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Old 9th December 2012, 00:41   #1
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Default Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

17 days on the road in a Toyota 4X4. Some of the best roads in India...and some of the worst. A magical sunrise in Chaukori. Haunting moonrise in Munsiyari. Police raid while sleeping in a Rs. 500 room in Tanakpur. November showers in MP. Getting to know Corbett as a person. The warmth, charm and helpfulness of rural and small town India. Long, solo drives through the nights. Campfires in the forest and in the mountains. Dazzling Himalayan panorama in bright moonlight. Walks in the woods. Leopard stalking post-dinner drives. Disappointing Corbett safaris. Falling asleep everyday to the lullaby of Barking Deer and Sambar alarm calls. Cooking in a forest rest house using recipes sent over SMS. Perfecting the art of repeatedly getting stuck on narrow roads in small Towns and villages. A stolen sunset in Bandhavgarh. Philosophical discussions with taxi drivers in 0 degree temperature. Almost falling down the cliffside trying to take photos of Himalayan Raptors. Haunted bungalows on moonlit hilltops. The smell of Juniper and of woodsmoke. A cricket match at 8000 feet in the middle of a forest clearing. Trying to solve 'what big animal made that noise?'using the light of a mobile phone - and escaping without any serious consequences. Odomos flavoured power naps in petrol pumps. Offroading in the forests and the hills. And the black snake of an empty road lit up in the powerful high beams...going on and on and on.

This trip was 11 years in the making.

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Last edited by nilanjanray : 27th December 2012 at 21:46.
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Old 27th December 2012, 21:46   #2
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Default Background

In 2001 I was on a solo 'reflection' trip through Kumaon, and was staying at Kausani KMVN for a couple of days.

View from a Chaukori hilltop (supposedly haunted, and also frequented by wild animals in the night), ~ 8.30 PM.
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One rainy evening (it was late July) I was feeling bored, and wandered to the reception area. I glanced at the map of Eastern Kumaon, noticing that there were a couple of captivating photos of Munsiyari hanging on the wall. Munsiyari? A place tucked away in a corner of India, close to Tibet and Nepal as per the map. A couple of roads led to it. I decided to move towards that direction, and traveled on one of those roads till Chaukori on that trip. I couldn't make it till Munsiyari because of landslides. Told myself that someday I will come back ...

Crossing a river, Sitabani Reserve Forest
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And I had been wanting to visit the forests where Corbett grew up ever since I read Jungle Lore 25 years back. Corbett was instrumental in me developing a love for nature and wildlife. Readers of Jungle Lore/Corbett will remember the Boar River, the Farm Yard, Pawalgarh, the glade where Corbett shot that huge leopard when out for a walk with Robin, Ramsey's canal, the road to Nainital...

A raptor flies overhead, Munsiyari-Thal Road. Almost fell down a cliff trying to follow it through my viewfinder.

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After many false starts (e.g. I had plans to do this roadtrip last year in December), the stars got aligned this year: 1. Office leave 2. Family busy with Durga Puja in Kolkata (otherwise such a long guys’/solo trip wouldn’t be possible) 3. Munsiyari/Eastern Kumaon circuit coinciding with full moon period 4. A couple of friends agreed to join for the Nainital circuit.

Panchachuli peaks; taken while hiking in the hills above Munsiyari
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The itinerary:
• 3 days in Kaladhungi
• 2 days in Sitabani FRH
• 3 days in Pangot area
• 4 days in Eastern Kumaon (Munsiyari etc.)

Kaladhungi. A small dusty town in the foothills of the Himalayas. Just below Nainital. Many years back the main route to Nainital passed through Kaladhungi. After railhead came to Kathgodam, this route fell out of use. So why spend three days in this place when the whole of beautiful Kumaon was open for me? Only one reason: Edward James Corbett. Quoting from Wikipedia:
“In winters, the family used to move to the foothills, where they owned a cottage named 'Arundel' in Chhoti Haldwani or 'Corbett's Village' now known as Kaladhungi. After his father's death, when Jim was 4 years old, his eldest brother Tom took over as the postmaster of Nainital. From a very young age, Jim was fascinated by the forests and the wildlife around his home in Kaladhungi. At a young age he learned to identify most animals and birds by their calls - owing to his frequent excursions. Over time he became a good tracker and hunter.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Corbett_(hunter)

Apparently some of the forest cover still remained, with tiger, leopard and elephant roaming these forests. And it was possible to walk in these reserve forests without restrictions. That is, walk on the same paths and in the same patches of forest as Corbett did.

There was only decent option to stay in Kaladhungi: Camp Corbett. Read mixed reviews on the net, but in the end decided to opt for it since the owner promised to help with FRH booking (more on that later), and also had a place near Pangot (Mountain Quail Resort) where I could stay.

