Hiking up the hills and Exploring the thick Rainforest  is something a  Favourite pastime of every Nature lover, Adventure seeker, Photographer or a Naturalist. It is true that the beautiful scenic beauty of  Western Ghats , flora and fauna mesmerizes everyone. Ghats are home to innumerable species of  pezzy leeches, mammals, creepy crawly insects, butterflies and reptiles – Vipers/Snakes . One should be aware or basic idea of recognizing these creatures while you encounter them by its  Color, Shape and Size .Identifying them, without hurting them and in the mean while be safe.!

Snakes including Vipers are deadliest of creatures found in Jungles. It is necessary for those who are passionate about Hiking  to have first hand information in Identifying these creatures , Habitat , First Aid, Conservation, Bite and How to overcome it.

Power of Panja

We had bypassed Harkidoon valley , Morinda Taal and were in the midst of  Vast Borasu valley and heading towards Ratha - do campsite during our  trek to Borasu pass 5320m in Govind national park in Gharwal region of Himalayas. A group of Villagers from Puoni and Osla villages including women folk armed with  picks were busy in collecting  some stuff in the bushes. The valley was lush green   in riot of colours with flowers Geranium, Inulas, Impatiens, Bistorta and Erigerons in full bloom. Inquisitive to know  I hiked up and found one of the folk stuffing a root of a colorful plant  whitish in colour resembling ginger into his pocket.Upon inquiry he said it is called as Panja in local dialect and told that it is used in treating injuries.

image.jpeg Normally in things to carry items for a any trek or expedition will have a sunscreen. But not many know what is a sunscreen and how to use it. Mr. Vishwanath with his experience in high altitude discloses the necessity to carry it and using it.
First of all. It is not a cream that can be applied easily anytime and start. No..!

Yes.Sure that will protect you from the sun exposure...for a little while. But to properly and effectively wear sunscreen and get its maximum benefits, you should follow these sunscreen tips.

 

sun.jpg About Sunscreens and Altitude
There is no better way to prevent sunburn at high altitude than to cover up exposed parts with clothing. There is no suggestion from clinical experience that malignant melanomas are seen commonly in high altitude climbers than in the general population. Obviously, the more benign skin cancers are seen in more commonly in those who spend much time outdoors, and are probably more common in (for example) mountain guides than their office-based peers. Despite the recent publicity on sunscreens and melanomas, there is presently no definite evidence to suggest avoiding the use of sunscreens; there may however be further data about this.

Ultraviolet light
Sunlight is composed of various wavelengths ranging from ultraviolet light through infrared to visible light - ultraviolet light is the most harmful to the skin and causes sunburn, ageing of the skin and, over the long term, skin cancer. Ultraviolet light is made up of UVC, UVB and UVA, UVC being the shorter wavelength that is filtered out by the earth's ozone layer. UVB and UVA penetrate the ozone layer and reach the earth's surface but the atmosphere filters more UVA than UVB. Fortunately, UVA is not quite so powerful in its effects as UVB as it has an additive (cumulative) effect with UVB on the skin. UVB and UVA are the only wavelengths that need to be screened out as we still have an ozone layer over most of the earth!
Ultraviolet light (especially UVA) is harmful to the eye in excessive quantity, acutely causing snow blindness (conjunctivitis) and in the long-term cataract formation. The higher the altitude the more UV light there will be and as snow is a powerful reflector of ultraviolet light, one must take extra caution whilst climbing on snow and ice, especially at altitude (see practical issues). UVB and UVA penetrate clouds thus explaining why sunburn and snow blindness can occur on cloudy days.

neu.jpgSunscreens
There are a variety of substances that can protect against UVB - these work by absorption, whereas UVA screens mainly work by reflection. Zinc or titanium dioxide cream will reflect UVA and UVB but leaves a white film on the skin, so a proprietary sunscreen is often preferable.
There are a variety of substances that can protect against UVB - these work by absorption, whereas UVA screens mainly work by reflection. Zinc or titanium dioxide cream will reflect UVA and UVB but leaves a white film on the skin, so a proprietary sunscreen is often preferable.

 

What is Sun Protection Factor (SPF) ?

     This number only applies to the UVB (screening) action of the sunscreen. For example, when using a product with a SPF15 one can spend fifteen times longer in the sun before becoming sun burnt. Remember, the SPF does not apply to UVA sunscreens so even a product with a SPF25 but with no UVA screen will less effective than a product with a lower SPF but with a UVA screen. When buying, look for a cream that has a high SPF factor, and both a UVA+B block to ensure maximum protection. The other factor that has to be taken into account when choosing a sunscreen is cosmetic acceptability - some people like greasy preparations while others prefer alcohol based lotion preparations that are much easier to apply.

Pros and Cons
Some sunscreens contain PABA (p-amino benzoic acid); these (usually lotions) do sting already burnt skin and will stain clothing yellow. Very rarely an acute dermatitis can occur when using sunscreens but this is fairly obvious as the face swells up and the skin weeps - washing and discontinued use should solve the problem. People taking antibiotics, especially of the tetracycline type can sometimes become photosensitive at high altitudes because the increase in UV light has an effect with tetracycline in the skin.

A high SPF sunscreen with UVA blocking properties should be applied several times a day, remembering that sweat and rubbing the face will reduce the effectiveness of the screen. Remember to wear a pair of good quality sunglasses or goggles on snow and at altitude even in cloudy conditions. Always carry a spare pair of sunglasses, or if you have lost them, make something, e.g. a piece of card with eye slits cut through it, or clothing to cover the eyes.

