Saturday, 15 June 2013

Tips on Trekking in the Shivalik Hills

If you've ever wanted to trek the Himalayas, a good place to start is in the Shivalik Hills, which is a mountain range of the outer Himalayas.  The treks in this area range from easy to moderate+ and are a good way to assess if mountain trekking is right for you.  As with any new venture, it helps to be prepared.  With that in mind, we have a few tips!

Know before you go – read up on the climate and terrain, and look at a good map.  You’ll want to trek when the weather is cooperative and you’ll need to know what challenges the terrain might have in store.

Go with the best – hire a reliable guide.  An experienced guide will make the trek safer and more enjoyable. 

Shape up – the Shivalik Hills may not be as challenging as Mount Everest, but they still demand a certain level of physical fitness.  A good way to get in shape is to walk up and down stairs a few times each day.   This will improve your cardiovascular system, as well as strengthen your legs and back. 

Carry what you need – if you’re going on a short trek, you don’t want to weigh yourself down with a heavy backpack.  You’ll need plenty of water, of course, a packed lunch, and some granola bars or dried fruits and nuts.  If you’re going on a longer trek, consider hiring someone to carry your tent, sleeping bag and cooking utensils. 

Be prepared – have a well stocked First Aid kit.  You should carry bandages and/or gauze pads and adhesive tape; disinfectant cream; insect repellent; pain reliever; anti-inflammatory; antibiotics and a thermometer.  Make sure you've got sun block and a hat, and wear sunglasses.

Break in your footwear – whether you prefer hiking boots or sandals, wear them a few times before you start trekking.  It’s hard to appreciate the beauties of nature when you’re plagued with blisters.  Some experts suggest wearing two pairs of socks to prevent blisters from forming – a thin liner on the inside and a thicker sock worn over it.  The thinner socks will absorb sweat and can be rinsed out every night because they’ll dry more quickly than the thicker ones will.

There you have it!  With a little preparation, you can happily trek the Shivalik Hills and enjoy the wonders of nature.  And who knows – it may inspire you to scale greater heights!

At Himalayan Hideaway, we’re happy to help organise the perfect trek for you.  For more details, contact our Delhi office (Phone: +91-11-26852602, 26968169, and e-mail:;

Tags: Himalayan Hideaway, Himalayas, trekking, Shivalik Hills

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Tracing the Mahabharata in Uttarakhand

There are two epic sagas of ancient India that almost everyone is familiar with – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  It’s hard to reduce either great story to a single line, but the Ramayana is basically the trials and tribulations of Lord Rama, who overcomes a scheming stepmother and assorted obstacles in his quest to be rightfully recognised as king. Meanwhile, the Mahabharata is the story of the five Pandava brothers and their long and bloody family feud with the Kauravas. Needless to say, both stories have a phenomenal cast of characters, including gods, demons, humans and animals, and employ more plot twists than you can shake a stick at.

It’s not surprising, then, that when you travel across India, you’ll find several places where events from these great sagas took place. Part of the Ramayana takes place in Ayodhya in north India and there’s a crucial episode in what is now Sri Lanka.  In the Mahabharata, the main action takes place across north India, more or less between Delhi and the foothills of the Himalayas.

If you want to see where Kurukshetra, the battle to end all battles in the Mahabharata took place, you can find it in Haryana. Purana Qila in Delhi supposedly stands where Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas, was located.

Mahabharata in Garhwal

In the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, where Himalayan Hideaway is located, the Mahabharata is hugely important. The Garhwali people consider themselves to be descended from the Pandavas, the good guys, more or less, of the saga. Do the Kauravas, the villains of the story, have any fans there?

Oddly enough, they do! In the Tons River basin in the western area of Garhwal, near the border with Himachal Pradesh, you’ll find people who worship Karna, a tragic figure associated with defeat and death, and Duryodhana, a symbol of evil. In fact, local legend has it that Duryodhana was not killed at Kurukshetra and fled for his life to the Tons basin area. As for why he is worshipped, well, it has less to do with his unattractive traits and more to do with his power.  As a being powerful enough to bring or withhold rain, Duryodhana is important for the local farmers.

