The average length of a trip for the average city dweller with a job is about five days. So, unless you’re the laid back kind of traveller who simply wants to laze around on a beach, any vacation is likely to be tiring. If you’re like me and want to spend absolutely every second exploring, your vacation is guaranteed to be exhausting. However, more often than not, every bit of that exhaustion is worth it. This is my account of a trip that was absolutely incredible despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of R&R.
Kullu Valley is a broad valley formed by the Beas River in Pir Panjal, Lower Himalayan and Great Himalayan Ranges. It is well known for its pine and deodar forests and its apple and pomegranate orchards. It is also home to some of the most beautiful roses I have ever seen in my life including these from Tawang.
The easiest way to get to Kullu/Manali from Delhi is by overnight bus. There are many bus services run by Himachal State Tourism as well as private companies. The Non-AC bus tickets cost around INR 650 and tickets for the Volvo AC buses cost about INR 1200.
I love roadtrips so I think driving down is a fantastic idea as well even though the road isn’t particularly great.
However, this time around I didn’t travel by road. We took the afternoon Shatabdi from Delhi to Chandigarh and the next morning, took a chartered plane (an eight seater Cessna Grand Caravan) operated by Himalayan Bulls from Chandigarh to Bhuntar (the airfield closest to Kullu).
The views of the Kullu Valley, the mountains and the Beas River were so incredible that I almost forgot to be frightened. I say almost because I don’t think anything will ever take away my terrible phobia of flying (even the adorable child from Curing Aerophobia). I will say that this was less frightening than the chopper in Andaman. It was also less uncomfortable and smelly.
So, even if you are terrified of flying like I am, this is an experience that is well worth some of those palpitations you might experience. This is what I saw out of my window:
Once we reached Bhuntar and stepped back on blessed land, we made our way to Bandrol which lies between Kullu and Manali. We were lucky enough to be hosted here by the Indo Tibetan Border Police in a lovely guest house built during the British Occupation by one Captain R.C. Lee. It is beautiful wooden structure overlooking the Beas River with a view of several stunning snow capped peaks.
However, it was at beautiful Lee House that Captain Lee and his family were tragically murdered many years later. They are buried in an apple orchard close to the house; and according to the ITBP staff, their ghosts are seen wandering the house late at night. I never saw Captain Lee’s spectre during my stay but there is no denying the fact that the house becomes rather eerie at night.
Things to Do:
1. Visit Naggar
Having spent the morning in the scary Cessna, there wasn’t any scope for trekking or hiking on the first day. So, we drove up 26 odd kilometeres to Naggar, the erstwhile capital of Kullu District and home to patches of lovely wildflowers.
Naggar was home to the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich who captured his love affair with the Himalayas on canvas in breathtakingly beautiful colours. Today, Roerich’s home has been converted into an art gallery which houses many of his lovely paintings. I loved them so much that I spent a lot of money at the gift shop, buying prints. I have no pictures of the paintings themselves because photography was prohibited in the gallery but you can check them out here.
Roerich’s garden is almost as beautiful as his paintings and it is easy to see how he was so inspired all the time.
Right down the road from the gallery is an old temple dedicated to the Goddess Mata Tripura Sundari. The temples in this region are architecturally unique, being constructed primarily of wood, with sloping roofs. While I was there, a loud and interesting looking trumpet (I think that is what it was) brought to my notice a festival which was being held in honour of the Goddess.
Close by also lies Naggar Castle, which is worth a visit for its architecture as well as its prospect.
2. Explore old Manali
After exploring Naggar, we made our way to Manali where we wandered around the markets exploring quaint cafes and curio stores. I spent some more money here, on a soft and warm angora scarf in bright red.
After all that shopping, we went on to visit the Hadimba Temple which has been constructed in honour of the Giantess Hadimba who was the wife of the Pandava, Bhima (a demigod from the epic Mahabharata) and the mother of the half-giant Ghatotkacha. Hadimba is said to have attained the status of Goddess later in her life through penance and prayer. The temple is constructed in a similar fashion to the Mara Tripura Sundari Temple in Naggar but on a much larger scale and is adorned with the remains of many sacrificed animals. Clearly PETA doesn’t have much sway among the worshippers. A shrine to Ghatotkacha is also located close to the temple.
Around the temple there are many colourfully decorated yaks and women with large fluffy angoras who make money from tourists by allowing them to pose for pictures with the animals in traditional Himachali costumes. Two of these women told me that their names were Sridevi and Jayaprada (popular Bollywood actresses from the 80s and 90s) and were holding the fluffiest and most adorable angoras I have ever seen. Just look at those pretty pink eyes! And that poofy white coat! (I’m not talking about the yak)
There’s also a nice momo place close by called Green Forest Cafe (its only vegetarian, so chicken/pork momo lovers consider yourselves warned). The momos are nice, the chutney is fantastic and the ginger, lemon and honey tea is wonderfully soothing so perhaps everyone should give it a try. Of course, for those who simply refuse to eat vegetarian momos, there are many cafes around old Manali where you can sample some delicious trout, fresh from the Beas River.
Delicious strawberries and cherries were also available in abundance in the market along with an interesting range of locally produced apple ciders and plum, cherry and strawberry wines. The cider was light, refreshing and lovely but the cherry wine had a weird aftertaste and made me wish I had bought the plum wine instead.
3. Trek to Bijli Mahadev
The next morning we woke up early enough to catch the sunrise (something that never ever happens in Delhi no matter how early I’ve slept the night before) and drove down to Chansari village (probably about 10-15 km from Kullu). Bijli Mahadev is a temple shrine, dedicated to Lord Shiva, located in a meadow at an altitude of 2,438 m above sea level which has an incredible panoramic view of both the Kullu and Parvati valleys and the peaks surrounding them. It takes about an hour and a half to climb the steps to the temple which are along a 3 km long path through a deodar forest. It is best to climb uphill before noon while the path is shaded from the sun by the mighty deodars.
Bijli Mahadev was probably my favourite place from this trip. This beautiful meadow with its the occasional patch of wildflowers is encircled by majestic snow-capped peaks and is the perfect place to just sit and think. I could have sat here all day watching the Himalayan Griffons sail the winds. When people talk of tranquility in the mountains, this is the kind of place they are referring to.
4. Trek to Kheerganga
Once we were back at Chansari, we made our way back to Lee House where we had a quick lunch and then went on to Barsheni in Manikaran Valley. Stopping on the way at a Bhuttico workshop, where weavers magically transform colourful threads into lovely Kullu shawls, I (predictably) ended up shopping again. All these shawls and scarves are hidden away somewhere in a corner of my house while I struggle daily with the heat and humidity. I have learned that no one should buy so many warm clothes in May unless a trip to the Southern Hemisphere is imminent.
To reach Barsheni, we had to cross Kasol and Manikaran (which is a place of pilgrimage for Sikhs and is well known for its Gurudwara and hot springs) and the road, if possible, was worse than the roads in Arunachal. We reached Barsheni after a good deal of jolting about, well after sunset. This meant having to climb up to our campsite in the dark. It seemed like an easy task with a flashlight and good shoes, even though the path was very slippery, and we all managed in record time. It was only the next morning, while climbing down in the sunlight, that I realised that we had been jumping over slippery puddles and rocks on the edge of a cliff with a drop that was most definitely over a hundred feet. Just as well I couldn’t see the drop in the dark. I would’ve been too paralysed with fear to reach the campsite at all.
This morning as well, we were all up at 5 am and ready to trek the thirteen kilometers up to Kheerganga. The gurgling Tosh Nala is the best possible beginning to any trek. Just look at it!
The trek in itself (25 km of walking, uphill and downhill, in a single day) is an extremely fulfilling experience. The mostly level path upto Rudranag had some interesting views of the mountains, waterfalls, deodar forests and apple orchards; the last village on the path, Nakhtan had an interesting mix of cafes offering Indian and Israeli food; and the steep path up from Rudranag was slippery and challenging but beautiful and serene at the same time.
Most importantly, I met a large number of interesting people along the way. There was Bille Ram Sahab walking on to Nakhtan, stopping occasionally to smoke his beedi; Durga, Babita and Seema, the three girls walking to school in Barsheni four kilometers away and some women from Nakhtan who were knitting while climbing whereas I had to watch my step all the time. There was also an ex-sniper from the Israeli Defense Forces and an American guy who was collecting pull tabs from soda cans to put on his necklace (which was made entirely of pull tabs. Sadly, I don’t have a picture.)
The sulphur springs at Kheerganga itself are the perfect balm for those tired muscles and if you have time, I would recommend camping there for the night. We, however, had very little time and were soon on our way back, all the way to Bandrol.
That night I had energy for nothing but a quick shower and a meal before I passed out. Even Captain Lee’s ghost would have found it impossible to wake me that night.
5. Visit Rohtang
Come sunrise, we were awake yet again. Despite those sore and aching muscles, we got into a car and went to Rohtang to play in the snow. The National Green Tribunal has restricted the number of vehicles which can go up to Rohtang out of environmental concerns so its best to wake up early if you really want to go.
There’s something magical about snow especially when you know that all your friends are languishing in the heat only a few hundred kilometers away.
The drive to Rohtang was beautiful and truly took away a good deal of my tiredness. The NGT is really on to something here; the cool, crisp and diesel-free air is wonderful to breathe.
I played for a while in the beautiful fresh snow; all the while happily thinking of my friends and loved ones getting on with their lives in the sweltering heat.
I ended this delightful trip with my last-ever plate of delicious lead-infested Maggi. I know now that I should have given in to greed and had a second one.
I’ve always loved reading Saki’s stories, the Chronicles of Clovis in particular. This trip was my Unrest Cure, a There and Back Again in 5 days.
I’d like to conclude with this picture from Rohtang because I’ve had a certain degree of affection for BRO and its signboards since my trip to Tawang: