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  1. Intro: I’m not really sure how to start my first detailed travel blog. Hence I will start with: “I always had a desire to visit the Himalayas and spend the night under the stars. I didn’t know where, when and with whom but the urge was always strong.” When my best friend Amar suggested that we make a trip to the Mountains in 2020 (just the 2 of us) plans didn’t materialize because of Corona and then work. Towards the later ½ of 2020, we started our planning again. We didn’t want to make it to any commercial / tourist spots or any place crowded. The Planning: After a lot of research, checking out many alternatives (Gaumukh, Ranikhet and watching vlogs on and talking to organizers who arrange ‘village tours’ in Himachal we decided that since this was our first trip, we wouldn’t go to any place that was too much of an effort to trek. Amar started checking out Airbnb and we narrowed down a remote village called ‘Durmi Tal’. The duration of the trip to Durmi Tal and the rest of the travel (which was still not planned) was decided as 2 weeks. (Working for a corporate, it is very tough to get a long leave beyond 2 weeks). We decided to reach Durmi Tal and then decide our way forward from there. After a lot of deliberation, our itinerary was decided as follows Home> Rishikesh > Durmi Tal > To be decided > Rishikesh > return. Dates were 27th March to 9th April. I was to meet Amar (he was coming from Andaman) at Rishikesh and then we move from there. Purchases for the trip: Electronics: Since I might go for treks, I decided to go for a 20,000 mAh Ambrane power bank on Flipkart. Note: After a lot of research, I found out that flights will allow max 20,000 mAh per person (even Indigo customer support isn’t aware of this and they never answered my mails even after multiple reminders) Cost: 1,100/- Gear: The weather in Durmi would very between 2° - 23° C with slight chances of rain. I hence went down to Decathlon and later at Jockey. I got a set of trekking boots (for occasional treks), 2 trekking trousers, a backpack and thermals. Note: An employee named Malasala Raviteja helped me with a lot of details and to make the right choices. He also conducts treks to the Himalayas and campings in Telangana. You can reach him on 90107-39847 Total Cost: 17,000/- Flight tickets: I had already decided the day I’ll land and return, I booked my tickets directly on the Indigo app on 20th Feb. Hyd > Del > Dehradun on 27th Mar - 10th April. (No extra addons). I chose the shortest time to reach destination. Cost: 14,300/- Travel: Since our travel is fragmented, I’ll break it up into segments and add the stays / expenses / experiences / contacts under each segment Day 1 - Hyd to Rishikesh (27th March) Flight from Hyd – Dehradun was 4 hrs with (1½ hrs layover in Delhi). Amar came down from Rishikesh was waiting outside with a cab, so it was a comfortable travel to Rishikesh for me. Rishikesh is 23 kms from Dehradhun (~ 1 hr drive). Cost: 1,200/- (total for the round trip) (Liquor - In case you wish to pick up liquor, it is best to pick it up enroute to Rishikesh. You do not have wine shops in Rishikesh. However, some hotels serve you only beer. Ask your cabbie to stop at a wine shop). Here are other ways to reach Rishikesh: At Dehradun airport (to Rishikesh): One can either book cabs from inside the airport or Step out and take a cab to Rishikesh. They charge approx. 1 - 1.3k (source: internet) or Walk down 1 to 1.5 kms to the main road and take Govt / Pvt buses. The fare should be anywhere between 50 – 400 max (source: internet) Rishikesh: Stay: We booked our place at “Hill top Swiss Cottage”. Stayed there for only a day and planned to start the next early morning to Durmi Tal It is a bit of a walk from the road (5 mins and a little climb). Better to take your cab up to the narrow lane instead of carrying your backpacks / luggage. Note: Avoid eating in the balcony. There are monkeys / baboons roaming around. We stepped out and went to the town in the evening. Visited the Ram and Lakshman Jhula bridges, original Chotiwale restaurant, the ashrams and sat by the Ganga for a while on either side of the Ram Jhula bridge. Day 2 – Rishikesh to Durmi Tal (28th March) The day before, we learnt that there was a massive road widening project being carried enroute to Chamoli district so we had to take a detour which would prolong our travel from 8 to 9 hours. Initially we decided to travel via Rishikesh > Rudraprayag >Gopeshwar > Durmi tal but had to take a detour via Rishikesh > Rudraprayag > Chopta > Gopeshwar > Durmi Tal We started at 06:30 AM. The driver was a maniac and dropped us at Gopeshwar within 6 hours with a 30 mins lunch break (WHOA!). From Gopeshwar – the villager from Durmi Tal picked us up. I could barely click a few pics through the journey because (1) the roads were filled with lots of curves and the driver till Gopeshwar was driving like a maniac. I had to hold on to the handle and (2) The villager from Durmi stuffed 4 people including me and my friend, our backpacks and other bags in an Alto 800. WOW. Details of cabs (Cost and travel times): We reached Durmi by lunch time. We were stopped many times in between by the locals who were blocking the road and celebrating Holi. A few pics taken on the way And finally, DURMITAL Since the house keeper wasn’t expecting us until evening, we had to wait out for a while before we entered. Lunch was also served pretty late. We had to do with Maggi as late lunch. A few pics from the beautiful Durmital We were put up in this (and the only) guesthouse that has a vantage point. This was a guest house since the colonial era. It was repaired recently. 1st Night @ Durmital It was a full moon night and the moon was shining in all it glory lighting up the whole place. IT WAS SURREAL AND MAGICAL! It was pretty cold and I couldn't stay out for too long. I wish I could've basked under the moonlight for longer. The temperature must have been between 5-6 C and in spite of the thermals, the cold was biting (Unfortunately I was only using my OnePlus 5, that's why the pics are blurry) A little history about Durmital Lake was formed due to landslide created a dam during British India. According to an official statement of the authorities of the British Empire the landslide happened in September 1893, at the end of the monsoon in a steep hill name Hariyadeep situated in the right hand side of Durmi Village in western direction. Having a total volume of estimated 150 to 200 million cubic meters, the barrier formed by the landslide masses successively dammed the river Birahi Ganga, forming a lake within a year. This lake increased its size to 4000 m in length, about 340 m in average width and 300 m total depth. On the 26th of August 1894 the shattered masses of the landslide could no longer resist the accumulated pressure of the water, perhaps due to seepage. The first catastrophic outbreak of the Durmi Tal devastated the valley of the river Alakananda for a long distance downstream from the dam. After the flood a new stable lake remained for next 78 years which became the major hub of water sports and recreational activities. Due to unusual settlement of natural dam it could not resist the lake water in 1970's flood in upper region of Birehi ganga river and later caused damage to entire Nizmula valley and affected many places in downstream. (Ref: http://durmital.com/services.html) A group of village heads under the leadership of Mr. Mohan Negi have taken up the initiative of putting Durmital back on the tourism map by and rake in more people. They’ve been following up with the state govt to have the basin dug up again and to have the lake re-created. Day 3, 4 & 5 – Durmi Tal (29th, 30th & 31st March) The night was extremely cold and we had to use mattresses as blankets. 29th was HOLI. We woke up when the sun was up, some of the village kids came over to wish us. We had a late breakfast and decided to explore the basin below. You can see the guesthouse from here: There were a small group of people celebrating holi By around 1400 hrs, we came back for lunch. After which we relaxed till evening Note: all vegetables are grown within the village. All are organic and fresh. Evening: 30th March: Was a special day It was the day I met my soulmate. But first an incident. The village priest recommended special puja for a villager to rid him of evil influences (bhoot pret puja) and lamb be sacrificed after prayers. The villagers wanted us to be a part of the occasion and have the prasad. Initially I was excited but came to regret it later because the prasad was “RAW kidney and liver of the lamb served with blood” and semi cooked intestines. I am not sure how but I managed to avoid the raw meat. I couldn’t however avoid the semi-cooked intestines.🤢 Pics of the path and the place where the puja place. The villagers were new to the concept of a Polaroid camera and were amused with the way the pics were being processed instantly We came back after this and rested till evening. I wasn't aware that I would be meeting my SOULMATE. After the ordeal in the noon, we wanted some good chicken for the night. We asked the housekeeper to arrange some well cooked lamb. The in charge, decided to introduce us to Soulmate in the night. SOULMATE is an ultra cheap quality and priced liquor locally manufactured. Meeting this soulmate was one of the most regretful incidents of my life. 2.5 pegs and I was hungover the whole of next day, threw up and slept till evening. This could also be because I consumed less water. NOTE: Keep drinking ample water at high altitudes. Otherwise you’ll end up with severe headaches My expression when I saw booze the next day. (After this day, I reduced my liquor consumption .. this is true) 31st March We decided to move around the village and talk to the villagers. We didn’t roam around much. Decided to come back early Day 6, 7 & 8 – Trek to Irani and stay (1st, 2nd and 3rd April) Right from the time I read about Durmital and Irani village Chief’s commendable efforts to revive tourism in that area, I wanted to meet him. Hence we planned a trip to Irani (one of the last Gadwal villages before the border). I have to mention this: The determination and unity amongst the villages and villagers across the whole area is commendable. Here are 2 instances: Setting up of a cellphone tower In addition to dismal connectivity by road, a large chunk of the area covering 9-10 Gadwal villages didn’t have a good cellphone network. BSNL was always there but connectivity was sporadic it was extremely unreliable. There were instances where medical help couldn’t reach the villagers on time and lives were lost. Also, due to the pandemic lockdown, the govt schools in these areas were closed. Unlike in the towns and cities, the children couldn’t learn from home because of the network. The village head of Irani Shri. Mohan Negi stepped up to take charge and fix this issue for all the villages and shot out letters to multiple companies. Jio was the first to respond. After assessing the feasibility, Jio suggested that they were ready to install the tower at Irani but the villagers need to ensure that the get the equipment from the foothill to the top of the mountains. The assembling would be done by the Jio team. Mohan got together with the surrounding villages and got a MOU signed up where all villages would send across their villagers in turns to move the extremely heavy equipment to the top. All the village heads agreed and they accomplished this task in a short span of time. The villages that were involved and benefited from this were Irani Pana Jhinji Durmi Pagna Gauna Nijmula Bhanani Bona BBC India covered this impeccable exemplar of unity. Link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3512092255477076 NOTE: I almost forgot to mention this and came back to edit this blog Mohanji and rest of the villagers are looking forward for aid or any sort of help to help improve the condition of the education in their village. The would want their future generations to have a good education and a comfortable life. The schools have been shut for a while due to the pandemic. Any help you can provide (either via NGOs who can teach the children or provide equipment for schools would be of great help) --- Trek and stay at Irani We decided to stay at Irani for 2 nights max and decided to carry only our shoulder bags, limited food suppl for the trek and water. We spoke to our guest house manager and arranged a local village guy who would help us with the trek to Irani + cook food for us (@1,500/- per day) We started early on 1st April along with a local villager (Umedh singh) who was a young and a very jovial guy. Patient and helpful. It took us 20 mins from our guesthouse to the foothills. From there it usually takes the villagers 1.5 – 2.0 hrs max to reach Irani. For me though, it took 9 lives + 3.5 gruelling hours with multiple breaks (that’s when I realized I really need to get fit). I went from “Lets do it” to “I want to go back” very soon. And then finally the sense of achievement once I reached the top was amazing. The climb wasn’t very steep but the path was filled with stones and loose gravel so one has to be careful. Durmi tal and Irani on map: A few pics at the beginning of the trek. Later, I put my phone in the bag that Umedh was carrying and I didn’t care to take pics. A shanty to serve food for the workers while going to the foothills The road to the foothills is under construction The vehicle owner on left, Umedh in between and Amar on right 5 mins to begin our trek. Headed for the foothills 15 mins into the trek and already out of breath, I am pointing out where we started from Mountains being dug and roads being constructed We reached Irani just after lunch time (2 pm) (in the meanwhile Mohan made multiple calls to Umedh to enquire about how long it would take for us to reach). Since the air was much thinner, it took a little time for us to get accustomed. Day 1 at Irani: We had lunch and crashed our early after talking to the Mohan Negiji. Bhabhiji (Mohan Negi’s wife) was kind to help us with home made food (pure veg) Mohan was kind enough to accommodate us at his residence and arranged a room with mattresses as blankets. (Max temp: 12C – Min Temp:1-2C) At Village chief Mohan Negi’s residence (Mohan on the left and Umedh on the right) The dynamic and young village chief, Mohan Negi ji The cheerful, always smiling and helpful Umedh View in front of Mohan Negi's residence View in the evening Day 2 at Irani: The night was extremely cold. The mattresses provided by the Mohanji (+ a pot of burning coal ember in the room) helped the 3 of us Amar, Umedh and me. We slept light and were up by 6.00 AM. It took time to gather the courage to come out of the room. Once we were out, we had a couple of smokes with a nice mug of milk with spices (cinnamon and other spices). Post 6:30 AM we were in for one of the best sunrises we had seen in our lives. Only a few lines form Pink Floyd’s Echoes can even remotely describe what we witnessed After we recovered from the stupor at the celestial sunrise, we had a quick breakfast and got ready to explore the village and meet a few villagers. The villagers were very kind and made us feel at home. In case you are keen in the saptakund trek, there is a village guide who can help you with the same. I will add the details later We later walked up to the primary and secondary school of the village. They had primary and secondary sections that were shut for more than a year because of the pandemic. The walk to the school was just a bit challenging but worth the minimal effort and the view from there. Umedh (as cheerful as ever) dropped us on the top (leaving us for few smokes) and went down to get us lunch. He was back after a hour with lunch for the 3 of us A few pics from our walk to the school and from the top "Men will be men" 🤪 After lunch we got down and went to the other side of the village. A few pics from village and the greenery around "Chandu Negi" - He is the man / guide who can help you with Sapthakund trek The village goddess temple Towards evening, as the sun was setting, It was getting very cold for us. We retired for the day after this. We planned to wake up early the next day and make it back to Durmital Day 3 at Irani: We woke up early. Amar being the active one decided to make a visit to the farms along with the Mohanji. I decided to laze around and have some ‘pointless conversations’ with my friends on the phone. After Amar returned, we had a lengthy conversation with Mohanji about the dreams and challenges the gadwails were facing. We spoke of how the children weren’t getting good education or jobs and were getting lured into drug addiction. The village heads are fighting an uphill task to combat that challenge Mohanji wished people could volunteer and educate / teach the school kids about latest technology so that they could land better jobs rather than take care of farming which has been their only source of income. We met a few notable people from Irani one last time and the village head of a neighboring village Ramani Village head of Ramani (Suraj Pawar) Chief medic of Irani (Anand Singh) We started at around noon. Again Umedh was carrying our luggage. Though it was relatively much easier to walk down it was very tricky too. The loose gravel and soil on the steep pathways always posed a risk or us slipping down and injuring ourselves We reached the base of the mountain within 2.5 hours. By evening 5 o Clock, we were back at Durmital Back to Durmital: Day 9 – Last day at Durmital (4th April) After a memorable trip, we decided to move back to Rishikesh and spend the last 5 days there. We requested Prem to arrange for a few beers for that night. (Beer was almost 2x the price) Day 10 – Travel back to Rishikesh (5th April) Packing our bags was the most laborious task. Once we were done we met up with all the people from Durmital who made our stay memorable and clicked as many pics as so that when we look back, every pic brings back those moments and a million emotions Going back would be exactly the same way. Durmital to Chamoli – by Maruti Alto and from Chamoli to Rishikesh – by Dzire We reached Rishikesh by 1600 hrs (our cab driver ought to drive an F1 car) and checked into the same hotel we were put at earlier. This time, we were lucky to get a room right at the top with a beautiful view. Once we checked in, we had our means and crashed out. We were pretty tired Days 10 to 14 – Back in Rishikesh (6th – 10th April) Day 10 – 6th April We decided walk around Rishikesh explore it and meet people. We decided to move out at noon. Towards noon, I had bad itch around my elbows and feet. Realized we were mercilessly bitten by bugs. Not sure if this was in Durmital or Irani. We ended the day spending hours sitting at our favorite spot, on the banks of Ganga besides the Ram Jhula bridge Day 11 – 7th April We woke upby 7:30 and decided to repeat what we did yesterday. Keep walking around, explore and meet people. The weather was relatively kind and the skies were covered (though not for long) We walked around a lot and sat for several hours at the banks of Ganga. (Same spot). While walking back from the banks to the road to take a shared auto back to Tapovan, I always felt a strange pull (a very strong, peaceful and divine vibration) emanating from a house. I always felt tempted to enter the gates and enquire whose house it was but I always stopped myself.(Several months later, I asked a close friend of mine (Srinath) and got to know it is Swami Chinmayanand’s Ashram). The next time I go back to Rishikesh, I’ll make a visit here for sure After walking around everywhere and coming back to Tapovan, we were very tired and wished we could have a couple of beers. We were lucky, to have a decent bar besides our resort. We had a couple of beers before we retired back to the room and crashed out Day 12 – 8th April We decided to repeat what we have been doing since the past 2 days and also visit Tat wale Baba’s cave. Srinath advised me to visit the cave if possible (Tat wale baba was an enlightened hermit whose stopped ageing in his mid 30s and lived till 95 years old) A care taker now takes care of his samadhi / cave. Unfortunately, we couldn’t meet him but met another caretaker. I had the opportunity to meditate in the cave. After we came back to our resort, we met a few interesting people. They had come from various parts of the world (Russia, Australia, Delhi, Mumbai etc) and decided to settle down in Rishikesh The next couple of days were spent in their company. Day 13 – 9th April A few more pics of Rishikesh before we took our respective flights back the next morning Day 14 – 10th April The day I didn’t want to come. Amar and I had to return back to Hyderabad and Port Blair respectively. We had an early flight and had to pack up and leave by 7 am. We had our flight from Dehradhun to Delhi at 11 and from there we would split The End: Thus, a memorable trip comes to an end. We carry several memories, emotions and experiences with us. As the lyrics of the song ‘The End by The Doors’ goes Hope to make to the mountains every year.
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