29 March 2014

Hollyhock or Alcea: What an Enchanting Beauty!

Alcea or most commonly known as Hollyhocks are ornamental plants that grow as tall as 11 feet. You may notice that the flowers look like Hibiscus or Gumamela as it is called in Philippines, although its pistil is longer than Alcea. And you are right! Alcea flowers look like Hibiscus flowers because they belong to the same family, mallow family Malvaceae.

Most varieties are biennials - they grow foliage the first year, flower the second then die. Good thing though is that they seed every year and these seeds grow wherever they fall that easily. We just got a few seedlings and seeds yesterday, planted them and hope to see them grow come early winter and blossom early spring next year.

~ Inside these round, purse-like holder are hollyhock seeds (flat coin-shaped) that seem to grow wherever they fall ~

The flowers open from the bottom to the top of the spike throughout summer. No wonder they grow as tall as 11 feet! Interesting huh! They are best planted along the fences or places where they can get natural support. They need support! A giant flower plant like this need support huh...interesting indeed!

Color variations include dark purple, red, white, pink or peach and other color combination of any of these.

Hollyhocks are now one of my favorites! But I believe I like all flowers...hmmm!

Loqai-qai: Black Cat, Bad Luck? Ridiculous!

We sighted this adorable black cat for the first time at Gauchar market. We asked around about his identity and so when we learned who the owner was we approached him and told him about our intention of taking him home with us. During our conversation, we found out that he's got two other siblings and were already taken for adoption. When we asked why nobody has taken this black one, the owner said "People think around here that black  cats bring bad luck." Toink! Same everywhere huh? Poor one, being accused of a ridiculous, superstitious claim that is only due to a recessive gene. The owner was quite happy though that we were the people who are going to take care of him. Maybe he was able to make out our love for animals and that he knew we would take care of his black cat.

So we took him home. I named him Loqi, which sometimes becomes Loqai-qai. On his first night with us, he ran away. We believed that he tried to go back to his birth place. What happened was, he maybe wanted to pee or loo and no matter how we tried to make him do in our bathroom/toilet itself, he wouldn't (obviously because he's not used to it). My mistake! I should have gathered mud that afternoon and made arrangement for him, he's a new cat after all. So, we decided to let him out, with our company of course hoping he would just sit on the mud outside and do. Well, what can you expect? He didn't do! Instead, he ran so fast that none of us could catch him. We thought we've lost him on his first day forever. He didn't come back that night! 

~ Loqi joins me in Animal Behavior class at Coursera ~
But he did come back! At around 9 in the morning the following day, I saw, from our kitchen window, for I was washing fruits that time, one of our semi-feral kittens, Cee-cee, coming from the other building then followed by Loqi. Wow! You should experience the feelings I felt that time. I was overjoyed. Haha! He's back!  Loqi's home! I shouted. And so Loqai-qai's story continues!

Loqi is quite famous around here (the only black cat in this small town? I suppose so!). In fact, he has become so famous that he has had quite a few fights with a dominant tom around here. Lol! Right now, his right hind leg has two healing wounds. It would have been better if he and our other cats are made homebound but how can we take their freedom away? It would be heart-wretching sight watching them watching outside imagining how great it would be to be outdoors because they really seem to love it out, playing, rolling on the dry mud, watching birds, chasing little insects (poor insects, too), bringing home chicken wings or half-dead rats (oh, nature!), being chased after by some idiot kids around here, and sometimes, some being chased by some visiting dogs in the area that have eyes on them, too. Hopefully, the Maree incident won't happen to them. 

~ Loqai-qai: an acrobat in the making ~
Right now, he's around 10 months old and has won the "Mr. Congeniality" award for he's very friendly to other cats. He still holds the title, though. 
Though he used to go missing for two days, he would re-appear after that mostly early morning and joins us in bed. When hanging clothes at the rooftop, he used to come and while going back down he used to lead the way but waits for me. Amazing creatures!

28 March 2014

Pokhari-Nagnath - Chamoli District

Pokhari-Nagnath is around 29 kilometers from Karnaprayag. From this busy town, it is through the left if you come from Rishikesh, crossing a bridge and the climb starts. Nagnath is attached to it because it is a small town commonly known for Government Inter-College, Nagnath, which is slightly visible in this picture. Some government establishements present here include State Bank of India (working ATM machine is available), Veterinary Office, and Community Health Center. There is no proper hotel or lodging facilities here, not even a decent restaurant, except for a few small street tea stalls and hotels.

This place is also accessible from Rudraprayag itself rather than through Karnaprayag, which is about 60 kms.

This picture was taken during our first climb to Dudkhamba Temple.

Residential houses (left picture) at Pokhari-Nagnath after a slight early morning snow as seen from CHC's garage rooftop. When we were there, we experienced a heavy snow once, then 3 or 4 more lighter ones, mostly in January and February. This year, snow came late (climate change?)
It's very breezy here. You might get scared of the sound of the wind. It's a little nice place, only that people don't care about proper garbage disposal. On the streets are cartons/boxes, plastics, and other waste items (including human excrement on the road), which really disgust any sane man who has sense of cleanliness and awareness on environmental issues.

