Since I was a child, I preferred the moon to the sun, enjoyed sitting out on the terrace after sunset, under the beaming sky listening to those nasty crickets. It soothed me. It soothed the sharp edges of my soul, toned down the harsh colors, bought down the saturation. With the coming of stars, the world seemed calmer, the universe expanded, the night was grander than the day and everything seemed possible. As I aged, my love for stars aged with me, getting deeper, getting stronger. I spend hours out in the cold and in the heat, on mountain tops and in desserts, alone and with people staring at the tiny specks that made the sky cinematic.
I lived on to become an old-souled lover that lay on grassy grounds. I kissed under the stars and lived on to become a wiser lad who knew a little about the pieces in the big jigsaw called life. I lived on to become that annoying person who points out constellations and tries to throw their imagination in all the right places in an attempt to give a face to the unknown.
In doing so, eventually, I made a note of all the places in India where the night sky is the clearest and where people like myself can give their eyes and heart a feast.
Ladakh in itself is a remote region and hence a good spot to see an ample number of stars but while the tourism may be on the boom, it is mostly magnified towards Leh, Pangong Tso, Magnetic hill and other such attractions. What people miss out on are the tiny scattered villages of Ladakh where the true beauty hides and also, probably the best places to stargaze. One such little hamlet is Hanle and it has a specialty of its own. 255 kilometers away from Leh, this village situated at 14,764ft will surely leave your soul a lot happier than it was before you came here. The village with its alluring beauty resides 1000 people in almost 300 houses and though it does not have a lot of things to do, I couldn’t help but stay for 3 nights, finding my inner calm.
Now, Hanley is a place with low ambient temperature, low concentration of atmospheric aerosols, low humidity, low atmospheric water vapor, and absolutely no pollution. In a nutshell, the sky is extremely clear. You know what that accounts for? A sky so brightly lit with billions of stars, you won’t imagine your eyes. You may have seen skies adorning a sheet of stars multiple times, but take my word for it, being a passionate star gazer that I am, that was the most beautiful crystal sky I had ever seen.
This is also the reason Hanley has the worlds second highest optical telescope in the world. Would you believe me now? I hope you do.
Hanley rarely makes it to itineraries, at times because of the time crunch and the rest of the times due to lack of knowledge. I did my part here, I hope you do yours.
Also Read: The Cheapest way to reach Ladakh
Kashmir Great Lakes trek (Kashmir):
(PC: Sushil Chauhan)
Out of all the treks that I have done in the Himalayas, somehow, KGL is my all time favorite. There is something about this trek that tells you that you are significant and insignificant at the same time. There is something about this trek that tells you that you are a definite or maybe.
I saw the seafoam of clouds devour the raging orange sunset, with every dewdrop of hope, I felt just like it, brilliant and bleak beyond words. Everywhere awful green meadows and fragrant flowers; a blade of grass dwindling in the winds of eternity, but somehow, still grounded by a rock. To the North, it was green; to the South, lavenders were blooming their last; to the West, was the mad raging sunset; to the East, her laughter.
I sat down on the wet grass, opened my diary;
I AM IN HEAVEN
I wrote in caps and closed it. It was enough to describe everything around me.
One fine night, I unrolled my sleeping bag in the grass, lied on my back and stared up at the stars, wondering if they were staring back at me.
The sky was clear that night. there wasn’t a single cloud and it made for a perfect night to stargaze. I could even see the Milkyway galaxy with naked eyes. The silence was so intense that I could hear my own blood roaring in my ears but louder than that was the mysterious roar of silence itself, shhh…
I spotted seventeen shooting stars that night.
Pin valley (Spiti, Himachal Pradesh):
(PC: Sushil Chauhan)
The name “Spiti” means “the middle land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. But Spiti is more than just what meets the name. One of the most unexplored destinations in Himachal Pradesh, Spiti is located at a very high altitude and is also considered as a desert mountain valley. The ice-topped mountains, the river that follows you like a shadow throughout the valley, the waterfalls and the Grey-blue skies, you can go on and on about the place but you still won’t do justice.
Spiti attracts a vast number of adventurers every year. Streams of riders, trekkers, peace seekers swarm into its laps on and offseason to open the cap of their bottled adrenaline. To feel the air thrusting past your face, to feel a tear roll down your eye.
2 to 3 hours drive away from Kaza lies the pin valley where the real astronomical gala takes place. During my stay in the valley, I would rush my dinner and sneak away to the terrace to stargaze. While the millions of tiny dots glistened in my eyes, the river gushed in my ears; it’s an experience like no other and is sure to leave you awestruck.
The moment you step onto this magnificent land, you will be pushed into a state of trance; A cacophony of moments all played in fast forward, with overlaying sounds. Impossible grandeur and elegance of the palaces and forts, a camel with painted mandalas on its earthly toned body, dust rising off the roads, jangle of Rajasthani folk music, the sudden burst of colors, a flash in your eye of the golden trim of a magenta saree donned by a women sitting in the sun, doing her everyday chores. While you let all this sink in, you will be drawn to the fragrance of a hot masala chai brewing somewhere close and when you are sitting on a char-paai in the evening, looking at the sun fall into the colorful pallet of this festive state, you will surely find a local, sitting with his musical instrument singing ‘Kesariyaa Balam, Aao Ni, Padharo Mhaare Desh…’ and that is your queue to grab your belongings and sneak as far away into the Thar desert as possible.
Stargazing in a dessert is a totally different experience. No buildings, no trees, no mountains, and no light pollution to obstruct your view and there goes a silent tear rolling down your cheek when you first get the glimpse of the Milkyway galaxy.
And a smile that lingered in infinity, waiting; will meet your lips the second you breathe in the fresh air of this whimsical green land. Spend some time here and just one lightning later, you will cough poetry and cry music. Called the Scotland of East and rightly so, Meghalaya is a symphony like no other. It intrigues you with its sacred groves and the breeze plays with your hair in a way which gives you a high that lingers on longer than you expect. The chirpy voices of the birds, the tall azure waterfalls, the grey skies and the fragrance of wet earth will leave you feeling embarrassed to be human. One never leaves this state as the same person, for the serenity here imprints itself onto every soul that decides to traverse this land.
When you are done being enchanted by the beauty of this land, it will be time for you to get enchanted by the sky. There lies a small village along the banks of the beautiful Dwaki called Shnongpdeng; 3 to 4 hours away from Shillong, this village also hosts a number of camping sites. Visit the village on a new moon night, find yourself an isolated spot and while your eyes adjust to the darkness, be ready to be smitten by a beaming night.
Bomdilla (Arunachal Pradesh):
Arunachal Pradesh known for its diversity, natural beauty, unique flora and fauna, tribes and culture, is sure to leave you spellbound. Not so established on the explorer’s map, the unadulterated charm of the hills and the green cover will sweep you off your feet.
Low population and hence low light production makes for an incredibly studded dark sky all across the Northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh, but the places that are bound to leave you to star struck while you cuddle up in sweaters and stare up towards infinity are the tiny towns of Bomdilla. During the day, explore the intricate tribal culture and indulge in the exotic local food or hike amidst the eastern Himalayas; by night, grab your sleeping bag, grab your loved one and watch the milky way consume you whole, one shooting star at a time.
Somebody once asked me, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really, I said, “Do the stars gaze back?” that’s a question.
What is your favorite stargazing spot in India? Did we miss out on it? Drop a comment below and we will be packing our bags to get a glimpse of the night sky there.