Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Category: Travel Diaries

#TravelDiaries – Ramgarh/Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

A few days up in the hills…

One of the few privileges of getting married to a man from the hills who loves long drives just like you.

A temple visit where we attended six weddings including that of a district magistrate. Absolutely loved the simple village weddings unlike the lavish city weddings whose sole purpose is to show off wealth.

The Groom

Nothing against those who enjoy celebrating it this way, but I don’t find joy or meaning in wasting money on clothes, accessories or decoration. I would rather love to spend it on feeding the thirsty and hungry souls or on travelling to unknown destinations that help me learn more as a person.

Ghorakhal Temple, a temple of bells

We started visiting Ghorakhal temple ever since our first trip as man and wife to Nainital when the cab driver took us around the place and finally requested us to visit this temple which he believed had great powers. I visit this temple at least once a year. Ringing the countless bells of wishes which have innumerable untold stories in them brings in clarity of thought and peace of mind.

 

We make it a point to rush to the hills whenever possible because the chaotic city life is dreadful. The noise, the traffic, the dust and smog, the rat race…it’s all so traumatic most of the time.

My one big dream is to build a tiny nest somewhere up in the hills and spend the rest of our lives waking up to the melodious birdsong, walking hand in hand soaking in the beauty of the mountains and the people.

It’s a myth that money can buy you everything. Money can only help provide for your needs. For inner peace and happinness, one must travel, engage and reflect. To the man who lived inside this hut, it may mean nothing. But to someone like me who spends thousands to enjoy the beauty of his surroundings, he seems like the richest man in the world. That’s why they say, to each his/her own.

In villages, where people live closer to nature, life is simple yet fulfilling. I’m sure they have their own challenges. But there’s no rush yet everything is so well-disciplined.

The woman of the house doing Tulsi Pooja as part of her daily rituals.

Running away from the city, we ran up to a warm and cozy little place named Ramgarh, 350 kilometers from Delhi and just 35 kilometers from Bhimtal.

Somwhere close to Mukteshwar. Some of the roads make you feel that there’s nothing ahead. That it’s the end of the road. The sharp twists and turns of the roads on the hills are scary yet beautiful.

Bulbuls, plum-headed parakeets, munia, thrushes, sparrows, swallows, flycatchers, treepies and many more singing the morning raga. Walking down to the market place from the KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) Tourist Rest House with monkeys jumping all around.

And the flowers! Such deep, dark, bright hues of all colours possible and the most challenging geometric patterns you get to see ever.

The early morning chai at Pandeyji’s tea stall with the snow-capped Himalayas reflecting the sun rays is just the best feeling ever.

 

And then with the new found energy and warm hands you point and shoot the Great Indian Himalayas that peep from behind the hills. Breathtaking this view was.

Trust me, no camera has the ability to capture what the human eye, heart and mind capture together. Goosebumps it gives me when I think of the supreme power that has engineered this marvel that is our body and everything outside of it.

No man-made wonder has the magnificence or mastery of Mother Nature’s creativity. Her palette has a magical combination of various hues that no artist can ever capture on canvas or camera.

It’s a different painting from every angle. A different landscape. Pictures do speak a thousand words but what the naked eye captures speaks countless words and emotions, all at once.

Have you ever had Maggi on the hills? We missed it this time. But that Maggi cooked in the Himalayan waters tastes heavenly. I wish I could go back just for having that one bowl of Maggi sitting on the roadside and soaking in all the beauty around.

Maggi Point

Neverthless, we managed Momos and Thukpa. Fun! Absolute fun.

 

#TravelDiaries – Sultanpur National Park

“Cultivate the habit of early rising. It is unwise to keep the head long on a level with the feet.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Northern Shoveler (Migratory)

Our interest in Wildlife, especially birds, started when the firstborn was about five years of age. Unlike other children who were hooked onto cartoon channels (courtesy the house-helps or us, parents), this girl used to watch wildlife documentaries on Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic. Her thoughtful father observed her interest in wildlife and encouraged her by gifting her various books/encyclopaedias on animals and birds. Our vacations also meant travelling to various forests within India.

And then a few years ago we watched this beautiful documentary together as a family. Do watch it. You can thank me later.

This little girl of ours could identify almost 60% of the birds that are discussed here. That was the turning point in my life as well. I did have an interest in nature photography, but my interest in birds is all thanks to this daughter. An early riser I am and hence my rendezvous with these winged creatures dates back to my school days. But I never bothered to find out what their names were, what they fed on, how they differ from each other and why some of them were visible only during certain seasons. These I started noticing only now.

Purple Moorhen or Western Swamphen (Resident)

Common Moorhen or Common Gallinule (Resident)

Bird watching is indeed a beautiful hobby for people like me who prefer solitude than company. I can gaze at them swimming in the lake or flying in the vast sky for hours and hours.

Spot-billed Duck

It is indeed the most refreshing thing to do in case you’re feeling down. Walk along the lake and watch these winged friends fly without inhibitions. No borders, no fences, no characterization can make them stop. They are just themselves. Vegetarian or non-vegetarian, water birds or field birds, residents or migratory, they coexist and share the resources provided by nature.

Purple Heron (Resident)

Painted Stork (Resident)

We, humans, have a lot to learn from them. Most importantly symbiosis and coexistence. Nature has provided us with enough to survive if only we learn to respect and value it.  These creatures in the wildlife teach us how to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both parties.

Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Sultanpur Lake Bird Sanctuary is located about 15 km away from Gurgaon, Haryana. Established in 1972 as the Sultanpur Bird Reserve, this place was upgraded to a National Park in 1989. Spread over an area of 1.43 sq km, this bird sanctuary is inhabited by over 250 species of birds.

Little Grebe

Spoonbill

After our first visit to Sultanpur National Park, a birdwatcher’s paradise, on day two of our stay at Golden Creepers Farm Retreat, I was not very happy because the foggy day spoiled almost all my photographs. The birds were all very close yet the pictures were far from good. And in between the husband injured his ankle while playing with the children. He said it was just a sprain and so we continued our stay. The next day I visited the sanctuary again with the sun still playing hide and seek. The daughter, my got-to-person for wildlife information, gladly joined me ‘for my protection’. Such fun this date was!

Spoonbill

Darter or Snakebird (Resident)

With Li’l Love, my younger one, a visit to any place is fun yet crazy. She’s still too young to enjoy such places. She’s fine for some time but starts acting cranky almost at the same time when I start clicking. So this trip with just me and A was not only fun but absolutely perfect for my photography craze. She kept guiding me by spotting birds and identifying them while I clicked them. One of the few things we have in common is our love for photography.

Northern Pintail (Migratory)

Bar-headed Geese

Hand in hand, we kept walking around the lake, climbing on top of the watch tower and spotting various birds. This kind of individual time is very important with each child as it brings us closer in indescribable ways and also is a reassurance for the child that he/she can count on us for anything at all times.

Black-headed Ibis (Resident)

Blackwinged Stilt (Resident)

The park is right now abundant with lots of resident as well as migratory birds. Breeding has been extremely good this season and hence you have a good chance of witnessing a fairly good number of species.

Intermediate Egret (Resident)

Greylag Goose (Migratory)

I’m sure these pictures and my extempore around the trip has made you envious. And that’s why I need to share this incident. Wildlife is beautiful, peaceful and rejuvenating. But wildlife is also full of dangers from unexpected corners. The daughter and I were almost lost in the wilderness clicking non-stop when we saw a pair of Nilgais and started clicking.

 

She started recording them when she saw another pair a little farther. As I turned to click the other pair I saw about five more running from behind an island in the lake. It looked like once in a lifetime shot. But within seconds we realized that almost seven-eight of them were running fast towards us. The daughter was almost in tears as we were standing just a foot or two away from where they crossed us. It was not their fault at all. Some miscreants in the park were pelting stones at them. Trust me when I say that ‘we humans are the most disgusting species on planet earth‘.

Nilgai or Blue Bull

Not just the animals, these anti-social elements were passing lewd remarks on almost all of us and it took some of the professional photographers to warn them and get them out of the park with the help of the authorities. A forest is not a place for picnic. Unfortunately most of our people are not aware of it. It is a protected area. It is the home of these birds and animals. We are only visitors who must graciously exit after visiting them.

I have tried my best to leave you with the best shots possible. Yet I can vouch for the fact that what my eyes witnessed can never be caught on camera. Such is the grandeur of nature.

#TravelDiaries – Golden Creepers Farm Retreat, Gurgaon

The school was to close only for a week starting New Year and the man had to take his leaves before year end which would otherwise lapse. That’s when we spoke to the teachers and got their nod for taking two days off without much pending work stress for the daughters.

As always the man gave me three choices and asked me to check out the reviews and get back to him with a few hotels and their reservation charges. From Jodhpur to Jaisalmer to Udaipur to Jaipur, we finally zeroed down on Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. Why? Only because of Golden Creepers Farm Retreat which the husband had noticed on some of his friends’ timelines.

We stayed for three nights at this boutique property near Gurgaon. Just 12 kilometers from Gurgaon and about 4 kilometers to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary is this lush green farm spread over 45 acres of land.

A farm by all means. Don’t expect the luxuries of air-conditioners and electric water heaters. Room heaters are provided in the tents and hot water is provided as and when requested.

They have a few rooms and a good number of Swiss Style cottage tents to make your stay cozy, comfortable as well as adventurous. Though we love staying in tents, late Decembers in Delhi can make anyone change plans. Daljeet was thoughtful enough to offer us their lavish cottage which they refer to as Baithak (Lounge in English) because we were accompanied by kids. 

That’s Baithak, their ancestral remain that they are still preserving. Hygienic linen and clean bathrooms are a must for us and we were not disappointed at all.

Farm stay is something we enjoy as a family. The commotion of the city is extremely chaotic. So this was the perfect place for a family like ours who wanted to spend the new year away from the mayhem.

As you can see there’s enough to keep the children busy and active. And there’s enough for a budding photographer to sharpen their photographic observations and techniques. You’ll slowly know what I mean.

I was telling Daljeet that he should get the farm declared as a mini bird sanctuary. They have resident owlets  (about five of them) and a resident peacock family.

Apart from these resident family members they also have many guests that grace their farm with their beautiful presence.

Indian Grey Hornbill

Pied Bushchat

Fork-tailed Drongo

Red-wattled Lapwing

White-throated Kingfisher

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Indian Roller

White Wagtail

Hoopoe

Hoopoe

Red-vented Bulbul

Black Redstart

Indian Peafowl

Food is another concern while travelling. You can imagine our delight when we munched on this farm fresh organic meal.

 

A perfect balanced diet. That salad says it all. Juicy and pure organic stuff. And what’s not to like about those three different kinds of hot chapattis (wheat, corn and maize) that my namesake served me with.

We just kept hogging on all that delicious food plus the finger-lickingly delicious snacks that were served around the bonfire in the chilly winter breeze in the evenings. These angithis used to keep the food warm took us back to our time with our grandparents when natural resources were still used for cooking and cooking ranges, LPG and CNG were unheard of.

But the best thing about our stay was what the girls learnt. Going Back to Basics. Advancement has been misused and health has been taken for a ride. It is in these farms that you learn why you should promote organic. The fresh produce that is grown organically is something we city-dwellers miss. And thus our health has gone for a toss.

Be it milk, veggies, cereals, pulses, eggs or poultry, everything is organic. What I love about farms is that it is a ‘Zero Waste’ project. Absolutely eco-friendly. Something we want our children to learn. The touch of soil is so soothing and refreshing.

Kitchen waste goes into composting or as fodder. Paddy, Wheat, Carrot, Cauliflower, Radish, Turnip and other leaves get consumed by the rabbits, cows and buffaloes. Milk, ghee, Paneer, Dahi and all from home-fed cattle. Dung used for manure and dung cakes for cooking and bonfire.

And such a huge setup will not function effectively enough without personal involvement. That’s where Daljeet and his parents, Mr.& Mrs. Ajit Singh Kataria, play a vital role. Their energy, enthusiasm and determination is what is behind the warm hospitality that you enjoy in this serene village-like atmosphere. I was mighty impressed by the way both uncle and aunt kept themselves busy in the overall functioning and maintenance of the farm. Their hard work and positive outlook towards life is infectious.

Daljeet and his lovely family made our stay absolutely homely and  our New Year a memorable one. The children bonded so well that I was free enough to enjoy my stay around the place.

Stay tuned for the next post on the migratory birds at Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. A Birwatcher’s paradise indeed.

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