Practical Issues
Covering the skin (especially the face & arms) is very important at extreme altitude. Facemasks (silk is best) or balaclavas - even when unnecessary for protection against cold - have an important place in the prevention of sunburn. The lips, underside of the nose and the ears also need to be protected and lipsalve with a sunscreen should be used.

The treatment of acute sunburn is to cover the inflamed area and use soothing creams such as calamine lotion. When there is severe skin inflammation over a wide area, e.g. very painful thighs after marching in shorts, a single application of a steroid cream - Betnovate 0.1% - is helpful.

Snow blindness is the intensely painful gritty sensation in the eyes, in which UV radiation has induced inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva. It is best treated with a combination of a steroid eye drops, e.g. betamethasone 0.1% and an antibiotic, e.g. chloramphenicol eye ointment, three times daily. The inflammation usually settles within 24 hours.

Wear a dark goggles while walking at high altitude to avoid snowblindness.

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 Four Important Sunscreen Tips To Wear Sunscreen Effectively

When Should You Apply Your Sunscreen?

To be most effective, sunscreen should be applied at least 15-30 minutes before you go out in the sun. It needs the opportunity to penetrate your skin to protect it.

You should apply sunscreen even on days that are not sunny! The UV rays are not blocked by clouds and you still get exposure on cloudy days. Also, the UV rays can reflect off of many different types of surfaces, including snow, water such as the pools, oceans, lakes, and rivers, sand, and even light-colored concrete...so you may be getting sun exposure when you least expect it, even when you are sitting by the pool in the shade!

When you are not camping by the water, many people also feel they don't need to put on sunscreen...this is not a good practice. Sunscreen should be applied every day...even when you are not camping...but especially when you are camping! It is a good camping safety practice because when camping you are outdoors most of the day...the sunscreen helps you prevent a painful sunburn even when you don't feel you are getting sun.


How Much Sunscreen Should You Apply?

Apply liberally. The biggest mistake people make is to apply too little. You should apply one full ounce of sunscreen, which is approximately enough to fill a shot glass, to all areas of your body that are exposed.

Should You Reapply?

A big, fat YES to this question! Reapply your sunscreen throughout the day, at least every two hours, even more frequently if you have been swimming or sweating. Reapply frequently even if the sunscreen you have says it is water resistant, waterproof, or even for those that say they have all-day protection.

Does Sunscreen Expire?

Yes it does! Most sunscreen bottles will have an expiration date on them and you should take it seriously. Over time, the effectiveness of sunscreen does diminish and you want to make sure your sunscreen is as effective as possible!

The FDA requires that sunscreen work at its highest effectiveness for three years...so if you have purchased your sunscreen bottle within the last three years it is most likely still good.

However....remember you should be wearing sunscreen daily, not just when you are camping, so your bottle of sunscreen, if you are applying in proper amounts, should not be lasting you three years.!

Sunscreen Tips are Important Tips!

Because it so important to wear sunscreen and wear it properly, we would like to quickly summarize for you what we mentioned above:
• Wear sunscreen daily
• Re-apply your sunscreen every couple of hours, and even more often if you are swimming or sweating
• Use a minimum of SPF15, SPF 30 is better, we like SPF 70 for the face
• Apply liberally, use about 1 ounce per application.

Thank goodness for sunscreen! Not only does sun protection protect you against a sunburn, but it also protects you from skin cancer, wrinkles, and premature skin aging! Practice good camping safety habits and protect your skin from the sun by covering up.
Let's talk about some sunscreen tips, including the best sunscreens, when to apply it, and a few other important sunscreen facts!

Did you know that any type of a suntan, whether dark or minimal, is a sign of skin damage? Many people think that you can just slap on some sunscreen in the morning and be set for the whole day...this is a sunscreen myth!!!

The Best Sunscreen You Can Use Blocks Both UVA and UVB Rays
Forget the myths...instead, here are some sunscreen facts...There are two different kinds of ultraviolet rays we are exposed to, UVA and UVB. The SPF rating only accounts for the UVB rays...but it is important to wear sunscreen that blocks both types of rays.

SPF and The Best Sunscreens
Sunscreens come in different levels of protection, called SPF or sun protection factor, which is indicated as a number. The higher the SPF, the more protection your skin gets from the sun. The sunscreen will not block all of the rays your skin gets, but the way it works is for the number of SPF you put on, you can stay in the sun ten times that many minutes...for example:
The SPF number lets you calculate how much longer you can stay in the sun with the sunscreen on without getting burned than how long you could stay out without getting burned without any sunscreen on. It is a little complicated....for example, if you start to get a sunburn after 10 minutes being in the sun, then by applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 you can stay in the sun for 150 minutes longer than you would be able to without using any SPF. You simply multiple the number of the SPF by the number of minutes (15 x 10) you can normally stay out in the sun without getting a sunburn to get the number of minutes you can stay out before your skin will burn.

Let's try again...you still can stay out in the sun for 10 minutes when your skin is unprotected before starting to burn...but this time you apply SPF 30. So 10 minutes times SPF 30 gives you 300 minutes. You can stay out in the sun 300 minutes longer than your usual time without sunscreen before your skin will burn.But remember...when you are camping you will probably be outdoors, doing outdoor activities either in the water or around your campsite most of the day, for several days!
Now, I think most people don't know exactly how long they can stay out in the sun before starting to burn...I sure don't! But I recognize the importance of sunscreen...and I always wear sunscreen...even when not camping.

Facial Sunscreen
Neutrogena sunscreen with an SPF of 70. This Neutrogena sunscreen is specially made for the face. It won't clog the pores, and is sweatproof and waterproof. The best part, aside from the SPF 70 protection, is that it doesn't go on heavy and greasy like sunscreens we are used to...it is lightweight and smooth and feels more like a face cream than a sunscreen.
When putting sunscreen on your face, don't forget your lips as well. Many lipsticks or lip balms sold today contain SPF. For sunscreen for your lips, you should use a product with an SPF of at least 15.
Some Recommended Sunscreen Products:
In addition to Neutrogena, here are some of the best sunscreens and sun blocks to protect your skin and lips, recommended by top skin care specialists.

 

Common man thinks that cold in winter is unbearable. Even a fierce winter is bearable if you are well prepared. Clothing is the winter camper’s most important gear consideration. Your comfort, enjoyment, and fundamental safety all depend on your clothing “system”. A multi-layer system that is flexible and used in combinations that allows you to adapt efficiently to many environmental situations. For a temperature that goes down to -10°C or lower, the suggestion is to be in 5 – 6 layers. As the mercury level rises subsequently one can remove outer layers. But never strip off to less than 4 layers.
A six layer combination is normally suggested clothing for -15°C temperature. Winter is the coldest season of the year in Himalayan regions , between autumn and spring.
Those who like to do a winter trek are normally worried about how to prepare for the extreme cold conditions and how to overcome it. Vishwanath over a decade of his experience talks about how to face the snowy conditions and how to take care of oneself.
The question is what are the layers that you need
1 Thermal inner
2 T-shirts full arm.
1 Fleece Jacket
1 Wollen Sweater
1 Goose Down jacket 600, 800 and 1000

winter1.jpg

 Few brands like Rab Neutrino endurance Jacket , Patagonia Encapsil Down ,G 2 Valandre  Down Jacket are available.
 Depending on the comfort level Individual can try the permutations and combinations.
 For legs, one thermal inner, with two synthetic wear/fleece pants is usually more than  enough to tackle the cold.
 But what needs more protection are your head, fingers, toes, ears and nose. You need to  see that they stay warm and dry most times. This is what you need:

1 Balaclava or Monkey Cap
1 water proof gloves with insulation
2 pairs of thick woolen socks
1 wind stopper balaclava
1 Scarf

A scarf, also known as a Kremer, muffler or neck-wrap, is a piece of fabric worn around the neck, or near the head or around the waist for warmth. A scarf is something a lot of people neglect to carry, but is a useful. A scarf can protect your neck, your nose or work as an extra glove. This multi-utility gear is a must for a winter trek.
If during the day when the sun is out and in harsh sunlight, you are trekking, it actually gets very warm with the layers of clothes you have on.It makes you sweat so it is better to remove layers depending on the warmth.Better to stick to synthetic full arm synthetic t – shirt which protects skin from sun burn too and retain water content in skin.

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 Sunglasses are an easy solution that makes life more comfortable when outdoors, while also providing critical protection from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.Long-term exposure to UV rays can damage the eye’s surface as well as its internal structures, sometimes contributing to cataracts (clouding of the lens) and macular degeneration (breakdown of the macula). Always choose sunglasses that are labeled as blocking 99-100% of UV rays. Some manufacturers’ labels say "UV absorption up to 400nm." This is the same thing as 100% UV absorption.
Wraparounds offer added protection. Sunglasses that wrap around the temples prevent the sun’s rays from entering from the sides


Shoes
The most important thing to keep in mind is your shoes. You need a shoe that protects your ankle and gives you grip on snow. Always wear and try and then buy it.If you are confident with size then order online. Normally shoes are available in UK , US and Euro sizes.
* The common rule for choosing trekking/backpacking boots: Take one extra size larger than your normal size.
* High-quality footwear with Gore tex material will generally fit better and last longer. It is quick dry.It's worth spending more for a quality product.
* Brands like Asolo, Vasque, La Sportiva, Scarpa , Lowa and Meindl - have good Water proof trekking boots.                                                       aso.jpg.

Winter weather can deter even the most dedicated exercisers. Aside from the usual outdoor exercises such as walking, running, short hikes try shoveling snow is an excellent total body workout.

Gaiter
It is common question asked by trekkers who going for winter trek. Snow has a way of sneaking into even the most waterproof of boots. To prevent this, put on some gaiters. Gaiters cover the vulnerable tops of your footwear to fully protect your feet from the elements.Gaiters are garments worn over the shoe and lower pants leg, and used primarily as personal protective equipment. 
     • Regular gaiters are calf high, around 15" to 18" tall. These are designed for rugged conditions such as hiking through deep snow.
    • Gore-Tex®: This well-known laminate provides superior waterproof, windproof protection and  breathability. It's ideal for tromping through wet snowy conditions.

Gaiter

gaiter.jpeg

 

Gaiter Tips
Get a snug fit: Most gaiter styles come in sizes, which are aligned with a range of boot sizes. When you try on gaiters, adjust the straps to make sure the fit is snug. Your goal is to achieve the best possible seal around your boots. Wear low gaiters under your rain pants: This creates the most waterproof seal.
Go armed with the all the necessary gear for winter trek without fail or else you end up spending nights in cold without sleeping.

