Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Himachal Travel Diary - A Preamble

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” 
― John Muir

A preamble to a travelogue – now that’s something unheard of! But I really wanted to put this down because of the amount of R&D and efforts that went into planning a trip meticulously without the help of any tour organizer. Some readers may find this piece of write up unnecessary but I will be glad even if this helps one person like us  planning an offbeat trip to Himachal.

Inception: A had a long holiday coming up in June. Usually during long holidays we would travel to our hometowns. But this time, around May first week A surprised me by saying lets plan a trip to Himachal or Ladakh. I was so grateful to him that he simply didn't say let’s plan a holiday “somewhere” which was the usual case and instead emphasized on two particular places to choose from. Half of my efforts were saved. At least I had thought so in the beginning.

Some of the facts that stared back at me were:

1.    Summer time = Peak season
2.    Summer Vacation in school = too much crowd
3.    Time left to plan = 5 weeks (ONLY!)

The first thing was Feasibility check, whether we could plan a long trip with 7 days in hand. Initial R&D said that both Ladakh and Himachal are feasible if selected places are done. Somehow I was more inclined towards Himachal because of the greenery and riot of colors available than the barren lunar landscape of Ladakh. But on an impartial note I began the price check for both tours simultaneously. We wanted to keep the starting budget low as we knew that once the tour would start we would surely overspent in all the areas marked as “variable”. So the starting budget was fixed at 40K. Most of the packages that we checked were from Delhi to Delhi and costing nearly 35K for a 5 night trip to Leh and Nubra. Which meant we had to take a flight from Pune to Leh, to save days in hand for sightseeing. I checked the flight prices and one way price for one person was almost 11k. I tried out a few permutation and combination but still couldn't fit anything in the decided range. So Ladakh plan was positively out of question. Happy at the verdict I launched a full throttle R & D on Himachal to identify the areas that would be on our travel list.

Basic Info about the state:
Himachal Pradesh is believed to be a hallowed land of gods, goddesses and saints. As the name connotes ('Him' means snow), it is a land of snow-clad mountains, snow-fed rivers and sparkling streams. The state is landlocked with the Tibetan plateau to the east, Jammu and Kashmir to the north, and the Punjab to the west. However, the state stands apart from its neighbors in terms of its sheer topographic diversity and breathtaking pristine natural beauty. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation has divided the State into four interesting circuits. These circuits pass through different terrains each unique from the other.

1. Beas Circuit: Deriving its name from the ancient river Beas, this circuit makes its way through the popular Kullu-Mandi region known for its amazing natural beauty. The Beas River, with its clear water gurgles and sloshes through the landscape adding to the picture perfection of this circuit. One can witness well-defined snow-capped peaks, Deodar and pine trees, tiny alpine fields, rocky slopes amid grassy meadows carpeted with wild flowers and Terraced field of apples orchards across Kullu Valley. This 1335 km circuit includes: Delhi, Swarghat , Bilaspur, Mandi, Rewalsar, Kullu, Manali, Manikaran, Naggar, and Rohtang.

2.Sutlej Circuit: This circuit is named after the popular river Sutlej. The Sutlej circuit passes through the Shiwalik foot hills through apple orchards, forests of pine, oak and deodar, majestic monuments of the Raj, snow covered ski slopes and the furious Sutlej River. The Sutlej Circuit includes Delhi, Sarahan, Solan, Shimla and Kiarighat Narkanda, Parwanoo, Rampur, Naldehra, Tattapani, Kasauli, Renuka, Barog, Paonta Sahib and Nahan, Chail and Hatkoti

3. Dhauladhar Circuit: This circuit is named after the famous Dhauladhar peaks located in the West of Himalayan range. Also known as the Outer Himalaya, Dhauladhar range begins from near Dalhousie of Himachal and extends as a necklace through the state to near the bank of the Beas River in the Kullu before ending near Badrinath. The flowers of the meadows, the beautiful architecture of temples, the amazing tea estates and grazing sheep gives a wonderful experience to the traveller. This Dhauladhar circuit covers Delhi, Dharamsala, Jwalamukhi, Palampur, Chamunda, Kangra, Dalhousie, Chintpurni, Khajjiar, Jogindernagar and Chamba.

4. Tribal Circuit: The cold desert mountains, mighty glaciers, icy frozen lakes, high passes, snowcapped peaks, spectacular monasteries, lamas and yaks - this region is marked by rich cultural traditions.This circuit covers Delhi, Losar, Kunzum, Kaza, Koksar, Sissu, Tandi, Trilokpur, Rohtang Pass, Manali, Udaipur, Sangla, Kalpa Nako, Sarahan, Shimla, Tabo, Dhankar and Pin Valley

In every circuit there was something which was not to be missed. First I picked out the places from the entire state which seemed interesting. The list looked something like this: Kullu, Manali, Naggar, Rohtang, Sarahan, Narkanda, Naldehra, Tattapani, Kasauli, Chail, Dharamsala, Palampur, Kangra, Dalhousie, Khajjiar, Chamba. Tribal circuit was completely left out because of the similarity of landscape with Ladak. Also we had heard that the passing road maybe would remain close during the time of our visit.16 places were not possible in 7 days, so it had to be brought down to some 3-4 places so that we could have ample sightseeing and resting time at each location plus the travel time had to be taken under consideration from one place to another.

A had never seen snow before so his priority was to experience snow and to get snow in the sweltering heat of June one definitely had to travel to Rohtang. Hence Rohtang was mandatory which meant we had to stay in Manali, which is the nearest city to Rohtang. Since for Rohtang one needed to start at 2.30 AM hence we possibly couldn’t do on the very next day of reaching Manali at 2 AM. So two days stay in Manali was finalized – one day for local sightseeing and one for Rohtang & Solang.

Now we had 3 more days left. While surfing through the stay options near Manali in the http://hptdc.nic.in/ I came across Nagger and Jagatsukh which looked very picturesque. Especially I was bowled over by Nagger Castle – a wooden shikara style architecture castle and they had stay options available too at affordable prices but unfortunately the best view room of Naggar was booked and the leftovers didn't have that great a view.

In parallel I was looking for Kasol, which looked like another quaint little town with loads of natural beauty and the beautiful Parvati River flowing right across it. Since our destination always went along the offbeat path I was more than eager on doing Kasol. The articles said that Kasol was a tiny place where you could cover the entire town on foot in a few hours itself. Hence Kasol was fixed as Destination number 2. And Naggar and Jagatsukh would be done on way to Kasol.

For the third destination and maybe a 4th one as well the dilemma was there. Khajjiar, Chail, Palampur all looked good but we had to be somewhere from which the travel back to Delhi/Chandigarh would be easy. If we choose something in a faraway place then travel time would increase. And it’s always advisable to start with the farthest point in the itinerary and gradually come closer to exit place. After infinite hours of googling, I found out that there were a couple of very beautiful places scattered south of Kasol. The devilonwheels.com site gave a pretty description of the following places: Barot, Tirthan valley, Chindi and Pabbar Valley. Each of them was far away from civilization, had the much needed peaceful ambiance and oodles of natural beauty. I wanted to do them all! But time was sparse hence everything was not possible. The knowledge of Trout fishing possibility in Tirthan interested me. The final contenders were Barot and Tirthan. Both looked and felt quite similar from description but I really loved the Tirthan Valley pictures hence we decided we would select Tirthan Valley as the final destination just for chilling out doing nothing. So the final plan looked like this :

Delhi --> Manali --> Rohtang/Solang --> Jagatsukh -->Naggar --> Kasol -->Manikaran --> Tirthan valley --> Delhi (Almost entire Beas Circuit)

Later on during the course of the trip due to a small change in plans we got the opportunity to visit Kullu as well.

Logistics: This is very important part of the travel.

Train: If you are following the same route as us, it’s advisable you do it from Chandigarh to Chandigarh instead of Delhi to Delhi as we did. That way you will be spared at least 6 hours of journey each side. But for this you need to make sure that you book your tickets nearly two months before the D-day.

