11 nights in Ladakh: Places to visit

What’s the magic word? Julley! Ladakhis say ‘Julley’ to express ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Thank you’ and it’s that one word that helps create a bond between two strangers in this mysterious land. A paradise on earth for mountain lovers, Ladakh is located at the crossroads of many civilizations mainly inhabited by Indo-aryans and Tibetans. Due to its fragile location in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian military has a prominent presence and maintains a symbiotic relationship with the locals.

Ladakh is surrounded by the majestic snow-capped Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges amidst several sightings of melting glacier water flowing into streams and beautiful monasteries.

  • Hotel Dragon

Pangong Tso

Super windy, Pangong Tso is a beautiful lake, only a part of which is situated in Ladakh. The lake is at a height of 14,270 ft and is 134 km long, 60% of which extends to China. Enroute to Pangong, we crossed Chang la, a high mountain Pass situated at 17,590 feet. People crossing this area are expected to experience shortness of breathe and are therefore advised to take diamox before the onset of their journey to Ladakh. Thankfully, a small army unit located here readily helps passersby by checking their vitals.

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    Enroute Pangong Lake, just the most beautiful view of wild horses in the valley.

Finally, we reached Pangong Tso after 6 hours of tough terrain, low oxygen levels leading to two stops at army camps and constant headache. Was it worth it? I’ve always believed we’re on the planet to appreciate nature. And to be in the presence of the majestic mountains around Pangong Tso was only possible after nature tested our bodies and patience.

Tso Moriri

This was one of the most memorable road trips in Ladakh. A truly amazing, picturesque view after view, mountain after mountain. Landscapes change with every turn, we were able to see Ladakhi wildlife. The list included Kiang (Tibetan wild ass), Marmot (large squirrels), Yaks, herds of sheep and even wild fox. Don’t forget to take a ton of sunscreen for Tso Moriri is at a height of 14,836 feet.

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    The most picturesque view enroute Tso Moriri aka Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve

Khardung La Pass, Nubra Valley, Siachin Glacier

To reach Nubra Valley, travelers have to cross Khardung la pass which is at a height of 17,582 feet. Similar health problems to that felt in Chang la pass can be seen in travelers here. Like the rest of Ladakhi area, Nubra is known as a high altitude cold desert.

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    Khardungla Top!

I was fortunate enough to see the Siachin Base Camp. This is the second largest glacier and is manned by the Indian Army. Infamous for its territorial dispute, Pakistan has previously tried to take advantage of the ambiguity. Through operation Meghdoot, the Indian army took charge of the key bases around this area in 1984. This move has been the most courageous act by the Indian army in the highest battlefield of the world.

Have a look at a few snippets of my trip.

Side note: On 20th May, we headed to Nubra Valley, Ladakh, one of the stops on our trip. In Hunder, we witnessed the double humped camels being abused by their “caretakers”. This was done by: Using the camels to make money from tourists. Camels were controlled through ropes piercing their nose. These ropes were tugged on… Read more, view the video of the camels, and PLEASE sign the petition. These animals DO NOT have a voice, please give 2 minutes of your time to bring this inhumane treatment of these camels to light.

Dunagiri – The Land of Mysterious Mountains

On a recent trip we went to Dunagiri  (also called Drongiri and Doonagiri) to a place called Dunagiri Retreat which is at an astounding height of 8,000 feet surrounded by lush forest overlooking scenic snow peaks. Its situated 400 km North of Delhi,  and it takes about 10-11 hours to reach.

The retreat offers organic vegetarian food, fireside dining, inspiring walks and treks to the nearby mountains, and modern bathroom facilities in the middle of nowhere. It truly is an amazing location, with a beautiful view.

When we met the owner of the retreat, it was revealed to us that the place was famous for its temple of Shakti known there as Dunagiri Devi. Apparently, this location is where “Bharat”,  the son of Shakuntala, was born. The mountains were said to have special energy.

In one of our conversations with the owner, we shared that almost every night we randomly woke up between 3 and 4 AM, which he found to be normal since that was the time “Mata ki chowki” landed on the adjacent mountains.  On one of two days I spent there, I even stumbled upon a medium-sized snake, and when we shared this with the owner, to my surprise he found it rather odd. Why? Because he has been living there for years and never once saw a snake in his campus. Weird, right?

Here are a few pictures from my trip. (all self clicked, some edited via snapseed app)

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I got really tired after a trek
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Dunagiri retreat
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A common sight, clouds envelope the mountains

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China: All Work No Play?

I’m not going to lie. I’m biased towards China. The country where I learnt my first foreign language is truly my second home. It’s no surprise that China is one of the top most frequently visited destinations among travelers either for work or pleasure. The country offers everything- exotic locations to never-heard-before delicious cuisine.

Studying in China I assumed there were more Russians but according to the latest Expat Insider 2014 – the InterNations Survey, you’ll find more Americans, Germans and British people as compared to any other nationality.

While the language remains a huge barrier, except some of the locations where the number of expats is high, the rest of China is either reluctant to accept foreigners or it simply does not want anything to do with them. I don’t entirely blame them, there have been a number of cases where rowdy expats have upset the locals or when, in contrast, fanatic Chinese natives find it extremely hard to adjust to “aliens”. So, it’s not shocking that China falls in 52nd place out of 60 when it comes to judging it on the basis of “Ease of settling” into the country.

When it comes to cost of living, China isn’t so bad. This fact in itself is reason enough as to why many expats decide to move here in the first place. But because of factors like “family life” and “quality of life”, China finds itself on the 38th position out of 61 in the overall index ranking. Not everyone has a fairytale love story like Sara Jaaksola.

To be able to find love in China, get married, gel with the in-laws seems tough- all thanks to respective cultures which stand poles apart. My best friend from Beijing, a Hungarian who recently married a Chinese, is proof enough to conclude- your nationality or not, a mother-in-law stays a mother-in-law.

If you find the numbers I mentioned in this article interesting, do find time to check out the rest of the InterNation Survey 2014.

Thanks for reading! Share if you like it!

image source: flickr/sunlightfoundation

Do the Chinese really eat insects?

This is to answer that one question you always had about the Chinese. Do they really eat insects? Let’s find out.

Even though eating insects is a taboo in most societies, it dates back thousands of years. Not only do the Chinese but a lot of south Asian countries like Korea and Thailand including other parts of the world like North, Central, South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand enjoy ingesting insects.

I come from a culture where we more or less kill insects to protect ourselves and not because we want to eat them. It’s a cultural difference and perspective that’s hard to step away from.

While researching on the consumption of insects or entomophagy, it came to me as a surprise that the main consumers for these creepy guys  are in Thailand and not China. Grasshoppers, centipedes, various bug larvae, silkworms, multiple creepy giant cockroach lookalikes fall into the list of bugs humans consume.

Other unusual food consumed includes seahorses, scorpions, even animal body parts like snakehead soup, duck feet marinated in blood, solidified duck blood, pork lungs, peacock and pig face. Banquet specialties include cow’s lung soaked in chili sauce, goose stomachs, fish lips with celery, goat’s feet tendons in wheat noodles, shark’s stomach soup, chicken-feet soup, monkey’s head, ox forehead, turtle casserole, pigeon brain, deer ligament and snake venom, lily bulbs and deer’s penis… no, no typo, penis.

What came as a bigger shock was that even though people blame the rapid rate of urbanization and industrialization for China’s pollution problems and water shortages, few recognize that meat industries are to be equally blamed. Livestock produces more greenhouse gasses on the planet than all automobiles and other forms of transportation combined.

China’s meat consumption per capita has nearly quadrupled over the past 30 years to an estimated 71 million tons per year. And if China’s meat consumption doesn’t slow down, the environmental consequences could be disastrous.

So is there anything in the world that can gross the Chinese?

Believe it or not, many regard eating cheese or butter as disgusting; they consider eating a plain cooked steak as primitive and unappetizing and find the French custom of eating snails to be strange.

[Images from Flickr][sources: http://factsanddetails.com]

Welcome To Haze-ing

Beijing is one of the most famous cities in the world but unfortunately also infamous for its unhealthy pollution levels. The city has been trying to clear its act up especially since the Olympics, which was an important time for China’s image as a host country.

A short back-story: In preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics and to fulfill promises to clean up the city’s air, according to the Wikipedia, nearly 17 billion USD was spent. Beijing implemented a number of air improvement schemes for the duration of the Games, including halting work at all construction sites, closing many factories in Beijing permanently, temporarily shutting industry in neighboring regions, closing some gas stations, and cutting motor traffic by half, reducing bus and subway fares, opening new subway lines, and banning high-emission vehicles.

But more recently in January 2013, measurements showed levels of air pollution, as measured by the density of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in size – higher than the maximum 755mcg the US Embassy’s equipment can measure (40 times above what the World Health Organization deems safe). You can see the Air pollution measurements on the Chinese website as well.

What’s more?

It is of no secret that the government regularly uses cloud-seeding- a method to increase the likelihood of rain showers in the region to clear the air prior to large events by altering the microphysical processes within the cloud (read: every Sunday).

People that come here from all over the world experience difficulty in breathing, skin conditions, hair-fall issues, teary eyes, and so on. Living in Beijing comes with getting used to air purifiers, mouth masks, and waking up to smoggy and hence, very gloomy mornings. The intensity of this situation is so serious that even wealthy locals are planning to move to other countries like the United States and Europe, after acquiring the respective country’s citizenship.

Meanwhile, there are several ways to keep yourself informed of the Beijing Air quality; not only through websites but even twitter, mobile apps, even calling the local authority. All we can hope for is that Beijing sets more rigid rules in the future that limit factories and vehicles from contributing to the hazardous pollution level not only in Beijing but throughout China, for the betterment of the locals along with the rest of us.

