Friday, October 20, 2017

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila
You might be thinking that my rides of late are getting too Jharkhand-centric... Right? Then take this easily digestible justification. Jharkhand is not only a fabulous tourism casket cocooned by raw nature but also my closest neighboring state. To put it in simpler words, Jharkhand is the most liberal destination to accommodate my weekend rides. Planning is bit easier for a habitual solo traveler. You don't have to spend half of your enthusiasm in improvising with your travel mates. If you have a thankless day job like me, your only headache is persuading your colleagues to keep the puppet show running on your behalf. Either my colleagues have wide hearts or I'm good at manipulating them. It was second week of September. Monsoon was still young. So what? When your instinct and wheels are trustworthy no season can grow mold over your travel boots.

In my childhood I had once visited Ghatshila with my parents. As far as I can count on my reminiscences, I didn't quite like that place at that point of time. Renowned Bengali author Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay had lived a good part of his life at Ghatshila, by the bank of Subarnarekha River. Probably this is the hypothetical connecting link which is inherited by every Bengali traveler, irrespective of his affinity towards literature. Strangely enough, till date I haven't met a single non-Bengali traveler who recommended me Ghashila as a tourist destination! We Bengalis have our unique set of idiosyncrasies. As my previous recollections of Ghatshila were not too vibrant I had to pacify my inner self with some unbeatable logic supporting the revisiting whim- Anunoy, may be you were too immature those days to appreciate the natural mysticism associated with Ghatshila. Ah, you better appreciate a nomad's height of self rationalization!

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila
Dense forest and surrounding rocks join hands in preserving the natural aura of Burudih Lake.
Be informed that this is not going to be another Ghatshila travelogue. In fact, except witnessing the smoky sunrise over Subarnarekha I did/visited nothing at Ghatshila. My ride itinerary comprised no local sightseeing, no musing by the restored resident of Bibhuti Bhushan, and no useless hike to any twenty feet hillock to be in the delusion of getting the amazing bird's eye view of the picturesque town. Hold on, I am not being too critical of this old tourist magnet of Jharkhand. But, exploring Ghatshila per se was not in my plan this time. Among all the places of tourist interest in and around Ghashila, the monsoon impregnated Burudih Lake and the hidden Dharagiri Falls could only grab my imagination during the pre-travel research phase.

With Google Maps' aid I had fixed my riding route accordingly: Bardhaman -> Durgapur -> Bankura -> Manbazar -> Banduan -> Dharagiri Falls -> Burudih Lake -> Ghatshila (simply for overnight halt). It was a mistake. Soon you'll come to know why. What a short yet unique ride it was! It had commenced with triple-digit cruising over wide inviting national highway (NH-2), followed by the relatively slow paced drive over scenic state highway towards Bankura (through Beliatore Forest Range), then apprehensively sharing the road with endless herds of cattle (on the way to Manbazar), and finally to get lost in the Elephant Corridor post Banduan. 

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila
Dharagiri is not a massive or highly photogenic waterfall by any definition.
Do not assume that I confronted a wild tusker. I do not wish for such a situation too especially when I'm riding through jungles. Who knows, the mighty elephant king might get intimidated by the four-cylinder's melody of Benu and get combative. Only once in my life I was fortunate enough to encounter a herd of wild tuskers on our way to Gorumara National Park. I wasn't alone then. It was a family trip and we were cozily waiting inside a SUV. Till then, we were too scared to venture out of the vehicle to capture the elephant parade.

After crossing Banduan, forest got denser and the Vodafone network abandoned me. I should have had anticipated the inevitable. Soon, I kept crossing picture perfect tribal villages at Bengal-Jharkhand border area in search of Dharagiri Waterfall. I could spot the waterfall in my offline map. It was so near from my GPS location but the trail couldn't be traced out. Asking from different villagers proved to be of little help. Some confessed that they didn't know. Few misguided me to pointless directions, mostly out of ignorance. Villages were extremely picturesque, studded with colorful mud-houses, naive inhabitants, and without the slightest stain of urbanization. I got to see the traditional way of making coir ropes. The unmetalled (rather, untamed) forest road through unknown villages, fruitless cruising under the midday sun and missing on a wholesome breakfast had almost consumed my wandering spree...

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila
Factory fumes tried in vain to spoil the pinkish-blue sky above sleeping Ghatshila town.
After repeated failed attempts of navigating Dharagiri when I was about to give up, an old man arrived from nowhere to refuel my bottomed out travel orgy with his confident guidance. The only way to find Dharagiri was to lookout for Burudih village from where the forest trail to the waterfall was easily traceable. The bad but beautiful road accompanied me like a caring watchdog, and eventually Benu had to stop at a point from where one is supposed to hike to Dharagiri Falls. Signs of dehydration were getting loud. Probably I had skipped liquid for quite sometime. One has to trek approx 750 meters to get full view of the waterfall. Dharagiri is not massive or highly photogenic by any definition. But, fortified by hills and veiled by jungle cover it remains hidden safely in the lap of nature. Uneasy accessibility and unadulterated simplicity make Dharagiri so popular among travelers visiting Ghatshila. 

I was there in the first half of September. Dharagiri was way more expanded than a trickle of water but not exactly what one would expect from a touristy waterfall during rainy season. I guess, visiting Dharagiri Falls in any other season would make no sense at all. Other than me there was a small group of couples idling by the waterfall. I sensed my body's cry for glucose and their longing for privacy. It was high time to resume the ride for Ghatshila. Ghatshila was not far. The road from Dharagiri Falls to Ghatshila passed by Burudih Lake. Sunny monsoon days are often very uncomfortable. A local picnic group was enjoying unbearably booming music by the lake. I decided to postpone my halt by the lakeside. Till then my intention was to ditch Ghatshila and find an accommodation at Galudih.

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila
Early morning and evening would be your golden hours to catch the essence of Burudih Lake.
Staying options at Galudih turned out to be limited. It was late afternoon but still quite hot. I realized that only Ghatshila could provide me a comfy stay. Surprisingly Ghatshila doesn't have sufficient hotels with AC rooms! A couple of tidy looking hotels by the highway which had air-conditioned rooms were all reserved for the day. At last I entered the town and settled with a shabby hotel opposite to the rail track, adjacent to Ramkrishna Math. Even the ceiling fan was too old to rotate. Every mosquito has its night. I was brutally cornered by the day-long exhaustion, sulky weather and the swarm of insomniac Ghatsila mosquitoes. In a rough night we pray for a magical morning. I kept tossing over a rickety cot while fantasizing about a fresh early morning view of the Burudih Lake.

Well before the sunrise time I left the hotel and reached a bridge over Subarnarekha, diagonal to Hindustan Copper Limited. First five minutes of every sunrise (in a clear weather) is equally mesmerizing. Factory fumes tried in vain to spoil the pinkish-blue sky above sleeping Ghatshila town. If you want to spend some leisurely time by the bank of Subarnarekha River then mind it, that's not your sweet spot. My primary target was to feel the natural ambiance around Burudih Lake before returning back home. The lake is hardly 10 km north of Ghatshila and another 5-6 km along the same trail leads you to the mouth of Dharagiri Falls. So, the smart way to visit Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Waterfall is to start from Ghatshila, and strictly from nowhere else.

Burudih Lake and Dharagiri Falls - a leisurely monsoon Ride to Ghatshila
My little breakfast-maker near Burudih Lake.
What a terrible mess my last day's ride had been. An entire day got spent in negotiating 300 kilometers. Ah, no point whining over spilled brandy. Irrespective of your destination, road condition and machine, early morning rides are always very satisfying. Hardly in twenty minutes Benu took me before the blue Burudih Lake. Although this is an artifical lake built over Burudih Dam, dense forest, surrounding rocks and lack of a metalled road join hands in preserving its natural aura. Many online sources say that there's facility for boating but I could not spot any. Early morning and evening would be your golden hours to catch Burudih Lake. After strolling around the lake for sometime and breathing lungful of fresh air I resumed my return ride.

I noticed a small local food shop half kilometer down the lake. If you're choosy about your breakfast then skip such desi eatery. Otherwise, wrap up your breakfast episode with basic items (sometimes quite delicious too) like Chop, Muri, green chilli, soaked chickpeas etc. Return ride from Ghatshila was comfortable and almost uneventful. By the end of the day Benu had clocked 270 km. The itch for a longer ride was intensifying in her, which only I could perceive. After reading the whole motorcycle tale don't ask me why didn't I indulge in Ghatshila local sightseeing. Please do not drag me into the familiar awkwardness by asking why didn't I update my blog since last 30 days. Just let it be. It's impractical to promise but I'll try hard to publish my Varanasi ride experience very soon. Meanwhile, do some soul searching before winter encroaches.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Could you squeeze out some time to go through my blog on the mighty transboundary Himalayan lake- Pangong Tso? Undoubtedly Pangong Lake tops the popularity chart among tourists visiting Ladakh. Pangong sits at a height of about 4,250 meters, which is sufficient enough to give you dizzy spells unless you are decently acclimatized. In case you are okay with the thin Ladakhi air and willing to explore another very high altitude lake then head onto Tso Moriri. Whether you're starting from Leh or Pangong Tso, you have to drive around 250 grueling kilometers to reach the turquoise-emerald Moriri Lake nestled in serene Changthang Plateau region, at a challenging altitude of 4,500 meters from mean sea level! Tso Moriri is much smaller than Pangong Tso. Still, it is the largest of all high altitude lakes in India which we do not share geographically with any other country. It was late in the morning when we left Pangong for Tso Moriri. Then we knew absolutely zilch about what was waiting ahead for 17 of us.

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
After every brief shower mountain ranges over Changthang appeared in a newer color!
We took the picturesque route through the remote Changthang region which passes by prominent villages such as Merak, Chusul, Mahe etc. It was the most scenic motorcycle journey I ever had, combo-packed with maximum off-roading, scariest water crossings and innumerable moments of uncertainty. For the initial quarter of our ride Pangong Tso kept accompanying us, enticing all shutterbugs with her luscious shades of green with contrasting backdrop of camel colored barren mountain ranges. After pushing for a couple of hours, the continuous struggle to keep the bull (Isn't that what most Royal Enfield owners proudly refer to their motorbikes as?) stable on loose gravel consumed a good percentage of my mediocre stamina. Consequently frequency of my photography breaks started diminishing. When your body vibrates for long hours and blood glucose level sinks low it gets really difficult to steady your camera. After losing the sight of Pangong Tso I spotted a herd of yaks. Unfortunately, I couldn't capture them in a presentable frame.

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
The little Ladakhi princess from Karzok village.
There were few episodes of drizzle on our way to Tso Moriri. As a thumb rule, weather always gets unpredictable over Tibetan Plateau post 13th hour of the day. If you are a rider you should take this advice more seriously. Unless you've been in such odds you can't imagine how panicky it gets to ride through high velocity winds or incessant rain. Just in case you're missing the doughnut- you are riding over 4,000 meters dude, where the oxygen level is already 40-45% lower than what you enjoy at plains. After every brief shower mountain ranges over Changthang appeared in a newer color, which varied from juniper green to mahogany red! I do not know the exact phenomenon behind that visual enigma. I do not intend to fathom it out too. Sometimes nature's unfolding shouldn't be spoiled by our intrusive science. As we kept passing by pristine Ladakhi villages local kids waved at us with unadulterated smiles.

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Unlike Pangong, there's no direct motorable path leading to the Tso Moriri Lake.
Despite being the photographers' dream route, the rough terrain kept us at our ever apprehensive limits. It was dark when we reached our destination Karzok. Our cottage was no more than fifty meters from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police camp at Karzok. Well, Karzok is the only settlement (Or, call it a village) by the shore of Tso Moriri. Although it has a small population, accommodation options for tourists in the form of tents, cottages and hotels are in abundance. Unlike Pangong, there's no direct motorable path leading to Moriri Lake. I'm glad for that matter. Otherwise overenthusiastic cum insensible tourists would happily pose washing their vehicles with the lake water just for few dumb social media 'Likes'. If you're a genuine nature lover you can always walk up to the bank and experience the calmness of this "Mountain Lake". Tso Moriri nestles among Ladakh to the north, Tibet to the east, and Zanskar on the west.

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Our cottage was no more than fifty meters from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police camp at Karzok.
There is a steep uphill path originating somewhere from the small market road at Karzok. If the altitude doesn't make you breathless you can hike up to a vantage point and get an aerial panorama of Moriri Lake along with its perfectly sketched surrounding. This area is protected as the Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve and few rules are expected to be obeyed by all visitors. You need to procure a permit before entering this wildlife protected area (same applies to Pangong Tso as well). Unless you've a domicile of Jammu & Kashmir you need to apply for the Inner Line Permit by paying a fee. Presently you can apply online to obtain your permit in few clicks and bypass the hassle of queuing up before the DC Office at Leh. I've already cautioned you with the altitude issue of Tso Moriri. I would suggest you to acclimatise properly at Leh and cover other regions before considering a nigh halt at Karzok. 

