On a Snow-Hooded Himalayan Trail: The Story of Serken

Into the Mountains
Into the Mountains…

There are only 3000 to 6000 Snow Leopards estimated to be alive today- they are an endangered species. By some conservative estimates, you would be 10 times more likely to be struck by a lightning, than having the absolute luck of seeing the majestic Snow Leopard. Serken (in local name) is considered to be a symbol of God. With these thoughts in mind, five layers of warm clothing and strong, sturdy shoes I set out on a journey to feel the Himalayas. A lot of effort was put into bringing together all necessary life belongings into one rucksack. The aim was to keep it as light as possible. I was going to climb steep rocky mountains in -10 degrees celsius (it was late October), explore the frozen valleys and live with the locals of the Spiti-Lahaul district in Himachal Pradesh, India.

When I arrived at Chandigarh in the morning, three free souls and one self-driven car welcomed me at the airport. We hopped in and shortly hit the highway to Manali. A night spent well and an energy packed breakfast filled me with thrill and enthusiasm to drive further. Through the snow peaks and huge rocks we paced our SUV to stop right at our next destination- Chatru. Unlike the usual tar or cement roads, the roads here were made only of gravel. For the first time in my life, I witnessed a landslide right beside me. Mother Earth pulled down everything from big boulders to minute sand particles and threw them at us puny humans! Everything was grey, hidden under the vast dust cloud that rose in the sky. Gravity showed its aggression to us. It looked like a trailer. Earth- like an angry goddess; trying to tell man that she is far more powerful than any human being could ever aspire to be!

A big speed breaker and a bumpy bridge, got me back to the present and I saw that we had by now passed the landslide. The grey had disappeared and I had reached Chatru, just before dusk! The stars shimmered and glittered, as only the stars under the grand Himalayan sky can. There were only two huts where we could ask for food. The temperature fell rapidly but the small hut, the family we met, the fried eggs and noodles they cooked for us brought much needed warmth and love! After setting up the tent I watched stars change position for about two hours and discussed how enlightened our life was to be experiencing pure nature first hand. We also discussed struggles of life while talking to the only family we had met. They had no permanent address- they lived six months in Chatru and the other six in a village at a lower elevation. They were filled with joy to meet us, to share their dinner with us and allow us to spend a night on their land- it wasn’t often that they had visitors this late into the year. They told me people like us, make their life beautiful. I strongly believe the struggles you choose determine the level of carefree and happy life you lead!

The next morning I woke up to numb feet, ice in my hair and chirping birds. There were a pair of singing River Chats flying all over the place. The tributary of Spiti river flowed freely by the side. After waving goodbye to the family who provided us shelter we moved ahead to Dhankar Village. On the way we spent another night at a pristine lake that we bumped into after our not so perfect google search. We took a narrow, winding road that led us to Chandra tal lake- the Lake of the Moon- one of the highest lakes in the world. We spent the night under the starry galaxy and woke up to clear blue water which literally turned the Himalayas upside down.

When the Himalayas turned upside down
When the Himalayas turned upside down

Dhankar Village was 8 hours away from the Lake of the Moon. After a great bumpy make-your-own-way ride on gravel, the stars twinkled their smiles upon us one by one. The night fell dark- we were about to reach Dhankar Monastery. It was 9 PM at night. To my ecstasy, the monastery lights shared the space with twinkling stars at the horizon. I shouted with joy “Yay, we found a home”. All of us got really excited to see civilization again! Faint with hunger, we decided to distract ourselves by turning our attention to our daily “wildlife talks” and discussed how we were 4000 meters above the sea level. My friends curiously asked me about the wildlife found here! I told them about the Short-toed Larks that we had seen flying in flocks at the lake, the majestic Himalayan Griffon that perched on the rock, the Ibex which we couldn’t see and then we discussed the mighty and elusive Snow-Leopard.

Himalayan Griffon in all its glory!
Himalayan Griffon in all its glory!

“The Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), lives in high altitudes about 3,000-4,500 meters from the sea level. It can walk on the rocky steep slopes of the Himalayas and is usually seen only above the tree level. Sources say that there are only 6000 of these individuals left in the wild. They have been facing major threats like climate change and habitat destruction owing to the greed of homo sapiens. They can hunt prey three times their size. They are about 125 cms long- not counting their tail length. They have an extremely useful tail which can sometimes be used to protect them from the harsh snow.” Can we come across a Snow-Leopard here? Asked a friend who was currently concentrating on driving and reaching the horizon with lights. “Yes”, I said, “If only fate is on our side! It is an extremely rare and elusive animal, and finding one is like finding an angel falling from the sky” My friends laughed as we continued making our way.

After about thirty minutes, while we were still driving and I was lost in the stars that followed us, my friend who had never seen even a Snow-Leopard photograph, shouted out- “Snow-leopard!” as he brought the car to a grinding halt. Wait, what, that isn’t possible- I thought. “No, it can’t be”, I said still lost in the stars. “It is, there is no other creature this size with that long a tail. Her eyes are shining in the car’s headlights, at least take a look, you girlgonebirdzz!” He exclaimed. I got up from my recumbent position and to my surprise an adult solitary “Serken” as the locals would call it was sitting comfortably on the cold, very steep mountain beside me. I hurriedly got my torch and focused straight on the animal, keeping a safe distance. “Yes, a female Snow-Leopard!”

Yes, the elusive and rare- Snow Leopard!
Yes, the elusive and rare- Snow Leopard!

We stopped the car to get a better look. I tried photographing it but it was too dark. It stared at us as we stared back. I tried to climb up to get a better picture, careful not to make any sudden movements and scare it away. The result was this shot that I managed to capture after 30 minutes of slowly and painfully inching forward. By then I had closely monitored her behavior towards me- she looked calm and peaceful, she just wanted to relax on the mountain! We stayed like this for another 30 minutes, staring at each other before my friends dragged me away and I went to the car reluctantly. That night we holed up at the monastery, where the monks told us that yes indeed a Sow Leopard had been dragging away their livestock over the last few weeks. They mentioned that spotting a Snow Leopard is very rare and that we were one of the luckiest travelers that year! I slept fitfully, dreaming of the leopard, chasing it through the mountain crags.

Next day morning, at the break of dawn, I jumped out of my bed and drove towards the place where we had spotted the Serken. Alas, it was gone! I jumped into the narrow gap between the mountains and started pulling myself up. Although the Serken was gone, I was fortunate enough to collect her hair and a few droppings. I secured these valuable samples up in air- tight zip-lock bag to get them tested at a lab once we returned to civilization. The Serken was a majestic sight, one that crowned our entire trip. It was more than the icing on the cake, for me personally, the Serken took the cake itself! 🙂

 

PS: This article was first published on Travelettes – an online platform for women travelers to share inspiring stories. Read it here. Don’t forget to show your love- comment, like and share! Any help with my Travel Funds will be highly appreciated. Thanks!

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My Heartwarming Experiences Might Completely Change The Way You Travel

I usually travel in ways that help local communities while getting them to develop in a sustainable way (this, by the way, is the very definition of sustainable ecotourism!). The places that I prefer travelling to include- villages, forest reserves, national parks, heritage towns and biodiversity hotspots. Why? Because usually tourists leave these places alone, enabling the locals to offer their own version of ecotourism, without corporate influences getting in the way!

I have tried to embrace all principles of sustainable tourism wherever I have traveled. Here are some of my experiences over the last two years:

Experience 1: Chilling with the Banjaras, otherwise known as the lost tribes of India. 

Spending time with local communities!
Spending time with local communities!

They are locally called “Lambadi” or “Lambani”, counted among the fast disappearing tribes of the world. Karnataka, in India hosts one of the richest and the most vibrant cultures of Lambanis. They now work in farms or any other daily wage jobs possible around their village. All the other time they chill and roam or create intricate art work with mirrors and colored thread. Some have turned their artisan skills into small scale businesses. They aren’t hesitant to tell you that their ancestors are Gypsies/Romans of Europe. When you travel local, you get to learn about and see the heritage of any place that you are travelling to. When you interact with the people, you might get to know how exactly to boost their economy and help them. After this happy meeting, I ended up buying some cheap, local, banjara jewelry for myself! And you know what, it looks awesome on me. 

OMG, I love tribal jewelry ;)
OMG, I love tribal jewelry 😉

Experience 2: Camping to support local communities and demand less while traveling 

Camping within the snow-clad mountains in Chatru!
Camping within the snow-clad mountains in Chatru!

Sleeping under the stars with a local family in Chatru (3100 meters above the sea level) was an experience of a lifetime. The family of four that I stayed with, lived here for six months and spends the rest of the year roaming in the villages at a lower elevation. How difficult their life is, I thought! Although I was equally pleased to see them welcome us with a heartful of smiles!

The hut of my host, who served warm coffee and noodles with much love
The host’s cozy hut, who served warm coffee and noodles with much love

That night when I looked up in the cold breeze at the clear sky, I saw the whole galaxy stretch out over my head. Holy Christ! I could experience nature first hand. I wanted to fly and touch every star to twinkle like it. I just smiled and realized, one twinkling smile can make a whole lot of difference. I was here because I had decided to ditch all the hotels and guesthouses. Had I been in a hotel, I am sure I would have missed out on the starry galaxy and a whole lot of joyous thoughts! 

Experience 3: Living in local homestays thus encouraging local businesses

A forest officers' terrace converted into a basic stay for travelers!
A forest officers’ terrace converted into a basic stay for travelers!

In Hampi, a UNESCO heritage town in India, I lived in this colorful homestay run by Rambo and admired the beauty of this quaint little hamlet. The nearby frogs were my friends during my stay. You might like to read- Frogs of Hampi. Rambo taught me a way of life- he tells me that the biggest happiness for him is when his travelers are happy and smiling in his warm hut! He says, the only wish he makes to God is to keep his travelers happy. What a simple and beautiful way of life, I thought, as I chilled in my hut overlooking the paddy-fields! Seeing happiness in others is something not many people master. But the ones who do, are enlightened in their lives. Most of Rambo’s daily earning depends upon travelers like you and me! The money he makes out of this homestay goes towards his children’s education, maintenance of his farm and his home.

My colorful and peaceful homestay at Hampi
My colorful and peaceful homestay at Hampi

You might also like to know of another wonderful example of me staying local- The Organic Bamboo shacks in India’s best kept secret beaches of Gokarna. Read- Snippets from Gokarna: India’s Best Kept Secret Beach?

Experience 4: Going veg and eating simple local food

Yummy Gujarathi Thali!
Yummy Gujarathi Thali!

Treating myself to a whole fat veggie meal in Gujarat prepared with much love by a local restaurant owner. I turned vegetarian five months ago from being a voracious meat eater and this I think is a big step in contributing towards sustainable living. The global number of people eating veg is about 4-5% in the Canada and US and about 30% in India. Just livestock adds about 15% of all the global greenhouse gases which is far more than the world’s planes, ships and automobiles put together. Jaws dropped- who’s going vegan?

I loved spending time in Honey-Valley Resort in Coorg

Experience 5: Explore a destination on foot

Exploring the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park on foot!
Exploring the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park on foot!

I went trekking through the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park in Nepal to spend time with birds and local tribes there. Trekking is a great way to explore the outdoors. It is healthy and reduces your carbon footprint. It is much better than exploring the same area with jeeps/cars. Also, believe it or not, being close to nature has several health benefits. Walking on natural non-cemented paths is great for your joints and muscles. It reduces the ground reaction force exerted on your joints (The physiotherapist in me is talking here!).

Here’s another picture that I clicked while exploring the gorgeous rain forests of India on foot with several leeches, snakes and other little crawlies. 

Bisle Rainforest in Southern India
Bisle Rainforest in Southern India

Experience 6: Volunteer Travel

Working at a forest farm on the outskirts of Dharwad
Working at a forest farm on the outskirts of Dharwad

This is my favorite way of travelling. By volunteering and helping different organisations, I have made my way to the breathtaking countryside of Nepal, lived with the farmers in Karnataka and have taught children an eco-friendly/sustainable way of living almost everywhere I have gone! Even today, at most times I end up volunteering with local NGOs and working for them while I get to explore the town/village locally.

Happy times with kids in a local school!
Happy times with kids in a local school!

When you travel minimizing your demands, encouraging local communities and getting close to nature- you are appreciating the wonders of mother nature and giving back to where it all belongs. This is the need of the hour, to develop a feeling of compassion towards nature and the environment we live in. Climate change is real and doing whatever little that we can do to make our only habitable planet a much more livable place is indeed amazing. Not to mention- the locals will appreciate you much more than they would snobbish high-maintenance luxury travelers!

Recently, I wrote an elaborate article on how to become an eco-tourist and do your bit while you travel. My nine step guide to traveling more responsibly might really help you! I am not a luxury traveler. I love using public transport, exploring the rural India, landing somewhere away from the touristy over-hyped towns and experiencing nature up close! This is my way of travel.

What’s your way of travel- Do you prefer luxury resorts over nature and local culture?  

Tell me in the comments or mail me your views on madhushri06@gmail.com and the best responses shall be published as a follow up to this article! 😉 

PS: This article was featured at www.thestreetedit.com. Read it here. Street Edit is a fashion, travel and lifestyle blog run by my dear friend Monica. Don’t forget to check it out!  🙂
It was also featured on Backpacker Bible- your go to place if you love backpacking the globe while benefiting the community.

Show love in the comments, by sharing this with your friends and by helping me fund my travel.

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Not Just a Tourist, Here’s My 9 Step Guide To Become An Eco-Tourist Today!

Eco tourism is critical. We have far left behind the years when this was simply ‘important’- today it is critical. Today each one of us must contribute towards nature. Nature has all the resources to satisfy man’s need. Although humans have become increasingly greedy (our ‘needs’ remain the same, our ‘wants’ spiral out of control), we need, we want but no one gives back. No one replenishes what they take.
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Let me explain biodiversity in the simplest way- the variety of life on earth that exists where each and every species is given equal importance. Homo Sapiens understand the importance of Gender Equality, they promote equal rights for both sexes and give equal importance to both men and women. We know that genders are interdependent. Men can’t live without women and visa versa. Similarly in an ecosystem, species of plants and animals live with each other. Not to forget man also forms a part of an ecosystem. Why then are different species of plants and animals not afforded the same importance, why is the perception of importance between species so skewed?

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This photo was clicked on the outskirts of Bangalore at Hessarghatta lake bed and grassland. The habitat is rich in biodiversity but has suffered extensive damage due to over-enthusiastic travellers, unethical photographers, overgrazing cattle and off-roading and motor biking activities by locals and tourists.

Various human activities have triggered an increase in the population of invasive species which make the survival of other species difficult. This directly hampers the food chain along with the habitat and leads to vulnerable existences in the ecosystem. Today mother earth is screaming for protection and man is single-handedly responsible for having put her in such a trouble. There is still time to put a full stop to this destruction by those responsible for this vulnerable position we find ourselves in. You might like to question me- why should I conserve. To them I say go- back to school and read your 8th Std science textbooks once more.

Here’s why you must conserve:

–  Rain-forests are responsible for a stable climate; heard of global warming? Destruction of rainforests is a major contributor!

– Most resources and raw materials that we use today for medicinal or industrial purpose come from the forests

– The ozone layer is still intact, thanks to forests, else we’d be dying of skin cancer

– Studies say that pollution and temperature rise shall destroy all the coral reefs in the next 20-40 years

– The earth’s biological treasures are thrashed and scientists are calling it the 6th mass extinction event

– Thanks to birds that today we can fly Mumbai-Delhi and overseas in no time. Nature is highly inspirational

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The Small Pratincole clicked at Malyadi Bird Sanctuary in Karnataka

The reasons for conservation are infinite. If I sit back and start writing it would take me a lifetime- suffices to say, if we don’t conserve mother nature, mother nature will not sustain us. There are many ways by which you can do your bit for nature. I would want you to focus on your roles towards conservation via eco-tourism, one of the fun ways of conserving and helping nature. The tourism that we are exploring today isn’t about living in luxury resorts, throwing waste on streets and in lakes, travelling in AC cars, feeding wild animals, habitat destruction and disturbing the entire balance of the ecosystem. We are talking about responsible tourism where you trek, cycle, live with local tribes, experience the real jungle, learn and conserve. Promising yourself to do all that it takes to protect nature- that’s what makes you a responsible eco-tourist.

So if you are planning on becoming an Eco-Tourist in India here are a few points to remember:

  1. Read and collect Info: Read as much as you can about the place you’re travelling to- before you go there. Read about all the wildlife found in that ecosystem, distance to maintain from these animals and activities to do without causing disturbances to that habitat.

    Preparation is the Key!

     

  2. Don’t encourage ill practices: Clicking pictures with wild animals or throwing stones to see them react, unruly behavior with local communities, feeding animals, off-roading on open spaces and grasslands

    I came across this Rhesus Macaque baby near the Shivapuri National Park in Nepal. I am totally against petting wild animals. Most of these locals end up earning money when people pose with their pets. Encouraging these poor villagers for petting wild animals is a very common mistake done by most travellers who are not yet eco-travellers!

     

  3. Avoid plastic: Avoiding plastic as much as you can is a good practice in day to day life. According to a recent study, 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating on the world’s ocean weighing about 269,000 tonnes. India ranks 12th on the list of twenty worst marine polluter countries. While on your eco-tour try to reuse your plastic bottle or replace them by steel bottles. Plastic is one the biggest pollution problems in natural spaces and cities.
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    Plastic is one of the biggest problem!

     

  4. Follow the “Leave Only Footprints Approach”: While you explore jungles try and bring back the smallest of your waste. Dispose wherever it is possible to reuse/recycle or is the most appropriate place.
    Leave Only Footprints!

     

  5. Stay on the trail when you go on treks within the wild: This is beneficial for both you and the wild animals. You can easily find your way back without disturbing the animals or invading in their personal space.
    Follow the trail- always!

     

  6. Avoid smoking: This is good for your lungs and the earth’s lungs- the forests. Umpteen times cigarettes thrown in dry deciduous forests have triggered uncontrollable forest fires. Forest fires are the single most important cause of destruction of many species at once. It is imperative that we take all necessary precautions to prevent such avoidable disasters. Also cigarette butts take about two to twenty-five years to biodegrade, if ingested by wildlife animals or marine life it’s often fatal for them.
    Pic credits: pixabay.com
    Avoid smoking; if not please dispose your cigarette butts carefully!

     

  7. Learn to be ethical in the forests. Photographs are one of the essentials in a traveler’s diary. Learn photography ethics or simply talk to the experts to get an idea of how to click wildlife without disturbing them. Here are some links to help you:
    http://www.digicamhelp.com/how-to/nature/wildlife-photography-ethics/
    http://focusingonwildlife.com/news/nature-photography-ethics-and-conservation-issues/

    I personally like distant photography. This photograph speaks so much about the animal’s habitat. Isn’t it better to capture and witness a Wild Elephant family enjoying at their home. Clicked at Anamalai Tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu.

     

  8. Get involved with organisations who promote eco-tourism in India: You can choose to work and be an active part of non- govt organisations. I would like to list a few names here- bigger organisations like WWF-India and BNHS run tours and events, but also many other independent naturalist and researchers do occasional tours for limited number of people. You must keep an eye on the blog or my facebook page for more info on this-
    Spending time with local communities!
    Spending time with local communities in Hampi and learning about their culture closely!

     

  9. Make Donations: Everyone must make it a point to donate to conservation efforts! If you do not like ecotourism and wish to travel with all your luxuries and disturb nature- then it’s even more imperative to donate to causes that support conservation. Everyone needs to support the cause 🙂
    Here are a few links to help you: https://www.snowleopard.org/shop/index.php?main_page=donate
    http://support.wwfindia.org/index.php?link=1&source=WWF_WEB Pic credits: Pixabay.com

Also just thought of telling you; I have been working independently to support local communities, our natural habitat and smaller home-stays through my travel and blogging across India, any help to my travel fund will be highly appreciated!

So will you become an ecotourist today and forever? Let me know in the comments below.

PS: This article was first published on Holidify.com

 

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How I Met My ‘Courage’

‘Courage’ the little frog sat comfortably across this fast flowing stream. It looked as if he had made friends with the stream and her fast flowing water. The very strong wavy water was trying to protect it from predators.

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The rocks neighboring the water made it even more difficult to reach the frog. As soon as I stepped in the stream the water flow increased and the waves stopped me from getting close to Courage. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to give up. I had to prove to the stream and her friends that I am different. I am not the human being who throws plastic at them and usually comes to destroy them.

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I am going to observe this frog and help conserve him. So I put my foot down and went ahead. While I played with the fast flowing waves, another Whistling friend joined in. Thrush, the bird, occupied the canopy above me and watched all the drama below. He looked at me like “Oh just another creepy human being”. But wait, there’s more to me, I thought as I struggled to keep my foot down in the waves.

Look at the frog

The rocks had decided to stop me as well. They turned slippery and asked moss to cover them. I knew, these are not inanimate objects that we look upon them as. They are in fact the beloved children of Mother Earth, live creatures in themselves. All these life forces come together to make a brilliant cradle for the survival of human beings. In return it is our duty to give back, as much as we can.

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As my mind recited these thoughts, Mother Nature seemed to guess this already. She calmed down a little, after a good twenty minutes of my struggle through the rocks and waves. I had reached where Courage was. He posed for me and said ribbit-ribbit. Two more frogs jumped in and these I decided to call- Moxie and Energy!

Mr Courage

As I got out of the stream, I felt super happy. All the adrenaline rush and this new bond of frogship felt really wonderful. I was on top of the world. When I first decided to cross the stream, I was afraid. But as I gathered my courage and decided to take this path, I made friends on the way. These friends might not be able to party, wish me birthday or Whatsapp me, but they will always be there. Having them as companions, I realized, I don’t need anyone else!

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My Favorite #ResponsibleTravel Getaways In India

Any tourist or traveler worth his salt must have come across the terms of Eco-Tourism and Responsible Travel. It has almost become a buzz-word and about time. While most people have a vague idea, it is important to understand what it really means and entails!

Ecotourism-A way for you to have your cake and eat it too

It is important to understand that there is no particular destination for travelling responsibly. Responsible Travel is a  habit and once learnt can never be forgotten. The need of the hour is to educate and be aware of what it takes to minimize our demands in whatever we do to save the only habitable planet from the harmful effects of global warming for a greener future. And travelling responsibly lets you do just that!

Also read- My Heart Warming Travel Experiences That Might Completely Change The Way You Travel

I would love to take you through a number of destinations that you can explore once you have decided to become responsible of our choices. India is a land with huge diversity of dry deserts, snow-clad mountains, rainforests and the grasslands which are prefect to promote ecotourism.

1. Valparai, Tamil Nadu

The endangered Nilgiri Tahr (A large mammal, close relative of sheep, shares common ancestors with cattle, horses etc) protected under section I of the Wildlife Protection Act in India can be witnessed grazing here. Valparai is located at 3,500 feet above the sea level on the Anamalai Hills in Tamil Nadu. While you trek down the Shola forests and the lush green tea gardens you might come across Wild Elephants and Great Hornbills. Homestays for tourists is the best option to live and explore the place.

Nilgiri tahr takes a stroll where no human would dare to walk!

Nilgiri tahr takes a stroll where no human would dare to walk!

