More than 18 stops, a little less than 1800kms, My Himachal Trip22 Dec 2016
We all have that one trip with friends which gets cancelled no matter what right(goa anybody!)?
But hopefully, our decided trip was completed. Wasn’t that smooth. But as the saying goes
What is an ocean if it doesn’t challenge the sailors!
Thanks to the recent demonetization drive by the Indian govt. We had to delay our plans for the trip by some days.
I started from Dehradun on the night of 28th of November. Left for Delhi in the middle of the night, after much cajoling and giving reassurances to my mum that I wouldn’t be doing bat-sh*t crazy stuff on my trip. Which was not entirely fulfilled as you will see after some time.
The bus ride was full of surprises as air seeped in through like water from the narrow gapes in the metal sheets. And how could I miss the creaking noise of the suspension. All this amounted to me not getting little or no sleep at all throughout the night. Add it to the amount of cold it was outside.
I was dropped well before my destination citing reasons of excessive fog and traffic. Panic? Rushing to the nearest metro station was the answer. Reached Kashemere Gate from where we had our next bus to Shimla. Devaraj tagged along from there.
At least, this bus was a decent one. I completed on the sleep which I had missed while Devaraj blasted on EDM on his earphones!
We reached quite late. Late by the standards of Shimla! 8:30p.m was the time and we could not see a dog roaming around! The next shocker came when we got to know that the booked hotel was another 2 hour journey from where we were.
No wonder it was cheap when we booked! Heck it was in the middle of the jungle!
We cancelled the reservation and asked the taxi driver(as it was the only means of transport available at that time) to take us to a decent hotel within our specified budget.
250 bucks was what he took for just 2kms. Even airlines charge less than that! Heck, a normal bus ticket from dehradun to delhi costs around 230 INR. And we are looking at a distance of around 240 kms. If it was a time before the sun had set, I would have called it daylight robbery!
The sweet talking manager showed us our rooms which had a great view of shimla from the window. We settled down and changed. He continued babbling about the package which he was providing us. “The cheapest rates in the country”, that’s what he said and I quote it. We said we would think about it and let him know in the morning! So logically, this means we did not accept his terms right? So far so good. Read along.
We had dinner at the local Chinese cuisine shop after which we roamed around the famous mall road. Handicrafts were priced off the roof. No wonder, given the amount of tourists which flocked this city.
Morning gave us a rude shock. This guy(the same guy who came with to us with his sweet mouth) was trying to dupe us! As we were checking out, he said he had already booked a car for our two day tour of Shimla. The car charges per day being 2.5k INR excluding the room charges. Angry? Oh a lot!
He kept asking 3x the room amount for the car that he had supposedly booked. Now mind you that we are not two drunk dudes who would just randomly say yes to any BS someone would present to us. This day being no different.
After much shouting and drama, we settled with him for the initial booking amount of the room for the day.
Just when we were thinking that this trip was going on a downhill drive, we had our impromptu rafting trip.
And boy it was amazing! 25kms of raw nature. I cannot articulate the feeling. And 3 hours later, after countless rapids and being drenched to the bone, we reached back to the last spot from where we would be picked up back on the trucks. We changed our wet clothes with some dry ones and hopped inside our ride back. I slept like a baby.
The day ended on a high with some adventure sports at kufri which I missed up on my reluctance to not wake up from my slumber(read: drained out)
Luckily the second hotel room which we booked had a nice steam bath. Yes, a steamed bathroom. Add it to Wooden planks and comfy blankets.
The 2 nights spent in Shimla went just fine. And on the 3rd day, we left for manali early in the morning.
Before I write any further. I confess, that we were one of those guys who didn’t know that kullu and manali were two different places altogether. Hey, I never said that I am good at geography!
So before Manali, you arrive at Kullu if you go by road from Shimla.
For a change, not everyone was trying to loot us. And it was a little warmer than Shimla. We got a decent room for ourselves and settled for the night.
Manali was a little over 9kms from our place and we left early the next morning.
It was a mix of Shimla’s mall road and valleys that you find around in Pune. We visited the local Tibetan monasteries, bought a lot of souvenirs and some indigenous handicrafts.
We returned back to Kullu the same night. ATMs were scarce. Further, finding ATMs which had any money in them was like finding water in a desert. But we survived the night.
Kheerganga is a good destination for trekking if you are in the mood for any of it. But as we didn’t plan it, we left it out for another reason(read on)
Van vihar should have been prepended with a “big” before it. Minus the fact that it was not snowing, I liked it more than Shimla.
In the similar lines of Shimla, 2 nights was all at kullu.
The next morning, we paid off the hotel manager. And asked him how to reach Kasol. And boy was he happy on hearing that word.
Imagine a tall unshaven guy, wearing a tattered blue denim with a pair of Quechua’s. Pair that along with a black hoodie and a monkey cap not of the ordinary types.
We first had to reach bhunter and then take a bus to kasol. We reached kasol just before sunset and got us a good room. It was a real steal at the price at which we got.