26 March 2014

ITBP 8th Battalion Officers' Mess: Gauchar

To give you the other side (the other one is featured) of ITBP 8th Battalion, Gauchar Officers' Mess, here it is...taken from the ground when it was about winter. I haven't counted all the rooms in it but I guess there's about 10 rooms for guests of ITBP personnel's friends and families. Booking is required, of course, especially during Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib Yatra.

Only officers ranking from assistant commandant to Director General and their friends and families, and other "VIPs" are allowed to stay here. Slippers are not allowed inside so one has to wear a sandal or shoe. Crazy huh! Lol!

Some formal and informal parties are being held here from time to time like send-off party or a party of an officer who just got promoted, a party to welcome New Year. No special dishes are served during parties, though. Very rarely, depends on the cook, a few new items are made for such occasions.

If you are a guest, someone who is just passing by, a night stay will not cost you much. Rooms and foods are affordable, free even sometimes. You can also choose whether to dine in your room or at the dining hall.
~ Inside the Officers' Mess ~

25 March 2014

Gangharia: Base Point Towards the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib

Gangharia, as viewed on the way to the Valley of Flowers. To reach here, one has to trek 13 kilometers from Govindghat. This is the base point towards Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. There are transports available like a porter to carry you in his basket-like carriage; if you're too fat to walk, there is a 2 or 4-person carrier to carry you all the way; if you're in a hurry there are helicopters, too -may cost you 3 - 4 thousand for one way (going down, I heard, is cheaper); if you're too lazy walk with your feet there are ponies too for 600 -1500 per person; and of course, your two feet to carry you everywhere you want. I recommend the latter, unless you lost them.

I can't convince myself to photograph the inside of the place but to give you a description -it's horrible! As usual the hotels and shops are right next to each other. The road is very narrow and it is occupied by thousands of people and horses/ponies. All kinds of garbage are all around, on the street itself and on the sides. Pretty disgusting for a "holy" place. The prices of hotels, food and other goods are higher than the Himalayas. No kidding here. A banana that is supposed to be rs. 2 is sold here for rs. 5.  The place, like any religious destination, is kind of a business hub, if you agree.

For most people, they trek in the morning from Govindghat, spend the night in Gangharia then move at 5:30 or 6 in the morning towards Valley of Flowers or Hemkund Sahib.

Note: This photo was taken in 2011, when the businesses were still at their peak. I heard it will be open this year after the great flood of June 2013. Be ready to be looted...if you let yourself!

The Murder of the Wise

This tree is 21 years old (I really counted the rings in it). It could be as old or even older than the buildings around it. It was cut for I don't know what exact reason but if you want to hear a stupid one, here it is. It was felled because it destroyed the buildings around it. Or maybe because it gave so much shade it feels so cold in winter. Just great, huh! In my viewpoint, these buildings have occupied so much they are the ones destroying this tree and the lives that depend on it. 

To tell  the truth, this happened in my neighborhood...a place that is strategic to be hidden but with what has been done, it just exposed itself and become an easy target. Well

Not only this tree was felled, there were a few more. Bushes and grasses were removed, too. You know what's the most idiotic about this? Those bushes and grasses were removed to shoo away snakes! Well, guess what? When the forest is gone where else do you think animals go? In your own backyard! And with what happened, soil erosion is definitely imminent and trees are not the only ones to fall but the hills themselves. If only nature could choose to bury the people who have these kind of acts with it! Ahhh!

I was watching while this magnificent tree was being cut. What could have I done? Nothing! I didn't do anything! Except swearing to myself that I would never live in such a place and be surrounded with people that are apathetic and dumb, who only know how to get their asses and bellies bigger and fatter.

What could you have done?

24 March 2014

ITBP 1st Battalion Officers' Mess: Joshimath

~ ITBP 1st Battalion Officers' Mess at Joshimath ~

ITBP 1st Battalion is situated along the Joshimath - Auli road, about 3 kilometers from Joshimath proper. The battalion is built in hilly areas. One can expect to find buildings in a ladder form accessed through curvy road (like the below picture) and steps. This one is almost at the top of the ITBP area. Along with this building are residential areas for officers (Assistant Commandant grade). Below it is a small ground for physical activity. Then below it is the administrative building.

What I like in this campus is that it is covered with trees and plants aside from its curvy features - taking the steps up and down would be a great exercise. What I don't like is where it is situated. It's along the Joshimath - Auli highway which, during skiing season, could be very busy. Add to it is the entrace where one can notice a not-so-well-managed road - pretty narrow and bumpy, and a zero garbage/waste disposal - plastics all around and sewage canal is heavy with plastics, too. 

Joshimath - Badrinath Highway

 ~ Joshimath - Badrinath Highway starting at Vishnuprayag junction ~

As seen in this picture: Vishnuprayag bridge and the road towards Badrinath taken from one of the viewpoints along the curves of Joshimath - Vishnuprayag road. The road is curved mirroring the snaky features of Alakhanda river originating from the highlands of the Himalayas. It's concrete for a few kilomaters. The rest of the highway till Badrinath, starting at a few hundred meters before Govindghat is a combination of rough, rocky, and bumpy, scary road since the heavy floods took place in early June of 2013. Road re-construction is still going on.