 

 

 

As I take a step, the next prayer follows. I am grabbing onto loose pebbles, trying to climb almost flat face on a mountain pass. There is not much distance left to the top. I am panting for breath and my heart is beating, and added to it the drop below is 2000 ft. Charang Ghati pass at 17,600 ft, the mountain pass in the Kinnaur Kailash range, is in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.

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 view from kalpa 

It has been four days since we left Lambar, the last motorable road at 9850 ft. We have crossed the alpine meadows, walked down to the valleys, crossed several streams seen waterfalls and snow-clad mountains all just a few hundred feet away.It is monsoon and while everything around seems pretty, walking in the rain is not advisable. The bugyals (alpine meadows) are blanketed with wild flower creating a kaleidoscope of colours. Clouds form a cover just a few feet above the ground and it seems I am literally walking on them.

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                                Heading to pass                                                                                          Wild folwer in bloom

     Our journey begins from Kalka in the morning. The route runs through Shimla-Narkhanda-Rampur-Karcham. The hills begin thereafter and the whole character of the journey changes. The serpentine road meanders almost parallel to Sutlej river through the mountains, pursuing a sinuous rhythm that is dictated by the terrain it weaves over and passes through. The fragrant air and the cool serenity of the surroundings work like a sedative. The sudden appearance of the upcoming mega power projects at Karcham and Wangthu threw us back to the Indian political apathy. A real eyesore in the Himalayan  grandeur. The construction of the dam and littering the area around with concrete and cacophony were like festering wounds.

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                   All in the days work                                                                                                                     Local folk in traditional attire 

But lofty mountains were potent enough to lift us to their summits from this ugliness. Snow-capped peaks now and then compel us to leave behind any lingering negative thoughts. That is the magic of the Himalayas!

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At Charang Base

 

     After a couple of days of trekking, we make an early start next day to reach Charang Ghati base camp (15,750).The weather is clear and the route from here is very broad; a ‘U’ shaped valley indeed! After two hours of trek, the route deteriorates to a virtual succession of jumps from one boulder to another. There have been massive landslides on the surrounding mountain sides. The last few hours to the base camp is a very steep climb and with no water under a scorching sun — a test of endurance indeed.

     We reach the base camp, an open ground surrounded by mountains and pitch our tents beside a glacial lake with difficulty as the cold winds blow from the glacier. Everyone is dog tired by now. We crane our necks to the limit to see the tops of the peaks and path beside the glacier. The clarity of the night sky never ceases to amaze at such places. A short campfire followed by hot khichidi with pickle fortifies us for a good night’s sleep.

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To the left visible is Charang Ghati pass

The next day, the final day we are lucky to have yet another clear morning. The initial climb is on the moraine and after crossing the stream flowing from the snout of the glacier we climb uphill crossing huge boulders with difficulty and reach the base of the pass.

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                                                   Members at Basecamp                                                                              View form pass

     The climb from here becomes even more steep at an 80 degree gradient indeed. The last steps to the summit really checks ones endurance and inner strength. The sudden appearance of prayer flags, thangkas, flickering in air makes us happy.

The pass offers a vast and interesting panorama of snow-clad mountains, valleys and bugyals. The trail continues for a couple of hours down with a steep descent, zigzagging down the green slopes and leads directly to Chitkul village at 11,320 ft situated in the Baspa river valley.

Next day we start early to retrace the route and travel along Mastrang-Sangla-Karcham and stop at midway at Jeori to bath in the natural hot springs. We visit Bhimkali temple at Sarahan which is 16 kms and are back to Kalka late night exactly 14 days after we had left.

 

 The Chirping sound of the birds intensified as the darkness befell. Miles and miles of undulating forest covered with peaks, seemed guarding the hillock in the diminishing light. The feeble wind blowing tickled us and I soon felt chill into the bones. After a arduous day’s hike in the dense forest we were standing on a cliff adjoining the hillock of Vellarimala. 

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Vellarimala forms a part of a high hill range of what is otherwise known as Camel's Hump Mountains, a part of the Western Ghats. Most of the hill range falls in the Meppady Forest Range of South Wayanad Division with some parts falling Thamarassery Range of Kozhikode Division. Vellarimala peak is at an altitude of 2050 meters while the highest peak of this range would be Vavulmala standing tall at 2330 meters.

     The forests here grow till great heights of 2000 meters and above deep in the interiors of Kerala, we learnt that the mountains here are higher than most of Western ghats, that, the shola grasslands so typical of western ghats do not grow in this part of the state, the absence of Crickets & even Cicadas in the forest resembled forest of South America and was looking Eerie..!


     Being jubilant and in a explorative mood amongst the members I dashed into the thickets unmindful of fading light. I reached the edge of the vantage point and was soon into a clearing to appreciate the great views. Finally was on top of the world even above the clouds. The clouds were repeatedly engulfing the high peaks and therefore I could’nt see much of the plains. I could see miles-n- miles of forest cover and distant peaks, most of them unknown. I could spot the Silver stream line of Olichuttam Waterfalls flowing down and the Chaliyar valley.

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                                                                            Beautiful Mistaken for a dawn - claude Debussy

    The changing colours in the sky promised me to witness a memorable sunset in the horizon. Unmindful of the risk I walked through the bushes and jostling for space  I peeped through the foliage and  lichens hanging from  the protruding branches. Still the evening sun seemed to be in a bucket of gold in the far horizon. It was a perfect silhouette and indeed synonymous with peak  indeed.!. The peaks of Masthakapara, Chembra  and Wayanadu Mala glittered with a pinkish tinge. I stood gazing at the sky  till the crescent moon peeped through the scattered clouds. I tiptoed towards the Campsite in the moonlight which was in yonder.Greeting mother nature for granting me a fabulous sunset and felt all my efforts were worthwhile..!. Suddenly a grunting sound and giant shadows passing in the bushes lit by backlight brought goose pimples within no time...!

Asian Traveller

View of AgasthyaMala peak from Athirumala

On A Divine Trail to Agasthya Mala

Agasthya Mala Peak, also called the Agastyarkoodam is 1868 metres tall. Many rivers including Kararnana, Neyyar and Thamixabharani originate from the peak. Agasthya Mala Peak is also famous for its abundant medicinal plants. R Viswanath takes you to the peak for a trekking experience...

AIthough the yatra season had begun and the train was packed to the core, I somehow managed to reach Thvandxum in the wee hours of that chilly morning. After munching a few appame for breakfast I headed straight away to a pLace caUcd Kottur and aftct a bumpy jeep ride reached a small sleepy hamlet of Kanni tribe settlement called Podium in the afternoon. It is cozily tucked away inside the Peppara wildlife sanctuary about 70 kn from the capital city.

Rofreshing under a perennial waterfall nearby. I reclined over a rock overlooking the hill. The monolithic giant rock face of Agasthya Mala rising above 6300ft was looming in the distance dominating the landscape. I was on an adventurous trek to that sacred hill situated in the heart of the sanctuary. My friend and guide Surendran, for the next few days, narrated a few of the mythological storics reLated to the sacred hiD and the sage Agasthya Spread over 23 sq km Agasthyamabi Biosphere Reserve straddles the borders of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts in Kerala, and Tirunelveli and Kanyakuman Districts In Tamil Nadu, at the southern end of the Western Chats.

The Agasthyamalai Hi11s also called the Ashambu Hills or Agasthyagooduni,. lie at the extreme southern end of the Western Chats mountain range along the western aide of South India. The hills are notable as the habitat for over Z000 species of medicinal plants among which 50 plants arc very rare and declared endangered, The hills are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Rarespecies of orchids are found in the dense forests here. The Agasthya mountain region Is known to show exceptionally high levels of abundance among p4ants many of which are restricted In their distribution. The mountain region receives intense rains for more than
six months.

Over 170 species of plants In undisturbed forests, which Includes over 75 species of canopy trees, 50 species of shrubs and nearly
25 species of lianas and herbs. Clinging on the branches of Cullcnia and Ebecarpus tuberculatus one may see exotic orchids of which there are 25 and more species.
We spotted a few butterflies such as Red Mrnirai, Blue Tiger and Great EFly. Agasthyamala has aLso the orIgins of many rivers like Kallada, Achankoll, Varnanapuram, Karaman.a and Neyyar River in the Kerala side and the Thamirabaranl. Ramanadhi, and Manimuthar In Tamil Nadu side.

Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve Is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.
These hills contain areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. The hills contain outstanding examples of ecosystems and communities of plants and animals representing significant ecological and biological processes. The bill is blessed with rare species of herbs and medicinal plants.

A very rare and spcaal herbal plant named Are paths (rrlchopus 7eylanlcus) famously known as Plant of Eternal Health. Is a specialty of Agasthyamala, and It attracts many researchers to this area. The sides and slopes of Agasthyakoodam is natuarally gardened with a special type of green herbs. Neelakurinii (Strubbilanthus Kundiyanthus) which usually blooms once in 12 years I, also found here. When It blooms, the entire area will be carpeted with the violet-coloured flower and it is an eye catching sight for the nature lovers.

This place is also home to many endangered species of wild animals, like Lion-Tailed Macaques, Bengal Tiger, Nilgui Marten. Nilgin Tahr, Malabar Spiny Dormouse, Great Pled Hornbills,Gaur, and Sloth Bear. Reptiles found here iridude the Green Calottes, Sklnlts (The Common Blue-tailed skink is found only In thy Wcstem Gbatsi. and snakes like the Bamboo Pit Viper, Shield- Tailed Ocellate, Vine Snake, Rat Snake and the Cobra.
Agastyamala Is home to the Kanikicaran people, one of the oldest sun viighunter-gatherer tribes in the world Agasthyar was a Dravidian sage, and Is considered to be one of the seven Rishis (Saptarishi) of Hindu mythology.

TheTamil language Is considered to be a boon from Agasthyar.
Europeans, particularly those from England, are said to be the first to establish tea garden around the base stations of Agasthyarkoodam at Brimore, Bonacaud and Ponmudi


Kerala Tourlsm-GoAir Deal to Bring More TourIsts

agasthya3

A apart of its aggressive .Ckmarketing strategy, Kerala Tourism signed a Memorandum of Understanding (M0U) with leading Indian carrier Go Air to offer exclusive discounted fares to visitors to Gods Own Country. The MoU, sIgned by P1 Sheik Pareeth, Kerala Tourism Director and Mana Dharmani, GoAir Vice-President under a new Destination Promotion’capitalise on the increasing propensity for travel in the domestic market, will make travelling to the state easier and cheaper.

The offer, applicable only asa bundled packagealong with a Kerala holiday, will be available on GoAir flIghts to Kerala from as many as eight cities, including Delhi, Mumbal, Ahmedabsd, Lucknow, Jaipur and Nagpur. The airline will offer a fixed allocation of seats under the MoU, which has been signed for two years, with the fares reviewed every 3-4 months.