2. Chatru and Chandratal lake, Himachal Pradesh

Eco-tourism in India is about visiting the clearest and most pristine lakes in India while at the same time ensuring that it stays like that! You should always reach these spots by foot because that will help keep the water pure. According to locals, this lake situated at a height of 4,300 meters, has immense spiritual significance. The water can be consumed without much purification. The temperature here reaches up to -20 degrees.

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The snow-hooded mountains turned upside down by the beauty of Chandratal Lake

3. The Seven Sister States

The North-East of India (The states of Arunachal-Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland) is a must-visit on every eco-traveller’s bucket list. These rich tropical rainforests harbours rare and unique species like the Clouded Leopard, One-horned Rhino, Gayal- in the most simple words the wild ox and the only ape found in India-the Hoolock Gibbon. The Hornbill Festival in Nagaland is a once in a lifetime experience, celebrated every year in the first week of December.

northeast india map, ecotourism in India

The seven sister states and their relative positions!

4. Kokrebellur near Mysore

This village is a prime example of a harmonious relationship between humans and threatened birds- the Spot Billed Pelican and the Painted Storks. The villagers let these birds occupy trees and roofs of their houses, they say the bird droppings are an organic manure for their crops. The villagers here welcome the birds like their daughters. When you reach this place as a traveller you would love to hear incredible stories on sustainable living from kids here.

Pelican, eco tourism in India

The Spot-billed pelican takes-off

5. The Crocodile Park, Puducherry

Chennai to Puducherry is a beautiful long drive along the stunning coastline of the Bay of Bengal. Every year Olive-Ridley Turtles come to the shore of Puducherry and lay eggs. A lot of destruction have been caused by tourists visiting these beaches during December to February. Most of these turtles are caught by fishermen and the eggs are consumed by locals. Sometimes mere presence of tourists and touristic activities can unknowingly cause disturbances to this vulnerable species. Ecotourism in India can help in changing the general mindset of the people.

Oliver ridley turtles, eco tourism in India

This is what you wouldn’t do because you are now an eco-tourist. You have promised to take all necessary steps for conservation

6. Spiti-Valley

One of the most magnificent valleys in the Himalayas is a home for the near threatened Griffon Vulture. Vultures have suffered 99.9% population decline- most of it owing to habitat destruction and lack of food. The clear blue water of Spiti river is breathtaking and pollution free although at some places you will find traces of human waste disturbing the fragile ecosystem. At Spiti you may come across the elusive snow leopard- if you’re really lucky! There are only 400 odd left in India. The temperature here might go up to -20 degrees. It is advisable to go well prepared to enjoy this picturesque tranquil valley.

Spiti River, eco tourism in India

On careful observation you might be able to see the river bed through the crystal clear water of Spiti River!

7. Bisle Rainforest, Western Ghats

The Western Ghats in India are a biodiversity hotspot. Bisle rainforest is a home for numerous snakes, frogs, birds and mammals. Although I must warn you before you head out on an exploration here -the forest here is dense vegetation with fog, cold breeze and rains adding to it. Leeches are among the least creepy creatures that you will come across. Be prepared for facing Wild-Elephants, Leopards or a group of Wild Dogs. If this doesn’t excite you enough the most dangerous sloth bear might just be waiting outside your tent. Be careful and recall the first point I had mentioned at the start of this post.

Bisel forest range, eco tourism in India

Clouds took over while I was driving through the Bisle forest range

Although wherever you go, it is important is to realize the need of travelling responsibly and knowing every piece of it. You might like to take my 9 step eco-tour guide before you head off to any of these destinations.

Don’t forget to tell me all about your favorite destination and your responsible travel habits in the comments! Love hearing from your guys.

PS: This article was published in Holidify.com. And I will soon be publishing part-2 of this article.

PPS: Don’t forget to check my work with me page!

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Snippets from Gokarna: India’s Best Kept Secret Beach?

Since I moved to Manipal in 2012, I have explored more beaches than ever before! I have always loved the sea because I believe, it lets you find your soul. For further clarity you might like to take  Travel Lessons- Find your soul, what are you, by my favorite teacher- The Sea!

Ever since I developed a beautiful relationship with the ocean, I have been on a voyage to discover pristine, undisturbed beach destinations from Gujarat in the North-west, to Kerala in the South-west. I have explored Puducherry in 2015, on the East coast and have been to West Bengal in 2008 but never have I come across something as unique as Gokarna. Gokarna is that place where your body and mind get the much deserved break from the daily hustle and bustle of life! So whenever I feel like relaxing in the arms of wavy blue waters- Gokarna it is with no second thought!

I pen this as my flight takes off and flies over the Indian Ocean. So here’s a soulful photo journey of this secret beach in India-

The beaches are clean and gorgeous unlike anywhere else in the country

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The food here drives me crazy. Soulful western food prepared by the locals is a must have on Kudle beach (think scrambled eggs, sausages and pancakes!)