You could find the essense of Israeli culture almost everywhere. The shops, the cafes. All had menu cards, graffiti and wall posters in Israeli.
You ask why was our room deal a good one? Our room was situated right beside the Parvati river. We had the fabled Dhauladhar mountain range right in front of us. Add the fact that we were right in the middle of parvati valley. Picturesque? You bet!
The main Kasol is a small place and you can literally cover it within an hour by foot. All the shops and cafes are situated around a T-shaped area.
This place is a must for anybody who is attracted towards the
hippie culture. You will find Israeli’s buying groceries talking in fluent Hindi. People roam around wearing long beaded jewelry, colorful khaki pants (imagine a purple tinge for example), flower print tops, unkempt dirty long hair(no offence) filled with beads.
Some Beetles and Bob Dylan music and there you are back to the late 1960s hippie culture of the United States.
Manikaran is a little over 7-8kms from Kasol. It was a little bigger than our previous stop. The only place worth visiting here is the Ram temple. It has a natural hot spring in it’s vicinity where you can find people overjoyed of playing inside it!
And no, we didn’t take a dip inside it. Why? Short on time. I must warn you that the irregular bus timings here will really make you mad.
A one night stay at Kasol was enough for the whole thing!
This trip from Manikaran was the most grueling of bus trips till now.
Manikaran to Kasol was the first leg. This went swiftly. Next stop was Bhunter. After that we had to catch a bus for Mandi. All this consumed a lot more than our patience and time. We reached Mandi just a little after 4o’clock.
Such was our luck that we just missed a direct bus for Dharamshala a few minutes before arriving. We were famished! Our stomachs were empty since the raw Israeli breakfast that we had back at Kasol(it was Devaraj’s idea).
We had some momo’s at a local shop near the bus stand and came back asking for directions.
The alternatives at hand were to either catch a bus for a place near Dharamshala’s vicinity and then pray that we got another bus from there at around 9p.m!
Or we could wait for another direct bus to Dharamshala. The catch here was that we would be reaching there not anytime before 12a.m. Oh, did I mention we stopped believing in any advance room bookings since the Shimla incident?
And we could have always booked a room at Mandi and waited for the next morning and hope that everything would pan out perfectly while we slept our bums out.
Given how reckless we are, we chose the 6o’clock bus. If you have ever gotten into a BEST bus(referring to the local state transport for Bombay), our bus was worse than that. I could hardly position my legs in a comfortable way. Sleeping was out of question. But we had to endure. I mean did we have any other choice here?
Fast forward some uncomfortable hours, I was jolted by a thud at my feet. Next thing I know, a man was literally down at my feet. A tinge of alcohol arose from under his breath. It became apparent that he did not fall down from his seat by the violent jerks which the driver didn’t care giving the passengers.
His fellow mate (or what I assumed him to be) swooped him up from my feet before I kept my bag aside to help him. He placed him back to his seat.
We reached Dharamshala’s ISBT a few minutes shyer than 12:30a.m. In search of a hotel, we started roaming the streets. There was nobody to be found on the streets, Leave alone dogs. Well I didn’t expect anybody to be out of their houses at that unearthly hour given the experience at Shimla where the whole of Mall road closes by 9:30p.m.
After some hurried searching, we got a decent room and settled down. The squeamish feeling since Mandi didn’t go away hence I didn’t want anything to eat. But Devaraj was feeling uncomfortably hungry. He went out in search of some food at a time when most people are having their first cycle of REM sleep!
To both of our surprise, he did find a local
roti sabzi and dal. While Devaraj was gobbling down his supper, I read on that our honorable Chief Minister, Jayalalitha had passed away that day! News of which came as a shocker for both of us.
Sleep came naturally and both of us greeted our families on phone with a good afternoon as it was past 12 when we woke up the next day.
Next stop was the famed Norbulingka institute.
I would say it would be the one of the best places for someone who wants to have a closer look at the Tibetan culture, their history and how they live their daily lives.
You have workshops which teach you about the traditional wood carving practices.
The 3-D wall paintings which you can see on monasteries, the bronze buddha idols which are hand crafted to perfection in the local workshop. It was beautiful!
The whole compound resonated rich Tibetan architecture. They had a Museum which had exhibits displaying how different sects of the Buddhist communities dressed. All the way from the common man to the wives of kings and their family.
We thought about dropping by the souvenir shop inside to find something in our budget but it was the exact opposite! But I won’t complain as this institute is self sustained and lives off these earnings. Very well maintained. I give them that.
We came back to our room and had our dinner after some time and went to sleep.
Way back in the 1930s, McLeodGanj was literally left for ruins when it was hit with a massive earthquake. It was brought back to the scene when the exiled Tibetan govt was given refuge in its hills.
The honorable Dalai Lama and his house of ministers all reside in and around that area. I found that the Tibetan souvenirs, if to be bought, were much cheaper in comparison to kasol/shimla/manali here. This was to be expected as a large population of exiled Tibetan refugees stay here. So if you want to shop, this is the place to do so!
We hopped around some shops and had our refreshments keeping in mind the affordable shops to buy from while returning back. And we left for triund.
As planned, our trek to Triund started when we reached McLeodGanj. Heck we had to give up on Kheerganga for this one.
We started at around 12:30p.m and expected the 7 km uphill trek to be completed within 3-4 hours. At least that’s wha t we thought about.
The path to the top of the hill is not a straight climb but full of ridges and small rocks. Mind you we had our rucksacks and in my case it was no less than 10 kilos(thanks a lot to the carefree shopping we did in Manali and elsewhere!) which I had to balance with the body weight.
Loose placed rocks, rubble, dry grass mixed with the dump of local herders cattle. You name it! One slip and down you go.
The initial wider and plain track gave way to a much narrow and harder path. We had our moments where we had an extremely beautiful view of McLeodGanj in front of us and there were times when Devaraj would almost collapse (blackout if you may) due to fatigue. He has a heart condition which he didn’t tell me before. But never the less.
There were 3-4 shops placed (2 were closed the day we visited) at the edge of the path where you could buy chocolates, water bottles and Maggi. They sold things at 2x the MRP but I think this is justified.
The only means of taking goods up the hill are donkeys. Each donkey costs 800 INR a per trip from the campsite to the hill top.
The shops have dustbins where they store all the garbage to be given back to the same donkeys when they come back on a U-turn to be taken downhill. The charges for this is cheap. 9/- INR per bag. Enough with the tariffs.
So we reached the famous
magic view cafe. Well it’s not exactly the typical CCD or barista that we frequent out. But apparently, it’s the oldest
chai point on the way to triund’s top.
After some refreshments and countless pit stops, we did reach the top. I mean finally!
We reached just before the sunset and the view! It was ethereal. The sun rays falling down on the dhauladhar mountain range. The dogs running around and playing with each other while occasionally coming to the lap of the tea stall owner, wagging his tail for some biscuits.
Pain, fatigue and thirst were long lost friends when we sat down and drank the last few gulps of water left in our bottles. I felt saintly!
Devaraj was as usual puffing on to one of his Marlboro’s while I checked my cell phone for any coverage. Zero signal! But what else do you expect at 2875 meters above sea level!
We got ours tents fixed and settled down our bags in them and got out to join the others in the bonfire. We had a very diverse group of people in our vicinity. Some came from Mumbai, a group of students from Delhi University and some from Banaras.
As we devoured down our modest plate of
Dal Chawal (which costed a bomb!) we talked about our experiences and past. Our travel shenanigans. Discussed our plans in life like we were childhood friends reunited after a long time!
Time for sleep came a lot early for me as I was feeling really cold and fatigued. I slept with 3 layers of clothes, a muffler, a bunny cap and a sleeping bag on top of it! And still I was shaking vigorously due to the cold for some time.
So here we were watching “Harry Potter and the deathly hallows” on Devaraj’s phone, sharing his earpieces and finishing the last piece of Lays packet we had on us and before I knew it I was fast asleep.
I don’t know what the time was, but I woke up to some heavy breathing nearby. I thought it was Devaraj vaping but he was fast asleep.
Turned out the dog decided to sleep right next to my side of the tent. I could literally feel his hot and heavy breathing, continuously near me. I told Devaraj that a black bear (the chaiwala told us that they frequented the path uphill in search of food sometimes) came to visit us in the morning! And he was gullible enough to even say OMG for a second.
It may be around 6o’clock in the morning, opened the tent sheets and this was in front of us.
You will actually have to be there to just feel what it felt like. We had on one side the Dhauladhar mountain range in front us which looked like a golden cone crumpled all the way from the top and on the other side we saw the city of McLeodGanj through the misty clouds.
You might wonder if you have any houses around in the hill top? Well no, just some tea stalls put together with large stones and the tents.
So would there be any bathrooms? Well of course not!
Surprisingly not, there is not even a makeshift loo for you. So what’s the solution?
You have to figure out a spot for yourself and take a dump. While doing so, you have to hope that nobody comes around in search for their perfect spot. I don’t know how does it compare to taking a dump near a railway track as I haven’t done it.
The climax comes over when the spot where you are squatting over is on a cliff. So if you accidentally slip over. You are not coming back alive the 2780 meters! Hope you have done your insurance?
After a bowl of Maggi, packing our rucksacks and bading goodbye with the friends we made, we left the summit.
From Dharamshala, Devaraj got on a bus to Delhi and I boarded a bus to Chandigarh which I reached at around 11:30p.m. Mum reminded me again of staying over for the night but I wanted to reach back home badly.
With all the bad decisions so far, this was no better. I reached Dehradun at around 3:30a.m.
No Taxi, no auto. No nothing! Oh no, I didn’t walk all the way to my house!
I did wait for the night to get over at the bus stand. Boarded the first city bus and got off near my house.
Best trip till now for me!
So that was much about it. If you are reading till the end. I sincerely thank you for being so patient!
Between, I have hardly pinned any photos for the trip here. So if you wanted a deeper look, my friends on Instagram will surely complain about my never ending feed from this trips photographs!