Evening drive around Vinayak
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Sitabani. A buffer forest zone just outside (but contiguous to) Corbett National Park. Has a temple dedicated to Sita - apparently this is where Sita brought up Luv and Kush. Corbett didn’t officially open till November 15th, and there was continuing uncertainty regarding whether safaris or forest rest house stays inside Corbett would be allowed. So I had to junk the idea of FRH stay within Corbett. After research figured out that Sitabani FRH would be a good alternate option for jungle FRH stay. In any case, Corbett National Park is best visited around Mar-May, and requires one to spend 4-5 days inside the park. Looked at the photos of Sitabani and the FRH, seemed like a very interesting place. Was a great decision- would like to go back someday and spend a week there.

Pangot region. Known for birds and beautiful forests frequented by leopards and bears. I stayed here in Sigri 6 years back, and wasn't sure whether to visit again. In the end I went back because I had a DSLR and a SUV this time.

Munsiyari.
7200 feet high, situated on the banks of Goriganga river in Pithoragarh District. With great views ofPanchachuli peaks. Driving there was supposed to be half the fun. I checked with KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikash Nigam), but they had no rooms available (expected, with the rush of Bengalis to those regions during the Durga Puja holidays). In the end I decided to keep accommodation options open, to be decided on the spot. Good decision on my part!

Butterflies in Kaladhungi
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The route:
I picked the brains of H.V.Kumar to finalize the route. Initially I had planned to go via Hyderabad – Nagpur – Allahabad – Bareilly, but then some work came up in Mumbai at the last moment. So I decided to drive down to Mumbai and then (based on HVK’s recommendation) take the Mumbai – Ahmedabad – Jaipur – Agra (to avoid Jaipur-Delhi stretch)- Noida via Yamuna Expressway – Moradabad –Kaladhungi route.

Return route was left open, since I wasn’t sure where I would end up, and whether I would feel like taking a new route back.

Sunrise...rays start touching the snow peaks
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Preparation
I got the 40000kms servicing done early, a couple of weeks before my trip started. Changed engine oil and oil filter. Brakes and tyres were fine. Tyre rotation was done. 1 day before the trip, tyre pressure was increased by 2 PSI to 32 PSI for high speed driving. Checked pressure of stepney, inaugurated the LIMI inflator, raised and lowered stepney chain for smooth operation; assembled, used and put back the jack; put extra engine oil, windscreen fluid and coolant – unopened bottles from my 2011 MP trip – in the boot. Extra newspapers, a small pipe and a funnel were already there from before. Otherwise no special preparation was done (one of the advantages of driving a newish – 2 year old – tough Toyota SUV).

A raptor in Pangot
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I ended up overpacking, but didn’t sweat about it since I had enough and more space in the vehicle. Put my formal clothes (for 2 days of conference) in a separate bag – idea was to keep the large duffel bag – with trip stuff- in the boot when parking the vehicle in the hotel. And then dump the office bag in the boot after work got over, and forget about it for the rest of the trip.

I had a separate Kata bag for camera gear and office laptop. Also carried a sleeping bag, a 2-person tent, my new Manfrotto tripod and an extra bedsheet. The luxury of a large SUV!

Evening drive on a forest trail
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Last edited by nilanjanray : 28th December 2012 at 00:10.
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Old 27th December 2012, 23:59   #3
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Default Bangalore - Mumbai

I started at 2 PM on October 16th, aiming to make it to Mumbai by 4 AM. My conference started on 17th October from 9 in the morning. I would need to start preparing for the conference from 7 AM onwards, and I wanted to catch a couple of hours of sleep before that.

Multi-coloured sunset
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Traffic was less in the afternoon, and soon I was on NH4. The diversions before Tumkur reduced average speed. I had a white Fortuer giving me company. After a while I slowed and let it go ahead since the driver seemed to be in a hurry.

Saw a nice sunset somewhere before Bankapur. Crossed Hubli and then Belgaum. The 2-lane stretch near Belgaum was a pain since everyone was driving with their 2/4/6/8 lights on (take a pick based on type of vehicle) - targeting low flying aircraft or bats perhaps. Stopped for dinner at Kolhapur McDonalds around 9 PM. Traffic became heavier after Kolhapur and the road surface deteriorated a bit. I was feeling tired by now, but catching up with the latest Bollywood numbers on FM helped.

A Pine Marten runs across the road. I was driving when I saw him peeping out behind a bush, about to cross. Stopped the vehicle, stepped out in a flash and managed to catch the guy as he scampered across. All of this happened in 5 seconds.
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Ran into heavy traffic near Pune. Took me ages to reach the Expressway after traveling at 20-30kmph behind a line of trucks. I was driving on the Expressway after exactly 5 years - last time I drove with my dog when shifting from Bombay (yes, I prefer calling it that) to Bangalore. I was remembering the many trips to Lonavla and Mahabaleshwar as I cruised in the middle of surprising heavy traffic.

Guess what this is?
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Traffic around Panvel and Vashi was less, so soon I was on Eastern Express Highway. Was thinking that Bombay road conditions and traffic sense have detoriated in the last 5 years. Anyway, my destination was Renaissance Hotel in Powai. I missed the turning and had to make a long detour before reaching the hotel at 3.30 am. Now Renaissance expects guests to give their vehicle to valets or to self-park the vehicle in a dusty area open to the sun. No basement parking for self-parked cars. Surprising for a Marriott property! After arguing with the hotel folks for 5 minutes I gave up, dumped my office clothes and laptop/camera bag in the reception, parked the vehicle 100m away in the open air car park (with big duffel bag, tent, tripod etc. staying in the boot), walked up, and checked in.

Jungle drive
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Stored the camera and lenses in the locker, got the clothes ready for the next morning, set alarm for 6.30 AM and crashed around 4.15 in the morning.

The conference/workshop over the next twp days went off fine. I made sure I caught up with some sleep on 17th night. Did a test drive of an Yeti during the lunch break on 18th (a colleague was thinking of buying it, and invited me to come along). Nice compact vehicle with a solid, airy feel. Not my type though.

Corbett's bust in his Kaladhungi house
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The plan was to start on 18th evening from Mumbai along with my friend, and aim for somewhere close to Surat. But my friend said that he would be able to meet me only around 8.30 PM. So I decided to drive down to Thane and meet H.V.Kumar. We had been in regular touch for this trip (as usual he had been of tremendous help), and it would have been great to meet up with him over dinner. My brother also stays in Thane, and I was hoping to meet him if he could make it in time. My friend D was supposed to meet me in Thane - wherever HVK and I were dining.

Shadow of a tree across a Himalayan meadow
Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip-dsc_0793.jpg

Last edited by nilanjanray : 28th December 2012 at 00:09.
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Old 28th December 2012, 09:22   #4
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 28th December 2012, 09:30   #5
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Wow Wow Wow man what pictures, it seems you must be a professional photographer. I am glued to your thread. thanks for sharing such beautiful pics. By the way which camera do you use?

Last edited by dkhatau : 28th December 2012 at 09:31.
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Old 28th December 2012, 10:11   #6
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

The photos are good
The route is better
And what takes the cake is the narration - esp the non-linear poetic flavor.

Rated 5 stars. Awaiting more..
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Old 28th December 2012, 11:18   #7
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Thanks folks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dkhatau View Post
By the way which camera do you use?
Merely an enthusiast who loves nature and wildlife :-)
I use a Nikon D90. Carried two lenses - 70-300VR and the kit lens 18-105mm for this trip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rahul_sinha View Post
The route is better
I guess you meant the destinations?

Last edited by nilanjanray : 28th December 2012 at 11:20.
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Old 28th December 2012, 11:21   #8
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

lovely start and loved the pics even more. Trying to solve 'what big animal made that noise?'using the light of a mobile phone -doesn't sound like a great idea
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Old 28th December 2012, 11:26   #9
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

wow man - awesome thread in the making! the pictures are great and the narrative is edgy and tense - like a Vishal Bharadwaj movie! Pls dont keep us waiting for long and to keep updating the thread regularly. I have a inkling that this is going to be an epic thread to the tune of those epic Leh-Ladakh threads!

BTW - voted 5*

Last edited by sach.sri : 28th December 2012 at 11:45.
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Old 28th December 2012, 13:01   #10
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Already hooked and waiting for more to unfold. Awesome pics to begin with.
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Old 28th December 2012, 13:05   #11
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Quote:
Originally Posted by neoranjit View Post
lovely start and loved the pics even more. Trying to solve 'what big animal made that noise?'using the light of a mobile phone -doesn't sound like a great idea
Thanks Ranjit. It wasn't a good idea at all. I had my reservations from the beginning since I suspected that it could be an elephant. Could have turned into a nasty incident.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sach.sri View Post
wow man - awesome thread in the making! the pictures are great and the narrative is edgy and tense - like a Vishal Bharadwaj movie! Pls dont keep us waiting for long and to keep updating the thread regularly. I have a inkling that this is going to be an epic thread to the tune of those epic Leh-Ladakh threads!

BTW - voted 5*
Thanks Sach. Leh is on the 'to do' list this year,by the way.
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Old 28th December 2012, 13:10   #12
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Wowiee, man! Great photos in the great locations at a great time. October onwards is the right time for those unhindered, magnificient Himalayan views and fullmoon is the real icing on the cake...oops! mountains. I missed them due to my timing of an April visit. But, good on you, that you were at the right place at the right time.

Superb log, bring it on.
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Old 28th December 2012, 13:49   #13
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Awesome photos Nilanjan. What lenses did you use for the night shots?
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Old 28th December 2012, 14:20   #14
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Excellent photos Nilay. Never knew that these areas are so beuatiful till I saw these pics. Is it possible to do this trip in a lesser risky way than you had taken .
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Old 28th December 2012, 14:46   #15
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Default Re: Fullmoon in Kumaon: Snapshots from a 7000km cross-country roadtrip

Amazing start!! Your pics are out of the world!!
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