Tso Moriri Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
You need to procure a permit before entering the Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve.
Tso Moriri is ideal for those travelers who pet the spirit of bumpy wandering, and yet find excitement in the raw indifference of nature. I don't know how to put it in better words. If you are looking for casual excitement then Moriri Lake should probably be edited out of your Ladakh itinerary. Oh, did you meet the little Ladakhi princess whom I had met in the dining hall of my hotel at Karzok? Of late I have been strolling over a rough patch. I too realize that my blog deserves a lot more sincerity from my end. As of now I have no idea when my blog can be proud of its blogger's dedication. Anyway, when time permits I'll come back with another photo story from my Ladakh motorcycle diary. Till then stay away from judging people, hating mankind and spreading negativity. Spread nothing but love, kindness and positive ideas. Catch you soon.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
This is the same transboundary high altitude lake where our army folks were provoked into a trivial street fight by Chinese army men, about three weeks back. Capitalizing the tense air born out of Doklam standoff between our armed forces and Chinese People's Liberation Army, which had lasted more than two months, even this petty event was sensationalized by media! Well, let's get back to this dreamy, massive and exquisitely photogenic Himalayan lake- Pangong Tso. Out of its 134 kilometers length, about 2/3rd lies in China where it is called Bāngōng Cuò. Luckily, the Changthang Plateau region over Ladakh cocoons the remaining portion of Pangong Tso at an astonishing altitude of around 4,250 meters. I rode to Pangong Tso from Leh on fifth day of our "screwed up" Ladakh motorcycling itinerary. Pangong Tso is about 150 kilometers drive from Leh which can take anywhere from 5-7 hours depending on the road conditions, weather and your pee-break habit. After driving some 75 kilometers from Leh you'll reach a very high mountain pass- Chang La (5,360 meters), the gateway to the Changthang Plateau, from where you can capture enchanting views of surrounding snow-clad barren mountains.

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
After driving some 75 kilometers from Leh you'll reach a very high mountain pass- Chang La.
Border Road Organizations (BRO) claims Chang La pass to be the second highest motorable road, while local Ladakhi people consider it as the third highest in the list. I give a damn about its ranking. The only thing that should keep you wary is the abrupt change in altitude as you drive to Chang La from Leh in a short period of 2-3 hours. Remember, you're ascending almost 2,000 meters above Leh, which is not an easy assignment for your physiology to handle! Do not get overwhelmed by the beauty around these high mountain passes. Be aware of the low oxygen content of the air, stay calm, avoid any exertion, click few photos, and leave Chang La within 15-20 minutes to resume your journey for Pangong Lake. I will be penning a separate article to discuss the importance of acclimatization and how to avoid high altitude sickness in general. While at Chang La, you may savor a quick noodle soup from the lone cafeteria, visit the Chang La Baba Temple, or pose with an Indian army personnel posted there. While my fellow riders chose the eatery, I opted for the safer alternative.

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
I was rejuvenated by the first sight of Pangong Lake fortified by massive rocky cliffs!
After all, I had already wrestled with mean mountain sickness over the rain struck Khardung La Top (5,359 meters), just 3 days back! My experiece says, once you get incapacitated traveling becomes a hateful headache. It is always wise to identify your limits beforehand and train your mind accordingly. Parking my motorcycle in front of the army health post I introduced myself to the on duty Jawan. He was courteous enough to escort me to the officers' chitchat room. There was an oxygen cylinder with face mask. I preferred not to consume their supply as I had my own oxygen canister. Although I wasn't breathless/dizzy, inhaling few puffs of oxygen seemed the right prophylactic measure at that point. After few minutes when I came out I found the same army man outside. He further obliged me with few clicks. Immediately I started my descent from Chang La. Although the accompanying vista was magical throughout the ride, the path was far from inviting. If you want to cherish motorcycle riding in Ladakh, better stop aspiring for paved roads.

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Only in the morning, I realized how close we had been sleeping from the ethereal Pangong Tso.
As I was descending from Chang La, I had to cross numerous streams and water-crossings. In that patch I was riding solo as my rest of the group members were well behind me. There were moments of extreme sense of insecurity and wobbliness. There were times when my underpowered RE Classic 350 got stuck in between boulders hidden by thin layer of water. I was extremely lucky to get help from a small group of Bangalore riders. For few kilometers, a tributary of Shyok River ran parallel to my road, adding more dynamism and melody to the mysticism of the Ladakhi landscape. At every turn of the road you'd long for a photo break. But do not indulge on photography so often. Trust me, exploring such challenging (and, unknown) Ladakhi terrain in dark is the last thing you would want as an amateur motorcycle tourer. As the sunset was nearing mountains kept changing their cloaks to match the imminent dusk. Then there was the rising moon to tease the sinking sun. I was not far from Pangong Tso.

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
You'll find props related to Amir Khan's marvel "3 Idiots"everywhere around Pangong Tso!
In Ladakh, do not be surprised to find traces of dimmed daylight post half past seven in the evening! I was rejuvenated by the first sight of Pangong Lake from a fair distance, fortified by massive rocky cliffs. If you're a shutterbug traveling from Leh, I bet you won't be able to resist freezing the first glimpse of this bluish beauty in your camera. Actually, you won't be able to choose any particular color for Pangong Tso. Apart from the winter season when this mammoth lake of 700 square kilometers turns into a white carpet of snow, its color ranges from emerald green to sapphire blue! Depending on the daylight Pangong keeps changing her gowns. Despite being a lake, Pangong Tso pets tender turbulence in her water in the form of ripples and waves. From where I got the first view of the lake I had to ride another 15 kilometers on unforgiving gravel path to reach our reserved camp site- Himalayan Retreat. It was fully dark by then. Unfortunately, tents were not sturdy enough to preserve the much needed warmth at night.

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Apart from the winter season Pangong's color ranges from emerald green to sapphire blue.
Only in the morning, after making peace with the climate induced headache, I realized how close we had been sleeping from the mighty Pangong Lake. Due to overcast conditions, people who had sacrificed their sleep at 4:30 AM to capture the magical sunrise over Pangong Tso were momentarily frustrated. On the other hand, I was content with my last night's decision to skip the sunrise. The plan was to guzzle some morning tea like I always do, and set out in search of the most scenic edge of the lake, for clicking photos of course. Breakfast could definitely wait. By now, most of you know that few scenes of the over-popular Bollywood movie "3 Idiots (2009)" was shot at Pangong, by the lakeside. Another slightly less popular Bollywood movie, "Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012)" had also featured the pristine beauty of Pangong Tso. Well there are at least half a dozen of Indian movies which had smartly exploited the visual appeal of this Ladakhi lake. These movies have literally revolutionized the tourism demographics of Ladakh, sadly pushing the fragile environment of this remote Himalayan land to a non-sustainable state.

Pangong Tso Lake - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Important: For Devil's sake do not drive your vehicles up to the edge of the crystal clear lake!
There are shooting points by the lake where some or the other films were shot. It doesn't matter where you go. You'll find banners and props related to Amir Khan's marvel "3 Idiots" only, compelling you to believe that you're standing exactly on the rostrum of salvation. Any local guy outside your cottage/camp can direct you to one of those locations. Walk onto the shore of salty Pangong and enjoy its ethereal beauty amidst chunk of rocks. You might dip your feet and feel the chilled love of nature. You may choose to take a horse ride. At least you'll be contributing to the local economy. But, for Devil's sake do not drive your vehicles up to the edge of the crystal clear lake. When you publish photos of your vehicle kissing the lake, you're just letting the whole world know how dumb you are! Being travelers we should leave nothing but footprints, and bring home nothing but memories. So, love, respect and protect nature by all your possible means. I would strongly recommend you to spend a complete day to explore Pangong in greater depth. She completely deserves it. Probably, our fortune cookie got consumed too fast. The same day we had to resume our motorcycle ride for Tso Moriri. You must have met the little Ladakhi princess from Tso Moriri. Next I'll bring the entire lake for you. Do peep back.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Ladakhi Girl - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary

The Ladakhi Girl - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Meeting someone is a chance, but weaving her into your memories is a choice. I met this beautiful Ladakhi princess at Tso Moriri, Ladakh. If I recap my travel memories associated with the Lake Moriri, fresh images of this little Ladakhi girl top that recall list. It was breakfast time but food was yet to be ready. Heaviness of my head was gradually fading away. Yes, interrupted night sleep and morning headache were my constant companions throughout those eight days of Ladakh ride. Before venturing out for photographing the lake I couldn't resist the temptation of gulping a mug of morning tea. Weather was sunny though, taming the wild chilly component of harsh Tibetan Plateau. Unless the wind gets high, a pullover and earmuffs are all you need to embrace such a bright Ladakhi morning. After I occupied a table with my co-traveler in the dining hall, I noticed a small school girl (daughter of our cottage owner) curiously surveying my camera from a corner of the hall.

The Ladakhi Girl - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Being the daughter of a hotelier at such a tourist-favorite location as Tso Moriri, I believe she had seen enough jumbo photographic equipments to get charmed by my modest Nikon D3100 mounted with a Tamron 16-300 mm. Possibly Suzan (the name is purely fictional) was inspecting those multiple patches of sunburn over my bushy face. I am among those over-thinkers who are apprehensive of intimidating kids. Still I tried to toss a smile at her. Oh, that worked! She put her guard down and looked straight into my eyes. Child psychology is quite intriguing. At this age, Suzan is sufficiently mature to understand the necessity of maintaining a safe distance from strangers. But at the same time, she is vulnerable to pretentious acts of friendliness and affection. She is yet to learn the art of judging people, analyzing their motives, petting skepticism and nurturing misanthropy.

The Ladakhi Girl - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
Suzan categorizes goodness of everything around her as either black or white. Shades of gray do not exist for her as yet. As she looked into my eyes with an intent of smiling back, I pointed out my camera at her with a timid expression, which lacked words but clearly conveyed my innocent request to the girl: Honey, would you mind if I capture your frolicking mood? Of course, I wasn't expecting a verbal affirmative from the Ladakhi angel. Voila! Once again she spent her inquisitive smile on me. I ensured not to overawe her by approaching any closer. Rather, I made good use of the higher focal length and kept clicking right from where I was sitting. Suzan was sweet enough to preserve her patience for a while. Then she moved away. Luckily she didn't leave the hall though, leaving ample opportunity for this shutterbug to capture few candid shots.

The Ladakhi Girl - from my Ladakh Motorcycle diary
It had been quite sometime since I had last captured myriad moods of children. So, the brief episode was quite fulfilling for me. Do not ask me much about my Ladakh motorcycling diary. It was a disaster in short! Well, my tour operator turned out to be a fraud and that's a long story, already been blogged. Consequently, my dream itinerary got screwed and the flamboyant travel zeal was choked to death. Still, I got to experience the mesmerizing Ladakh. I got tickled by her wildness, reddened by her sun and intoxicated by her oxygen deprived air. Ah never mind, I was getting overly carried away. I'll fetch you glimpses of various travel destinations of Ladakh in coming photo posts. Till then, take care, travel smart, drive cautiously, do not fall prey to "too good to be true" travel offers, and definitely keep clicking photos on the go.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ladakhi nightmare Intensifies further as the lead Impostor from FM Group starts texting us Threats!

Ladakhi nightmare Intensifies further as the lead Impostor from FM Group starts texting us Threats
Stained with gravies of suspense, fraudulence and possible violence the title of this blog might sound very appealing to you, but trust me, our Ladakhi motorcycling lemon has turned utterly bitter for us by now. I'll give a quick recap of our stupidity in case you missed my previous post. We, seventeen travelers from various corners of India had registered with the Noida based FM Group for motorcycling trip to Ladakh and had flocked to Delhi with bubbling aspirations to explore the barren beauty of Kashmir valley. The travel package was prepaid and all our transactions were made online much before the commencement of the trip. In Delhi more money was borrowed from us with the promise of timely return. Then we were flown to Leh. From thereon our itinerary and expectations were further crumpled like used tissue papers. We got glimpses of few mesmerizing locations of Ladakh. But we were made to ride to those places mostly in extreme unfavorable conditions and odd hours of the day! Issues were plenty. Solutions were nonexistent. 

On the ninth day of our trip we were abandoned at Leh by our tour operator. With three more days of our trip remaining, she had escaped without paying our hotel dues and motorcycle rents! Like fools we kept dialing all the contact numbers of FM Group, with faint hope of getting immediate assistance in that remote land. We couldn't reach the lead impostor from the FM Group, Mr. Arun Chaudhary AKA Prince over phone. How could we on earth have reached him? Knowing that his staged plan was perfectly executed by his associate Ms. Chandani Mishra he had switched off all his contact numbers by then. Eventually, to buy our safety from Ladakh we 17 idiots had to pay all those outstanding dues, purchase our return flight tickets and hurry back to Delhi retired hurt! If you have ample free time and nothing better to do, give a quick read to my previous post where I had better described how the dream destination Ladakh was turned into a nightmare for 17 travelers by the fraudulent FM Group.

Ladakhi nightmare Intensifies further as the lead Impostor from FM Group starts texting us Threats
Meet Mr. Arun AKA Prince Chaudhary, the lead Impostor from FM Group.
After returning home with superfluous emotions of low self esteem, frustration and vengeance I had made up my mind to blog about our Ladakhi story of getting duped. I knew what we had lost were irrecoverable, but didn't want another single fellow traveler to commit the same mistake. It was simply an awareness article against travel frauds. The bitter-sour experience of our Ladakhi nightmare was well received in most of the travel communities. I was overwhelmed by the support offered by my blog readers. Apart from blog comments, I received many personal messages from various unknown travel enthusiasts and legal advisors who were curious to know the details of our mishap. Most of my readers and well wishers have suggested to sue those travel frauds. Honestly, my mean profession leaves me with little scope to nod around. I wish, but I don't have the flexibility to cry over spilled milk. I never knew that genuine empathy from complete strangers had such healing potential. After every interaction I felt little lighter and slightly better! In a way I was letting it go. But... man proposes, God disposes. A different story was being written on the other face of the coin.

Clearly, my previous blog post had stripped off FM Group and exposed their lack of credibility as a travel operator. Ouch, it had hurt their business interest of course! Their first response was deleting their one and only Facebook page, formerly named as "Travel around with FM Group". Second response was hollow threats of Arun to my fellow travelers! My blog post unmasking their fraud faces was his primary area of agony. At first he placed the bait of refunding our lost money in exchange for taking down my blog post. When things didn't go his way, he started threatening us with false police charges. 

It is such an irony that an impostor who is already on run is trying to scare his victims with police and court. At least I find it highly amusing! In this failed attempt to scare the blogger among us (yours truly), fraud Arun has struck the wrong cord. He has to suffer the consequences and it's totally on him now. Leave that harsher aspect. Enjoy these brainless mobile phone screen-shots where Arun AKA Prince is weaving his tales of lies in vain to scare the shit out of us. I have collected many screen-shots from my co-travelers, but to save your time I'll be publishing only a few of those. To help my non-Hindi speaking readers fathom the hollowness of these threats I'll be providing summarized translation below every set of screen-shots.

Co-traveler 1: Three days of the trip were still left. We had to pay over two lakhs in excess. We want that returned. Otherwise we'll go to the police.

Arun (Prince Ji Delhi): I do not care whether you trust me or not. I could retrieve Chandani's location and I'm going to bring her back. I'll get to know from her why she did such- whether due to Deyor or due to Mehboob. You must have been badly troubled but I assure you that you won't be having any financial loss. Within two days I'll ring each one of you up and transfer your respective expenses back to your individual accounts. Do not disturb me any further. I've been wandering since last two days in search of Chandani. Just pray that I get to find her soon. Rest, do whatever you want.

Arun (prince): Guys, you left no stone unturned (referring to my blog link). Right from today I'm going underground. With lot of efforts I had traced Chandani, but don't know how things will go after this. From now onwards all my contacts shall be closed. FM Rooms shall be taken over by another company on coming Monday. You guys made that uncertain too. I can't survive after this...








Arun (Leh 1): He has committed a great mistake by mentioning Chandani's name (referring to my blog link).

Co-traveler 2: Bro, go wherever you wish but return our money before that.

Arun: You're expecting your money refunded even after this! What is left with me now? Please try to understand, whoever has done that (referring to my blog link) just get that removed.

Co-traveler 2: We had trusted on you earlier. Why did Chandani vanish (abandoning us at Leh)? We were made hostages in that hotel. Ask them what we had to do to get our freedom. You didn't even pay their dues. You better call us and clarify. Otherwise we'll blacklist your website and blog individually about our harassment.

Arun: Put anything on website now, but, if anything happens to Chandani you'll see the worse of me. She is only 25 years old. Imagine things she can do. After that do whatever you think is proper.

Co-traveler 2: Bro, just call and clarify everything. There'll be no misunderstanding then. Don't talk much. You know it quite well what wrong you've done to us. No sum of money can ever make up for the harassment we had faced that day. Better don't talk of money. 

Arun: Say thanks to all. Chandani is vanished from her hotel room. I beg you, don't message me anymore. But, Samanta has committed a great sin by blogging. He can reply to his blog comments but can't remove the blog till tomorrow! Now he'll face consequences if anything goes wrong. If I can't find Chandani, I'll register FIR against Samanta to Varanasi Police.

Co-traveler 2: So, you're hiding in Varanasi! 

Arun: It's almost 3 AM and she couldn't be found anywhere in Varanasi. If she faces any slightest problem I'll screw the doctor. You will come to know the real story after reading her diary. Don't message me anymore.

Co-traveler 2: You're a clear fraud. Once you are saying Chandani is with you, the very next moment you're saying she is gone! Return our money and we'll remove the blog. Otherwise more blogs will be written in coming days.


Arun (Prince): Just got in touch with Chandani. She is hospitalized near Nepal border. If anything happens to her I'll screw all of you. I've filed FIR against 17 of you, charging you with 6 sections. I have provided police with 12 evidences against Samanta's blog along with Chandani's statement. In the morning you will receive your FIR copies. Get ready in the morning. Remember, my only aim in life is to get you arrested and imprison in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The fake doctor (along with a more offensive swear word) has been screwing with my mind since last two nights. Tomorrow you'll get to see the FIR.

Co-traveler 3: OK, we'll see.



Arun (Leh Trek Arunji P...): Sorry guys I got late, as you know legal formalities take some time. You must be very happy that you've blogged about your incident at Leh, especially Samanta. Here's a good news for all of you. FIR has been filed. But my advocate has advised me against leaking any information as I do not want to give you any time to defend yourselves. I have submitted all documents against Samanta's blog and court has agreed to make FIR against all 17 of you. There's a surprise. As of now I've put charges against 12 of you. Keep the guessing game on. All my communication will be closed from today onwards. See you soon in UP jail. People are coming for you! 

Ah, that was some lengthy shit. Hope you had some entertainment while going through these baseless, yet laughable WhatsApp screen-shots. That fraud has been constantly following my blog. So, here's my message for Arun Chaudhary (and also, anyone associated with FM Group): Apart from your actual identities, I've also dug up a fair amount of information about your background, families and activities. We're coming for you. Watch out con man! Run hard to save your drunken ass. And one more important thing, the BLOG shall remain Live as long as I want it to be.

