Spiti-Manali adventure: Close encounters on the highway

Some interesting encounters that are to be expected on the highway.

Here is a herd of cattle meandering along the highway. They had no intention to give us way and didn’t pay any heed to our persistent honking. The cowherd was far away and didn’t seem concerned. The cattle were of a unique breed. They had unusually bushy tails.

Lot’s of motorcyclist are on adventure rides on these roads. Several are solo or two to a motorcycle. We even got to see an intrepid lady motorcycling alone. Here is a large group. When they rev up their engines you just step aside and let them vroooom through.

We had a little conversation with two motorcyclists on a journey from Tindivanam to Ladakh.

More frequent than one would like, we go face to face with heavy road repair vehicles. We had to wait patiently for this concrete mixer to finish a task before it stepped aside and let us pass.

Much more frequently you encounter large vehicles face to face on narrow roads and need to back off precariously along the narrow road to a broad area that will allow the vehicles to cross.

Sometimes several good samaritans get down to help clear the way and their conflicting instructions can drive you crazy.  

Spiti Valley-Manali Adventure: Missing a trick at Nako

Nako was an enigma. In retrospect we missed a trick in not exploring the village for it’s hidden treasures. Most travelogues refer to it as the hidden gem in Himachal Pradesh so let me start with a fabulous view during a trek to a Buddhist prayer wheel.

This is a picture postcard view of the Nako Lake and the village.  The lake is small but has a beauty of it’s own. It freezes during the month of December and January. Approaches to the village are blocked by snow for most of mid October to the end of May.

The approach to our hotel in Nako was through narrow lanes and dwellings built of stones and we struggled to make our way past in cars. The Lake View Hotel alongside the Nako Lake, with a flower and vegetable garden in front of it, was like an oasis in the desert. That is the paradox of Nako. To get to appreciate it you need to find the hidden gems.

The day we had at Nako was spent trekking along the slopes of the mountains that overlook the Leo Pugriyal, the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh at 6816 metres. The climb to the view point is steep and rocky and our group leader, Sandeep, dissuaded us from going on it, as there were a few stretches that were narrow and rocky and dangerous. Some of the team did go and were thrilled by the experience and the breathtaking views of Leo Pugriyal and also of Nako and the Hangrang Valley. A few went on a rocky section of the mountain to a nearby Buddhist structure and ventured beyond but had difficulty coming back and needed the help of locals to return.

Near the Nako Lake is a foot print and shrine dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava. In the near by village are also several caves where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated and given discourses to his disciples. Guru Padmasambhava is said to have introduced tantric Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, to Tibet.  He is also called Guru Rinpoche and his followers believe he is a Buddha, foretold by Shakyamuni Buddha. We did not get to see the foot print and shrine and also the caves. You really have to find the hidden gems!!

We didn’t go to see the ancient Buddhist monastery built by Ringchen Zangpo, the great translator of Buddhist texts to the Tibetan language. It was a fair distance away and would have taken a long time to visit because of the narrow and bad stretches of roads. We understand that this monastery has similar murals and sculptures as the Tabo Monastery, near Kaza, that we were visiting the next day. We spent a little time at a more recently constructed monastery in the village, while we waited for our hotel arrangements to be finalized. The monastery, built prior to the visit and 7 -day stay of the Dalai Lama, was closed so we could just sit around and relax.

Spiti-Manali adventure: The beauty of Chitkul

On day 3, 12th August 2021, we turned off the highway to get to Chitkul via Sangla. The road was quite terrible as it was just a dirt track. After a bumpy ride we came to the serene and beautiful village of Chitkul, the last village in India before we enter China.

The mountain ranges all around and the fast flowing Baspa River made for un-adulterated beauty. It was wonderful to sit by the flowing river and just walk along the paths with the mesmerizing sunset views.

After a nights halt we headed for Nako. The village of Nako is technically in the Kinnaur region but has all the characteristics of Spiti Valley. The road as we got back on to the highway was very good as it was maintained by the Border Roads Organisation. Old timers in our group said that the road along the Sutlej would be reasonably good but that when we reached the confluence of the Sutlej and Spiti rivers and drove along the Spiti river the road would be narrow and steep and in poor condition. As it turned out the road was recently tarred and in good condition till about a couple of kilometres to Nako.

The highlight of the day was the lunch we had at a little dhaba, the Sangam Khab Dhaba. An amazing location for a dhaba which you could easily miss as you drove through the bridge. We had a vegetarian thali as we soaked in the atmosphere around the sangam of the two rivers. The stark mountains were awesome.

Spiti Valley-Manali adventure: A whisker away from a landslide

The next day, 11th August 2021, we drove along the Hindustan -Tibet Road to our next halt at Sarahan. The construction of the Hindustan-Tibet Road which runs along the Sutlej River was started in 1850. The road has been repaired and re-constructed at many places so the drive was reasonably comfortable.

At Jeori we took a diversion to reach Sarahan where we spent the night. The Bhimakali Temple, a magnificent structure made of wood, is located here. It also has the palace of the Bishahr Kingdom. The former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Shree Virbhadra Singh, is a member of the Royal family. He does not stay at the palace which was not open to the public when we visited. We took a short trek to go to the Bird Sanctuary but this too was not open to the public in August as it was the breeding season.

As we drove towards Jeori we heard that there was a massive landslide about 20 kms ahead that took the lives of 13 people along the national highway. A bus and a few cars had been washed away by the falling debris. Our journey was not interrupted as we spent the night at Sarahan.

We had no idea if we would be allowed to go ahead past the landslide zone towards Chitkul our next halt. Sandeep drew up plans to take a n alternate route by passing Spiti Valley if it was forced on us. However, traffic was allowed passed the landslide area in a regulated manner the next day and we crossed the danger zone one car at a time with our hearts in our mouths.  It was a relief when we crossed the danger zone and drove on to Chitkul.

Just after we left Sarahan, we stopped at a wonderful café for breakfast. The ambience was excellent as we were served on a terrace that had a beautiful view. By then we were reasonably sure that we would be allowed to carry on with our original plans and this allowed us to enjoy our halt and the sumptuous breakfast of omelette parathas and masala tea.

Spiti Valley-Manali adventure: The adventure begins at Narkanda

After assembling at Chandigarh, the group of 13 left in four cars, two Innovas, a Maruti Brezza with professional drivers and our Maruti Swift driven in turn by Hemant and Akshay on 10th August 2021 at 7.00am.

At Sanwara just before Solan we stopped and had aloo parathas for breakfast. Not quite as good as the ones we had at Murtal the previous day. Traffic at Solan and at Shimla was heavy and slowed us down quite a bit. We stopped for lunch at Siya Ram Siddu for a taste of the traditional Himachali favourite. It is made from wheat flour and eaten with desi ghee and green chutney made from mint. It was an ideal start and taste of things to follow.

We also got a taste of the treacherous roads we would encounter as we drove up a steep and narrow 7-kms path to the Hatu Peak from Narkanda where we spent the night. The drive among dense forests was quite harrowing and on one occasion we had to get off the car as it couldn’t cope with a steep narrow slope. The light drizzle and dampness plus the sharp hairpin bends along a narrow path made it a very dangerous drive. If we had the time a leisure trek to the peak would have been a better option.

Once we got to the peak it was a calming and magical experience. The sacred Hatu Mata temple is located at the peak at a place it is believed the Pandavas resided when in exile.

Spiti Valley-Manali adventure: We take the plunge

An invitation by my trekking friend Sandeep Talpade to join a self-drive adventure to Spiti Valley and Ladakh was lip smacking but just beyond the possible. I wanted my wife Deepa to experience the beauty and awe of the Himalayas but neither of us wanted to drive and a 30-day trip seemed too long. Sandeep suggested we do the Spiti – Manali leg and, make it a 11-day trip. Deepa’s brother-in-law Hemant and his son Akshay were thrilled to be a part of a 11-day adventure and importantly wanted the thrill of driving on the treacherous mountain roads. After a year and a half of being cooped up at home due to the pandemic, the path opened for an exciting adventure.

The month prior to the departure was filled with uncertainty. Each day saw us alternate between wanting to abort the trip or challenge ourselves to go ahead with it. Newspaper reports of landslides and flash floods and loss of lives increased apprehension and anxiety. Some stretch of roads, we read, were very bad and dangerous and would test the skills of the most experienced drivers. To have a professional driver was taking away the challenge and fizz of adventure that Hemant and Akshay so eagerly wanted.  We decided on the last day to go ahead to Spiti Valley and Manali in our Maruti Swift, against the advice of all the pundits. We were ready to change tires, and the brake pads and clutch if necessary but the Maruti technicians who serviced the vehicle prior to the adventure said it was not necessary.  

Pragmatic packing ensured we didn’t need a roof carrier. We took along a 12-v tire inflator and a puncture repair kit for contingency and some emergency ready to eat food packets. We set off for Chandigarh on 9th August 2021 at 5.15 am with anticipation of a thrilling adventure and Deepa’s un-abated anxiety. After the mandatory halt at Murtal for breakfast at Gulshan’s dhaba we reached Chandigarh and checked into Rex Fox Hotel. Lunch at Pal dhaba which was a short walk away and later that evening we met our fellow travelers.

Bouncing back to fitness after COVID

I have written a short article on bouncing back to fitness after testing positive for COVID 19, which was published in the digital magazine of Silver Talkies.

Here’s the link to the articel.


I plan to write regularly for this digital magazine and look forward to this experience with loads of enthusiasm.

Till the next time, Cheers !!!

Fitness goes viral–but!

These fascinating insights tell you how the fitness industry has grown in India, driven by the urge to build good health and fitness.
• From 2010 to 2015, India saw a growth of over 150% in the number of running events. –Sportskeeda.
• The fitness industry in India was expected to cross USD 1.1 billion by 2017.–CII-Deloitte study
• The premium and super-premium cycle segment is growing at a CAGR of 20 percent over the last five years. -Business World
• Participation in marathon events in India increased by 229% over the period 2008 to 2018. —Marathon statistics worldwide.
• Decathlon with 70 large retail stores has increases its sales by 10 times since 2013. -Economic Times
A creamy layer across all age groups is taking to sports and adventure activities in our country. However, the vast majority of our countrymen don’t take part in physical fitness activities. The Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes (ICMR-INDIAB) study shows that less than 10% of adults in India meet the recommendations for physical activity.

As people get older, they appreciate the need to keep fit, but many senior citizens just go for a walk in the park. This does not bring the health benefits possible with the right levels of physical exercise. Researchers say older people who jogged postponed disability by almost 9 years. They have a higher level of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, healthier body mass and composition They say that there is a dose–response relationship to show that higher intensity activities bring greater health benefits.

So, what is the recommended level of physical activity?

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults 65 years and above need to increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity activity. (WHO Information sheet: global recommendations on physical activity for health- 65 years and above)
#healthy living #fitness #wellness #well being #active ageing #adventure

Slowing down to go faster

In every aspect of life, we benefit by slowing down. Slowing our mind helps us navigate the stressful twists and turns of life. Reducing the frenetic pace of life brings better balance in our life, good health and emotional wellbeing. Even in our physical fitness workouts, slowing down brings greater benefits. We can make a conscious choice to live a better, more fulfilling, and accomplished life.
Slowing down to go faster is the mantra that Mark Allen, the six times world Ironman champion, uses for developing a fit body and a fit soul. I learned from his book, “Fit Soul-Fit Body”, the benefit of training at a heart rate at or below the Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate. This is different from the way I trained.
In the past I was mindful of speed, effort and duration of each workout and felt I had to keep pushing the bar up at regular intervals. Training meant that I needed to take myself up to the limit at each session, and the ability to perform better indicated progress. I used the heart rate monitor and the cycle meter to gauge performance. Mark Allen made me do things differently. Here are some principles behind his successful training methods suitable for those seeking to lose weight and staying healthy as well as those training for competitive sports.
Training at or below the maximum aerobic heart rate ensures that we burn fat and not carbohydrates. At low or moderate heart rate we burn fat but at a point we switch to burning carbohydrates. This is not the purpose of our physical fitness programmes. Training at high intensity above this heart rate takes us into the adrenal zone, which is not good for sustaining health and fitness. We lose the zest for doing things and the enjoyable feeling about life. Mark Allen places a lot of emphasis on feeling relaxed and at a comfortable level as we workout. He advocates speed and high intensity training only at measured intervals.
Finding the right balance between the work load necessary to get health benefits and staying comfortable is the key. Each one of us can find this right balance, appropriate to our needs, with conscious effort. The positive emotional state that comes from working out at the correct intensity level goes a long way towards re-enforcing a superb feeling about regular exercising. Uniting body and soul as we find the right balance in life and in our workouts brings us the greatest benefits.
Building cardio-vascular fitness and strength are the twin pillars of success in losing weight, improving health, and increasing longevity. Over emphasis of one at the expense of the other will not work for us in the long run. Increasing muscle strength through weight training twice a week is necessary to maintain lean muscle mass and strength which we lose rapidly as we age. Allen does not recommend weight training more than twice or thrice a week as it is counterproductive.
Many of my friends train regularly and have their own practices while training. I would love to hear from them on Mark Allen’s approach, on slowing down to go faster.
#healthy ageing #fitness #active ageing #well being # wellness #healthy lifestyle

On Father’s Day-Poignant snatches from his memoirs

On Father’s Day I remember my Dad. He was an exceptionally marvellous man. He died in 1971 when I was just 22. Here is an extract from notes written on loose sheets of paper which I found after he left us. It is his account of the trying times when my family returned from Burma during the 2nd World War.
In Oct ’41 talk of the world war was strong. A Japanese attack on Burma was
expected. When Pearl Harbour fell, the people of Burma became panicky. On
12th Dec ’41, the B.O.C. advised us to evacuate our families as the Sukky
Oil Refinery was a dangerous area. I sent Sreemu and children to a small
town near Henzada.
On 23rd Dec ’41 at 11 am, Japanese fighter planes bombed Rangoon. The fighter planes flew very low and machine gunned the city. The office going people were all caught unawares on the streets. The air raid which lasted for about two hours in steady waves, killed a very large number of people on the road and on the river. In the afternoon when the all clear signal was given, I decided to go to Henzada. I came to the jetty in my car. Locked it but there was no launch to take me across to Rangoon. I persuaded a Chittagonian to take me across the river in darkness on payment of Rs 50/-.
I reached Rangoon at about 8 pm, drenched with river water, which was lashing me in the small sampan in which I crossed the turbulent Rangoon River. There was no
conveyance in Rangoon. All shops were closed. Dead bodies were still on the
street. I had to walk the distance of two miles to the railway station to catch
the Henzada Mail at 9 pm.The train was full. People were sitting on top of the carriages. I purchased a 1st class ticket to get a foot hold in any compartment. I reached Henzada in the morning. Sreemu and children were happy to see me.
On 30th Dec we reached Rangoon and stayed with Dr Anandan, who made arrangements to evacuate women & children from Rangoon. May God bless that generous soul,who helped save the lives of so many people.
A Chinese coal vessel was sailing for Madras and women and children were allowed to board that vessel at 6 am on New Year ‘s Day. We had to leave for the jetty by 3 am. As we were getting ready, there was an air raid on Rangoon in the moon light. We rushed to the shelter. Even there,Sreemu wanted to stand close to me, to get to heaven together.
Before dawn we reached the wharf. They allowed only women and children on the wharf.Other ladies who had no children helped Sreemu, to carry the four little ones who were shivering with fright. Leaving them in the hands of God I returned to Syriam to my post. With God’s grace they landed safely in Madras.
I had a faithful servant Damodhar Nair to look after me. On many occasions, when I was reluctant to go to the shelter in an air raid, he would force me to go. I remember once, he wept aloud, when I said that I would rather die in an air raid than be a prisoner of war in Japanese hands. On 19-2-’42 at 12 noon we received orders to evacuate Syriam within half an hour. The Japanese were only 40 miles from Rangoon.
I went home to pick up Damodhar and my hand bag in which I had packed a shirt, a pair of shorts for change, a few bottles of Horlicks and biscuits and first-aid equipment. I left my house as it was and got into my car on my last trip in that car, to the jetty, where a launch was waiting to take us to Rangoon. Local Burmese hooligans had occupied the house even before the launch sailed from Syriam.
At Rangoon we had to go to Ching Song Palace, 8 miles away from the jetty and wait in the evacuation camp for further orders of movement. In batches of around 50, we went to that palace. It was not a safe place to stay,as prisoners from Rangoon jail and lunatics from the asylum, were released by that time and some of them had also taken shelter in that camp. Most of the people left in fear and by 23rd Feb only 11 of us remained together. We had one revolver which we used by turn on sentry duty, to guard the group from attacks by hooligans.
On the morning of 23rd Feb, we found the wardens of the camp leaving the palace in panic. We got into a lorry and drove the vehicle to the high court building near the jetty. We also got news that SS Jalagopal,which was in the wharf would sail that evening. In the evening, we had to fight our way through the crowds waiting outside the jetty. It was a struggle to get through. I was exhausted by the time I reached the steamer, which sailed in darkness that night.
A Japanese Raider asked us to stop near Basiene. Messages were exchanged between the Raider and Jalagopal. To our good fortune, the Japanese realised that the vessel was full of Indians and let us go. Within an hour we could proceed safely to Chittagong, which we reached on 27th Feb.
The same night I left for Cannanore on a four-day train journey—I was happy
to meet Sreemu and children and all at home.
And that was Dad’s poignant story. I must have got some names and
places wrong and also missed a few passages, as I had copied these
lines from an ancient manuscript
#memoirs #family #refugees #father’s day

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