Saturday 28 April 2018

Monkey vs Man!

Hi there!

I am Kapi, a macaque. I am a Rhesus Macaque; scientifically they call me a macaca mulatta. We are found almost everywhere (tch tch.. look up, yes, there we are… no, on your left, no on the right, yes, just there!).

We are a playful lot, certainly harmless, just looking for lots of fun. Yet we are one of the most misunderstood species. You say we infiltrate your territory, but actually it is you humans who are always looking to invade our peaceful regions! And mind you, if you try to come too close, well… we like it! I mean, that way we will collect our tax: some food or anything shiny. If you refuse to give, we will simply snatch away! So whenever approaching us, or whenever we are approaching you, have an open mind to give something to us!

Don’t believe me? Well, let me recite 2 stories of one your species, Shobhit, who, like us, seem to be almost anywhere!

1: Mehandipur Balaji

One of the most iconic Hindu gods, Lord Hanuman, is also our ancestor. And Mehandipur Balaji temple in Dausa district of Rajasthan is his abode. Not only among us macaques, but the temple is also sacred amongst humans. We know from ages ago that this temple has miraculous healing power, especially for those who are possessed by evil spirits of macaques or other humans (yes, I am talking about exorcism!). And you know, in the spirit world also, you humans have infiltrated our territory!

Due to its reverence, we have generously lent to the humans our lands and territory around the temple area. Of course, we do regularly collect our tax – mainly the delicious food, some shelter and lots of frolicking around!

One fine afternoon, my family and I were resting on a terrace of some dharamshala (pious shelters where pilgrims take rest). We are a family of over 25, including my brothers, sisters, kids, kids’ kids and kids’ kids’ kids. I am the head, as I have the longest tail of them all, and I am the biggest one too (what!? who said there “actually, the fattest one”!?).

We were soaking in the shiny sun in solitude when, suddenly, someone or something shattered the serenity of silence. “Squeak-squeak-squeak” the stopper was being unbolted, than “bang!” the black terrace-door crashed opened. Some of the frightened birds flew hither thither as a bigger and fatter figure hustled from inside.

This was Shobhit, a typical human! “Waaaw”, he exclaimed from the second-storey terrace, as if he had climbed the Himalayas to reach here! Though, I would agree, the view of the Aravalies from the terrace is certainly wow-inducing.

There was a curious shiny little thing dangling from his neck, which he regularly used to place in front of his eye, press some button, look into it and exclaim “Waaaw!” (Later I came to know that this shiny thing was his camera). He seemed to be un-frightened about our presence (mind you, we were 25 of us!). Even though he kept a ‘safe’ distance from us, he had broken into our privacy and intruded our peace! That demands some serious tax!

And, we had found a way to collect our tax: he had kept the black terrace-door ajar. Stupid him! All we had to do was to sneak inside and collect as much tax as possible! Sounds easy, isn’t it?

No – there was a catch! It seemed that he had set up a sort of ambush downstairs. Just as we were finishing our business (yes, monkey business as usual - gathering food for our children, and also ‘borrowing’ some shiny items for them to play with) some humans attacked us. They came with boots and sticks. They came in numbers. “Thwack!” a severe blow landed – my posterior is still red… ouch! Agreed, my friends made noises and frightened the innocent pilgrims, agreed that we made the pilgrims shriek just for fun, but really we meant no harm! Hey, this is us, we do the messing around, we make the noises and you know that! Why beat us for our gaiety? Why always so serious, you humans?

Not only our posteriors, but our faces were also red due to anger! We rushed upstairs, dropping everything we had arduously collected, and hurled ourselves through the black terrace-door. To rub salt to our wounds, we caught our chubby guest making faces just like we usually do, oblivious of all these happenings, while ‘waaaw-ing’ away with his shiny thing. Making fun of us? Grrr… Revenge time!

He was initially startled when we hurtled from the terrace door one by one like bullets coming out of barrel. And mind you, our faces bore expressions of anger! But look at his audacity, he was still unperturbed, or was he petrified due to fear? Probably the latter, for I decided to show-off by making a droplet of saliva drip from my sharp canine, and this was enough to propel him to run! This fat boy can run, aha! But he cannot outrun us! And where would he go? The black terrace-door was behind us, the 25-strong group of macaques!

He ran, nevertheless. We ran behind him, thumping the floor with our clenched fists and growling in anger. He ran faster, we ran more rapidly. He wanted to get away, but we were gaining on him. He started getting exhausted, but not us! He was protecting his shiny thingy, but that’s what we were after! All this commotion had attracted my brother-monkeys from other terraces, and our numbers swelled. “Revenge time!”, I growled, and my family reverberated. “Vengeance!”

But what happened next was completely unanticipated!

His face was suddenly lit for a moment. Had an idea struck him? Unexpectedly, he stopped, and started shouting gibberish at the top of his lungs. He sort of entered into a trance, as if possessed by some evil spirit. “He is at the right place!” I thought, “Arre isko koi leke jao Mandir pe (Someone, please take him to the Temple for exorcism!)”

I noticed that all his sudden actions were targeted especially at me, since I was the biggest one. And boy, was I scared! Never have I ever seen a human doing such actions unless he is possessed. And it seemed like he was possessed by a truly evil monkey-spirit, since he jumped and screamed like a huge monkey! Maybe that’s why he was targeting only me. Meanwhile, I, who was leading the charge, now had to back away, because the table had turned – it was him who was now charging at us! (Did someone say “Pacman strategy”?) Furthermore, my 25-member family was also terrified. As he charged at us, we had to make way, or he could have trampled us!

We breathed a sigh of relief as soon as he ran past us, towards the black-terrace door. Hold on – towards the door? Had we allowed him to escape? He looked back at us with a smirk upon his face. “Chase him!” I shouted while dashing across, but now it was too late. As soon as he exited the terrace, he unfortunately shut the door behind him - “Bang!” and then “thud-thud-thud!” as we crashed onto the terrace-door. Along with my posterior and face, my head was also now red!

2: Bhimashankar

Now, humans have so much infiltrated our territory that some of the only safe havens left for us are the dense jungles like those near Bhimashankar.

Bhimashankar is one of the 12 Jyotirlingams (divine Shiva-lingams, dedicated to Lord Shiva). It is about 150 kms away from Mumbai, in Maharashtra. Humans who are like us macaques generally trek 15 kms from the base village Khandas, through our territory of dense forests, to reach Bhimashankar. There is also a 200 km direct road to Bhimashankar. I don’t know why humans don’t take this route, and always look to invade our solitude.

One fine day, while holidaying down south near the jungles of Bhimashankar, I spotted a familiar face dazed and lost among the woods. Our old enemy, Shobhit, all alone this time, was hastily heading towards a desolate homestead in the middle of the dense forest. Certainly he had lost his way, because even we macaques do not dare to venture near the haunted looking homestead.

Earlier too, as per our secret correspondent at the Khandas village, he seemed to have lost his way near a small shrine en-route. He had missed a turn towards the correct route, and in this wilderness, one missed turn could certainly make things ugly. He was in luck, though, as he was unable to get past the thorny cobwebbed thicket which hid other nightmares… After 30 mins of desperate search for the right path, he had finally found one, which led to the small deserted shrine, an important milestone for the trekkers.

What interested me, however, were the goodies that he carried in his bag, as my correspondent friends reported. At the deserted shrine, he took some rest and munched on delicious looking food - chocolates, biscuits and packed juice. From that time on, my friends were secretly but closely following him…

After about 2 hours, he was lost again. Maybe, the scary looking herd of the biggest of cows and buffaloes from the nearby settlement had blocked the correct trail, but he had certainly missed the turn again. Instead, he took the trail which was heading downwards in the opposite direction.

After venturing downwards some distance, he returned, looking anxious and searching desperately for the right trail. In just few hours, it would be twilight.