BEWARE OF FM GROUP! BEWARE OF FM ROOMS! 

BEWARE OF ARUN AKA PRINCE CHAUDHARY! 

BEWARE OF CHANDANI MISHRA!

#CheatAlert #FraudAlert #FMgroup #FMrooms #Beware #TravelFraud 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group!

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
Ladakh, the barren beauty of Kashmir valley has become the dream destination for motorcycle tourers since the last decade. Apart from the promotion aided by the movie "3 Idiots", the challenging altitude of the plateau coupled with its rugged terrain beguiles travelers from all around the globe in the most enticing manner! My Ladakhi dream was conceived two months back when I had stumbled upon a Facebook advertisement- Delhi to Leh biking package for 12 Days/11 Nights at sub-thirty thousand bucks. From the very title of this article you can clearly make out its purpose. Yes, my dream motorcycle trip got cursed into a nightmare. It was not just me but 16 other fellow travel freaks from different corners of India, who had fallen for the easy trap laid out by the Noida based fraudulent FM Group (synonymous to FM Rooms). Our wounds of betrayal are still fresh and deep. It is impossible for me to present the case before you in a single paragraph. 

Although I've returned back to my hometown I'm still engulfed by mixed feelings of low self esteem, frustration and vengeance. Our common loss, be it financial or psychological, is irreversible. At this point, our common goal is to expose the ugly face of the FM Group and its associates, so that no other travel enthusiast gets cheated by those apparently lucrative offers advertised online by this travel fraud. I'll try to portray this tale of deception in its schematic form, truncating all dramas and side stories linked to it. Probably it'll cost you nine minutes.

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
Memorize this Logo of FM Group. Whenever you spot this you know what to do next, right?
* With whom did I correspond to get into this Ladakh motorcycling trap?

-> Mostly with Mr. Arun Chaudhary AKA Mr. Prince, who had introduced himself as the well off proprietor of FM Group, and also an ex-Captain of Indian Army. As per his skillfully fabricated narrative, he had to retire from the army after getting an injury in the Kargil War. Ouch, that's where he grabbed my trust most conveniently! Our interaction was mostly through WhatsApp and sometimes through telephone. Mobile numbers as used by Mr. Arun Chaudhary to communicate with me till date are: +91-9821138317, +91-9821260271 and +91-8278290626. When he wasn't reachable I had communicated with Ms. Chandani Mishra (introduced herself as Mr. Arun's daughter) through Facebook Messenger. She had forwarded me to Mr Deepak Sharma (introduced himself as Mr. Arun's business partner) who had kept the conversation alive through WhatsApp and telephone. Mobile numbers as used by Mr. Deepak Sharma to communicate with me till date are: +91-9560690092 and +91-9411946829.

* What was the proposed Itinerary?

-> Day 01: Delhi-Manali, overnight in a Volvo bus.
     Day 02: Arrive Manali, Manali city tour on motorbike, overnight at hotel.
     Day 03: Manali-Rohtang Pass-Keylong/Jispa ride, overnight in camp/hotel.
     Day 04: Keylong/Jispa-Baralacha Pass-Sarchu ride, overnight in camp.
     Day 05: Sarchu-Leh ride, overnight at hotel/guest house.
     Day 06: Leh-Nubra ride, overnight stay in Nubra.
     Day 07: Nubra-Pangong Lake ride, stay overnight in Pangong.
     Day 08: Pangong Lake-Moriri Lake ride, overnight in camp.
     Day 09: Moriri Lake-Sarchu ride, overnight in camp.
     Day 10: Sarchu-Manali ride, end of motorbiking, overnight at hotel.
     Day 11: Depart Manali, overnight in a Volvo bus.
     Day 12: Morning arrival in Delhi to wind up the tour.

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
Mr. Arun Chaudhary AKA Mr. Prince, who had introduced himself as the proprietor of FM Group.
* How much the Ladakh motorcycling package was supposed to cost?

-> 23,000 INR + 5% tax per person (triple sharing)
     28,000 INR + 5% tax per person (double sharing)
     Fixed departure date: 1st August, 2017.
     Inclusions: Breakfast, Dinner, Volvo bus tickets, all accommodations, Inner line permits and wildlife fees for restricted areas, Basic first-aid kit and medicines, Services of certified and experienced guides, Services of Wilderness Medicine Institute certified guides, Services of a Royal Enfield trained specialist mechanic, Royal Enfield 350 cc motorcycle with fuel and One backup jeep.

* When did I make the payment?

-> On first week of July through IMPS (Immediate Payment Service), in two installments. In the offer mail it was stated that the 50% of the package cost had to be paid in advance (at least 20 days before the trip) and the remaining 50% had to be settled one week prior to the commencement of the trip. But, in the middle of the first week of July Mr. Arun Chaudhary had rang me up and insisted on transferring the full package fee that day itself, on the pretext of growing client demand and possibility of hike in the price due to implementation of GST. Blame it on my poor judgment or the spell casted by enchanting Ladakh, I ended up obeying his command! Although my payment was instant, it took them almost 2 weeks to send me the e-invoice.

* Now, most of you would enjoy questioning my mental acuity for transferring a large sum of money to some stranger whom I had never met in person. Well, as I've been successfully conned now you have every right to prove you're way smarter than me. Still I would like to highlight few factors which abducted my thinking hat and pushed me to the victim zone:

-> Ladakh motorcycling package offered by FM Group was much cheaper than other tour operators. When Mr. Arun had told me that it was a corporate sponsored trip I was convinced with the feasibility.
-> Mr. Arun was frank, well-spoken and always ready to respond in all conversations I had with him before my Ladakh motorcycling trip. If I have to summarize, he had the perfect recipe of a con artist!
-> Like majority of Indians I too have a soft corner and immense respect for our army personnel. So, Arun's repetitive reference of army background and Kargil War made me believe that I was talking to a genuine guy.
-> Ah, it is pointless to deny that my wisdom was hibernating deep inside my arse throughout this dealing!

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
 Ms. Chandani Mishra, the supposedly daughter of Mr. Arun Chaudhary.
* The point where the drama started- 5 days before the commencement of our Ladakh motorcycling trip, Mr. Arun informed us of an altered itinerary through WhatsApp! The reason provided by him was monsoon struck patches of Manali-Leh highway. We were too naive to see though his motives. We thought it was for our safety reasons only. Our revised itinerary was:

-> Day 01: Start from Delhi to Leh by flight, check in to Leh Hotel.
   Day 02: Start to Nubra on bike ride via Khardung La Top and reach to Paramount Camp Nubra, take rest, enjoy Turkish camel ride on Hunder dunes in the evening, night stay in camp.
    Day 03: Start for Turtuk, the last point of China border, return to Nubra camp for night stay.
    Day 04: Start from Nubra via Diskit Monastery and return back to Leh.
    Day 05: Ride to Pangong Lake, night stay in camp at Pangong.
    Day 06: Ride to Moriri Lake, night stay in camp at Moriri.
    Day 07: Ride to Tso Kar, night stay in camp.
    Day 08: Ride back to Leh, night stay in Leh.
    Day 09: Ride to Kargil via Magnetic Hill, night stay at Kargil.
    Day 10: Come back to Leh for night stay.
    Day 11: Local sight-seeing at Leh, evening flight to Delhi.

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
My e-invoice from FM Group.
* How exactly did our Ladakh motorcycling trip turn out to be in reality?
Day 01: I reached New Delhi station by 11 AM and checked in Hotel Raj Villa at Paharganj area. By then it was informed that our flight was booked for next morning [TWIST ALERT]. Mr. Arun was supposed to join us by night. Well he didn't. There was no update from him either. Cool, we had to pay for our dinner [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT]. Past midnight (at around 2 AM) we got a call from Arun. He requested for Rs 2,000 loan from each 17 of us which he promised to pay back once we landed Leh the following morning [TWIST ALERT]. Again, we were too polite (or, dumb) to turn down his request.

Day 02: Mr. Arun introduced us with his supposedly daughter Ms. Chandani and told us that she would escort us to Ladakh in his place [TWIST ALERT]. Early morning flight to Leh was uneventful, rather scenic. In Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh, we kept waiting for around 45 minutes for our pickup [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT]. Ms. Chandani borrowed the mobile phone (BSNL postpaid) of my friend Yasin (which she kept repeating shamelessly throughout our trip) and kept calling to her contacts desperately for a pickup. We were finally taken to Hotel Mount Castle. It was a sudden change in altitude for us. Leh is situated well over 3,250 meters from sea level. Instead of acclimatising us that day Ms. Chandani informed us that we must get ready for our ride to Nubra via Khardung La Top immediately after breakfast [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT]. After I insisted she had talked with the hotel management to open two rooms for us so that we could at least use washrooms! It took them about 4 hours to prepare "plain paratha with pickle" breakfast [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT], and it was clearly evident that the hotel management was neither expecting our arrival nor happy with our visit. We left the hotel at around 1:30 PM. Oh wait, there was chaos in motorcycle allotment too. Chandani was vanished with excuse of some urgent work. I had to almost beg to the bike vendor for a proper motorbike. In the petrol pump we kept waiting for about one hour for Chandani to arrive. It had started raining by then. Increased altitude with explicit mismanagement had induced enough negativity in my mind to decide against riding to Nubra that day in rain. My idea seemed practical to few more mature heads in our group. Realizing the impending non-cooperation from our front, Chandani connected me to Arun over phone who was very apologetic in his tone and requested me to bear with them for the day. He assured that I won't be regretting for anything from the following day! I swallowed my anger and agreed half-heartedly. I wish I did otherwise. Since then, she made us ride in rain, failed to provide route briefing, zero medical support, not even adequate space in back up vehicle in situations where the rider fell sick and extreme unsympathetic approach whenever I pointed out her follies! I reached the camp side at Nubra by 4:30 AM in the following morning. There was no food and assistance waiting for us in that ghostly hour of the day [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT].

Since then the revised itinerary got torn apart. Moments of twists and disappointments became infinite. We started getting used to the inefficiency and callousness of our tour operator. Despite non-existent leadership and meager services, we managed to wind up our ride to Nubra, Pangong, Moriri and Tso Kar to return back to Leh. It was the 9th day of our trip. We all had reached the zenith of frustration with our tour operator. We clearly informed her that we needed our money (Rs 2000/person borrowed by Arun) back. There had been multiple instances of failed commitments before. Moreover, a co-traveler had lent Rs 20,000 to Ms. Chandani for refueling our backup vehicle which wasn't returned either. We told her and also Arun over phone that we would start our ride for Kargil only after our borrowed amount is refunded. We kept waiting in the hotel (Mount Castle) till late afternoon when we got to know that she had escaped, abandoning us to our respective fates! 

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
We 17 losers double-paid to free our ass from Leh.
The hotel owner at Leh drove us to the local police station for lodging complaint. After listening to our story, the police officer cleverly refused to accept any written complaint and politely shifted the blame on us for getting conned! The hotel and motorcycle vendors were not ready to let us go without getting their dues cleared and Leh police was on their side. We were already cheated by FM Group. What followed next was the extortion by bike-rental vendor Glacier Trek-n-Tour. Yes, we 17 losers double-paid to free our ass. That night itself we booked our Leh-Delhi flight for the following morning because few of us got psychologically traumatized by the entire chain of events. 

What we did after returning to Delhi is beyond the scope of this article. Do not be optimistic my friend, we couldn't avenge those culprits in FM Group. We couldn't trace them either. In India, every year thousands of crores of rupees are stolen through various scams. Sometimes big-shots involved in those get caught. But the lost money is almost never recovered! I'm quite conditioned to this Indian way of justice. So, I do not expect to get any compensation. My only aim is to warn travelers against the dark face of FM Group/FM Rooms and any name associated with it. I had to literally fight hard to keep this article compact. In that attempt, most details had to be trimmed off. So, you're free to contact me for any clarification or details.

BEWARE OF FM GROUP! BEWARE OF FM ROOMS! 

BEWARE OF ARUN AKA PRINCE CHAUDHARY! 

BEWARE OF CHANDANI MISHRA!

STAY AWAY FROM HOTEL MOUNT CASTLE AT LEH!

STAY AWAY FROM GLACIER TREK-N-TOUR AT LEH!

#CheatAlert #FraudAlert #FMgroup #FMrooms #Beware #TravelFraud

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
It was a cloudy Thursday, precisely 13th of this month. Weather forecast was least assuring, threatening me with a precipitation > 90% in and around Giridih. If you are a motorcycle fascinated with monsoon rides, you just can't afford to pet ombrophobia. After cross-checking multiple weather predictions from different Internet sources when I was sure that there was hardly any possibility of thunderstorm at Giridih, I finalized my riding destination for the day right in the crack of dawn. Giridih, the land of hills and hillocks, is the headquarter of Giridih district of the Indian state of Jharkhand. Despite Giridih's location in the mining belt, its natural grandeur and presence of abundant religious sites have secured it a popular spot in the tourist map of Eastern India. Oh, don't mind that amiable chameleon in the cover photograph. I met him in the jungle adjacent to Usri Waterfall. Although there are several places of tourist interest at Giridih, considering the paucity of time and unpredictability of the season I had decided to limit my focus only on two sites- lofty Harihar Dham Temple at Bagodar, and the untamed monsoon impregnated Usri Falls located at a close proximity to Giridih town.

