September 18th, 2008

Triund: Beyond the seventh heaven

Triund happens suddenly. One moment you puffing up a steep, rocky path with only a mountain wall to your left and a forested valley to the right to be seen. And then, with one last step where the path takes a sharp turn, you are upon a green meadow at 2842.26 metres (9326 ft) above sea level, surrounded by snow capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range, all seemingly an arm’s length away.

And when you step into Triund, there is no option but to pause. Partly to catch your breath, and mostly to absorb what is clearly a breathtaking sight. If there is a seventh heaven, you can be sure you have left even that behind. The feeling is one of being on top of the world, surrounded by a ranges even higher than where you stand.

The only way to reach Triund is after a 9-kilometer, 4-hour trek from Mcleodganj (home to the Dalai Lama, situated in the north Indian Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh) or a 7-km one from Galu Devi Temple in Dharamkot (which you can reach by road and save yourself an hour of trekking). There is an option of going on horseback, but I did not see anyone exercising this option while I was there. A plan to connect Triund by cable car was launched with the usual political fanfare a few years ago, but that was the last one heard of it. Locals are only too glad for it; you would not want to go to Triund for reasons mentioned here once the picknickers take over.

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A Sanctuary for Donkeys in Leh

Donkeys (and their cousins asses and mules) are almost as ubiquitous in India as are cows and dogs. And subjects of hard labour and scorn in equal measure. But not even in one’s wildest imagination could one think of a sanctuary for them. It turned out there is one, and in Leh town in Ladakh of all the places. This was the first attraction to catch my attention when I reached this town – and not any monastery or palace this region is more known for.

When I first saw a sign for the sanctuary – created very artistically – I could not believe what I was seeing. I decided to follow my curiosity, but it only led me to a series of more signs till I nearly out of town. I was beginning to wonder if someone was making an ‘ass’ out of me. But eventually I did find it just off the road leading to Khardungla Pass (the highest motorable road in the world at 18,380 feet).

Friendly signs greeted me – I have never seen so much respect for these animals – at the sanctuary, looked after by caretaker Padma Dorje. He told me the same was opened to public only in the first week of July 2008 (that’s a few days before I paid a visit) and is primarily funded by a South African photojournalist Joanne Lefson; the local affairs are looked after by Stany Wangchuk, who works with a travel company. Permission from the local officials to open this sanctuary was received only a short while before it was opened.

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