Photo Essay: Kudremukh National Park, Karnataka.

By Prathap Nair.


On a misty morning, I walked into a jungle camp in Kudremukh National Park, by the Badra River, never to feel the same way about Karnataka's forests again. Birdcalls filled my mornings, and pristine scenery filled my lens.

Scroll along to rekindle your love affair with the Western Ghats:

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1. KUDREMUKH NATIONAL PARK
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of Karnataka's Western Ghats. The park gets its name from its shape like a horse’s face, and is located in the Chikkamagaluru district of Karnataka. Mining activities have been stopped, and the peaks are quickly being reclaimed by nature.

Kudremukh, Kudremukh national park



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2. A LAPWING IN MID AIR
The park is home to numerous endemic species of animals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

lapwing kudremukh, kudremukh photos


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3. MONSOONS IN THE WESTERN GHATS
bring plentiful rainfall in the region and on a crisp morning, you will find the grass and greenery awash with the previous night’s rain and snails, in yellow and white stripes, lugging themselves ahead languidly.
western ghats, kudremukh monsoon

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4. A SAMBHAR ON A FARAWAY PEAK
On any given day, you could also spot Malabar Giant Squirrel, Langurs and Gaurs grazing far ahead in the adjoining peaks.


Kudremukh images, western ghats karnataka


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5. A REPTILIAN'S DELIGHT - A BRONZE TREE SNAKE
Amphibians like caecilian and a wide range of beautiful frogs also abound in the national park, as it is bordered by the Badra River.


bronze tree snake karnataka, biodiversity western ghats


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6. CLOUDS SWIM IN THE MONSOON MIST
A perfect abode away from civilization.


Kudremukh photos, Karnataka monsoon


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7. LICHENS IN THE SHOLA FORESTS
are part of the rainforest ecosystem. The Shola Rainforests have a perennial water source, and the moisture is conducive for the growth of organisms like lichens that are found dangling from the trees. The rainforest bed also hosts millions of leeches, thriving in the mulch and moisture, waiting to be attached to the host to feed on them.


Shola forest, lichens



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8. A WATCH TOWER FOR KEEN BIRDERS
stand tall as the clouds engulf the landscape.
kudremukh national park, western ghats


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9. A BLACK SHOULDERED KITE
in Kudremukh’s rich landscape. We also spotted Whistling thrushes, Minivets, Mountain Imperial Pigeons, Fairy Bluebirds, Woodpeckers, Sunbirds, Yellow Browed Bulbul, Malabar Parakeets, and Crested Goshawks. 



black shouldered kite, Kudremukh birds


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10. THE CURIOUS CASE OF LANDSCAPE SELFIES!
My enthusiastic group of volunteers; we spent a week at the Bhagavati Nature Camp, learning about nature and wildlife conservation - an attempt to keep the forests of Karnataka safe from poachers.



Kudremukh karnataka, western ghats india


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Are you packing your bags for Kudremukh yet?

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AUTHOR BIO: A freelance writer based in Bangalore, Prathap recently quit his corporate job to travel and write full-time. Follow his travel stories at https://thesunlitwindow.wordpress.com.

Photo credits: Prathap, Siddharth and Devesh.

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Sandakphu: Conquering West Bengal's Highest Peak and My Fears.


By Paromita Debroy. 


It was a rainy June evening in 2013. I sat at my office desk, staring at the monitor, unable to work. I had read about the Uttarakhand floods the previous day and was still trying to come to terms with the devastation caused by it. I love the Himalayas and it felt as if something close to me was getting destroyed. Well, it also meant that I would have to cancel my visit to the flood-affected areas and plan everything all over again.

It was fate trying to send me to the Eastern Himalayas, for that’s when I stumbled upon Sandakphu, the highest peak of West Bengal perched at approximately 12,000 feet. 

There are three things I must confess before I begin. 
Firstly, fitness and I have never seen eye to eye. 
Secondly, I suffer from motion sickness on hilly terrain. 
Thirdly, I had never trekked for more than 3 km at a stretch. 

Nevertheless, I was determined to go: 



Day 1: NJP to Maneybhanjan (3.5 hours drive)

The route passes through beautiful tea gardens and goes via Mirik. Maney Bhanjan is the starting point of the trek. There are Land Rovers that ply directly to Sandakphu from here. But driving on that terrain can prove to be a gut wrenching experience! For trekkers, it is advisable to halt here for the day and start the trek early next morning. The road journey had left me with nausea and dizziness and as I went to bed at night, I still wasn’t sure if I should embark on the trek. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.


Panorama from Sandakphu at sunrise!


Day 2: Maneybhanjan to Tumling (12km)

The sun shone into our bedroom in the morning and I woke up with a start; it was only 5 am - a reminder that that we were in the eastern part of India. After procuring the necessary permits, we embarked on our trek. A steep ascent for 2km brought us to the Chitrey Monastery, covered in Buddhist prayer flags. We crossed the scenic hamlets of Lamidhura and Meghma, walked amid pine forests and chortens, and finally made it to Tumling. It was here that the mountain peaks revealed themselves. The valley below lay covered in white clouds, looking like an ocean. Far on the horizon, the peaks shone in a serene light against the back drop of the setting sun. 


Tranquility amid nature.


Day 3: Tumling to Kalapokhri (13km)

Past the relatively easy descent to the village of Gairibas, the trail becomes boulder-laden and steep. Past Kaiyakata, we walked to Kalapokhri, engulfed in mist and dense pine forests. “Pokhri” in Nepali means lake and “kala” means black. This lake is considered sacred by the locals and the waters of this lake, believed to have medicinal value, never freeze, even in the winter! I witnessed the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life. Before me was the green meadow and on its edge, 3 mountain goats sat serenely oblivious of the camera-clicking fuss around them. The vast expanse below was filled with white fluffy clouds and the sky was smeared with shades of scarlet and crimson.

Sunset at Kalapokhri.

Day 4: Kalapokhri to Sandakphu (7km)

This morning’s trek was the last lap to reach Sandakphu, and though relatively easy terrain, it was challenging at over 10000ft. We spotted the flower aconite (a poisonous flower found in that region), the river Mahanadi flowing through the Siliguri plains, and scenes of village life in the harsh terrain. Then I heard the sound of some mystical music emanating from a temple - a celebration of Durga Puja at almost 10000ft, on a narrow trail in the mighty Himalayas, the blue sky over my head and the divine music blending perfectly with the serene and calm silence.


Aconite - a poisonous flower found in the region.

A villager building the thatch of his hut.

Sunrise at Sandakphu

After some acclimatization, the day started early at 4 am, to be able to witness the sunrise. It was around 2 degrees outside but the wind chill factor made it feel less than 0. As the eastern sky began to glow in a somber red, I waited with baited breath. The first light of the day shone on one of the peaks on Mt. Kanchenjunga, and slowly, each of the peaks lit up; this play of colors lasted for more than an hour. It looked like the Sleeping Buddha glowing in a golden light. Not only did we see the Kanchenjunga, Everest and Lhotse but every other peak that is possible to see from here! 


The eastern sky at sunrise.

Day 5: Sandakphu to Srikhola (22km)

This was the day that tested me the most. The trail to Srikhola is a steep descent for the most part. My right leg was not in good condition, my thigh had cramped badly and I was barely being able to walk. The red and white wild flowers, the dried grass which glowed in a golden color in the sun, the blue sky, the jungle trail lined with bamboo trees lending a creepy and eerie feel to the scene, and the trees hacked by sudden bursts of lightning, made me forget my pain momentarily. When I finally limped in extreme pain up the staircase to my room, the realization that I had actually completed the trek dawned upon me. I did it!

Wild bushes and flowers.
I was barely able to walk the next few days, a deep tan had taken over my face, and the reverse of my palm was charcoal black. I had travelled almost 2,000 miles to walk over boulders, at low oxygen levels, for 52 km, with bare minimum amenities. Was I crazy? I closed my eyes and found calmness and serenity within, that can be attained only by close communion with nature.

And every pang of pain made me realize that courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that something else is more important than fear. I felt ALIVE!

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Would you like to trek up to Sandakphu some day?

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AUTHOR BIO: A software engineer by profession, Paromita loves travelling to the Himalayas.
Her love with the written word can be followed on her blog http://paromitadebro.blogspot.in/.

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Visit www.indiauntravelled.com for experiential (and responsible) travel experiences at offbeat destinations across India. 

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5 Simple Tips to Travel Solo and Safe in India.

By Xue Wei Mak.

When I was 23 years old, I quit my job as a corporate event executive, and headed to India with my backpack; the first item on my bucket list. Two months later, waiting at the airport, homebound, I found myself counting my blessings to have not only survived, but grown to appreciate, a country that is still very much considered to be a struggle for women who reside or travel here.

Here are 5 simple tips and practices for fellow travellers that made my India adventure safer and more enjoyable. I hope it helps you make up your mind about going solo in India too!

1. Purchase data for your mobile to use Google Maps


Auto rickshaw ride in Delhi.

Ever had your bus pull into a new town, deep in the night, 4 hours after the estimated time of arrival, only to be greeted by a swamp of rickshaw touts as you alight? Many times in India. The first time it happened, I bargained intensively and left with a rickshaw driver who unwillingly accepted my stated price. That exponentially increased the chances of getting driven down a dark alley and robbed! So, I performed the necessary ritual – set up the route to my destination on my Google Maps and made sure that the rickshaw stayed on it. I held on to my belongings and was ever ready to make an escape should the surroundings start to look suspicious. Doing this is equally helpful when you get on a meter-taxi, so your driver doesn’t take you on a ride around town.

2. Dress like an Indian


In my white kurti at the City Palace, Udaipur

When you are surrounded by people who look so different from you, the last thing you want is for your dressing to attract more attention. I usually dressed in an oversized t-shirt and harem pants, and added a scarf and sunglasses for more privacy when I visited crowded places in India, like most marketplaces. When visiting places of attractions, to minimise being bombarded by touts, I’d replace my t-shirt with a kurti (traditional top) to give the impression that I reside in India, or am familiar with Indian culture and customs. From what I understood, women in traditional Indian costumes are regarded to be more respectable than those in western clothing.

3. Stay in ensuite rooms, even in a hostel

A bustling marketplace in Darjeeling.

Accommodation in India comes in different shapes and sizes, but never too expensive. In my 2 months, I experienced common dorms, double rooms and also shared a family room ensuite (with a bathroom attached) with other travellers. To me, ensuites work because I do not have to look after my valuables every time I visit the bathroom. I also do not like to be seen walking around in my comfy sleeping clothes post-shower. I noticed that dorms are usually located right next to the workers’ quarters in a secluded end of most properties, which isn’t the safest option either. My suggestion: Spend more on rooms and stay where the other travellers are staying, in a good neighbourhood.

4. Sit close to women and families with children 

Colorfully dressed women in Rajasthan. Photo by Nevil Zaveri.

If you are going to move around a lot, chances are you won’t be able to avoid waiting out the frequent 6-hour train delays. It was 11.23 pm, when I sat waiting at the Jodhpur Railway Station for the Jodhpur-Jaisalmer Express. I found myself approached by locals who somehow lost interest in looking out for the train, and instead, started selling me the ‘best hotel stays’ and ‘best camel safari tours’. After fanning off some touts, I left my spot and planted myself next to a group of 6 elderly women, squatting by the chai stall. Though I very much became the subject of their after-dinner talks and our conversations got lost in translation, I felt safer knowing that our conservations were not going to end up with an eventual sales pitch.

5. Eat where the locals do 

Eatery with an "alfresco" kitchen in Varanasi.

Lonely Planet isn’t your best guide when it comes to eating in India; you have to trust your gut feeling when searching for dining experience with fresh food. I usually ate where it was crowded, because first, it meant that the food is nice by local standards, and second, new batches of dishes / breads are constantly being prepared (food will be warm and fresh). It also dawned on me that eateries where the kitchen is situated at the shop front are the best because I get to see where and how they prepare my food.  

Some travellers believe their tryst with India will end with one trip, while others fall in love with the complexity of the Indian society. As for me, I guess India has chosen me to be one of those to see her at her best. And because I know my time with India is not over, I hold on dearly to these 5 practices that got me through my first adventure. I know that the next time I return, these will help me be a more experienced India traveller!

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What tips would you add for solo travellers in India?

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AUTHOR BIO: As a schoolteacher, Xuewei is blessed with weeks-long breaks during the school holidays, when she ventures out to reconcile her classroom knowledge with reality, through travelling. She especially enjoys destinations which are historically, culturally and religiously rich, and is currently planning her third trip back to India. 

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Visit www.indiauntravelled.com for experiential (and responsible) travel experiences at offbeat destinations across India. 

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