The Mahabharata lives on in the pandav lila, a local tradition of a ritual performance of some of the more martial episodes of the story. And we say ‘ritual drama’ because this is more than a folk drama – the performances are meant to please the gods and ensure that the crops grow, peace and prosperity prevail and disease and misfortune are averted. For nine nights, villagers across Garhwal sing, act and dance the stories that they know by heart.

Visit scenes from the Mahabharata with us

Himalayan River Runners, Himalayan Hideaway’s sister company, operates a camp on the Tons River between April and June every year. In addition, we organise many treks into the area mentioned in the Mahabharata, including a walk to the Duryodhana temple. We can also take you to Har Ki Dun, which has the Swargarohini mountain, the point where the Pandavas ascended into the heavens, as its backdrop.

If you haven’t read the Mahabharata yet, we highly recommend it. Not only is it a fabulous story of good vs. evil, the characters and episodes resonate today across India. There are any number of versions around, some longer than others, and there are also TV adaptations for those who prefer seeing the action instead of reading about it!

 Photo:  18th-19th century carpet showing Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, Mahabharata
(This image is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired)

For information about treks to Mahabharata sites in the Himalayas, please contact our Delhi office:
Phone: +91-11-26852602, 26968169

Tags:  Mahabharata, Himalayan Hideaway, Krishna and Arjun, Uttarakhand, Tons basin, Garhwal, Pandavas, Kurukshetra, Duryodhana, pandav lila, Himalayan River Runners, tons River

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Kachnar Tree: A Botanical Gem in Himalayan Hideaway’s Garden

If you wander through Himalayan Hideaway’s garden of native plants, you’ll find a number of shrubs and trees that not only play vital roles in the local ecology but also have a rich variety of medicinal, culinary and other uses.

One of the most striking is kachnar (Bauhinia variegata), a small to medium-sized flowering tree in the pea family found right across Southeast Asia, from southern China to India and Pakistan. Its twin-lobed leaves look just like a camel’s foot-print, giving it one of its evocative common names – ‘camel's foot tree’. Other attractive names are the ‘orchid tree’ and ‘mountain-ebony’.

In the dry season, usually between March and April, kachnar sheds its leaves and stunning flowers begin to appear on the upper branches. But flowering times differ according to the local micro-climate, starting as early as January and going on until May in some places. Sweetly scented, the waxy blooms vary from white to purple (depending on the variety) and are an irresistible magnet for birds and insects, which come to feast on the bounty.

Around Himalayan Hideaway you are likely to see both the purple and crimson sunbirds enjoying the rich nectar supply. The relationship between sunbirds and kachnar were highlighted in painful lines written by a poet grieving for his father:

“My father sleep on/after the pain and/ Burning canker.../ The kachnar tree blooms/Again and the little/Sunbirds come to seek pollen/but you come only in dreams/Graves do not speak/nor do kachnar flowers talk/That's the damn irony!”

However, the sunbirds never have the kachnar blossoms to themselves. The flowers are just too delicious! Orange-bellied leaf birds arrive to eat the petals and drink at the ‘nectar bar’; black bulbuls also feast on the flowers; and the flower-peckers (both thick-billed and fire-breasted) are lured both by the sweet nectar and the insects that swarm over the tree.
Uses for kachnar

From the bark to the buds, this tree has an astonishing range of uses. Its wood is quite hard and suitable for making agricultural implements. From the trunk comes a gum that swells in water and the astringent bark can be used in dyeing and tanning. The twin-lobed leaves provide nutritious fodder and are sometimes used to make beedis. In India and Pakistan, the flowers and buds are used in curries, usually combined with chicken, yogurt and spices.

In addition, the root, flowers and bark have a number of roles in traditional medicine (although we do caution you to consult with an expert before distilling your own potions!). Herbal practitioners use kachnar to combat asthma and ulcers while the buds and roots are good for digestive problems.

Tags: Himalayan Hideaway, traditional medicine, medicinal plants, herbal medicines, kachnar, sunbirds, camel foot, orchid tree, mountain ebony, Bauhinia variegate, Orange-bellied leaf birds, flower-peckers, purple sunbirds, crimson sunbirds, trees, pea family, himalayas