Also Check out: China’s Smog As Seen From Space.

The Next Best 7 Wonders of Beijing

This post is in response to the article on the 7 Wonders of Beijing.

Blue sky days, Mc Donalds delivery, Taobao and Ayis, are few of the seven wonders that the author mentions in his article on thebeijinger. Well, here is the list of the next best 7 Wonders of Beijing.

1. Pyro Pizza

Like all good things, this amazing pizza place, is located in the Wudaokuo district. Offering the most amazing pepperoni pizza, and the most exciting menu, Pyro also delivers right to your door step. Celebrations or no celebrations, good times call for some Pyro!

2. BLCU/BFSU

These two universities are among the most famous universities for foreigners. Located in the Haidian district, majority of foreigners that come to Beijing to study get enrolled here for their bachelors and even language courses. Having studied in BLCU, I have got to say, the sort of university life I’ve enjoyed for one year- learning mandarin, travelling around China, meeting new people and making new friends in addition to my favorite – numerous conversations with the taxi drivers, the ride has been amazing.

3. National Holidays

The Chinese work hard, play harder. The few days they get off they spend travelling around and even out of the country. Unfortunately, I had to travel these national holidays and had the (unlucky) chance to be one of the millions travelling around the same time. For more on that, click here.

4. CCTV 6

The first day I moved in Chaoyang, I happened to browse through the Chinese channels and TO MY SURPRISE, I bumped into CCTV 6 playing “Kites”, a Bollywood movie featuring Hrithik Roshan. CCTV 6, the movies channel does rescue you sometimes even if it’s with some funny and interesting Chinese movies.

5. Roller-blades

Trolling around the city, I have come across people on roller-blades more than once. Enjoying the wind and the crowd behind you, roller-blades are not a bad idea moving through this busy city.

6. The Alien Market, Russian District

After moving to the Chaoyang district, here in Chaoyangmen, I live 5 minutes away from The Alien Market a.k.a The Russian district. Along with the huge shopping malls, there are a bunch of posh Russian restaurants also located here.

7. Thebeijinger

This is one website that might as well be introduced to you as soon as you land Beijing. Including everything from housing, personals, jobs, etc., under classifieds, it offers very interesting blogs as well as the most happening events around the city along with reviews of all the top restaurants the city has to offer.

Living in Haidian vs. Living in Chaoyang

A First-hand Experience into moving & living in Major Urban Districts: Haidian and Chaoyang in Beijing, China

Beijing is spread across 16,801 km² with a population over 20.18 million (20122 census). The vast size and the constant economic growth of this city are a vital part to what foreigners are attracted to and the possible reason they promptly leave the life they were living in their own country and move here in the City of the East.
Beijing Municipality currently comprises 16 administrative county-level subdivisions. But in this post, I am only going to be focusing on the districts located at the center of the city and moving from one end to another. In the heart of hearts, lies Xicheng and Dongcheng. Moving further away, between the 2nd and 5th ring road, lie the major Urban Districts: Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan.
The central part of Haidian’s economy is the Zhongguancun electronics district, which hosts the Beijing offices of many software and computer technology companies. Whereas, Chaoyang is home to the majority of Beijing’s many foreign embassies, the well-known Sanlitun bar street, as well as Beijing’s growing CBD.
Having lived a major part of my time in Haidian, an educational district, with the majority of universities located here, it is definitely going to be a change to be moving to the Chaoyang district, to be more precise- Chaoyangmen. The Chaoyang Gate (the Gate Facing the Sun) was the main gate of the East City. The gate was demolished, along with the walls and moat of the East City in the 1950s and replaced with the 2nd Ring Road where the moat and walls had been.

 

One observation that cannot be ignored is that Haidian is more relaxed than the ever-busy Chaoyang. I am most certainly 2 minutes walking distance from Starbucks which, just by the way, I regard as a complete hype for absolutely no reason at all. I’ve tasted better coffee, better food in the most local of the local places. That is my one line review of the God-knows-why-famous Starbucks. In Chaoyangmen I live right across what seems to be the Russian District. There are numerous cafes, shopping malls all Russian. There are plenty of foreigners on this side of the city. H&M, Suning, U-town, Walmart, Costa coffee, Mc Donalds and even Burger King join the list of places within 5 minutes from where I live on Chao wai nan lu.
A walk on the Chaowainanlu, and the Russian malls are all around this place, also a very interesting find is the lack of Chinese restaurants and a bunch of stores selling fox skin. It was shocking to see the amount of skin people had outside their stores, very casually just counting the number of dead animal fur.

Although this Business District is suppose to impress, it fails to do so as compared to the Haidian soul. Good inexpensive chinese food is hard to find, and this is a vital point to focus on as is good housing, places promoting themselves for students. A good location is mostly all that matters, not only does the apartment count, but don’t forget to also look carefully around the locality you choose to live in Beijing.