bNomadic

Travel Around. Be Nomadic


43 Comments

Notes from Haryana: The ever popular Sultanpur National Park

As the state government showcased Sultanpur habitat as part of its tableau in the just held Republic Day parade at the Rajpath in New Delhi, I thought of writing about this ever popular bird-watching destination located within the confines of NCR. The birding destination, I always held, is already very popular but a few interesting thoughts and queries after conclusion of the 2015 RD celebrations have brought me to share my experiences at the sanctuary. Owing to the birdlife, facilities and mostly the ease of access to this sanctuary, it remains to be one of the most organised bird-watching winter-destinations in the region.

Locally called Loharjung, a near-threatened Black-necked Stork

Locally called Loharjung, a near-threatened Black-necked Stork. More images at Flickr Photoset

Located just 15km from Gurgaon on the Gurgaon-Farrukhnagar-Jhajjar highway, the brackish waters of the low-lying marshy tract is just a suitable habitat to attract as well as support a large variety and quantity of birdlife especially in the migratory season. The sheer richness of the biodiversity in this swathe of semi-arid vegetation appealed the distinguished guests and participants – at the IUCN General Assembly held in Delhi in 1969 – including Dr Salim Ali, Peter Scott, Dillon Ripley, Luc Hoffmann as well as Prince Birendra from Nepal who visited the site at the initiative of Peter Jackson, then a journalist and a wildlife enthusiast. Later representations sent to the government by Dr Ali and Jackson saw the destination declared as a Bird Sanctuary in 1971 which was subsequently upgraded to a National Park in 1991.

A misty winter morning at the Sultanpur National Park

A misty winter morning at the Sultanpur National Park

Before Sultanpur was declared protected, the marshy lake was either frequented by bird-watchers, a rarity in those days, or the elites of the capital region who flocked the site to bag a “precious” game trophy. Records highlight that not only the British but the local nawabs were equally fond of hunting to please their “adventure”-tastes. Much before that, the expanse was once famed for the quantity of salt it produced. The Imperial Gazetteer of India mentions that the trade died due to extra taxes imposed by the British. Today, the doyen of Indian Ornithology, Dr Salim Ali, is largely credited for bringing awareness and transforming the 359 acres of this region from hunting grounds to a protected bird sanctuary.

Locally called Janghil, a Painted Stork in flight

Locally called Janghil, a Painted Stork in flight. Please visit Flickr for more bird images 

A family of Greylag Geese shooing off strangers

A family of Bar-headed Geese shooing off strangers. More bird images at Flickr Photoset

A misty morning

A misty morning as observed from the periphery pathway at the lake.

Every season a large number of waterfowls visit the sanctuary including Pelicans, Cormorants, Cranes, Herons, Egrets, Storks, Flamingos, Geese and Ducks, etc. A number of endemic territorial birds reside here round the year. Breeding of Saras, Storks including a rare Black Necked Stork have been recorded in this park. It is estimated that every winter season, the park is visited by over 30,000 birds. The official checklist confirms sightings of over 250 bird-species in the sanctuary, however, the quality and size of the habitat has deteriorated from what was originally observed as claimed by Jackson in a recent interview. A detailed checklist published by the Haryana Forest Department could be accessed here.

ABC

Locally called Ghogoi, an angry Large Grey Babbler.

ABC

Locally called Thirthira, a Black Redstart. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

ABC

Locally called Sada Munia, an Indian Silverbird. More images at Flickr Photoset

A Egret

A Great Egret, also called Great White Heron patiently waiting for its catch. More images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Chhoti Murgabi, a Common Teal

Locally called Chhoti Murgabi, a Common Teal. More bird images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Nakta, a Comb Duck

Locally called Nakta, a Comb Duck. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more bird-images

Some of the frequently spotted resident birds include Common Hoopoe, Paddyfield Pipit, Purple Sunbird, Little Cormorant, Eurasian Thick-knee, Gray Francolin, Black Francolin, Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Spot billed Duck, Painted Stork, White Ibis, Black headed Ibis, Little Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, India Crested Lark, Red vented Bulbul, Rose ringed Parakeet, Red wattled Lapwing, Shikra, Eurasian collared Dove, Red collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Spotted Owlet, Rock Pigeon, Magpie Robin, Greater Coucal, Weaver Bird and Mynahs, etc. The common winter visitors at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary includes Cranes, Geese, Greater Flamingo, Ruff, Black winged Stilt, Common Teal, Common Greenshank, Wagtails, Northern Shoveler, Rosy Pelican, Gadwall, Sandpipers, Eurasian Wigeon, Black tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Starling, Bluethroat and Long billed Pipit, etc. The sanctuary also accommodates a Blue Bull couple and a few jackals.

Locally called Roz, a Blue Bull (Nilgai) male inside the sanctuary

Locally called Roz, a Blue Bull (Nilgai) male inside the sanctuary

Just as every bird-watching destination, the best way to observe birdlife at Sultanpur will be to take a walk. A walk along the lake, at a leisure-pace, wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours unless you want to wait to take those special shots with your camera. Four tall watch-towers have been placed to assist you in observing birds and their habits. The pathway offers plentiful of options to sit with a camera hide. The library and the interpretation centre at the park houses over 70 portraits of birds along with films, slides and some memorabilia left by Dr Salim Ali. The staff at the park is full of information and experience to initiate a novice into the calmer realms of bird-watching. Bharat Lal, the forest guard at the sanctuary is full of anecdotes and incidents about the celebrity birders from the NCR region. “Demoseel Krane ke liye subah paanch baje tayyar rehna”, he retorted to my queries when I last stayed there. Despite myself getting ready at the agreed time, I failed in my attempts to locate the elusive pair of Demoiselle Cranes that season. And that’s the beauty one has to live with in a wildlife zone. It’s not a zoo, remember!

Commonly called Bandar, Rhesus Macaques pose threat to the nesting sites of the residents

Commonly called Bandar, Rhesus Macaques pose a threat to the nesting sites of resident birds

An additional inlet of canal-based water has partly bolstered the water supply to save the water body and the refreshing greenery surrounding it that attracts diverse birdlife round the year. The lake is dotted by reeds, aquatic plants and some recently created mud pits in the water. The boundary-wall of the sanctuary is surrounded by agricultural lands. Geographically, the park is surrounded by Sultanpur village towards West, Chandu village towards East, Sadhrana village towards South East and Kaliwas towards the North; all within the confines of Gurgaon district. The park boasts of almost every facility a visitor could possibly think of at a bird-watching destination. This includes accommodation, decently appointed cottages or rooms, restaurant as well as a bar, conference room and a forest rest house where ex-PM Indira Gandhi was held captive after her arrest in 1977.

Winter sundown at the Sanctuary

Winter sundown at the Sanctuary

Best time to visit: Winter season
Travel Lure: Bird watching, Picnicking
Accommodation: Plentiful
How to reach: 15km from Gurgaon on the Gurgaon-Farrukhnagar-Jhajjar highway


11 Comments

Book Talk: A Slender Thread – Escaping Disaster in the Himalayas

On the face of it, a book titled “A Slender Thread: Escaping Disaster in the Himalayas” may seem like a mountaineering chronicle or even a war history full of self-driven adventures. This is what I always thought when it popped up every now and then in the suggestions list of the online portals from where I often make purchases. Quite frankly, it is not very usual of me to buy and read a book which is mostly a climbing log. But this one, a bestselling work by the author and an acclaimed climber Stephen Venables mercifully, is not just about mountain climbing. It was while researching about Panchachulis that I stumbled upon this book as a recommendation by a certain someone from the Himalayan Club, Mumbai.

Stephen

In actuality, the book is modestly a regular mountain expedition book, well acclaimed nonetheless; more because of the unusual heroic effort put together by his expedition members who saved author Stephen Venables’s life after both his legs got fractured high in the glacial Himalayas. I found the first half of the book, which deals with research, planning and preparation of the expedition, to be most attention-grabbing as well as informative. The author nicely weaves the mountaineering history of the region, including the patron Goddess Nanda Devi, with the story. The legends and explorations of the likes of Smythe, Longstaff, Shipton and Tillman have been righteously presented.

Soon after the author is airlifted by the Indian Air Force’s chopper from a cwm at above 5500 m alt, the book becomes rather emotional with the focus shifting to Stephen’s personal life back home in Britain. The family and profession related emotional trauma every climber goes through has been very well expressed. For someone who wishes to carve a career out of mountaineering or just armchair climbing in general, every detail is grippingly informative. At the end one would often argue that Venables was actually lucky to have partnered with some of the finest of mountain climbers from India and Britain for this expedition. An acclaimed climber himself, Venables authentically brings forward that gone are the days of gentlemanly camaraderie among the fellow climbers or expedition members. “Looking back now, at the end of the century, one gets a sense that the 1936 Nanda Devi expedition was the highlight of the golden age of exploration – an unusually contented, cordial pairing of American innocence with British experience”.

The unexpected fall faced by Stephen Venables, the first Briton to climb the Everest without supplemental oxygen, on the descent from his successful first ascent of Panchachuli V in the central Himalayas is something which is most dreaded by climbers – an abseil-point failure which guarantees nothing but death. The extraordinary sodality and courage demonstrated by his companions Victor Saunders, Dick Renshaw, Stephen Sustad, Chris Bonington, Harish Kapadia and not to forget the IAF pilots would go down as one of the best rescue and teaming efforts in the annals of mountaineering history. Having broken both his legs and trapped at above 5500 m alt, he was totally reliant on his team mates for his survival. This is an account of his laborious journey and nearly miraculous rescue as well as of the sheer brilliance exhibited by the team. All is well that ends well. Right!

Culled from the author's website, Panchachuli II in the backdrop

Panchachuli II (the highest one of the group) in the backdrop. Source*: Stephen Venables

Although, the author engagingly describes the planning as well as execution of the expedition, I still feel that he has been unable to do full justice to the raw beauty of higher Himalayas. Nevertheless, this unflustered story of the author’s struggle high up on a remote Himalayan peak is still a worthwhile read especially if you are a devotee of mountaineering literature. For about 200 pages interspersed with clean black n white photographs of Indo-British joint expedition – of which the author was also a part – to the Panchachulis, the publisher Random House has priced the book at about Rs 1100. The book is available at both Amazon as well as Flipkart.


14 Comments

Book Talk: The Nanda Devi Affair

This is yet another book that has reserved a place for itself in my bookshelf dedicated to travel writings. Not so much for the author Bill Aitken’s travels or trekking escapades but because the book reliably captures the aura surrounding the forever mysterious mountain peak of Nanda Devi. Even after two decades when it was first written, the book continues to be popular and one of the most easily available resources on the subject.

One of the most easily available resources on the subject

…One of the most easily available resources on the subject…

Originally published in 1994 by Penguin, the latest reprint of the book is priced around Rs 299. Surprisingly, the publisher has mulishly disregarded a better typesetting in all its reprints including its original edition. In about 194 pages, the author talks about the mountaineering history and his fascination towards one of the most beautiful and revered high-altitude regions of Himalayas, the Nanda Devi biosphere.

It was legendry Eric Shipton‘s mountaineering literature classic, The Nanda Devi, which he wrote after he had successfully discovered the treacherous route to the base of the mountain that eventually inspired Bill Aitken to make a determination that come what may, one day he too would cross the blooming Rishi Gorge and win a way to this Hindu Garden of Eden. Having fled Britain because of a failed love affair, Aitken, a young Scot, claimed to have his true home at the mountain’s feet. “The affair with the ravishing Goddess had occupied a third of my life,” he writes.

In part through his travels and explorations spanning almost three decades as well as by way of acquiring knowledge through various published and unpublished chronicles pertaining to the region, he writes about the Nanda Devi, patron Goddess of Kumaon and Garhwal. As he begins to talk about his hikes through the hillsides of the dev bhoomi Uttarakhand, he gradually approaches the subject after giving inkling to the absorbing hill life. While doing so, he briefly touches upon the routine ordeals faced by the hill folks against the difficult terrain and painful weather as well as history and traditions in the light of the beauty and divinity associated with the high mountains. The arresting ecological as well as geographic features of the Nanda Devi continue to propagate a religious craze in the region and the sacred peak is considered to be the seat of Goddess Parvati.

From featuring the best viewpoints in the Kumaon region that offers an extraordinary sighting of the Nanda Devi to the contributions made by the legendary explorers right from Shipton, Tillman, Roskelley, Longstaff, Curzon, Traill, Ruttledge and even Pranavananda, Atkinson, Sax and Odell, etc. in highlighting the confines of the sanctuary, Aitken has tried to capture all. Wherever deemed fit, he would vent his frustration at those who threaten the peace of these mountain abodes: be it the bigheaded babus at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF)’s Delhi office or the musk smugglers to the incompetent forest officials to the secret Indo-US mountaineering assignment in which a nuclear-powered spying device was proposed to be installed atop the Nanda Devi as well as the pushy professional climbers who cared a fig about the environment of the sanctuary that ultimately led to its closure. “Sara Kailash chut hagi – the entire mountain had been polluted, “he quips.

book that has reserved a place for itself in my bookshelf dedicated to travel writings

The book has reserved a place for itself in my bookshelf

Initially, Aitken’s style of writing might appear to be complicated and one might judge him for his condemnatory outlook but the passion speaks for itself and his love for mountains is visible everywhere. The Nanda Devi Affair is undoubtedly the author’s bestselling and most popular book full of anecdotes related to the mountain as well as the land and the people surrounding it. His other published works include Touching Upon the Himalaya: Excursions and Enquiries, Mountain Delight, Footloose in the Himalaya, Seven Sacred Rivers and Riding the Ranges, etc. You may like to buy the book online here, here or here.


42 Comments

Notes from Haryana; The bird paradise of Bhindawas

A panoramic view of the Bhindawas Wetlands. Taken from the watchtower, the photo depicts about one-fifth of the sanctuary

A panoramic view of the sanctuary. Taken from the watchtower, the photo depicts about one-fifth of the Bhindawas Wetlands. More images from the region at Flickr

The tropical and northern-dry deciduous forest belt of Haryana is exceptionally rich in birdlife. A substantial chunk of the bird species found in the entire state along with Delhi region could be spotted here in this semi-desert sandy plain area. Leave aside the Sal-forest belt, the second best region for organised birding in the state would be this. Not only Bhindawas but another bird-sanctuary Khapadwas, situated adjacently at a distance of 1.5 km, along with a drain that tangentially passes through it, makes the area an ideal birding destination during winter-migration season.

As is confirmed by the game records of the previous rulers of Jhajjar, in its heydays, the region was equally famous for sheltering a wide variety of animals including tigers. The onetime nawab of Jhajjar, Nawab Ghulam Ali Khan, is often portrayed riding on a tiger. 1845-1850. Collection: Cynthia Hazen Polsky, New York. Due to its close proximity with the territory of Delhi, the region continued to be frequented by the Mughals and later the British for their game trophies. However, courtesy the avaricious materialistic growth later and the shrinking habitat, today, animals are no longer sighted and birdlife too has been dwindling.