1.    Train 1: Pragati Express (Pune Station to Mumbai CST, 7:50 AM – 11:15AM same day, Rs 341/head)  = Good*

2.    Train 2: August Kranti (Mumbai BCT to Delhi Nizamuddin, 17.40 PM – 10.55 AM next day, Rs 1815/head) = Very Good*

3.    Train 3: BCT Duronto (New Delhi Station to Mumbai BCT, 23.30 PM – 16.15 PM next day, Rs 1815/head) = Good*

4.    Train 4: Shahyadri Express (Mumbai CST to Pune Station, 17.50 PM – 21.55PM same day, Rs.676/head) = Bad*

* - Rating

Car: I am a person who has acute motion sickness which gets amplified while travelling on any ghat roads in a closed vehicle. The most preferred way of travelling to Himachal is taking the overnight Volvo. I felt pretty reluctant to take the enclosed Volvo for a 14 hours journey, due to my earlier experience of returning in a Volvo from Goa wherein throughout the way I kept vomiting. I positively needed a vehicle where I would have easy access to natural air whenever I feel queasy. Also we had big luggage with us, so taking local transport option for moving from point A to B during the travel was also not a good option. Thinking about all this we decided to book a cab for the entire Delhi to Delhi* journey, that way we would have flexibility in movement at all times. I also had to give up the temptation of travelling on the roof of a local bus to Kasol (recommended) as I didn't want to compromise on convenience.

Car Company Details:

Contact Person : Kailash Kumar(09540000804)
Total Amount for 6 nights 7 days = Rs. 20,000 for 17000 Km (Maruti Dzire)

>> Volvos are available only overnight. Non-Ac government buses are however available during the day also. * - for only Delhi drop and pick the charge was coming close to 11k so it is a better deal to book the car for entire journey.

>> In all probability your car will not go till Rohtang. Mind it Beas Kund is NOT Rohtang till where your car will drop you!!! From there the local union provides 4X4 jeeps for which they charge an atrocious amount. They will quote anything like 5-6k for a full car w/o sharing. Bargain and bring it down to 2K. Anything above it is not worth, anything less is great. And it’s worth going up till Rohtang if the weather is good. Another important point, Rohtang IS OPEN ON TUESDAYS, so all those info you read on net may or may not be applicable. Inquire properly before you plan. We went on a Tuesday only.

>> If planning for Rohtang, carry a good UV protection sunglass. The stark white snow reflects terribly in the eye, so definitely don’t go there without the necessary glares.

>> Don’t carry too many woolens thinking about Rohtang visit. We did that mistake. If you are going in summer, the ski suits that you can rent anywhere in Manali for Rs 250 and galoshes for Rs 200 is good enough in the subzero temperature. But you will need a woolen cap for sure, so carry it with you. Don’t make the mistake of not renting a suit, if you want to go in the snow which is why you will go all the way to Rohtang you will definitely need them if you don’t want to become a wet icicle.

Hotel Details:

1. Manali – Drifter’s Inn (Old Manali), Contact: Nishant (09805033127), Standard Room w/o food : Rs. 950/day

2. Kasol- Alpine Guest House (best strategic location in Kasol, don’t opt for anything else if you get this), Contact: Mrs. Mukherjee (09816271067), Room w/o food Rs 1200/day

3. Tirthan Valley(Nagni): Khem Bharti Homestay(), Contact : Khem Bharti (09459101113)

>> Stay at New Manali instead of Old if you prefer solitude and nature, or you can even stay near Jagatsukh. Stay at Old Manali only if you want to be near to the Mall road and other attractions

>> Definitely stay at Old Manali if you have plans for Rohtang, it will be nearer.

>> Don’t select any other hotel like Sandhya Kasol, Panchali Holiday Home etc…they will be expensive and without any view. Even if you don’t get accommodation in Alpine at first keep calling them a couple of times

>> Don’t expect mail confirmation from Alpine, they have a bad net connection, non-operational most of time

>> Mobile network very flickering in Kasol. ZERO at Khem Bharti

>> Opt for Raju’s guest house in Kasol for best experience (book very much in advance)

>> Khem Bharti has in-house wifi, which you can access if you get the room at the farthest end of the corridor on the first floor. No TV in room. In dining room there is a TV though.

>> Don’t go for Superior rooms @ Khem. They will say sky high things about the new rooms charging exactly double. You will only get a slightly bigger room w/o TV in the bargain. Not worth.

Useful links:

1.    http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/list-of-5-must-visit-off-beat-places-in-himachal-pradesh/

2.    http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/category/offbeat-places/

3.    http://hptdc.nic.in/

Checklist of things when you go on a travel

1.    http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/list-of-things-to-carry-when-you-go-on-trip/

The opportunities are infinite you just need to plan according to your taste to get the best out of Himachal.

Continued in Himachal Travel Diary - Part 1

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