We macaques were high up among the trees so that he couldn’t see us. We watched his every move without even his knowledge: he was too concerned about the foliage and what lay beneath… “Crunch, crunch, crunch…” was the only sound as he walked on the carpet of dry yellow leaves on his way towards the compound. It was so thick that even the earlier trail seemed to have been buried underneath it…

He made his way upwards towards a clearing hoping to find the correct trail, but his each step was carrying him closer towards the abandoned homestead which stood almost in isolation, away from the correct trail. I could see his desperation turn into shock, as he realized that there was no trail leading into or out from the fenced compound… Out of desperation, he let himself into the fenced compound through an unbolted door hoping to find someone, since the small hut inside looked a little too well-maintained to believe that it was actually abandoned. There was something uncanny about silence - he could even hear its sound. However, there was neither sound nor sign of any other human…

And in just a few minutes, he came back sweating and looking terrified. God only knows why. I remembered how he made us terrified that day at Mehandipur Balaji. “Now’s the best time for us to take the revenge”, I thought, “Time to collect our undue taxes!” From high up on the trees, I decided to jump on his bag to frighten him further, so that he just leaves his bag and run for his life. “DHAAM!” my aim was perfect as I landed on his goodie-filled backpack, but the impact was so great that it nearly made him topple, which made the backpack shake violently, forcing me to jump off it.

He ran, as fast as he could, without even turning to see who/ what actually fell. He ran down towards the herd of scary looking buffaloes, who looked lot friendlier to him that time. “Oh, again, opportunity lost…” I thought. 

After a full 10 minutes of waiting amongst the cattle, he looked calmer. So, again he took to explore the abandoned compound in search for a trail, which was never meant to be found there. We sensed our opportunity… But I did not know fate had other, more sinister plans… The real terror was about to come…

He again neared the deserted compound. “Crunch, crunch, crunch…” I looked down towards him, and this time he stood frozen. “Crunch, crunch, crunch…” the sound came from other side of the bushes. “Crunch, CRUNCH, swoosh” His face turned white as he watched an unkempt man, with thick Veerappan-like moustache, suddenly appeared out of the bushes. Even though I was high among the trees, I myself was terrified – the Unkempt Man carried a long machete, swinging it carelessly in his right hand as he walked slowly towards him…

Shobhit remained petrified: the Unkempt Man, wielding his machete threateningly, came too close to his comfort, but he was too terrified to even move. Just as I thought he would wield his blade at Shobhit anytime, the Unkempt Man walked past him, bringing colours back to his face. But just a few steps afterwards, the Unkempt Man stopped and turned around to beckon him to follow. God only knew his intentions… As if hypnotised, Shobhit followed him and disappeared behind the veil of thick foliage. That was the last time I ever saw him and I do not know as of yet what may have happened to him…


All the images in story 1 and one image from story 2 are downloaded from the internet.

Sunday 26 November 2017

Buran Ghati - 2015: Part II

Part II: The Divinity All Around

Part 1: The Infinite

Litham campsite en-route Chandranahan waterfall

June 22: Dayara (3400 m) to Litham (3560 m), 3 hours

It’s a beautiful morning, when you wake up to the sweet smell of the meadows, the tinkling of cattle bells, the calls for hot tea and the sights of the wisps of smoke billowing from firewood in the cold air, against the backdrop of mighty mountains!

Some more wanderings

We were greeted by crisp blue skies. Gaurav and I decided to walk uphill as far as we could go, meandering through herds of cattle, and carefully avoiding stepping onto impeccant little flowers, till we realized that these flowers are omnipresent and we were unable to avoid stepping on them! We went quite far, towards the cliff which was cut by the humble looking stream which flowed through Dayara. Although it looked merely a stone’s throw away, it took us nearly an hour to return to our campsite from this excursion.

The breakfast was ready; we treated ourselves to delicious pancakes along with cornflakes!


Across the valley, just near the razor-sharp crests, a lone lammergeyer decided to make an appearance - a “flight of freedom”. A first sign of life, opposite the valley, apart from the dim flickering light the other night…


Flight of freedom!

A little hiccup

Within the next hour, we readied ourselves for yet another adventurous trek to our next campsite Litham. “If you call this most beautiful campsite, wait till you reach Litham!” Saranbir said, as we un-pitched our tent. Meanwhile, one of our fellow trekker Sandhya was lying down feeling unwell, and her husband along with a few crew members stayed on to look after her. “Don’t worry, she would come along pretty soon” said Saranbir. Given her expansive trek experience (she is Indiahikes co-founder, with experience of 30+ treks!), I did not give it a second thought, not knowing that fate had other plans!

The ups and downs and the solitude

Beautiful vista of the Dhauladhar mountains (meaning: The White Range)

Just a few minutes into the trek, just as we crossed a fold of the mountain, we witnessed another breath-taking vista: that of vanilla clad Dhauladhar Mountains flanked by sharp-edged chocolaty Chanshal Mountains on the right and undulating green meadows on the left.
Crossing the stream

Today’s trek was not much daunting. It was mostly flat, almost entirely on meadows, with a few stream-crossings in between. For each of the stream-crossings, we descended through a small patch of forest up till the rivulet, used wooden logs or boulders to cross the stream, and then ascend again sharply through a similar patch of forest. Each time, the descending part was slippery and the ascending part pretty tiring. But at the end of each ascent, we were rewarded by the beautiful views of white Dhauladhar Mountains, each time closer than the previous time.

We walked in a queue on the narrow trails, or sometimes in small groups on flatter areas. Sometimes, I was all alone, others out of line of sight. This invoked feelings of total solitude, as if I am cut-off from the rest of the world, in the lap of mighty Himalayas!

Me (at top) taking a different route!
(PC: Sanjhi Khanna)

Oversized poncho

While we were enjoying the serenity of nature, we were unwary of the clouds getting darker with each passing minute. Soon it began drizzling, which prompted us to enwrap ourselves in ponchos. My poncho was quite big, and I was continuously tripping on it. This, along with the slippery trail and steep slopes, made my traverse quite unnerving!

Steep slopes

Colourful ponchos!

After crossing (actually, hopping through!) a boulder section, we rested for a while, enjoying the beauty all around. We were offered unrestricted view of the Pabbar River flowing just below, surrounded by the emerald meadows criss-crossed by frozen streams.
How many shades of Green can you see?


Across the valley, the dark mountains become more precipitous, and the snow pinnacles mystically hide under the grey clouds…


Hailstorm at Litham!

First rendezvous with frozen ice!

The landslide section just afterwards was quite tricky – it felt as if we were traversing through a quicksand. Just half an hour later, at around 12.30, we reached our campsite Litham. As soon as we reached, it began pouring, with hailstones accompanying. A shallow fog enveloped the campsite and mesmerising views were cut-off. We were out in the open, getting drenched in the cold rain, waiting for porters who carried our tents to arrive. Some of us went up to a nearby stream (which we later came to know that this was actually river Pabbar!) Here, we had our first rendezvous with ice frozen over the stream! 

The rugged mountains

Soon, the porters arrived, and the tents were pitched in no time. For the next hour or two, we were inside our tents, still incognisant of the beauty all around us – a mighty waterfall on the left, a beautiful confluence just ahead, ice bridges on the streams nearby and greenery all around, not to mention the backdrop of mighty Himalayas!

The Chandranahan waterfall

Adding to the fog!
While it was pouring outside, Saranbir and Co were busy preparing delicious Biryani for us. I spent some time with them inside the kitchen tent gazing the precipitation outside, watching the preparation inside, playing card games, sipping warm ginger-water and soaking in the hospitality of the warm hearted Pahadi people; all the while listening to some of the best travel music being played on Saranbir’s mobile! “How do you manage to keep your phone battery charged?” I asked Saran. He replied, “When some porter goes to the base camp (Janglik) for refilling rations’ stock, I give my mobile to them so that they can get it fully charged!” I realized that for the locals, Janglik is just a few hours’ trek away from Litham, while for us city-people, it is a two days’ strenuous trek!

Silver lining

The dusk dawned, and clouds parted to give mesmerising views of the fresh snows high up on the crests. Veteran Paras Ram spellbound us with tales of adventures during his times of yore. Meanwhile, a playful black whelp caught our attention; or rather its attention was caught by us! For the next two days, it followed us wherever we went.

Soon, we assembled for dinner, and afterwards called it a day. At the heart of Pabbar valley, one of the remotest parts of the Himalaya, cut-off from rest of the world, we spent a blissful evening with a group of unknowns, intermingling in each other’s life, gaining different perspectives and forming new bonds…

Today, though beautiful, was quite uneventful, and the next day more than made up for this!

Kahin door jab din dhal jaye... (Somewhere far away when the day ends...)

June 23: Litham (3560 m) to Chandranahan (4080 m), back to Litham, 5.5 hours

The weather was crisp. The ambiance enchanted all the five senses!

The serene waterfall

Rob in the foreground
Gaurav, Sourabdip, Aditya and I
An excursion to Chandanahan Lake, the source of river Pabbar, was on cards. We were ready in jiffy, as we didn’t have to carry the whole luggage with us. “Carry only the essentials, especially wind-cheaters since it would be windy up there” instructed Saranbir.
After breakfast, I looked up towards the Chandranahan waterfall which we had to climb in order to reach the lake. The waterfall looked serene, but the climb looked strenuous.

Litham campsite en-route Chandranahan waterfall

 The mind-numbing climb

The waterfall climb brought back memory of the exhausting climb to Didina village during Roopund trek.

Heaved up halfway, phew!
However, just to reach the base of that climb, we had to traverse a rockfall, hopping from boulder to boulder, cautious of loose and slippery rocks and the gaps between them. One missed step, and you can break your ankle! Further ahead, we also had to cross a stream coming from an adjoining valley. In about 2 hours, at 9.45 am, we reached the base from where the leg-breaking climb would begin. As we took some rest, I noticed that the tents in our campsite looked mere specks on the vast expanse of green meadows of Litham!

Steep climb over the boulders 

Notice the herd of sheep crossing the frozen bridge over a rivulet!
Steep climb!
I also noticed that we were half-way up the waterfall (phew!). The climb up till here was moderate. However, for the next half an hour, everyone heaved up the almost vertical cliff. Almost everyone was on knees towards the end of the climb. But considering the rewards for it, the efforts were nothing!

Top of the waterfall

At the top, we entered an alpine amphitheatre – a U-shaped valley beyond, cut by the mystical Pabbar, flanked by the sky-piercing peaks on either side! The Lake sits at somewhere in the middle of this amphitheatre.

Playful pooch cooling down after
tough climb!
There is a stone cairn at which we paid homage to the Almighty for allowing us to enter his abode. Places like these truly re-energize you and you do not feel tired at all even after the exhaustive climb.

The view from the top of the waterfall was truly unique and intimidating! We each took turns to go up till the very edge of the narrow cliff, on one side of which was the booming waterfall and the other side a deep ravine!

The sacred place

After a little break, we directed our steps towards the U-shaped valley for Chandranahan Lake. The entire valley is considered sacred by the locals – a one can actually feel the mystical divinity all around. Within another half hour, we reached a shallow, semi-frozen body of water. The water was placid and crystal clear, inducing a calming effect. “This,” said Saranbir, “is first of the 7 lakes of Chandranahan”. What? 7 lakes!? “The Chandranahan is actually a group of 7 lakes. The farthest lake is about 4-5 hours far from here” informed Saranbir, as we walked on the shore of the ‘first’ lake. “It takes almost two full days of treacherous trek to visit all the 7 lakes. Since we are short of time, we are going to visit only this lake” continued Saranbir nonchalantly.

So, this is just the one-seventh of the total picture! We were disheartened – not being able to cover the whole Chandranahan. Sensing the disappointment, Saranbir explained “Majority of the lakes would be frozen at this time, so one would not be able to make out whether it’s a lake or a snow-field. And you would be encountering plenty of snow-fields during the final traverse!”

Ok, but still just one of the 7 lakes? “All right”, said Saranbir, “if we hurry, we may visit a few more lakes nearby”. These words were like music to our ears!

Barefoot over the snow!

One of the further lakes

(PC: Sanjhi Khanna)
The next hour was the most amusing hour of the trek! “Since this place is sacred, leather articles and shoes are prohibited further on, lest you want to anger the Mountain Gods here.” Imagine, running bare-feet on ice, that too at an altitude of 13,000 ft!

Barefoot over snow!
(PC: Sanjhi Khanna)
We literally ran towards the next ‘lake’, over the frigid snows and little brooks, taking small breathers on the relatively warmer grass-patches, continuously screaming with uproarious joy like little children! Upon reaching, we found that the next lake is just a small but serene semi-frozen glacial pond. I dipped my numbed feet in the water, and to my surprise, the water was even colder than the snow!

Divinity all around

I got up and ran towards the next lake. With small cascading waterfall downstream, mighty snow-walls on both sides of the river upstream, and a small puddle of crystal clear water in the middle, the scenery was straight out of the postcards! We crossed the narrower section of the lake just above the cascade to reach the other side; the rocky river-bed gave us pedicure of sorts! The whole experience was rejuvenating and heavenly!

The place is so virgin and so remote high up in the Himalayas that one can actually feel the Divine presence all around!

The descent

After this little excursion to the Further Lakes, we receded towards the first lake, again sprinting through the snow fields, hopping over the small streams and walking on the grassy patches. The feeling of the warmth induced by the grassy patches was welcoming. Soon, after some rest, we soon found ourselves facing a tough task of descending the sharp drop alongside Chandranahan waterfall. Fortunately, the descent over the exposed face of the mountain happened without any mishap.

After crossing the virulent stream and hopping across unstable rocks, we were back to the safety of our camp. We had delicious Biryani for lunch. Soon after, the clouds bellowed and it started drizzling again. We sat inside our tents while Adi played some incredible tunes with his harmonica.

The great hospitality

Gaurav, Adi and I heard rumours that phone signals can be caught somewhere little afar from the camp area. In search of the evasive signals (which we would never find), we set out to explore the surroundings, and interact with the local shepherds and if lucky, call home and communicate our well-being.

The green expanse was dotted with the sheep of all shapes and sizes. Our curiosity propelled us towards a shepherd’s tent nearby that hosted 2 shepherds – a humble canopy made of vibrant blue plastic sheet in contrast to our modern Quechua tents. We learnt how tough their life is: they spend weeks together in wild terrain, away from their families and cut-off from the rest of the world, mending the sheep and also themselves. “Sometimes we also go to the inaccessible areas, to find rare herbs and flora”.


Across the valley, I envision 2 young shepherds barely clinging to the exposed face of the mountain, trusting a dim flickering light, searching for the elusive herbs while looking out for wild animals…

I instantly recall the dim flickering light I saw across the valley at Dayara, those indeed were some daring shepherds going to the extreme for the sake of their families


They offered us the food they were preparing for themselves. We were so stunned by this incredible hospitality that we couldn’t refuse. The three of us shared a delicious chapatti with green saag while listening to their mesmerising stories!

A supper to remember

The night grew colder. Back at the campsite, a camp fire was lit. The porters sang local songs, while we enjoyed the dinner. Gaurav, Adi and I shared same plate to avoid the tedious task of washing the plates in cold water! Lastly, we had delicious Gulab Jamun, the tastiest I ever had in my entire life, made by none other than Saran!


Across the valley, we hear a rumbling noise quite suddenly, and see some sparks, as if some lightning has struck a far-off mountain.

I notice the clear sky above. “It’s not lightening”, explains Saranbir. “You would see for yourself when we cross that area next morning…” 

To be continued...

Other trekker's blogs:

3. Narrative of a Journey from Caunpoor to the Borendo Pass in the Himalayas, Alexander Gerard
4. Account of Koonawur in the Himalaya, Alexander Gerard
5. Pics Credit: As above