Nawab Abdul Rahman Khan of Jhajjar is often portrayed riding on a tiger. 1845-1850. Collection: Cynthia Hazen Polsky, New York.

Nawab Ghulam Ali Khan of Jhajjar is often portrayed riding on a tiger. 1845-1850. Collection: Cynthia Hazen Polsky, New York. *Source: Tehelka

Apart from supporting a wide variety of resident birds, the wetland has long been attracting avian visitors from far and wide. From just a water-logged territory to its fortunate transformation into a full-fledged bird sanctuary, the wetland has equally been frequented by bird enthusiasts. The forest officials would smugly endorse that the birding-site was first discovered by a group of “foreigners” who later advocated setting up of a well-conserved bird sanctuary. During the pre-independence days, Bhindawas benefitted from its location on the tail-end of the drain which fed the wetland with monsoon excesses it carried.

Locally called Desi Punkowa, an Indian Cormorant drying its wings

Locally called Desi Punkowa, an Indian Cormorant drying its wings. [@satravell is @gobNomadic now]. More bird images from the region at Flickr

A group of Cormorants taking the sun

Perched atop a Eucalyptus Tree, a group of Great Cormorants taking the sun. More images at Flickr Photoset

This site is favourite with waterfowls.

Count your species. This site is favourite with waterfowls. More images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Pandubi, the Indian Darter is also called Snakebird

Locally called Pandubi, the Darter is also called Snakebird. [@satravell is @gobNomadic now]. More bird-images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Gangla, an Asian Openbill. More from

Locally called Gangla, the less common Asian Openbill. More bird-images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Later on as luck would have it, an occasional power failure at the lift system of the nearby Jawaharlal Nehru feeder would often divert the flow of water creating an artificial lake that not only acted as the buffer storage but fed the habitat of a wide variety of water fowls as well as a few wild mammals. Meanwhile, the site was declared as a wildlife sanctuary by the state government in 1985, whereas, the union government’s nod to set it up as a bird sanctuary came as recently as in 2009. Originally constructed to store the excess water of the canal, the 12 km long peripheral embankment, fenced by nothing but eucalyptuses, now doubles as a pathway-cum-motorway and facilitates bird-watching.

Locally called Desi Neelkanth, an Indian Roller. More bird-images at Flickr

Locally called Desi Neelkanth, an Indian Roller. [@satravell is @gobNomadic now]. More bird-images from the region at Flickr Photoset

The ready-to-harvest fields along the boundary of the lake. The pathway-cum-motorway is to the right

The ready-to-harvest fields along the boundary of the lake. The pathway-cum-motorway is to the right

A portion of the sanctuary as observed from a watchtower

A portion of the sanctuary as observed from a watchtower. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Janghil, a Painted Stork. More bird-images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Janghil, a Painted Stork. More bird-images from the region at Flickr Photoset

The spread of the sanctuary – almost 1100 acres – is effectively similar to the Bharatpur wetlands and more than double the area of the Sultanpur National Park. The official checklist of the state forest department mentions up to 250 avian species inside the Sanctuary. Enlarge your scope to include the neighbouring habitats such as villages of Khapadwas, Khetawas, Dhighal and Matanhail bani, etc. and your actual field-result could be more than that. With some on-site patience and luck, you could actually spot a few rare creatures.

Tucked away from the humdrum of town-life, the peaceful environs of the sanctuary would make for an ideal birding destination. A network of unmarked trails within the embankment would take you closer to the avian creatures in their habitat as well as heronries of waterfowls. While picnicking, lay your lunch out in one of the two watchtowers and enjoy the expansive view of the lake. My preferred lounging site within the lake is the olden bridge next to the drain where you could closely observe families of playful parakeets.

Every year the lake attracts a fairly good number of waterfowls. An overall annual headcount could be pegged at 50,000. Some of the commonly spotted resident and migratory birds include Blue Peafowl, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Cormorants, White-throated Kingfisher, Gray Francolin, Black Francolin, Shikra, Black Kite, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Comb Duck, Eurasian Thick-knee, Bronze-winged Jacana, Purple Swamphen, Spotted Owlet, Spot-billed Duck, Greater Coucal, Little Grebe, Flamebacks, Coppersmith Barbet, Indian Roller, Common Hoopoe, Eurasian Collared Dove, Black Drongo, Rock Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Jungle Babbler, Oriental Darter and Rose-ringed Parakeet, Whiskered Tern, Greater Flamingo, Osprey, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Gulls, Graylag Goose, Mallard, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Pratincoles, Green Bee-eater, Cuckoos, Common Pochard, Great Egret, Crested Lark, Ashy Prinia, Bitterns, Plovers, Lapwings and Bar-headed Goose, etc. Besides, one can also find mammals such as Neelgai, Jungle Cat or Jackals within the sanctuary.

Locally called Ablak Jhaari-pidda, a Pied Bushchat. More at Flickr

Locally called Ablak Jhaari-pidda, a Pied Bushchat. More bird-images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called

Locally called Dawak, a White-breasted Waterhen. More bird-images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Dauma, a Brown Rock-chat. More bird-images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Thar-Thar Kampini or Dauma, a Brown Rock-chat. More bird-images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Safed Giddh, an endangered Egyptian Vulture. More bird-images at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Safed Giddh, an endangered Egyptian Vulture. [@satravell is @gobNomadic now]. More bird-images at Flickr Photoset

To make them partner with the cause of wildlife conservation and support its efforts, the Bhindawas forest department has started providing potable water to the nearby villages. A Nature Interpretation Centre, to create awareness about conservation, is also under construction at the lake. Other than that for a few years now, the officials have stubbornly engaged themselves in a few counterproductive exercises such as creation of an unsuccessful herbal park at the cost of north India’s largest heronry. Despite all its beauty, the ever increasing water hyacinth is a major issue which the officials have yet not been able to tackle. The best way to generate enthusiasm and garner footfall will be to conserve the habitat and make it safer.

While at Bhindawas, if you are lucky you might bump into its most regular visitor, Sh Suresh C Sharma. Right from its notification, Sh Sharma has contributed considerably to ensure Bhindawas gained recognition and knows the lake like the back of his hand. I have had the luxury of accompanying him on quite a few of his field visits. Still young at heart, Sh Sharma is quite knowledgeable about the area and keeps a track of bird activities at the lake.

Sh Suresh C Sharma. Right from its notification, Sh Sharma has contributed considerably to ensure Bhindawas gained recognition

Sh Suresh C Sharma has contributed appreciably to ensure Bhindawas gained recognition

A pair of Blue Bulls, Asia's largest antelope, at Bhindawas

A pair of Blue Bulls (Neelgai), Asia’s largest antelope, at Bhindawas. More from the region at Flickr Photoset

A Greylag Goose wading through Water Hyacinth, the biggest threat to the emerging habitat

A Greylag Goose wading through Water Hyacinth, the biggest threat to the emerging habitat. More at Flickr

Indian Roofed Turtle sunbathing at the lake

A near-threatened Indian Roofed Turtle sunbathing at the lake. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Locally called Kinai, a near-threatened River Tern. More bird-images from the region at Flickr

Locally called Kinai, a near-threatened River Tern. More bird-images from the region at Flickr

With acres of yellow mustard fields spread across all directions, the surroundings of the lake in winters are equally enticing. Located within the confines of the newly carved district of Jhajjar, the Bhindawas Bird Sanctuary is approximately 15 km from the main town and is not more than a couple of hours drive from Gurgaon. If traveling from Delhi or Gurgaon, the lake could either be reached through a left-diversion at village Chuchhakwas on the Jhajjar – Dadri highway or from the right-diversion at village Hassanpur on the Jhajjar – Kosli highway. Approaching from Rohtak, take the diversion towards village Chuchhakwas, via Beri, through village Dhighal on the Rohtak – Jhajjar highway.

Even as the state tourism department is mulling to build a resort here, as of now, a limited accommodation is available with the state forest department in its rest house. If booked in advance, the resident cook can dish out superb home-cooked meals. The winter timings are 0630 – 1700hrs and in summer from 0600 – 1800hrs. Carry a pair of binoculars and a telephoto if you must.

Locally called Sarbo Baya, a black-breasted Weaver. More

Locally called Sarbo Baya, a Black-breasted Weaver pair. [@satravell is @gobNomadic now]

Sun down at Bhindawas

Sun down at Bhindawas. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Average Altitude: 220 m
Best time to visit: Winter season
Travel Lure: Bird watching
Accommodation: Very Limited


6 Comments

Gadget and Gear Talk: Sony 10,000 mAh Power Bank

I am surely not a gadget freak but travelling certainly becomes more productive and convenient with the help of technology. The intent behind discussing gadgetry here is to help you make an informed choice, through my own experiences, when it comes to assessing the usability, design, functionality as well as compactness of the gadgets and gears deemed necessary. The idea behind introduction of this category on bNomadic is to provide you with some assistance in prioritising your options.

Having earlier used a Chroma-manufactured as well as an iTek device to backup power for my handheld smartphone, I recently bought a Sony product. Pointless to write, both of the previous devices which I received as freebies proved out to be complete disasters against the Sony power bank. I preferred Sony over other alternatives for its reliability as a brand as well as the heavy duty 10,000 mAh capacity offered by the power bank. Ordered online through amazon.in in July 2014, I’d now say that have been using this for quite some time now.

1

The Sony CP-F10L Power Bank

What is in the pack?
The battery, a palm-sized USB – micro USB connector cable and a multi-lingual guide leaflet

The Sony CP-F10L Portable Power Charger comes fitted with two, energy efficient, lithium-ion rechargeable cells which together provide a mammoth capacity of 10,000 mAh. The ultra slim aluminium wash-soap bar sized power bank is quite the convenience to be carried while traveling. The device provides with two USB ports that can simultaneously charge two gadgets with a maximum of 3.6 Ampere taken together. In other words, if used at the same time both output ports can easily spurt a minimum of 1.5 Ampere. The listed dimensions are 70.4 X 130.6 X 16.5 mm and it weighs 260 grams which is reasonably substantial but tolerable considering its heavy-duty capacity. The device takes about seven hrs through a DC 5.0 V adaptor (1.5A) and 23 hrs through the USB interface of the computer to fully charge itself.

I won’t say that I have tested this product per se; nevertheless, I routinely use this product to the nth degree. Just to indicate its usage, it completely fills my Nexus 5 device running on 2300 mAh battery in just about an hour and five minutes, which is less than half the charging time from Nexus’s original charger. On the other hand, the Moto G on 2070 mAh takes less than an hour. The faster charging is also due to the higher charge generated by the power bank. Even though, as mentioned on the device, the real capacity of this device is about 67 per cent or 6700 mAh, normally, I have been able to charge my Nexus 5 smartphone thrice before recharging the power bank. Apparently, the loss of capacity is due to factors like voltage conversion and circuit resistance, etc. In between charges, the standby time for the power bank is found to be more than three days which is quite useful on extended journeys.

The Moto G on 2070 mAh takes less than an hour

The Moto G on 2070 mAh takes less than an hour

Although the original Sony adaptor to charge the CP-F10L is sold separately and as the device requires an input of DC 5V (0.5A ~ 1.5A), I use just whatever comes my way, mostly the regular smartphone-adaptor, to charge it. The charging time varies accordingly. Instead of flashy LED displays that drag battery charge, the device comes equipped with smart light – green and orange – indicators which specify battery charge and function as well as malfunction. Just plug in to charge and stop worrying, because the Sony power charger incorporates certain much-needed safety features like overcharge protection as well as abnormal temperature detection. Not that I have so far used it at higher altitudes, the operational temperature range for the device is listed as 0 – 35 degrees Celsius but works best between 10 to 30 degrees Celsius. The battery drags faster at lower temperatures.

Overall, the build quality of the internationally compatible Sony power bank is fleckless and is fit to be used ruggedly. I found this charger to be the smartest companion, other than myself of course, my devices including Nexus5, iPad or kindle may ever have while I am travelling. The current cost of this portable charger is around 3400 INR which is on the higher side. As battery banks are more of a necessity these days while travelling, I suggest this (or a similar one) to be in the list of must-haves.
2Please Note
A lot of fake power banks, across all popular brands, are being sold online. Doubly check before making a purchase.


58 Comments

Kinnaur Diary; The unceasing charm of Baspa Valley

A recently installed statue of Buddha overlooks the Kamakhya Temple courtyard at Kamru

A recently installed statue of Buddha overlooks the temple courtyard at Kamru

As I began to recollect my experiences based on my visits to the spectacularly beautiful Baspa Valley, I felt that a wholesome travel-post on this activity-rich area would warrant a longish description. To make the reading more meaningful, I now plan to introduce a hiking section on bNomadic so as to relate my trekking escapades and other adventures from this as well as other regions. The ensuing post talks about the travel wealth of the Baspa.

this is the most romantic of the Himalayan valleys and it is difficult to imagine a more beautiful spot

“This is the most romantic of the Himalayan valleys” Please visit Flickr for more images of the region

The Baspa Valley, also called Sangla Valley, conjures up images of the enormity of mountain ranges, comforting views, the richness of culture, forested faces higher up, agile fauna as well as friendly faces. The moment one takes the diversion along the Baspa River from Karcham, located at a distance of about 50 km from Rampur, on the dusty NH22 (formerly called Hindustan – Tibet Road) in the Satluj Valley, the magical spectacle of Baspa Valley begins to unfold itself. The calm Baspa River cleaving the gorgeous carpet of subalpine vegetation flanked by Dhauladhars to its left and Kinner Kailash range to its right, exhibits a spectacle which only comes closest to the place where God lives.

About 90km in length, the river happens to be the second largest tributary to mighty Satluj in Kinnaur. The road, 42km in length, connecting various settlements of the valley lies on its true right bank all the way up to village Chitkul, located at the other end. For the initial 18 km skirting Rutrang till the wide expanse of Sangla, the administrative headquarters of Baspa Valley, the road is narrow and treacherous in parts. As we inch ahead deeper into the valley from Karcham, the river Baspa adorns its calmer look. Legend has it that the race between Baspa and Satluj to reach Karcham first was responsible for the ferocity, now absorbed by the reservoir of power project, of Baspa downstream as it prepares to merge into the mighty Satluj. The myth is also related to the curious absence of chilgoza pines from the forests of Baspa valley.

The fertile valley bed is neatly laid out in fields and gardens of peas, beans, turnips as well as finest quality of potatoes

The fertile valley bed is neatly laid out in fields of peas, beans, turnips as well as finest quality of potatoes

The western ousters of Pk Raldang

The western ousters of Pk Raldang. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more images of the region

Past the last bit of live slide area on the motorway, the hydroelectric power project of Sangla comes into view. With the main village of the valley, Sangla (2650m) spread on the right bank of Baspa, the valley region ahead acquires the shape of a bowl. It is believed that this part of the valley was once a sheet of water and from the general geological evidences present nearby, one would tend to believe it. The river gently meanders along in an expanded bed of sand and pebbles creating numerous channels. The terrain here is neatly laid out in fields and gardens of peas, beans, turnips, finest quality of potatoes as well as dotted with rural cottages. There are plentiful shaded groves of apricots, the recently introduced varieties of apples as well as walnuts that bless with a cool retreat.

The courtyard of a traditionally kept house at Kamru. Notice the woodwork which is largely practiced in Kinnaur.

The courtyard of a traditionally kept house at Kamru. Notice the woodwork which is practiced in Kinnaur.

An roofed chorten spotted at Kamru.

A roofed chorten spotted at Kamru. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more images of the region

Ever since the government had allowed visitors to Kinnaur, the area has been witnessing a continuous increase in travellers and tourists influx. From a village of not more than 50 families during the trade-route days, today, Sangla is fast bracing itself to cater to the needs of “touristy brigade”. Owing to its proximity to both Tibet (via Satluj Valley) and the “terrain of Hindu Gods” Garhwal (over the high passes), Sangla retains best of both worlds. Sangla used to be a meeting place for traders from Garhwal and Tibet. During those times, owing to the treacherous terrain of the HT road, the Baspa Valley used to be the preferred diversion for both travellers and traders to enter Kinnaur part of the Satluj Valley to reach Shipki La. The then Vicerine of British India, Lady Canning crossed the Dhauladhars through Rupin pass in 1860 to reach Kalpa.

The intricately carved entrance door to the Kamru Fort compound

The intricately carved entrance door to the Kamru Fort

The Kamakhya Devi temple complex. The olden temple was built by a Bushahr King after his forces had successfully withstood  an attack by Tibetan chieftains

The Kamru (formerly called Mone) temple complex. The recently built Drugpa Monastery is also in the frame.

Kamru

“Even after the Bushahr capital was shifted to Sarahan and Rampur, the enthronement ceremony continued to be performed at the impressive fort of Kamru (Mone)“. The fort also has an enclosure with a deep well, in which, it is claimed, criminals were kept. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more images of the region.

Ancient temple complex by the Kamru Fort

Ancient temples within the compound of the Kamru Fort. The olden temple was built by a Bushahr King after his forces had successfully withstood an attack by Tibetan chieftains. More images at Flickr Photoset

Streaked with snow, the immense western clusters of the Raldang peak towering above the settlement of Sangla, reminds one of his presence in the vicinity of the colossal Himalaya. Looking up the slope one would notice the spread of the settlement of village Kamru located obliquely above Sangla. Commanding a wider view of the valley, Kamru (2770m) is home to the most striking monument of the Baspa Valley – the Fort of Kamru Narayan. The pathway to the Fort-cum-temple complex of Kamru branches off the valley road near the PWD facility at Sangla. Although, the complex was said to have been recently renovated, entry inside the Fort was still not allowed owing to its dilapidated state. Past the superbly carved main entrance, the tiled courtyard houses an ancient shrine devoted to Kamakhya Devi, the Durga’s incarnation in Assam as well as a small Buddhist temple. The presence of olden mani walls and chortens in the settlements of Sangla confirms the decided presence of Buddhism, along with Hinduism, in the valley. The presiding deity of Sangla is Nag Devta.

A section of the valley bed as observed near village Batseri

A section of the valley bed as observed near village Batseri. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more pics

House Sparrow "Tree" at Sangla

House Sparrow “Tree” at Sangla

The portion of the valley from Kamru right up to the fields of Chitkul at the other end of the motorable road retains some of the most memorable Himalayan sights. The road passes through Rakcham (3115m), 12 km further up from Sangla, and Chitkul located at a distance of 12 km towards the head of the valley. The Baspa here rolls smoothly on pebbles with a gentle murmur, or rushes with rapidity in a narrow stream creating tiny islands full of wild berries, surrounded by blue pines, willows, hazel and sweet briar, etc.

The last bit of stretch before Chitkul

The last bit of stretch; a few km before Chitkul. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Approaching village Chitkul. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Village Chitkul in sight. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

The village Chitkul (3450m) is the last and the highest village in the valley. Owing to the increasing tourist activities, a few guesthouses and hotels have now sprung up in this otherwise a sleepy village. The village houses an olden temple complex dedicated to Mathi Devi, its presiding deity, said to be a consort of Kamru Narayan. The view from the village would remind one of trans-Himalayan mountain-scape. The verdant cultivation, or now and then scantily wooded with a few stunted pines, is strongly contrasted with the barren faces of rugged rocks on either hand which present naked and impracticable crags frowning in a terrific forms.

The settlement of village Chitkul

The settlement of village Chitkul. Please visit Flickr Photoset for more images of the region

The view from the village would remind one of trans-Himalayan mountain-scape

The view from the village Chitkul reminds one of trans-Himalayan mountain-scape. More images at Flickr

Sarabjit showing results of his camera to the local kids

Sarabjit showing results of his camera to the local kids

Mathi Devi

Part of the Mathi Devi temple complex, the Bara Qila at Chitkul. The temple is said to be over 500 years old.

