Visiting Tourist Places in Uttarakhand with Snow Leopards Adventure
We had spent a week exploring the jungles of Madhya Pradesh, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, and Satupura, and now it’s time to move to a different adventure! We headed to another of India’s adventure capitals, Uttarakhand.
As an adventure traveler, I seek different kinds of adventures. The jungles of Madhya Pradesh gave ample excitement especially through the different safari tours I took part in. This time it’s a different kind of adventure, as I make my way to the holiest river in India, the great river Ganges.
It takes an hour flight to go from Delhi to Dehradun, which is the launching point for the drive to Camp Panther. The drive itself took around one and a half hours. The drive to the camp wasn’t supposed to be a long one, but there was some road construction along the way. Traffic was moving much slower, and we whiled away the time with some snacks on the bus, provided by our host. Since our flight landed in Dehradun at around noon, I figured we’d arrive at our destination before the sun starts setting.
Before very long we were greeted by the Snow Leopard camp which will be our base for the next 3 days. Snow Leopard here, mind you, isn’t the graceful creature of the wild but the company that will be overseeing our stay. The camp they own is one of the few permanent tents in the river banks. We immediately settled in our rooms as soon as we set foot on the camp’s snow-laden territory. I have a story a little later about this, but first let me tell you about my experience at Camp Panther.
Things to do in Camp Panther
Hiking at Shivpuri
There are lots of small and big hiking trails around the camp, and most of these passes through the villages. We had guides that walked us through these areas, and it was nice because they also served as translators so we can talk with the locals. I had already learned a little Hindi, but not really enough to carry a full conversation. I could interact a bit on my own, but our guides made things a whole lot easier.
Our own hike was pretty cool. We saw a lady planting onions, and we also saw a lot of vegetation. There were curry leaves, green chili (of course, I just had to try this!), mint, and more. The vegetation of the Uttarakhand region is so rich!
The same afternoon we arrived, we did a 2-hour hike which took us through the nearby village, terminating near the river where Snow Leopard had tea prepared for us. This was quite interesting, as then we were perfectly positioned to watch the sunset over the Ganges. And such a sunset was a sight to behold!
As darkness crept into the lush landscape, our tour leader gathered the whole group. They said that we should walk back as a group, as an added precaution. We were told we are currently in leopard territory (which explains why there are not many villagers living on this part of the river). I secretly hoped we would see one as we journeyed back, and I know I was not alone.
Sadly, we didn’t. To be honest, it was a perfectly good walk except for that one part where we had to cross a bridge to get to the other side of the river. This was as close to adventure as we could get — the bridge wasn’t sturdy at all, and it was already leaning to one side. We had to balance as we crossed. It’s not that difficult, and we all crossed safely, but it took no small feat of balance and focus. They also had to flash lights to show the right way, since it was already late.
During the crossing, I gave my phone to one of our guides. I figured that if I fell in, at least I had no phone with me. The guides were naturally more adept at crossing the bridge, as they had done this plenty of times before. Thankfully I crossed without incident.
The next day, we were again given the option to take a short walk with a view. I couldn’t blame all the other people who decided to sleep in, since we had a hectic schedule and we already had early starts the past week. Most days we were already up by 5AM. But for me, I only had today to see the sunrise so I chose to go for the walk.
We did an easy walk to a good vantage point where we saw the river Ganges from above. It was covered by a gossamer layer of morning mist, and it was quite the sight! As we made our way down, we encountered some langurs from the local fauna.
When in nature, I prefer to walk quietly. The only exception is when I am struggling in a hike, and by then I prefer to sing (it’s weird, I know, but I find that this motivates my legs to not give up on me). I use the quiet time to reflect and have some me-time. So during our walk back, I stayed a little behind from the group so I could have a few moments of solitude.