Special fares under the promotional schema will be available for bookings made from September 1 through tour operators accredited by Kerala Tourism. The initial scheme will continue until January 2015. The packages can be booked exclusively from the official Kerala Tourism site wwwJcralatowism.org where a Link will take the user to the list of accredited tour operators, a release stated.
Kerala Tourism Minister A P Anilkurnar, said, 9’he MoU opens a new chapter in domestic tourism. It shows our cotnrnitnient to support the tour operators fraternity in Kerala and other industry stakeholders, as well as our efforts to offer the best services to visitors’.

The timing of the scheme will also ensure that tourists visiting KeraLa are protected from the high cost of air travel during the festival season, he added. Kerala Tourism Secretary Suman Bills said the exclusive discounted fare package to travellers during the peakseason has taken domestic tourism to a new level by eliminating the pressures of the market

Kerala Tourism Director Sheik Pareeth said the MoU is cxpccted to help cvmcnt Kerala’s reputation as a top tourist destination among both international visitors and the Increasingly travel-savvy Indians.

GoAl, Vice-President, Mano Dtiarmanl, said, ‘Our aim Is to positively participate in the growth of tourism in Gods Own Country. We are hoping to bring more tourists, especially from North India to Kerala, which Is he described ass ‘much-sought after dream destination’.

Asian Traveller - September 2014 Edition of the magazine - http://issuu.com/mediastepsindia/docs/asian_traveller_september_2014

         Tropical evergreen forests of Western Ghats are home to a many endangered species of flora and flora. Baccuarea tree that grows in dense forests here bears a crimson coloured

Satopanth Taal

Retracing the Foot Steps of Pandavas
Though I had heard about this divine lake upteen times the opportunity to visit it just came suddenly as a blessing in disguise during one of my visit to Badrinath. As soon as I heard I was keenly looking forward to trek to divine lake.

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Devotee takes a holy dip at Satopanth Lake.Satopanth 7005 m peak RHS in the background.
Satopanth Taal is a high altitude lake situated at an altitude of 15,100 ft below Satopanth Peak in Uttarakhand state of India popularly known as Dev Bhoomi. The lake is considered to be of religious significance to the Hindus. Holy scriptures from epics say that Pandavas after the Mahabaratha war and after paying obeisance to lord Shiva visited Badrinath – The Abode of Lord Vishnu. Later decided to attain swarga after visiting to Satopanth taal. During their Journey the Pandava brothers Left behind their souls at various places. It was the elder brother Yudhistira who attained swarga after answering Yakshas queries. It is said that Chariot sent by Indra came from Swarga to receive the Pandava brother. It is said that during Yogini Ekadashi day all three Trimurthi’s visit the Lake to take dip in the pristine and holy water of lake.
Satopanth lake is triangular a lake of serene water has a perimeter of about half a kilometer. It is about 25 Kms. from Badrinath. At 6 A.M. our jeep driver came to our hotel at Badrinath and we started for Mana. Our guide Balwant was waiting for us. After having tea at his house we started our trek.The route till Mana – The last village on Uttaranchal Border was full of Pilgrims.
Day 01 : Mana to Bandhar. Dist 13 kms.Dur 06 hrs.
After crossing river Alakananda over a metal bridge we reached Mata Mandir on left bank. We asked Mataji's blessings and moved forward. The trail was really very narrow but was not dangerous. After reaching Chamtoli we had our packed lunch that was brought from Mana.

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 On the Alakapuri Glacier with Nar and Narayan Peaks in the background.
The place was full of greenery and trekking was enjoyable. We could see the Vasudhara falls on the other side of Alakananda. After crossing Laxmivan we moved forward to Bandhar. Our night halt was at Bandhar which is 12 kms from Mana. Balwant cooked for us. Our porters Naveen and Kiran pitched tent for us. We enjoyed the hot dinner in the chilled weather.

Day 02 : Bandhar - Satopanth Tal 12 kms. 06 hrs.
At dawn we started from Bandhar. Our destination was Satopanth Tal. Our guide Balwant told us that it would be long and tough trek through out the day. We understood that during the day. The trail was through bolder zones. We crossed the Sahastra Dhara and the Neelkanth peak Base Camp on our way. Specifically, there was no trail, we just followed Balwant as moved forward. We saw the Alakapuri glacier, which is the source of Alakananda river. Some parts of the trekking route was so steep that we had to sit and rest for a while. We felt how tough it was for the Pandavas to cover this region. This boosted our energy to move further.

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Mount Balakun

We had our lunch at Chakrateerth. Many trekkers camp here before reaching Satopanth. But we had to reach Satopanth so, we just took a lunch break here. After Chakrateerth, the trail was really dangerous. It was not only steep but also full of boulders. We had to cross a glacier covered with moraines. These parts are really risky without an experienced guide. Otherwise, one may lost his way and may get into the crevasses. After a tough trek we reached Satopanth Tal in the evening. Our porters reached before us and they made all the arrangements at Satopanth Tal. They welcomed us with hot tea which really made our tiredness vanish instantly.

Day 3 : Satopanth Taal – Swargarohini Base – Satopanth Taal.
Last night it was raining throughout the night. But we were lucky enough because clear sky and the gigantic peaks greeted us in the morning. After breakfast we started for our day trek towards Swargarohini. It was the toughest part of the whole trek. Most of the trekkers return from Satopanth Tal and very few mover forward towards the Swargarohini Ice Fall. The road was very narrow and can be compared with an edge of a sword. We reached Surya Kund without much trouble. But the most dangerous part of our trek was crossing the moraine. It was full of crevasses. Somehow we managed to reach Som-Kund. From Som-Kund we could see the Swargarohini Ice Fall more clear. We were lucky enough to get a nice view of it for a while but the weather started to deteriorate. It was getting worse and we had no provisions for night stay on the way with us. Our plan was to visit Vishnu Kund and return back to Satopanth on the same day. At that moment we had to decide whether to move forward or return. Ultimately, we decided to return as it was wise to return rather get ourselves in trouble.

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Later we understood that it was a wise decision. On our way back, it started raining. We somehow, walked slowly over the moraines and then through the narrow trail. At last we returned back to Satopanth Tal which we made as our base camp for Swargarohini. It was then raining heavily. We had to confine ourselves in the tents and enjoy the rain with hot Khichri, pappad and hot tea.

Day 04 : Reserve day at Satopanth Taal.
Our Hindu mythology has a belief that Ekadashi is the most auspicious day at Satopanth Tal because the three Gods, Lord Bhramha, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva comes here to take a dip in the lake. It is also believed that if a person take holy dips in this lake he or she will never reborn and return to this world. We chose this day to take a holy dip in the Satopanth Tal. It was really challenging for me to take dips in the chilled water of Satopanth Tal at an altitude of 15,100 feets. But with Gods' grace I didn't have any problem. My Dada performed a whole puja on the banks of the Lake. We spent the whole day at Satopanth Tal and I enjoyed the scenic beauty over there. Tibetan crows are found here in a large number. It is also believed that if anything falls in the lake, these birds pick up those things with their beaks to keep the lake clean. It was really an amazing fact though I didn't experienced anything like that. The day at Satopanth Tal was really a life time experience. At evening it again started raining and the weather really got worst.

Day 05 : Satopanth Taal – Chamatoli. Dist 12 km Dur 06 hrs.
After three nights at Satopanth Tal, the moment arrived when we had to leave the holy lake and get back to our normal life. We realized that

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it was most disappointing moment. The road felt more rough to us.
Next came the most challenging moment of our trek. The night before rained very badly and we discovered that the streams en-route were roaring with the flow of rain water. We somehow managed to trek over the terrain. As we were near to Sahashra Dhara, it started to rain. We covered ourselves in rain-coats and walked like a tired mule. We just followed our guide and porters. Visibility was too low. We kept short distance between ourselves so that we don't lose the trail. At last we reached Chamtoli Bugiyal. As per plan we camped here. Team member Sameer took the job of cook and prepared a delicious "Khichri" meal for all of us. It was our last camping of this trek. The next day we would reach Mana if everything goes right.
Day 06 : Chamotoli to Mana.
It was our last day of the trek. We were really feeling great as our trek was a grand success. All of us were safe and healthy. But our soul was still missing the ambience of Satopanth Tal and Swargarohini. A short drive brought us to Badrinath in no while we had darshan of Badri Narayan.

Vishwanath R Dugganahalli

 

 

namdapa - Towards Firmbase camp

                                                              A Faraway Jungle Retreat : Namdapa

The dense fog had delayed my flight and a sudden bundh in Assam threatened to disrupt my itinerary. I landed in Dibrugarh, then freshened up at a friend’s place at Mohanbari and collected the inner line permit required for the trek.
After parathas for breakfast at a road side dhaba, I passed through Tinsukia, Digboi, Ledo and Margherita. I crossed the Assam border at Namchik and reached Miao- the taluk head quarters of the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh. This North Eastern state was going to be our home for the trek.

I got the restricted area permit from the forest authorities and then had a three hour drive on a narrow slushy road before reaching our final destination- Namdapa National Park. By the time I reached the Deban camp it was already dark. After having a quick dinner I spent the first night in the forest guest house.

Namdapa National Park is the largest protected area in India and is a rich biodiversity hotspot in the Eastern Himalayas. It was declared a Project Tiger Reserve in 1983 and spans an area of 1985 sq km. The park is located between the snow-clad Dapha Bum range of the Mishmi hills and the Patkai hill range with a wide altitudinal range between 200m and 4571m above sea level.

Abundant in flora and fauna
The park is home to about 96 species of Mammals. These include four big cats- namely the snow leopard, clouded leopard, common leopard and the tiger.
Other predators that are found here are dholes, wolves, Asiatic black bears, red foxes, civets and marbled cats. Herbivores like elephants, boars, Gaurs, wild buffalo and hog deer also abound here. The park is home to seven species of primate including the stump tailed macaque, slow loris, hoolock gibbon, capped langur, Assamese macaques and rhesus macaques to name a few.
Abundant in birdlife, the park has about 453 species which include rare members like Fulvettas, Amur falcons, Green Cochoas and white tailed fishing eagles.

The flora of the park includes 150 kinds of timber, bamboo, Mishmi Teeta plants, medicinal plants, blue Vanda orchids and parasitic plants like Sapria Himalayana.
The next morning I woke up to the howling of hoolock gibbons. Our guide Bansa was ready with morning tea. After a quick run through about our trek route in the buffer zone area and an early breakfast, I set out with backpacks and two porters.