The grandeur of the mountain-scape offers fresh perspectives on the return journey as well. Impressed by its richness, Capt Gerard, one of the first to record a visit to Kinnaur, wrote in his book Account of Kunawoor, “this is the most romantic of the Himalayan valleys and it is difficult to imagine a more beautiful spot”. Later logs have been equally full of praise about the beauty and magnanimity of this valley.

Not only for its sheer beauty, the Baspa Valley is known for its skilled wood and metal craftsmen. Apart from fruit and veggies, the valley is also popular for trout farming, particularly near the flat valley bed around village Batseri. In terms of travel lure, Sangla valley is a paradise for Himalayan lovers and photoartists as well as trekkers. The most popular of all trails is the day hike up to Sangla village pastures known by Sangla Kanda. Another popular hike is the easy walk up to Nagasthi, the last Indian outpost in the valley towards border. The valley also happens to be on the route of Kinner Kailash parikarma. For the expert ones, the most popular option is Chitkul to Har-ki-doon or Harsil trek. A few frequented passes around Sangla valley are Charang, Rupin, Khimloga, Lamkhaga, Borasu, etc. Foreigners would, however, require permissions from the concerned authorities to crossover a few of these passes.

A female Siberian Stonechat

A female Siberian Stonechat. Please visit bird gallery at Flickr Photoset

Blue pines by Shushang Nala in the Mostrang section

Blue pines by Shushang Nala in the Mostrang section

The valley offers ample accommodation avenues for backpackers or holidaymakers. However, my favourite would remain the PWD or the furnished HPSEB guesthouses. Built in 1908, the spacious British-era Forest RH is located amidst a thick forest across the river near Sangla. The preferred route from plains, to reach Sangla, would be Chandigarh – Shimla – Theog – Narkanda – Rampur – Jeori – Karcham – Sangla. Narkanda would be an ideal night-halt.

Average Altitude: 2800m
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn
Travel Lure: Landscape and wooded trails
Accommodation: Limited but usually available


18 Comments

Book Talk: Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon

Earlier this year while preparing for my Bhutan trip, I stumbled upon this narrative written by British travel writer Katie Hickman on her journey through Bhutan spanned over a few weeks. Her travel memoirs to Bhutan have been relatively popular in the European travel circles.

A Journey through Bhutan by Katie Hickman

A Journey through Bhutan by Katie Hickman

Back in early 1970s, she happened to be one of the few known European travellers to be allowed an entrance into Eastern Bhutan. Internationally, first published in 1987, the India edition of the book was made public much later in 2012 by Timeless Books. In about 190 pages, the author chirpily writes about the routine tussles between her adventurous self and her discoveries or findings upon landing in an area.

Before 1974 when tourism in Bhutan was formally opened for foreigners, the only non-nationals permitted in were guests of the royal family. Katie chanced to be one of the very few visitors who could manage an invite by the royal family. Initially permitted for a week, the queen not only generously extended her stay by a few weeks but provided her with a guide and related paraphernalia to visit the tribes of Eastern Bhutan.

Partly on four wheels, in part on ponies and the remainder on foot, she along with her photographer travel-companion Tom Owens travelled east from Thimphu to Bumthang and Tashigang. Their journey maxed out at the far eastern villages of Mera and Sakteng dominated by the bragpa tribe. Her memoirs provide a casual insight into this region that was, until recently, relatively untouched by the outside world.

An insert in the book maps her travels through Bhutan

An insert in the book maps her travels through Bhutan

Be it the evocative images of phallus, the talks about yeti, continuous torture of blood sucking leeches, the performance of the weed consuming horse, jitters created by the homely lama or the welcoming bragpas, her ingenuous account leaves the reader with an interesting as well as pleasant imagery of the mystic Himalayan land. As she wisecracks in the beginning, “We do not only travel to find the truth, but also to rediscover the mysteries that are in life. Ours is a world in which few stones remain unturned”. Bhutan is a country that every traveller dreams of.

Yet, on the downside, despite the fact that her travels were supported by the Queen, in her attempt to present the hidden treasures of the Land of Thunder Dragon to the world outside, I feel that Katie has, like a babe in the woods, missed the boat in bringing forward the serenity and beauty of the raw countryside of Bhutan. Considering it was a maiden interface for both, one would expect a lot of treasure trove in the form of knowledge and first hand raw information on the region. Downheartedly, her narration has simply been condensed to her personal experience against the observed handicap of her prior lack of awareness about the traditions of the region specifically pertaining to religion, customs, Himalayan life and geography.

For a travel-fiction fanatic, the book is full of adventurous as well as necessary information and anecdotes to support the flow. All in all, if you are looking to buy just one informative read on the region, this one might not be able to foot the bill and in case you have the luxury to access some more than don’t miss this one. Overly priced at Rs 495, the book, nevertheless, makes for an interesting and candid read.

You can buy the book online at Flipkart.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 694 other followers