Another interesting point during this hike was when it showcased the downside of my love for colors, yet again! I had already mentioned my yellow jacket in my previous posts, which tends to attract or dismay local wildlife. I had not known this before, and sadly this is my only cold-weather jacket. So I guess, note to self, I should have done a bit more research before I went on this trip. Shishir, our guide, hollered to me when he saw me hanging back: “Don’t stay back, leopards love yellow!” Of course, I thought he was just joking. Or maybe half-joking. Or maybe now? Either way, I thought it better safe than sorry so I hurried back to stay closer to the group. It was a good walk, though, aside from this little incident.
We soon got back to the camp and had breakfast. It was a good way to exercise our legs, especially when we had a full week of sitting around in safari tours and various vehicles as we moved around India.
Ziplining over the River Ganges
After breakfast, we headed for a zipline. This is definitely one of my favorites! The zipline goes across the river Ganges, and the views are just mesmerizing. I had wanted to stop in the middle to savor the view, but the guide said that if I did that I would have to monkey my way through the rest of the line (meaning I had to pull myself through the wire). No one could help me then, even if I get tired. So forget it, I thought, and realized I could always ask for another round. After all, the line terminates in another of Snow Leopard’s camps, this one a luxury eco camp with no electricity whatsoever! From there I could zipline back to Camp Panther, and get to see the river Ganges twice.
Yoga by the beach
Yoga isn’t my thing. I mean, I’ve been trying hard to get into it, but I haven’t been in touch with the heart of the practice yet. I would really love to keep trying, but if anything, yoga during sunrise by the beach is one of the activities that would make me wake up early in the morning. It had such a nice view, a very calming one. Of course I studied with my balance, especially on sand, but the routine we had was for beginners so it worked out fairly well.
River rafting in the Ganges River
This is one of the most common activities in Rishikesh, or in the Ganges river. It’s fairly surprising, since we’re so used to seeing the river Ganges as a flat stretch of greenish water. But it turns out there are some hidden adventurous bends in the river! The whitewater rafting segment of the river stretched for approximately 40 kilometers, with rapids anywhere from class 2 to class 4.
The rafting sessions are held most months of the year, except the monsoon months which stretch from mid-June to September. By this time, the water level gets too high and the rapids become too difficult to cross for all except the most experienced rafters. The highest number of tourists pour in from February to May, and again from October to November.
Due to the nature of the adventure, they begin by explaining the safety rules to everyone first. There was a 20-minute demonstration and orientation, which I felt was perfect especially for first timers. I mean, everyone needs to know the safety procedures well enough to use then in the middle of the watery crests and troughs, and these demonstrations did the job well. We were told that during the ride, the best paddlers (the strongest ones) will take the front seats while the rest will take the second and the third. We had good guides, and this wasn’t my first rafting rodeo, so when they asked where I wanted to sit I quickly volunteered for the front! Rowan did the same.
The two guys on our team quickly took the next spot. It was really nice of them to let us lead in the first place. I was up for some adventure, and was willing to work for it! I felt I was a strong paddler, anyway. They did warn me I was going to get splashed often, but I was ready for it so why not?
We went off to Grade 2 and 3 rapids, though we were graciously inducted with the Grade 1 (or 2, depending on who you ask) affectionately named “Good Morning”. Our first rapid gave us quite a splash, and really woke us up (hence the name!).
The water is cold during this season, but Snow Leopard gave us wetsuits of good quality so it really helped us throughout the rafting. I was in the water many times and I managed not to freeze!
The course stretched for around 16 kilometers, and we passed around 4 other major rapids with creative names like “Double Trouble” and “Golf Course”. These were pretty good ones, too, guaranteed to make your heart skip to your throat! There was even an area where our guide asked us if we wanted to body surf. He said he would give the signal, and we could enter the water and we would surf. Of course I quickly said HELL YEAH! We had two guys on kayaks and they were really amazing, paddling rapidly through those dangerous rapids. They were our safety zone, so I knew nothing would happen to me. They could get to us when the boat can’t reach us (though they were really a fallback, since the boat had long ropes they can toss to begin with). Our guide said he was in his 11th year in this profession, and so far he had managed to get everyone back on board safely. That was a relief!
There was a portion during our body surfing when he kept screaming at me to stay in the middle. Since I’m quite small, the current was taking me to the side near the rocks. The minute he saw that, he quickly pulled me in. I swear, his reflexes were so fast that I was in the boat in a maximum of two seconds! I knew I could be quickly pulled out if needed.
He was also rather playful. Well, maybe because I am also playful enough to encourage people to have some fun with me during these trips. He gave me a little push on the other edge of the boat (the safe side, where I could body surf without trouble). It was a funny moment, and I had a lot of fun!
Occasionally, they would also pull tricks to get you in the water. For some reason I fell for these again and again and again! I felt safe enough with them to let down my guard anyway, with the guides and the kayaks and my wetsuit. I didn’t really care about plopping into the water.
All in all our rafting experience was so much fun! They also threw in the fun fact that since we were swimming in the holiest river in India, we were being blessed each time we dip. So why not?
Cliff Jumping in the Ganges River
At some point during the rafting trip, we stopped the boat and headed up on a rock. We were going to cliff jump! I am not new to cliff jumping either, so when they asked us if we were going to jump I immediately said yes! I just had to check a bit since I struggle with jumps where I have to clear the landing (like when there is a protruding rock at the bottom) but in this case there wasn’t any. So I went for it!
We were lucky it wasn’t so busy. I went in twice, and the others did more. They say during the peak season this could be very busy! But this is why I enjoy travelling during shoulder season, anyway.
After our adventures, we took time to absorb the wonders of the locale some more. We visited some temples, and some markets. But the highlight of this leg of the tour, at least for me, was interacting with the kids by the riverside during sunset. We were watching the prayer ceremony around this time, and it was a completely different experience. They had fire, a whole ritual, and I just sat back and watched mesmerized as blazes went up to light the Ganges. The bridge was a good background too, and the place became so pretty. It was nice to witness this. At the end of the ceremony, they bless everyone with water from the holiest river.
Just a tip, when crossing the bridge as a foreigner prepare to be stumped a bit. It was a two-way bridge with people walking in all directions and motorbikes honking to get through the foot traffic. There are no accidents, and the view from the bridge is good, but it’s just too noisy. You have to constantly keep avoiding people and motorbikes, but the crossing is worth it to see both sides of the town.
I really wish there was more time to explore Rishikesh. Next time I want to visit the Beatles Ashram!
Short trek (2 hours through the village)
Tea by the river
Sunrise hike to see the mist-covered Ganges
Yoga by the beach
Dinner by the Campfire (they have this every night)
Travel back to Dehradun, back to Delhi or onward to the next destination!
Overview of Camp Panther at Uttarakhand
The name may be intimidating, but Snow Leopard has really gone to great lengths to make our stay at Camp Panther really comfortable. Each of the tents were meant to house two people, and it was a pleasant surprise to see a carpeted floor beyond the simple flapped entrance. The twin bed was fluffy and luxurious, with soft duvets covering it. The mirror on the night table was also a nice touch.
The bathroom was clean, and they provided towels, shampoo, and a shower gel. These make good souvenirs since they’re branded with the camp logo, a resting snow leopard. This was when I noticed that pretty much everything in the camp played up the “snow” aspect of the company name, as pretty much everything had a touch of white! There were khaki and green accents, too, symbolizing the land. These appeared on everything, from the staff uniform, all the way to the utensils we used.
The staff were attentive and ever-smiling, and had the propensity to pull little miracles from their sleeves. Such is what happened when a bonfire and comfy armchairs suddenly materialized in front of the tents. The way they bring in steaming hot food from nowhere is also nothing short of magical! The food was also wonderful, and the tea they serve was very comforting!
All these came at just 5,500 rupees per person, for a two-day trip. I’d say that’s a really good deal, for the unique experience. The experience really excited all the senses! So if you’re thinking of camping at the foot of the Himalayas one day, consider Snow Leopard and their Rishikesh camp. It’s two full days you’re going to remember for a long, long time.
Disclaimer : Thank you Adventure Travel Trade Association for this opportunity to experience Uttarakhand and Rishikesh