We crossed the fast flowing Noa Dihing River by ferry and continued our walk uphill. After crossing the Deban stream I reached a mark called zero point. Here I wore leech guards as per Bansa’s advice as I was entering rich evergreen rainforest infested with numerous blood sucking leeches. The ground here was dark and cool. It seemed the sunrays were making furious attempts to kiss the foliage on the ground. We were walking under a thick canopy of trees shooting up to a height of about 200-300 ft. I could see the Myristica fruits, nuts, wild flowers and other variety of foliage fallen on the ground. I could spot green birds like the drongo, spotted dove, jungle fowl, snowy throated babbler, blue napped pitta and pale headed woodpecker. High above us were the great hornbills making roosting calls and flying between trees tops.

We passed through a large clearing in the forest called Haldibari and about a three hour trek from there took us to the Hornbill camp, which we reached in the evening.

Hornbill Camp
Since hornbill camp is situated in the midst of towering evergreen forest, it was almost dark at 4 pm. Hornbill camp is thus called as it is one of the few places in Namdapa where one can see four hornbill species – the great hornbill, white throated brown hornbill, rufous necked hornbill and the wreathed hornbill. Other birds like white tailed flycatchers, pied falcovets, large scimitars, streaked wren babblers and nut hatches are also in plenty.

Our porters prepared hot soup followed by an early dinner and we slipped into our sleeping bags. Even from our tents we were able to see nocturnal animals like the Malayan giant squirrel and the Flying squirrel jumping from tree to tree in the pitch dark.


Sulphur Springs
On the second morning of our trek, we woke up to the usual live orchestra of great barbets, sultan tits, bulbuls, sun birds, doves and gibbons.
After a cup of hot tea and noodles for breakfast we started early and soon reached a place called Bulbulia – a decrepit watch tower overlooking the valley. The path passed through tall evergreen forests covered with bamboo. We could hear the call of peacock pheasants hoolock gibbons and capped langurs all around us.

Soon we came upon natural sulphur springs bubbling out of the ground. The atmosphere was heavy with a pungent smell caused by the methane. Here we noticed a curious phenomenon- the mud would ignite if it came into contact with a spark because of the natural chemicals in the ground!

We also noticed pugmarks of elephants, gaur, mithun and sambar on this marshy area. The animals come here after dark to drink and the water is said to be salty to taste. It is also believed that this water has medicinal properties which cure some skin ailments.
We then descended from the plateau and came upon grassland about three km wide. We were on the Namdapa river bed where elephant grass grows profusely. Wading through the thick grass almost 10 feet in height was disorienting but we finally managed to reach our campsite by evening. It was an unforgettable experience pitching our tents on the sands next to the swift flowing Namdapa river and with the snow-clad Dapha Bhum peaks in the background.

Now it was time for a taste of the local cuisine. We started with a drink- Apong, which is a kind of rice beer. Then Wangpa our cook, prepared Chungma Rice or Bamboo Rice (made with rice rolled in kopat leaves then inserted in bamboo and baked) with green vegetables for dinner. We retired early as it was very cold and everyone in the group is exhausted.

The whole valley was enveloped with fog on the third morning of our trek. We started early and walked downstream parallel to the river. Suddenly we came across a herd of wild water buffaloes (Babulus amee) grazing in the grassland. Water birds such as black storks, white bellied herons, rufous chestnut kingfishers, cormorants and goliath herons were everywhere.


Rickety bridges
We crossed the Namdapa River over a bamboo bridge to reach our next campsite of Embeong. Bamboo bridges found here are the only way to cross the river .During the winter when the water level is low, the Lisu tribe constructs makeshift bridges using bamboo and creepers.

Crossing these rickety looking bridges is at first a harrowing affair requiring a lot of body balance and is certainly not for the faint of heart! We were basically walking on a single bamboo stem with a flimsy railing on one side for support. The whole structure swayed maddeningly, while the swift river raged down below. A small mistake could lead to fatal accidents. What’s more, the bridges are often washed away by the rising waters each monsoon.

A nominal fee of Rs15 is collected from those who use the bridge. This area is also home to the Singpho,Tangsa and Chakma tribes who are said to have migrated long back from Bangladesh. It is amazing to see these people nonchalantly carry heavy loads over these bridges everyday.


Visiting the Lisu tribe
Situated at the confluence of the Noa Dihing and Namdapa rivers is the Embeong campsite. From here we started immediately to visit the fascinating Lisu village.

Lisu houses are unique, with thatched roofs built from a timber skeleton, walls of interwoven cane and floors of bamboo. Almost all the houses are raised on timber stilts with a staircase leading to the front door. The Lisu tribe follows Christianity.
We were offered a cup of boiled bitter tea and sweet flour cake as Christmas was round the corner. But for the rest of the year the diet of the Lisu people is pretty simple, consisting of boiled vegetables, meat, rice and green vegetables with only salt for taste.
They grow plenty of fruits such as persimmon, pineapples, oranges, guava and sugarcane. Farming is done on the banks of the Noha Dihing River.

On the morning of the fourth day in magical Namdapa, we left Embeong early as usual as we had a long way to go.
After crossing the bridge we passed through grassland and walked more or less parallel to river. We crossed many more zig zag bridges before the day was over. The last leg of our trek involved climbing up and down hills and dales. Finally we hit the Miao – Vijoynagar road by evening.

From here we could get a bird’s eye view of the thick forest cover and could see the Noa Dihing River snaking through the valley and Himalayan mountain range.

We made our way back to the Debam camp in the pitch dark and biting cold.  This four-day circuit trek through the Namdapa wilderness was a wonderful opportunity to see up close some of the remote flora, fauna and local tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. An experience of a lifetime indeed.

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