Chadar Trek.. Frozen In Time!

It is not just a trek. It is an experience; a test of endurance; a journey in search of one’s true self!

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The Beautiful Blue Zanskar Gorge! (The icy part is a portion of the formed Ice sheet of the river)

Considered to be one the toughest treks in the Himalayan Trail, the Chadar Trek is not for the faint-hearted.  So, the Zanskar River freezes over in the months of January & February when the temperature reaches a whopping -20 degree Celsius to -30 degree Celsius, forming a blanket or ‘Chadar’ which creates a perfect trekking trail for adventure junkies.

“Guidebooks were quick to label this trek, as one of the “wildest” in the world. After all, there aren’t too many walks that pass through a dramatic gorge with frozen waterfalls, or where the route is on ice that turns mirror for sky and bouncing sunlight. The ever-present sense of danger of the ice giving way, and the primal thrill of sleeping in caves hewn by gushing water over centuries, does make it an eminently “do before you die” journey.” – Sankar Sridhar

best-mountain-and-camping-quotesArmed with all the equipment to survive the negative temperature drops, me, my sister, her husband and his brother set out to conquer this quest. With the road to the summit riddled with various hurdles, the trip started with our flight to Leh getting cancelled due to bad weather. Never the ones to be left behind, we managed to take one out the next day, which meant that we only got one day to acclimatize to the high altitudes of the Himalayas. This resulted in me getting violently sick the night before the trek was supposed to start, however, the journey must go on. So we traveled to Chilling, where another monster in the form of a landslide awaited us. Since our car could not go any further, we had to trek for 10 extra kilometers. Having been extremely ill and on an empty stomach, I could hardly walk without feeling dizzy. So we set camp on the Chadar for an early lunch. With a steaming hot mug of tea and a bowl of spicy soupy noodles, I recovered like magic.

The first look of the Chadar nestled comfortably in the colossal Himalayan range is something that will be etched in my mind for a very very very long time.

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Reflecting the heavens!

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied — it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. – Ansel Adams”

True! The sight of the frozen river surrounded on all sides with gigantic towering mountains left us all astounded. The view was mesmerizing no matter where we looked. To me, us, standing right there was the only thing soiling the beauty of this untouched landscape. I felt like an intruder, stealing from the mountains, that elusive beauty which cannot be found elsewhere; yet given the choice again, there was no other place I would rather go to. With this paradoxical feeling we embarked on the actual trek . Slipping, sliding, and barely

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A walk on the wild side..

being able to walk the gait the locals were so easily doing, the sight was not a pretty one. Slowly but steadily, we somewhat managed to maintain a decent speed (Thank God for the trekking pole we had the sense to buy). Come sundown, we reached our campsite (at Shingra-gongma) which was already laid out for us (Yes! By some witch-craft our porters whilst lugging all our tons of luggage had managed to reach a couple of hours before us and had set up the tents!). We were handed piping hot mugs of tea and biscuits, which after hours of walking seemed to us like little bits of heaven.

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A porter lugging the luggage on a sledge on the Chadar..

Sleeping in the tents they had set out for us, on the bank of the frozen river, under the stars, high up in the mountains, completely encompassed by snow was a whole other experience. Calming my excited self, I snuggled up inside the ultra warm sleeping bag and slept, dreaming of the snow and the stars.

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It’s better in the Mountains…

“And the mountains continue the haunt beautifully, like they have been for ages. Every single time you visit them, you are no stranger to this beauty. Meeting the mountains is perhaps a way of feeling a sense of endings and also a sense of beginnings. It will be hard to believe that you are you and the mountains are, well, just they. Look at them and marvel at the way they humble you, like you didn’t know anything at all about the world.”

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Chasing angels or fleeing demons – go to the mountains!

Indeed! Though, the trek itself was not as strenuous as we had been led to believe, the view, on the other hand, was nothing the we could have ever imagined. It was all the same and yet somehow very different. Around every bend was a scene more exquisite and surreal than the one we left behind. Every time I thought that nothing could beat the beauty of what I was looking at, there came another mountain that took my breath away. There is a magical quality about the Himalayas that keeps us wanting more, teasing us every step of the way. It gave me strength, because the more of it I saw, the more of it I wanted to see. As I walked on, mesmerized by the massive vastness that surrounded me, a quote I had read somewhere crossed my mind, “Although, I deeply love oceans, deserts and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty. They keep me continuously wanting to know more, feel more, see more.”

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One of the frozen waterfalls along the way..

 I wanted to keep going further and further beyond everything that I could see. In the mountains, a sense of calmness washes over us letting us know about everything that is miraculous and infinite. The wind whispers to us about the answers that we are seeking. A sense of thrill and awe somehow leads to a sense of peace and quiet as well. It amazed me to see the complexity of the human spirit which can feel two completely opposite emotions together and make it into something life affirming.

Well, moving on, perhaps, I misspoke a little earlier when I said that the trek was not very strenuous. The day we trekked for almost 30 kilometers certainly pushed our limits. We left that morning from Tibb for a journey that we knew would test our mettle and fortitude for we had to reach the final point and hike all the way back that day itself. We trudged through snow and ice to reach the summit of the trek: the gorgeous frozen waterfall at Narek.

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The precipices along the broken Chadar! “The Detours”(Tread carefully!)

The road was difficult and challenging to say the least. The chadar was not formed or broken at a few places and we had to take detours to move forward. These “detours” consisted of climbing over the steep cliffs that formed the Zanskar gorge. The climb through the snow and ice covered rocky walls wasn’t an easy task to accomplish. They were slippery in most places which meant that without a sure foothold they were almost impenetrable. Fortunately for us, our guide was probably God in disguise (or at least that is what it felt like) and he expertly led us through the tricky portions with relative ease.

Reciting the poem “Don’t You Quit”we walked on and on..

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,

How close he was to the golden crown.”

When we reached the summit, the joy and relief were short lived, for still remaining was the daunting task of the return journey back to our campsite at Tibb. The daylight was fast receding and we had only covered half the way. We clicked a few photographs in triumph of our victory summit and we headed back.

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Veni Vidi Vici!

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Another detour! Walking on the cliffs on the gorge..

enhanced-buzz-wide-9582-1389227244-12With exhaustion setting over and spirits running low, we trekked back as fast as our tired bodies would permit so that we could reach before sunset. However, when the darkness set, we were still a long way from the campsite. So we put on our torches and set forth in a single file, with our guide in lead, slowly testing the ice beneath our feet. That too was an experience like no other. If the Zanskar valley is beautiful during the day, it is absolutely enchanting in darkness. Without the gaudy daylight, the mountains which were illuminated with the subtle glow of the reflected snow, gave the gorge an otherworldly look altogether. Being completely entranced and bewitched by the elegance of the landscape, Lord Byron words “thus mellowed to that tender light, which heaven to gaudy day denies” rang true to me then. To me, darkness has always held an alluring appeal, that, somehow, it manages to make things lovelier. We walked on, through the shimmering terrain. It was dead silent with not another soul in sight. The solitude and the tranquility were absolute magic.

I have loved the stars too fondly, to be fearful of the night”. 

So, now about a kilometer from our camp, we were met with a joyous sight. Our cook and the helper had walked for over a kilometer to greet us with a mug of steaming hot tea

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Our Campsite at Tibb.

which was an amazing surprise. We slowly sipped the delicious tea standing on a frozen river, in the riveting darkness, in complete silence, listening to the mountains speak – for
on top of the mountains, everything made sense. This little gesture completely renewed our spirit and with replenished vigor we set forth towards the camp. After reaching back we all huddled inside the warm kitchen tent, exhausted and at the same time overjoyed.

I believe it is Sir Edmund Hillary who said, “It is not the mountains that we conquer, but ourselves.”

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What are men to rocks and mountains? – Jane Austen

When I lay down to sleep that night, I could not help but wonder that the day wasn’t about physical strength. No! It was a test of our mental endurance, our perseverance and our moxie. It did not matter how physically strong we were, but what kept us going was our spirit and force of character. We realized that with determination, courage and nerve anything is possible; that we can push ourselves beyond our physical capacity if we only set our minds to it. The human spirit is indeed indomitable when tested against the forces of nature and the real strength lies in our minds and not our bodies; that if we truly believe that we can do, then we most certainly can.

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Panoramic view of the Chadar!

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… for there are some things you can only learn in a storm!

Everyday in the mountains has its own set of challenges. The next day was no different. A snow storm had turned everything white. It did not look that the snowing would stop anytime soon, so we adorned our rain jackets and walked, occasionally bracing ourselves against the harsh wind and snow. Even though the storm had made the trek more difficult, it turned the Zanskar gorge into a white canvas, looking as lovely, enchanting and fresh as a bride on her wedding day!

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“The Devil’s Snare”

The storm was not the only thing that the spirits of the mountain had in store for us that day. There is an age-old legend among the Zanskaris that the restless spirits of the mountains try to kill you once, and if you survive, the benevolent spirits watch over you forever. As modern as we may be, but when confronted with the forces of nature, one is compelled to bend against their will. Human ego has no place in the mountains, and certainly not when threading their way over a precipice barely a foot wide, in the gorge, 50 feet above the ground over the freezing river. One such part of the trek which I have renamed as the “Devil’s Snare” was downright terrifying. It was approximately a 500 meter long, extremely slippery, ice strewn path in the gorge over a portion of the chadar which was broken. One misstep would mean a 50 feet tumble into the frozen river. The 50 feet climb itself was so steep and sludgy, that it was virtually impossible to do

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The view from the top (while secretly praying that I don’t take a tumble down! :P)

without a rope (yet we did, with the help of our guides and porters).  Our guide, however, took us one by one up the path and to the other side. I will not lie here nor try and sound brave – I was absolutely petrified. It took each of us about 15 mins to walk that 500 meter strip and I must have prayed to a God that I do not believe in, at every step of the way, to get me across safely. (Yes! It was that frightening).

The spirits of Chadar did watch out for us after all!

“One story seems to have survived even in the face of modern development: the legend of benevolent spirits being driven away by the actions of inconsiderate men. When the Chadar’s spirits depart, the story goes, they’ll take the freeze with them.” – Sankar Sridhar

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Paradise indeed!

The next day the sun finally managed to break through the thick clouds and was shining away happily, while the rest of us mere mortals down here, got terribly sun-burnt. It was the last day of the trek and as I was making my way through the last 10 kilometers, I remembered Jahangir’s words, “Agar firdaws da roy-i zamin ast, hamin ast-u, hamin ast-u, hamin ast-u” meaning “If there is a Paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here”. 

High up in the mountains, way down in the streams! (Our entire group along with the guide, cook and all the porters!)

I am at a lack of words to describe what I got back from the ethereal experience. As I said in the beginning, it is not just a trek, but a journey to meet your true self; to find out how far you can push yourself to go; to escape the ordinary. Amidst the gigantic mountains, azure river and deep dark valleys, the pull of the serenity overcomes the inertia of reason, and you just have to go. It is easier to abandon oneself in the mountains as details of life re-prioritize. You don’t go to the mountains to flee from something, but you go there to find something. You leave a piece of yourself behind, and yet you are more complete than before you went there. There is a beckoning that calls you back to that frozen sheet of river; between the snow and the stars, you find yourself! It certainly was a walk to remember…

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Mountains in my heart-beats! ❤

46ab86cef65a4e070a42bd5970557b98“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. – Edward Abbey”

I hope, in life, like on the trek, I find the courage to follow my fluttering heart and listen to it when it tells me the crooked, winding, lonesome journey was worth it…

As the magical journey ended, a reference to J.K. Rowling’s quote from Harry Potter would be fitting: “And together they walked back, through the gateway to the muggle world”

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Miles to go before I sleep…

Viva la Vida…

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“The world is too big to stay in one place and life is too short to do just one thing.” So when the urge do something new comes a-knocking, don’t fight it, instead, go with the flow and let it sweep you into a whole new world.

Little do we know what the future holds out for us. However, we all have things, things we want to do before we, well, to use the technical term, “kick the bucket”. 😛

So here’s my bucket list:

(Warning: Being a fellow wanderer, most of my list will comprise of travel and sightseeing! Some of which I have already done.)

  1. Starting with a common one; to see the Northern Lights. Aurora Borealis!
  2. To witness the great wildebeest migration in the grassland of Serengeti and Maasai Mara.
  3. To go bungee jumping.
  4. To go sky diving.
  5. To trek through the Himalayas as often as possible.
  6. To go wine tasting in Paris.
  7. To sleep under the stars on a mountain cliff.
  8. To take time and go back-packing through Europe.
  9. To go deep sea diving.
  10. To visit the Great Pyramids at Giza. (Done)
  11. To visit and relax in one of those Geo Thermal Springs
  12. To play with Pandas (and own one if that’s even allowed. Though that probably requires a permit or something :P)
  13. To go on a boat ride through the Amazon rain forest.
  14. To swim with Dolphins, Sea Lions and Seals.
  15. Have a deep meaningful conversation with a stranger.
  16. Go camping with friends.
  17. Kiss someone in the rain.
  18. Go to a Masquerade ball.
  19. Attend a carnival in Brazil.
  20. Live in another country for a short period.
  21. Take a cruise on the River Nile. (Check)
  22. Visit the United Nations. (Check)
  23. Visit NASA
  24. Go camping at the Grand Canyon and Death Valley
  25. Go camping at Yosemite National Park and Yellow Stone National Park
  26. Fall in love with a complete stranger.
  27. Go on a blind date.
  28. Volunteer for a good cause for a short duration in another city or country.
  29. To spend the night in a castle/palace. 
  30. To float and read a book in the dead sea.
  31. Go on the Snow Leopard Trek in Leh or a chance to see the Phantom of the Mountains in the wild.
  32. Volunteer or work in a zoo with all kinds of animals.
  33. Trek on the Zanskar River in Leh in the freezing winters of Leh, also known as the coveted Chadar Trek. (Done. Wil describe the experience in detail in a separate blog entry. For now I’ll just use one word: Surreal)
  34. To learn self defense. (Simply because it’s badass.. :P)
  35. To go para-gliding. (Check. Gliding over the Himalayan Mountains is a different experience altogether)

…. The list goes on. Will keep adding things as and when I come across things I really wanna do. I have an insane calling to be where I’m not. For, “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.” I follow the same line of thought. To do things I haven’t before, to take the road not traveled by, to be free in my adventures, to me, is to find where I really belong.

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.”

For someone famous once said, there is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

So, till then, I hope you, “Leave the road, take the trails.”

 

New Horizons – The Mountains…

What are men to rocks and mountains? – Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice

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Snow clad, rocky or covered in trees and grass, the mountains and I have a special connection. Standing on a cliff, over-looking the valley, watching the clouds slowly gaze over snowy peaks; the Himalayas has a charm that will creep into your soul and make you his forever. It is hauntingly beautiful and serenading and everything that is new and beautiful and bright and yet it has been standing there, tall and strong since the beginning of time! To me; it gives me courage and the hope to face new horizons…

“And if these mountains had eyes, they would wake to find two strangers in their fences, standing in admiration as a breathing red pours its tinge upon earth’s shore. These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.”
― Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road

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It personifies hope and things that are clean and fresh…! Here’s to the New Horizons!

It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape. – Ruskin Bond

via Photo Challenge: New Horizon

#Photo Challenge

A Night in the Wilderness

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.”

― George Gordon Byron

Life, to me, always seemed easier in the wilderness. There is a natural order to things. There is a fine balance that holds it all together. And what is a better way to observe the nuances of the woods, than to spend a day (and night) in the wild. So, I participated in the water-hole Tiger census held on the brightest (ensuring maximum visibility) and the hottest (ensuring high probability of animals in the locality visiting the water-hole) night of each year; that is the full moon in the month of May. Yes! It is an absolutely breathtaking and mermerising experience. Each participant has to spend 24 hours on top of a wooden plank, constructed on a tree, near a water-hole and they have to document the movement of all animals that they can spot through the day and night. Riveting, right?

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Having done it once before, this year we picked the teak forests of Tadoba Tiger Reserve in central India and me and my sister were allotted the coveted Telia Lake Machan (made famous by the Discovery Channel Documentary: Tiger Sisters of Telia). We started at noon, dressed in our camouflage attire, crouched on the ‘Machan’, on the hottest day of the year, geared up to observe the under-handed dealings of the animals in the wild; to witness the ‘Law’ of the Jungle as described by Rudyard Kipling in his famous poem “The Law of the Jungle”:

“NOW this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

…. Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!

The afternoon went by peacefully, with all the animals lazing around or napping and the occasional herd of spotted deer or sambar deer trotting down to the water body for a cool 20160521172301drink. A flock of Woolly-Necked Storks kept us constant company. A group of Indian Gaur came down to wallow in the refreshing waters of Telia Lake. Following that a troop of Langurs marched down to the lake and drank to their heart’s content while they all took turns acting as the sentry. They were followed by the wild-bores, the jackals and a pack of wild-dogs. There were a few alarm calls during the day which signaled the presence of one of the big-cats; but none appeared.

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The thing that stood out to me was a strict time-table followed by the animals so that no two species interfered with the other. It was like, in spite of just being animals, they knew that everyone is entitled to quench their thirst on the hot days and so none took more time than required; lest their brothers go away thirsty.

Then came the evening; the subsiding golden rays of the sun turned everything it touched to gold, much like the Midas’s Touch. The big round moon came up looking for company, but sadly the stars were away, as if they knew they would be out-shined by the moon that night. It made me wonder that how the persons who shine the brightest always end up 20160522052359being alone; success never loves company. But I digress! Back to the wilderness, the night in a jungle is not as silent as you’d expect. It came completely alive as the moon rose high. There was a cacophony of calls running a continuous commentary, as if to shout out that the day is not done. As the light dimmed, our eyes adjusted to the light of the moon and we could easily make out shapes and figures at the lake. It was bright enough to make out the species, anyway. Although, with not much use of our eyes, our hearing senses heightened. The most prominent sound was the constant chirping of crickets. At times, the noise of the cicadas was almost deafening as it reverberated through the entire forest. As the night progressed we became more aware of the sound of hooves on rocks and the sloshing sound of water made by the animals as they came down for their mid-night drink. At one point we heard alarm calls of a canine species (we assumed it was the wild-dogs, since we had seen them a few hours ago). We could hear the clicks of antlers entwined together, as a couple of spotted-deer fought. We also heard wild-boars and wild-hares squealing and snorting as they scurried underneath our machan.

The forest, at night, it plays tricks on your eyes. Every movement; every shadow; every gust of wind; it all holds a promise of something exciting. You can see things that aren’t actually there. I had to cross-check every thing, I thought I saw, with my sister; lest it turns out to be just a figment of my mind. The forest, at night, magnifies your imagination tenfold. You start conjuring up animals which turn out to be rocks or grass swaying in the wind. As I said, the forest, at night, plays tricks on your eyes.

“All forests are one… They are all echoes of the first forest that gave birth to Mystery when the world began.”
― Charles de Lint, Spiritwalk

89711ebe9411a20e185c0b10599ab689Oh! sitting on a wooden plank, on top of a tree, completely surrounded by wilderness, in the dead of the night is a unique thrill within itself; something that we just cannot mimic in the crowded cities, or even the quiet country-side. It is exhilarating; it is electric; it is mysterious; it is magical. I have never been so aware of my own heart beating as we sat there; in total darkness; plunged in the midst of nature; knowing there wasn’t another soul around for miles, just us three girls (me, my sister and the forest guard). There was a different kind of solitude present. However, at no point of time did I feel completely alone. It was safe, it was a comforting kind of solitude. I have never felt so relaxed, yet thrilled at the same time. I cannot, however hard I try, pin down that feeling in mere words. It is exciting; yet tranquil. It is a paradox within a paradox.

Jim Corbett’s words rang true to me then:

“The book of nature has no beginning, as it has no end. Open this book where you will, and at any period of your life, and if you have the desire to acquire knowledge you will find it of intense interest, and no matter how long or how intently you study the pages, your interest will not flag, for in nature there is no finality.”

The night went by and dawn arrived. Now, as all forest aficionados know, morningsnothing-is-more-beautiful-than-the-loveliness-of-the-woods-before-sunrise-quote-1 are when the forest is the most active. There was a continuous stream of animals at the lake as the first sanguine rays of the sun touched the water. We were observing the morning ablutions of our dumb-cousin when suddenly they all scurried away and everything became very still. The trees stopped swaying, as if they too were holding their breaths. And then it happened! Out of the corner of our eyes, both, my sister and I saw a swift movement of an animal cantering towards the shelter of the trees. A movement, that could be only described as feline, yet so so powerful; and we knew that it had to be a Tiger. It was the big male tiger called Bajrang meaning ‘the strong one’. We were happy! Now, being avid wild-life lovers, we do not require a tiger spotting to make a wildlife trip worthwhile; we are content even on seeing birds and just being in the forest; but seeing one of the big-cats is like cherry on an already very tasty cake! 

Later that morning, a big Sloth Bear also came meandering down near the lake, digging the ground for termites and ants. Like Baloo from Jungle Book, this one too was all about the food, completely oblivious to our presence. 

All in all, we spotted a whole lot of wild-life. But the thing that I took away from the whole experience was the singularity of a forest.

“Old-growth forests met no needs. They simply were, in a way that bore no questions about purpose or value. They could not be created by men. They could not even be understood by men. They had too many parts that were interconnected in too many ways. Change one part and everything else would change, but in ways that were unpredictable and often inexplicable. This unpredictability removed such forests from the realm of human perspectives and values. The forest did not need to justify or explain itself. It existed outside of instrumental human considerations.”
― Steve Olson

Indeed! Totally cut off from the rest of the world; I could die there that night and still not regret one bit of it. It was like witnessing a whole other universe, completely in sync with one another; some invisible force keeping everything in order. They didn’t need us. They didn’t need anything other than what was already there. I am not one to believe in God; but if there is a chance that he is real, I’m pretty sure that he is nature personified.

I did not want the day to end, but like all good things, time came to get back to civilization.

Like Mr. Frost penned down in his poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

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Watch the Queen Conquer…

One of the most profound experience that someone can witness in the wild is a confrontation between two dominant and territorial species; the lone tigress versus a pack of savage wild-dogs. The wild dogs or more commonly known as Dhole are social animals and prefer to live and hunt in packs of mostly 12-14. Known for their distinct hunting style, they do not use the traditional killing bite to the throat, but prefer to surround their prey and then proceed to eat it up one bite at a time while the prey is still alive (savage, right?). Tigers on the other hand are solitary creatures and prefer to eat, sleep and kill alone.

As I was saying, a confrontation between the two highly sovereign and commanding species is a sight to behold, and I was fortunate enough to have witnessed it. So, a few years ago my family and I were visiting the Nagzira Tiger Reserve,  located in the heart of Central India. Spread over 150 square kilometers, the Sanctuary is a haven for wildlife and wildlife lovers such as myself. Situated only a couple of hundred kilometers from my hometown, I practically grew up there, spending the majority of my vacations at the wildlife park.

The tigress called Mai (meaning  mother) or A-mark (so called because of the distinctive ‘A’ mark on her left hind leg) was the resident female in the central forest dominating her territory from other females in the region to secure the lush area around the central lake, teeming with prey. During the evening safari, almost everyone cruising through was able to spot her basking in the evening sun in a water hole.

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Apparently disturbed by all the paparazzi, the Queen of Nagzira decided to take shelter behind a bush. Late to the party, we reached just a few moments before she left the scene. While the others left, we stayed put hoping to get a better shot of the majestic tigress. Almost the size of a young male tiger and the mother of the largest tiger in India called Jay, she was always a sight to behold.

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While we stood there with awaited breaths, a herd of wild-dogs came sauntering down, hoping to get a cool fresh drink from the water hole to quench their thirst on the dry summer day. Upon spotting the tigress, they started to try and draw her out, by sending menacing calls and provoking her by threatening gestures. Now, tigers normally do not like to pick fights with wild-dogs due to their sheer number and tireless pursing techniques, but they also form formidable opponents, having the ability to take out a dog with the single strike of a paw. A-mark now had the choice to either fight the dogs or leave. Merely 20 feet for our gypsy, we could not believe the scene unfolding in front of our eyes; a clan of wild-dogs challenging the tigress who sat crouched, behind a bush, ready to pounce in case of an attack, while a couple of Sambar deer stood, dumbstruck, in the middle of the two rivals, helplessly giving out alarm calls (I mean, seriously, of all the animals in the wilderness, only the Sambar are dumb enough to get caught between a tiger and wild dogs!) It gave rise to an interesting saying in my house: as dumb as a Sambar caught between the tiger and wild-dogs. After about ten minutes of provocation, A-mark took matters into her own hands or paws if you will, and slowly stood up. With one purposeful step after the next, she slowly started moving towards the pack as if to say “Try coming at me, you dawgs!”. It was that slow walk that was scarier than an out front attack. It contained the promise of a fearsome battle and not the idle threats of the dogs. Perhaps the wild dogs sensed that she was not a cat to be messed with, or perhaps they knew they didn’t stand a chance against the grand old lady or perhaps they didn’t think the fight would leave anyone a winner; whatever the reason, they retreated. We could still hear their defeated cries in the distance. We all watched the Queen Conquer!

At that moment, I realized that a Lion may be the King of the Jungle, but their big-cat cousin, the Tiger  certainly rules it. The stately walk, the royal gaze, the regnant stance; nothing screams “Kingly” more than a Tiger. And what is scarier than a King: a queen trying to protect her own.  A-mark neither fought the clan nor did she back off; all she did was let them know that she was in-charge and and that a queen does not respond to threats; that it is she who makes them…..

Filled with a feeling of joy and awe, I could not help but wonder, that like A-mark, if we just stand our ground when we face our pack of wild-dogs in life, if we don’t give into our temptations, fears and cowardice, if we can only just rise above the chaos and the dirt….

… we won’t just survive, but we will rule!

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