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I loved my stay at the organic shacks made up of bamboo and hay. And as I was ready for anything which comes my way thanks to all the products I bought at top10bestpro.com I was simply worry free. If you happen to go to Gokarna, you must stay in these shacks and not the cemented hotels that are now coming up and promote unsustainable tourism!

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Om beach is famous for its spiritual significance and Lord Shiva’s temple. Also it has the famous Namaste Cafe (Although I personally don’t like this place- neither their food nor service is as good as claimed on the internet). I’d rather trek to Kudle and eat the inexpensive, delicious meals made by the locals!

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The best place to visit with your friends, if you already have great buddies who travel, else you could be just lucky enough to find a whole new gang!

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The trek from the Kudle beach to the Om Beach is a must try- because you might lose your way and end up at beautiful locations, like this-

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The whole town can be covered by foot, at least that’s what I did when I was travelling. I bumped into an adorable pair of Tawny-bellied Babblers who were busy setting up their house. 

Unfortunately I couldn’t capture both in one frame 🙂

Unfortunately I couldn't capture both in one frame :)

There are numerous small treks to explore- This trek to the abandoned ruins of the  Kudle Fort is one of my favorites. It gives you a beautiful view of the horizon where the sea kisses the sky and you’d desperately want to fly, if you’re not flying already!

All this with a handful of tourists, no plastic in the sea, no black oily extracts on the beach- just some gorgeous birds and frogs to welcome you. Now this is what I call a “paradise beach destination”. Gokarna’s Kudle beach is by far my favorite beach in India. And I strongly believe that it is probably one of the most well kept secret beaches.

Will you travel eco-friendly in Gokarna? If you’ve already traveled, what are some of your fond memories from this little pristine beach town?

Would love to hear from you! 🙂 

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Ecotourism- A way for you to have your cake and eat it too!

The Ecotourism Society (TES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.”  On 17th and 18th of Oct a group of nature enthusiasts from Bangalore, Mysore and Coimbatore flocked together to explore the Annamalai hills in Tamil Nadu. The relationship between human beings and nature is so beautiful that anyone as young as 5 or as old as 50 years can experience and enjoy it. You need not be 21 to fall in love, just set out on an exploration in the forests and feel the magic!

Witness The Biodiversity Of Western Ghats

Human migration began about 2 million years ago when homo erectus moved out of Africa. Finally 75,000 years ago homo sapiens ventured into Asia and other continents. Today human beings have successfully conquered all the continents in the world. Not to forget there is a vast difference between travelling then and travelling now. Then, there were less man-made resources, there was no conveyance, no speed, but today things have changed drastically. We can travel through any medium and have conquered the world. But where does all the raw material come from, our forests and our limited natural reserves! I am sure when the first wheel was invented about 3500 years BC, man certainly didn’t know “the wheel” would grow to such an extend that most human beings today could afford to have a minimum of two to four.

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The point is, there has been a very strong relationship between human beings and travelling. We all love getting out of our concrete jungles to open natural spaces. We love the lush green forests and crystal clear water. I pity those who have not seen or enjoyed the beauty of nature. But for now let us concentrate on the three major concerns of mankind. According to me these are, the ever increasing population, poverty and ignorance. Ignorance towards pollution, demand of energy, supplies, development, construction and much more. We all love to play the blame game, but today let us concentrate on ourselves.
Try finding an answer to this one question-
What can I do to create a positive change and a bright, pollution free, green future?

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Conservation of forests is a global cause of concern- researchers and environmentalists from all over the world have been shouting about the perils of climate change, increasing pollution, depletion of ozone layer, species extinction and destruction of biodiversity hotspots. How much does all this matter to man? The recent Chennai floods are now gaining attention with their root causes being destruction of natural drainage systems and unplanned development. The day when each one of us will be seeing such a day isn’t too far. Protection of natural biodiversity has now become critical. The stage when this was just ‘important’ and not yet critical- has gone down way back in history. It is now that all of us must join hands and think about all the small ways that will make a big difference in the future.

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Here I would like to talk about one of the fun ways of contributing to this global cause. Traveling- not the commercial large scale variety tourism but sustainable eco-tourism instead! Eco-tourism if done appropriately can help save the natural biodiversity hotspots while employing and empowering the otherwise disadvantaged local communities. With many people around India failing to understand the problem of natural diversity, tourism like this can be of great help. Especially in a developing countries, it is a must-adopt model where you can conserve maximum resources while helping the indigenous groups of people sustain their natural livelihoods. Many claim that ecotourism ventures market tourism as environmentally friendly, but in fact destroy the very ecosystems they claim to protect. However, when planned and implemented properly, ecotourism can be both an effective conservation tool and successful community development model.

Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints. These are but two of the various approaches to ecotourism. Let me list some more over here:

– Conserving the land and animals through active measures
– Visiting endangered and exotic lands and educating tourist of the dangers the environment faces from human development
– Giving local governments and industry a reason to be ecologically minded
– Putting money into the environment- donate for a cause!
– Raising the value of a live animal in the eyes of an increasingly apathetic world

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Which approach is the best? Well that’s still not crystal clear, probably taking the best out of each or combining two approaches would work wonderfully! Ecotourism is a double edged sword- when used correctly it has amazing results including protection of biodiversity, raising the local livelihood and protecting a species but when misused and abused- it may turn out to be worst possible offender! It is for this exact reason that it must be carried out by trained and aware practitioners who know what works and what hurts.

Around the world when most ecosystems are becoming farmlands or falling victim to urbanization, the effects of depletion of biodiversity have now started showing up. Extinction of species and increasing temperature are just a few that are gaining attention. In a scenario like so it has become critical to work on appropriate models of conservation.

In essence, “Ecotourism” has become the manifestation of an economically driven world by preserving the environment and helping the indigenous communities. That being said- ecotourism as a business model has a vast potential to let you have your cake and eat it too! With the ever increasing awareness among masses, many are choosing eco-traveling while giving up on luxury travel packages. This travel is not only fun but also an experience one can never get out of luxury hotels and resorts, the adrenaline rush with the challenge of trekking through the jungle overrides the extravagance of a car. It is this “Connect with Nature” that really distils and captures the very core essence of not only Ecotourism but in fact travelling in general!

PS: This article was first published in January 2016 in Pollachi Papyrus, a magazine aiming to promote responsible tourism.

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Spooky Memories From Bisle Rainforest Within The Western Ghats Of India

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Rain hug- that’s my way of showing love!

I love the monsoons. Unlike most people who complain of the rains as messy, dirty or a season of inactive gloomy life, I set out on explorations to discover the hidden world unknown.

You must let the rain kiss you, let it beat upon your head and let it sing you a lullaby to discover new life springing out of everywhere!

1. I spent ten rainy days in a rain-forest, take a glimpse into that world beyond ours!I set out in my car and drove three hours straight. With constant lactic acid build up, there was a need to stretch. Finding a place was really difficult so I stopped by the side!

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 2. One more hour of driving and I was off into the wild.

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 3. With every turn, the forest grew greener and darker. Although I loved each turn as I cuddled in nature’s lap

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 4. There is simply nothing as beautiful as listening to showers and soaking in your own thoughts

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 5. With all that love the clouds went hard on me, I took shelter and promised I won’t leave all night

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 6. After a peaceful sleep, I woke up to a dark morning

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 7. Went out to discover hidden life on an unknown path, although I knew it was safe because it was GREEN!

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 8. As I walked I came across smaller beings bustling with life, creatures no one usually marvels at! And probably this little blood sucker is enough to keep people away from the rain forests

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9. Wait, there is more to life!

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 10. By far he is my favorite, I spent hours watching him hunt frogs and swim in the water

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So when I looked deep inside, the clouds smiled at me. We had developed a great relationship after spending 9 drenched days cuddled together.

On the tenth day the sun came up to bid me farewell!

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PS: Any help to my travel fund will be highly appreciated!
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10 Unforgettable Moments From My Trip To The Himalayas

Two weeks ago, I returned from Spiti valley situated in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Past the treacherous winding pass through Rohtang, down beyond the barrenness of Chhatru- lies the most beautiful valley of wonders!

I couldn’t stop feeling blessed to have gotten a chance to experience the pristine beauty of the Himalayas. I have truly, madly loved travelling in India despite it being regarded as unsafe for women. There is something that cannot stop me from exploring the land of so many languages, motley crowd, endless diverse cultures, varied habitats, disparate climates which you might experience the moment you step out of your home or office.

Here are my top 10 moments from the trip that never fail to fill me with nostalgia about the Himalayas.

1. The thrilling 24-hour off roading drive on snowy perilous roads – driving past an actual live landslide

2. Crossing a flimsy wooden bridge with broken steps over a clean blue fast-flowing river

3. Spending time with Griffon Vultures, Ravens, Magpies, a Snow Leopard, Yaks in the wild dry land

4. The precious 30-minute nap after a strenuous 4-hour trek to reach the peak

5. Camp night with friends, fire and the infinite stars. Nothing beats camaraderie in the lap of nature and wilderness

6. Meditating to trigger self-realization in one of the highest Monasteries in India

7. The simple soulful breakfast in our home stay at Manali – cooked with more love than the best restaurant in any city

8. Cold, steep, exhausting and slippery 14 km trek to bask in the glory of a pristine Himalayan lake – one of the highest in India

9. The glimpse of real, lush green amidst vast coniferous forests

10. Pins and needles flashing through my body when I dived into chilling sub-zero water at Chandra Tal lake 4,300 meters above sea level

PS: This article was first published on boredpanda.com

PSS: Show love in the comments, by sharing this with your friends and by helping me fund my travel.

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