Photo Of The Day: Warming Up Around A Fire In The Mountains Of India

Somewhere at the core of every human being is a pull to a fire. We are drawn to that place where we sit as a tribe around a source of warmth, sharing stories and building connections. That spirit is embodied in this photo by Flickr user arunchs, who snapped this scene of three men in Zanskar, a valley region in eastern India where nighttime temperatures can reach upwards of 20 below zero.

Maybe this is why we travel. Why we circle around a table with new friends. Why we gather around a group of street performers. No matter where we find ourselves, we are drawn to shared experiences, be it around a fire, a meal or simply a map.

Have a photo that embodies the spirit of travel? Add your photos to the Gadling Flickr pool to be chosen for the Photo of the Day feature.

[Photo Credit: arunchs]

Expedition to climb the second highest unclimbed mountain

Saser Kangri II, the second highest unclimbed mountain in the worldAn group of three American climbers have traveled to the Kashmir mountain range this summer, where they will attempt to become the first team to successfully summit Saser Kangri II, the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. The mountain, which stands 24,665 feet in height, is located in a very remote region of northern India that is only accessible during the summer months.

The team consists of climbers Freddie Wilkinson, Mark Richey and Steve Swenson, all of whom are very experienced high altitude mountaineers. Richey and Swenson made an attempt on Saser Kangri II back in 2009, reaching as high as 22,500 feet before turning back due to bad weather. They’ve decided to return to the mountain to finish off what they started, and asked Wilkinson to tag along for the climb.

Saser Kangri II is the second of four summits on the Saser Kangri massif, and as mentioned above, is the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. The highest unclimbed peak is a mountain named Gangkhar Puensum, which is located inside Bhutan, and is 24,836 feet in height. Many of the inhabitants of Bhutan believe that the tallest mountains in their country are sacred ground, and as a result, the government has banned mountaineering on any peak above 6000 meters or roughly 19,685 feet. In other words, no one can climb Gangkhar Puensum, so mountaineers looking for the next big challenge give Saser Kangri a try instead.

The team set out for India earlier in the week, and it will take them a number of days just to trek into Base Camp, located at about 17,000 feet on the mountain. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be scouting the route they hope to take to the summit, while slowly acclimatizing to the altitude. If everything goes as scheduled, they’ll be making their attempt at the summit in early August, and with a little luck, become the first men to stand on the top of the mountain.

[Photo courtesy of Steve Swenson]

India opens remote trekking and mountaineering routes

Adventure travelers were given even more incentive to travel to India recently when it was announced that the government would begin allowing access to previously restricted areas in the remote Jammu and Kashmir provinces. The move has both economic and political motivations that officials hope will provide benefits for the country in years to come, but trekkers and mountaineers will begin receiving benefits of their own beginning this summer.

In all, 104 new mountain peaks have been removed from the restricted list, and opened up to climbers for the first time. Most fall in the Leh and Ladakh regions, along India’s border with both China and Pakistan. Because of their close proximity to the disputed Kashmir region, only ten previous mountaineering expeditions, primarily made up of Indian climbers, have made their way into the region. This means that the vast majority of those mountains have not yet been climbed. Climbers looking to claim a first ascent will find plenty of altitude to challenge them. Many of the peaks top out above 22,000 feet, including Saser Kangri I, II, and III, which stand 24,327 feet, 24,649 feet, and 24,590 feet respectively.

Backpackers will find plenty to love in this remote and stunningly beautiful region as well. High altitude passes and trails that have previously been off limits are now open to foreign travelers, including a route that leads to the village of Turtuk in the Nubra Valley. The village played a historically important role in the region in centuries past when caravans traveling the Silk Road passed through the high altitude settlement, ferrying goods from East to West.

This move by the Indian government comes following a recommendation from the Ministry of Defense. The region has been a source of conflict for years between India and Pakistan, but tensions have now eased in the area, and this will signal a return to normalcy. The influx of climbers, trekkers, and other adventure travelers is likely to help the local economy as well.

“Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel: Season Finale– Delhi

Location: Delhi, the city with a history that dates back to 1650 A.D. This is where the Mughal Empire once reigned supreme leaving stunning buildings in its wake, and the British tried to recreate into an organized place of roundabouts and more stunning buildings. Common to every part of the city is the sacred cow that wanders throughout. Food truths: milk crosses cultural boundaries, and there’s nothing quite like a perfect masala.

Episode Rating: 4 Sheep Testicles (out of 4) using Aaron’s system, but trade sheep for goat.

Summary: Oh, rapture! Joy! I thought I missed food in Taiwan until I saw Andrew Zimmern eat his way through Delhi. With the abundance of food options and places to eat, Zimmern and his crew did an admirable job honing in on highlights of the gastronomic variety. If one thinks that Indian food is nothing but yellow curry powder, this episode dispelled that. Another dispelled myth is Delhi belly. I never had it in two years that I recall. If I had it, I’d remember.

First stop, Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi. This teeming place is as chaotic as it looks on TV.

“Every nook and cranny of this town has someone who is making a tasty treat,” declared Zimmern, who made an impromptu stop by a pan sizzling with fried potatoes. “Anytime I see fried potatoes, I eat them. I’m from Minnesota,” he said, then moaned through his bites, “These are good; these are so good.”

Here’s some other Old Delhi eating pleasures that Zimmern savored: Daulat ki Chatt, a sweet milk dish made from the froth; Nihari, a “hearty and spicy” stew made with buffalo thighs and beef brains that simmers for 5 to 6 hours; a fruit sandwich made with cottage cheese, apple slices, pomegranate seeds that is “delicious,” but hard to eat because the ingredients fall out; and a masala lamb stew that “smells almost chocolaty.”

This segment pointed out is that you can eat street food without getting sick if you’re picky and careful. Zimmern turned away a potato-chickpea dish that was garnished with tamarind tap water. I second the stay away from the tap water advice.

When visiting Old Delhi, a guide can take you to the best eating spots, like Zimmern’s did, and point out the details of the architecture and cultural highlights while helping you navigate the packed windy streets. I recommend it.

To get to the food without the wandering, stop at El Jawarhar Restaurant at the entrance of Chandi Chowk It’s across the street from the largest mosque in Delhi. Zimmern loved everything about this place, and went into great detail about how Muslim food preparation practices, called halal, helps ensure that the meat is fresh and clean. Food descriptors he used: “rich and creamy,” delicious,” “bright hot,”and “that sauce is out of this world.” The lamb scrotum, though, needed “to be cooked a whole lot more to be edible.”

I’ve eaten at El Jawarhar, and found it as good as Zimmern gushed. There are plenty of food choices without the odd ball ingredients–literally.

Next stop New Delhi, the part of Delhi designed by the British. Bukhara, Zimmern’s first eating pleasure highlight, is considered one of the best restaurants in Asia and is popular with the in-crowd–like famous people. Anyone can eat here, though. I did. The food is as superb as Zimmern said, but I have to say, it’s not as expensive as he alluded to. One of the great things about India is you can eat the very best food without spending outlandish prices. Maybe the prices were outlandish and I have amnesia.

Besides eating the glorious food, you can watch the chefs cook it. There’s a large plate glass window in one wall. My dad, who was visiting us, and is as much as a food buff as Zimmern is, went back to the kitchen for a chat. We ate exactly what Zimmern did, plus a couple other dishes. The dal is fantastic and the chicken is the “melt in your mouth” version like Zimmern said. The chef’s explanation of how eating with your hands helps add to the sensory experience of eating food is exactly right.

Besides trotting to restaurants, Zimmern headed to private homes. One he got to on the back of milk vendor’s motorcycle. Here I found out that Zimmern and I have something in common. We both are wild about Saag Paneer. This is a spinach dish with cottage cheese-like cubes. He drank lassi, my daughter’s favorite. It’s a yogurt milk drink blend that comes in a variety of flavors. Zimmern’s was laced with cardamon, rose syrup and pomegranate.

At a Kashmiri fashion designer’s house, Zimmern he had a 32-course meal called a Wazwan, a traditional Kashmiri feast where lamb is the meat of choice and it’s accompanied by a dizzying array of dishes, all served one at a time. Pacing is the key, Zimmern said. “Now, I’m starting to burp. The level of food is rising in me.” This was at 1 a.m. By the end, he was stretched out, leaning against the wall, his hands on his stomach.

He also went to Oh! Calcutta, a modern upscale place where he learned about the various ways bananas are prepared, including the flowers and stems. People I know went here and loved it, I never did since we had our own favorites. If ‘m ever in Delhi again, I’m heading here.

The last stop was the Sikh temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib where anyone and everyone can come for a free meal. Zimmern, with a Sikh turban on his head helped make chapatis and stirred dal for the masses. Zimmern marveled how it felt to be in “a sea of humanity but feel close to everyone in the room.” I was one of the masses once and vouch that the food is simple and good.

As Zimmern said of Indian cuisine, it’s a mix of flavors and cooking techniques based on religion and the region of the country the food is from. In Delhi, you really can get it all.

Kashmir to rebrand itself as a golf destination

Kashmir probably does not evoke emotions of vacationing and relaxation in most people. After 18 years of militant violence, Kashmir wants to rebrand themselves from a heavily militarized Himalayan region to a global golfing destination.

According to this article in the NY Times, Kashmir’s government believes that golf will attract tourists who spend more than the penny-pinching backpackers who still come to trek in the mountains and stay on Srinagar’s latticed wooden houseboats. The state is spending $6.2 million to build a golf course in the winter capital, Jammu, to be completed later in the year, the fifth course in the region, and an international airport is scheduled to open in the summer.

My question is, Is there a country out there, which is supposedly not a golf destination nowadays?