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
Benu clocked almost 540 kilometers in the day, and she was all geared up for her 2nd servicing.
My first halt of the day, Harihar Dham was pretty easy to find. Bagodar directly falls on NH-2 (presently, renamed as NH-19), approximately 240 kilometers north of Bardhaman. As you leave the national highway and take a left diversion thereafter, drive a couple of kilometers at most to reach Harihar Dham Temple. After crossing Raniganj, a sudden pour reminded me that my breakfast was due. Luckily I could spot a decent highway inn before rain could embrace me more intimately. Here comes the best part- the Aloo Paratha they had served me with a tumbler full of Punjabi Tea was truly rejuvenating! As I crossed the Bengal-Jharkhand interstate border I was quite surprised to find no congestion of loaded trucks and other goods-carrying vehicles. Those commercial drivers must be thanking the newly introduced GST (Goods and Services Tax) for putting an end to their hours of waiting at every state border to oblige custom police with relevant taxes and bribes.

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
Probably those colorfully crafted swords are local handicrafts of Isri.
Road deteriorated as Benu touched the highway passing through Jharkhand. There are unpredictable furrows, inappropriate elevations and sudden potholes over the Delhi-Kolkata Highway to make your high speed cruising sufficiently life threatening! Considering the congestion of heavy vehicles over NH-2 such distortion of the tarmac is no surprise. But, my question is- Why NH-2 is not being maintained at Jharkhand? Who, or what is stopping NNHAI (National Highway Authority of India) from carrying out their duties even after leeching bagful of money from passing by vehicles? Do share your opinion. Sometime after crossing the coal-dust coated city of Dhanbad, I passed through Isri, the small town from where devout Jains start their Parasnath Hill pilgrimage. I was surprised to see a number of roadside shops selling designer canes and colorful swords. I could relate the cane with hiking, but why would anyone sell swords near a Jain pilgrim site?

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
Harihar Dham Temple boasts of housing the largest Shivalinga in the world.
I stopped by one such shop and presented the seller with my innocent doubt. He was cordial but not so rich with information. All he said was, "These are sold here", as if I didn't already know that! Probably those colorfully crafted swords are local handicrafts of Isri. Bagodar was not far from there. Mere two kilometers ride from the left deviation at Bagodar took me in front of the much hyped Harihar Dham Temple. You can clearly see the upper half of the mammoth Shivalinga right from the road where you'll be parking your vehicle. Harihar Dham Temple, a popular tourist cum pilgrimage destination at Giridih, enclosing a 65 feet high Shivalinga, boasts of housing the largest Shivalinga in the world. There is sufficient free area inside the temple complex. You can offer puja to the presiding deity, or simply laze around to observe various religious idiosyncrasies of other devotees and appreciate the neck-straining stature of the mighty Shivalinga.

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
Usri Waterfall is formed by the steep descent of the Usri River 39 feet down a gorge!
Among many other Hindu festivals, Nag Panchami is observed in Harihar Dham with great devotion. On a regular basis, Hindu marriages are conducted in this temple for a prefixed nominal fee. Shortly, a group of distant devotees clad in saffron, chanting "Om Namah Shivaya", playing drums and trumpets entered Harihar Dham, and I realized it was the right time to leave for Usri waterfall. My next landmark in G-Maps was Dumri over NH-2 from where one has to divert to Isri-Giridih Road. This road is remarkably scenic, almost fairly maintained and represents the typical landforms of Chota Nagpur Plateau region. The same road can take you to Madhuban, a pious town for Jains from where the ascent to Parasnath Hill actually starts. I headed to Giridih. Usri Falls is located another 10-12 kilometers beyond Giridih, on the road towards Gobindpur. You can't ignore Gobindpur, because that's where you'll rejoin NH-2 in case you're planning your return journey towards Kolkata.

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
A dilapidated idol of Goddess Kali found in the jungle adjacent to Usri Falls.
Excusing few kilometers of chaotic ongoing road construction over SH-13, just prior and post to Usri Falls, I appreciated the effort taken by Jharkhand Tourism (or, is it PWD?) to iron out the tarmac of Usri Falls Road. It meanders while ascending through the village and forest cover to take you up to the hissing mouth of feral Usri Waterfall. Usri Falls is undoubtedly the most precious gem in the tourist crown of Giridih district. Usri Waterfall is formed by the steep descent of the Usri River 39 feet down a gorge, into three separate untamed streams, to transform into a relatively calm Usri River once again and join Barakar River after a short while. Although Usri Falls won't charm you with clear blue water, her wild roar and deep impact on scattered metamorphic rocks (as evident by their polished, eroded surfaces) are sure to make you respectful towards her powerful presence! Be careful while stepping down to approach the waterfall. Rocks are mostly wet and slippery. If you lose balance Usri will surely gulp you in a single sip. Don't get too close while capturing photographs too.

Monsoon Ride to Giridih - visit to the untamed Usri Falls and lofty Harihar Dham Temple
Parasnath Hill, the sacred pilgrimage for Jains veiled by monsoon clouds, as seen from NH-2.
Heavy mist produced by the dynamic water can harm your camera lens. There is a stunted watchtower nearby. You may climb up its poorly built stairs to enjoy breeze at the top. Do not expect any better view of the waterfall from there. I straightened by back for a while. When I realized my eyes getting heavy, I woke myself up with a sudden jerk and bid hearty farewell to the beautiful Usri. Return journey to Bardhaman was almost uneventful, except the horrible late lunch devoured at Khalsa Vegies. Benu clocked almost 540 kilometers in the entire day, and with mud and dust ornamenting her curves she was all ready for her 2nd servicing. My monsoon ride to Giridih was overall a fun ride. Oh hold on folks, I've got an update to share. I'm flying to Leh this coming Tuesday. Once I reach Leh, I'll be renting a Royal Enfield Classic 350 to explore the mesmerizing Ladakh. Unfortunately I'm down with fever, just two days prior to the commencement of such a dream journey! Please wish me some luck here. See you soon with my Ladakh motorcycling diary.