real gems are always hidden. Just a few meters from the lake, there is a sign board that shows the direction if you want to have a full view of the lake from a good vantage point. However, this is a steep climb of about 800 meters easily, but it is worth every bit of energy that you spent!

Khechopalri lake from viewpoint

After spending some time, mainly in the view point to just enjoy the beauty, we headed back to the parking lot. Before starting, we did quick visit of the monastery. On the way back we planned to visit the Rimbi falls and the Orange Garden or Rock garden.

This place turned out to be a haven for bird lovers. Though I had not planned on any bird watching, seeing the number of birds just while driving, I decided to dedicate at least a couple of hours trying to photograph some birds. Considering that it was a casual tour, had a good number of success with some birds that are not common in the South India, including the Himalayan Bulbul!

Grey Treepie


Striated Laughingthrush

The Orange Garden also turned out to be a beautiful serene place. It is developed alongside the Rimbi river. Offers everything from a casual visitor to an avid bird watcher. For a person like me, this place is high on the cards for sure.

After spending time to my heart's content, watching beautiful birds, we decided to return back to Pelling. The driver, being a local guy suggested that it would be worth our time visiting the Pemayangtse Monastery.

Plumbous Water redstart

Scarlet Minivet

This turned out to be one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim and had lot of information and Buddhist artefacts like a museum. Once you step inside the monastery you can really feel how old the place is, with the wooden floors creaking at every step you take. However, well preserved and maintained by the monks.

Pemayangtse Monastery

We returned back to the hotel after a day spent very well! Thought of checking out the view from the hotel to see if there is any good view of the Kanchenjunga peak, but still disappointment. Nothing visible because of the mist.

Misty mountains

We had decided to start the next day as early as possible, about 5 in the morning, and head back to the Siliguri airport. Even though we know it might not take as long as it took for us from Siliguri to Gangtok, we did not want to take any chances, considering the traffic prone roads.

We stopped a couple of times on the way to take a few photographs. The mist does not only block the view, but also provides some magical views to some places, like this one.

Mighty Teesta submerged under Mist

After another short stop at a small place for breakfast, we head over to the airport with loads of memories of the Heaven on Earth!

Sikkim, by far, is the most memorable trip I had and would never forget the natural beauty of North Sikkim and Pelling!

Blue Whistlingthrush