Travel tales from those bitten by wanderlust. Hills, high meadows, treks – these seasoned travellers swear by the pristine nature of the places they’ve been to.Meesapulimala
Where: Idduki district, Kerala
How to go: Accessible from Munnar, which is about 10 hours by bus from Bengaluru
When to go: All year round
(Photo: Siddharth Tanti)
Okay, facts first: Meesapulimala is the second highest peak in south India. Now chew on this: At 2,640 metres (8,661 feet), it is the second highest point in India, after the Himalaya-Karakoram mountain range. You need to be willing to walk, and have a penchant for adventure to visit it.
And now, the trip and the experience: five friends set out one November, to see what this ‘second highest peak in South India’ looks like. Back at that time, we had already scaled a couple of southern Indian peaks.
Fast forward to Munnar, a place popular with ‘vacation crowds’ that gather here to drink some ‘masala chai’ and feel the wind blow through their hair.
Too crowded to handle, we escape the rush, jump into a rather big auto rickshaw, that takes us to the starting point of the trek, about 26km outside town. The base camp is a forest rest camp run by Kerala Tourism, with a few tents and a friendly cook, and our guide Muthu. Night rolls in, there’s much laughter, tales are traded, and slowly sleep comes over us.
Next morning, we are told we should be at the top within four hours. After walking for about an hour, through forest meadows and springs, we come to a small camping ground in the middle of the forest called “Rhodo Valley” – and yes, it has rhododendrons and pine trees.
As we climb up, we go through wide, undulating meadows and grasslands strongly reminiscent of the Alpine meadows or ‘bugiyals’ of the Himalayas up north. As we slowly segue into the landscape, we seem to become inconsequential dots in this vast tapestry of wilderness.
Three hours we trek, up and down, through clouds, and chest-high grass, going up the Meesapulimala ridge, which rises steeply towards the peak. When we finally reach the top, the view reminds me of Ladakh’s vistas. Below, there’s Kerala on one side, and Tamil Nadu on the other.
— Siddharth Tanti
Where: Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand
How: Taxi/Bus from Nainital or Almora
When to go: March to June, ideally
(Photo: Salim Islam)
You’ll find Munsiyari/Munsyari where the road ends towards the north-east of the Kumaon region in Uttarakhand, and the trail for some mighty treks across glaciers begins.
It’s a two-day drive from Delhi, and the route takes you through Moradabad, Rampur, Haldwani, Bhimtal, Almora, Kausani and Chaukori. One can either take a night halt at Kausani or Chaukori. From Kausani, you get a clear view of majestic peaks such as Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Panchchuli. No wonder, Mahatma Gandhi described it as the “Switzerland of India!”
Once you reach Munsiyari, the Panchchuli peaks stand tall in front of you. They are grand and imposing. They grow on you. The best part of my trip was sitting and enjoying the beauty of Panchchuli during daybreak when the sun rises behind the soaring peaks, and also during sunset when they are bathed in a soft warm red glow.
There is a lot to do and see around Munsiyari for both the adventure enthusiast and someone who is just looking for a bit of peace and tranquility. If one doesn’t want to do a strenuous trek like the Milam glacier trek, the Khuliya Top hike is a good option in the region which goes through pine forests and offers a panoramic view of the Panchchuli peaks.
You can also visit Madkote village and have a bath at the hot springs which leave a pleasant, if slightly greasy after-effect – it’s been known to cure skin diseases. And yes, a short hike to the Birthi waterfall nearby to feel the mist on your face is an experience not to be missed!
— Salim Islam
Where: North of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh
How: Take a bus from Mandi, but check timings before you leave. Taxis can also be hired
When to go: Round the year except monsoon. Expect snow in the winter months
(Photo: Cheena Kapoor)
For those of you who wish to climb the high mountains this summer without breaking your banks, Prashar Lake in Himachal Pradesh is an ideal spot. It’s a well-kept secret of the state and offers stunning 180-degree views of the Dhauladhar Range.
The lake is named after Prashar Muni, who is said to have meditated here, and has a pagoda-like 13th century temple at its edge, dedicated to the sage.
I took an overnight HRTC bus from Delhi to Mandi and reached the next day around 8am. After breakfast, we started for Prashar at 10am in our friend’s car, but cabs and buses are also available. After several stops to take pictures, we reached the area around 2pm. Because of fresh snowfall the night before, we stopped two km before the lake and trekked onwards.
This place is ideal for those looking to escape the crowds. We walked around the area for some time, visited the temple, had a quick meal at the stall near the lake and waited for the sun to set – I saw the most beautiful sunset here (the lake remains frozen until March-end).
After sunset we went to the Forest Guest House where we had already made our bookings. The caretaker helped us build a bonfire outside the guesthouse; we roasted potatoes in it while he brought us rajma-chawal (if you haven’t made any bookings in advance, temple authorities have extra dormitories to accommodate visitors. They do not provide mattresses or beds, and you have to lie down on the carpeted floor, but they do provide blankets at a minimal cost of Rs 40).
After a comfortable sleep, we got up early to go see the sunrise in the beautiful Dhauladhar range, but because of a snowstorm, stayed inside. But the sunset on the Dhauladhar is etched in my memory forever.
— Cheena Kapoor
Where: Approximately 150 km from Mumbai
How: Accessible by road from Panvel, Karjat and Pune (130 km approx); lies off the Mumbai–Pune Expressway
When To Go: Monsoon (July – September)
A fort deserves to be conquered, doesn’t it? So here’s the right way to do it (the one that will feel right at least): get your hiking gear on, stretch your legs, straighten your backs and begin climbing the 1470-something steps to the top of the Raigad fort.
Along the way, you will realise what it feels like to breathe in clean, cool air; you will be stunned by the 50 shades of green surrounding the fort in the middle of the monsoon (the view is pretty breathtaking even in off season because there’s a 1.5km wide valley on one side and tall peaks on the other) and finally there’s a sense of victory that is unparalleled when you finish the climb.
The option might sound equally exciting to some, because it involves a ropeway. You ascend 600 metres to the top of the fort with your limbs intact and your energy levels retained.
The main attraction of Raigad district, the Raigad fort was the capital of Maratha leader Shivaji’s empire. One of the reasons he made it his capital was that it was inaccessible from three sides, leaving it shielded from the enemies.
The attractions within the fort include a large water reservoir, a room where they minted coins and the resting place of the leader himself. There are many attractions like the Varsoli beach on the Konkan coast, the Kondana caves, Torna dam and Bhatghar lake a few hours away.
— Nihit Bhave
Also go to...
60km from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Love the queen of hill stations but want to escape the mad rush of tourists that Shimla attracts every summer? Narkanda will let you do exactly that. Offering spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, dense forests and apple orchards, this little town that turns into a ski resort in the winter is perfect for a quick summer retreat. You can hike up to Hatu peak or even drive down to Shimla for a lazy stroll along the Mall Road.Naukuchiatal
26km from Nainital, Uttarakhand
This small hill station between Bhimtal and Nainital has a picturesque lake with nine corners (hence, the name). Naukuchiatal has a couple of sprawling resorts with luxurious cottages overlooking the lake that offer a perfect relaxing atmosphere to beat the heat. Spend an afternoon by taking a leisurely boat ride on the lake or drive to the other lake destinations around, like Nainital and Sattal.
35km from Dehradun, Uttarakhand
A quiet little cantonment town nestled in the lap of dense deodar forests, Landour is a Raj-era hill station and is the twin town to Mussoorie. It is home to Ruskin Bond, and is also known for its home-made cheeses and wood-fire pizzas.
— Satarupa Paul
15km from Lonavala, Maharashtra
You can get to Rajmachi fort (built in 1657) through two treks – the hard one includes a climb of 2,000 feet from Kondivade, near Karjat, and the simple way is to just walk 15km from Lonavala. But both lead to magnificent views that accompany the two citadels (Shrivardhan and Manaranjan) that overlook waterfalls and the lush green forests of the Sahyadri mountains.
The ramparts of the fort are ideal for discussing life as you take in the view of the Bor Ghat, which was once a trade route between Mumbai and Pune. It’s got religious flavour too. You can either check out the temple of Kal Bhairava, the local deity, or the Buddhist caves, dated around 200 BC.
24km from Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra
In the monsoons, this fort wears a very menacing but come-explore-or-get-lost-in-me look, as the dark clouds and fog hang over it. Built by Shivaji in 1656, who defeated Afzal Khan, the commander of the Bijapur Sultanate, here, the fort is perched 1,080 metres above sea level on a hill and is flanked by steep drops.
It also has breathtaking views of the Konkan Coast. The history lover can dwell over the fact that they say Afzal Khan’s head is buried under the road that approaches the fort. For the nature lover, there are beautiful ponds to stare into and long, dark paths full of greenery to amble along.
— Nihit Bhave
About 130km from Pune, Maharashtra
A mountain pass, part of the Western Ghats, Malshej Ghat has a stunning range of flora and fauna. A great spot for birders as a host of Siberian migratory birds fly in between July and September. If you’re lucky you can even witness the dance of flamingoes! For the more enterprising, Shivneri Fort (the birthplace of Chhatrapati Shivaji) is not very far off from here.
Also read:Travelling down the road not often taken
From HT Brunch, June 14
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch