Himachal Pradesh – March 2020.

A Fiasco.

I thought it would be the best time to enjoy winter Spiti in the month of March, according to the information collected from the experts’ blog. Last year in the month of September I went to Spiti but could not travel much within Spiti as I had to cover Chandratal, Lahaul and Pangi Valley. Passes were all open, so I kept on going forward through Kunzum and Sach Pass. This time my target was to go to Pin Valley ( Mudh Village) and Nako. On the way back thought I would visit beautiful Kinnaur. But man proposes God disposes.

When I booked train tickets, four months before the journey, in the month of November 2019, I had never ever heard the word “Corona”, probably no one in India. Gradually situation changed and a deadly disease named Covid-19 started coming into the news. But still it was far away from West Bengal or Himachal Pradesh. I was dissuaded by few people but I followed that the disease had been transmitting to those who travelled through airports. I am crazy about traveling, gets broken heart if any tour is cancelled. I thought I could manage the tour by train. If I would find any problem at any point of my journey I should come back immediately.

So I boarded Kalka Mail on time and reached Kalka. My plan was to go to Shimla and proceed for Rampur. But for some reason I felt nausea and did not get the courage to undertake another road journey after reaching Shimla. I settled in a hotel near the old bus stand where the taxi dropped me. I visited mall and the market and came down to have lunch. Though it was decently cold in Shimla but the weather was quite hot due to clear sky in the noon time. In the afternoon I went to Kalibari. Watching sun set was overwhelming from Kalibari. I felt nostalgic and remembered my visit to Kalibari with my parents thirty eight years ago.

Next day I went to Recong Peo, early morning, by a taxi from the old bus stand, which was carrying news paper. Local people avail these cars to save time as buses run slowly. I reached Recong Peo at noon. Mostly hotels were closed due to off season and the terror of Corona had let many people cancel their trips. It was pretty cold. I sneezed 2/3 times ,so I got afraid and did not bathe. In the afternoon I took a stroll in the market and took some photographs.

Next day in the morning I went to the bus stand to catch bus for Kaza. But unfortunately or perhaps fortunately I did not get the ticket in Kaza bus. It was filled with students who were going back to Kaza from Shimla due to sudden vacation announced by the authority. So I caught the Samdoo bus at 11 -30 and reached Nako in the evening. There I came to know that the local administration and group of hoteliers decided to close all the hotels and home stays for tourists in Spiti due to Corona terror. The hotel room at Nako was clean and cozy. But its bathroom was locked. It was not functional due to freezing temperature. I was asked to go to a toilet which was a bit distant and out of the building. At night I realized that I was quite unfit for doing winter Spiti. In -7/-8 degree temperature it was too inconvenient for me to go out for toilet alone in the mid night. Next morning I visited Nako Lake which was completely frozen. After breakfast I thought to come down at Kalpa. My ticket was after eight days. but it was not difficult at all to spend days in Himachal anywhere. I thought to spend rest of the days in Kinnaur and then gradually went down to catch the train.

I got a comfortable hotel in Kalpa though most of the hotels were closed. I thought to spend 2 nights there and take rest. But taking rest was not in my fortune this time. I came to know that Himachal Pradesh Government announced tourist ban after a day. So all the hotels were going to close and tourists were requested to leave. I saw the orders of the local administration as well as Himachal Pradesh government through a local hotelier friend. I asked my son to buy return flight ticket. Next day I reached Shimla in the evening and stayed in the same hotel. Next morning, I caught a taxi and reached Chandigrah airport three hours earlier than my flight time. Before that I equipped myself with mask and gloves. I landed kolkata via Lucknow in the nick of the time.

Jamuhar, a hidden treasure.

I had never heard about Jamuhar before I went there. It is a small village 18 KM away from Chamba, Himachal Pradesh. It is probably at an altitude of 5000ft. It is a popular hill station for the locals. Tourism has not spread very much here because this place is a personal property of the king of Chamba. There are only two three small hotels and one forest rest house for stay. Snow falls only in the winter, otherwise weather is generally temperate to warm. There is a temple of Jamu Naag at the center of the village. There is no market, except only few small departmental stores for essential commodities.

I came back from my Spiti, Lahaul and Pangi Valley trip to Chamba crossing Sach pass. I could not go to Kishtwar which was also in my plan. So I thought to spend the two extra days in Palampur. My hotel manager at Chamba advised me to go to Jamuhar after hearing about my strenuous and hectic trip. He said to me it would be another long bus journey if I went to Palampur. I should better go to Jamuhar and could rest peacefully there. It was not tourist season, so availability of accommodation would not be a problem. Next day I caught bus from Chamba bus stand after breakfast and reached Jamuhar at around 10-30. The bus dropped me in front of the temple.

There was a store beside the right side of the temple, I asked the shop-keeper if there was any hotel. He took me to his hotel by car which was hardly half a kilometer away from the temple. There was a boy who was his cousin and attendant of the hotel. He said to me that being off season they did not have cook, so if I wished I could cook for myself otherwise he would make lunch for me. I cooked my lunch and slept for a while. In the afternoon I took a stroll in the village. There was a falls which they called “Chasmah”. The boy of the guest house informed that its water was very good and pure, it had medicinal effect on stomach.

Next morning after breakfast I went to another village Aghar. The road ended there. I came back and cooked chicken curry for myself. In the afternoon I went to the temple. It was a very small temple. I could not see the deity because it was closed then. But I enjoyed roaming there. I enjoyed my two days stay in Jamuhar. It is a very peaceful place. I felt thankful to the hotel manager at Chamba. I came back to Chamba next day to go to Pathankot to catch train.

My Experiences in Shimla.

It was my 8th solo trip and 3rd solo trip to Himachal Pradesh, so I should say I was not very nervous. My first destination was Kaza. Initially I planned to go to Kaza via Manali. Later I thought it would be better going via Shimla, then I would not have to travel through the same road twice and I would also be able to see some parts of Kinnaur Valley. I bought the ticket for Himsuta, the HRTC Volvo bus from ISBT Kashmiri Gate to go to Shimla after reaching Delhi by Rajdhani Express. The bus started at 12-30 PM. There was lunch break at Panipath. There I marked a family of three , a middle aged couple with their young son. There were other people too.

When the bus reached near Shimla, people gradually started getting down from the bus. The conductor called out at every stoppage and checked the bus if they had left anything or if any one had missed his/her destination. At that time I asked the conductor if there was any hotel near the bus stand, he replied in negative. I again asked if there was any accommodation at Shimla ISBT, then also he replied in negative. I was insistent on this issue, because I had to get accommodation to spend the night in Shimla to get the bus for RecongPeo next morning, I came to know there was not even any conveyance from the bus stand after 8-30 at night. I bitterly said to the conductor that what should I do then.

A woman came from the front seat and sat beside me. She politely informed me that her son had asked her to help seeing me in plight. If I did not have problem they could accommodate me in there home. I hesitated at first. Then her son came, he said there house was a kilometer away from the bus stop, whether I should be able to carry my luggage that distance. I agreed reluctantly because I had no choice. I went with them, the boy helped me carrying my backpack. We reached their home.

It was quite a large house. They spared me a room and a bath room. I took a nice hot water bath and got refreshed. They showed me their whole house. I ate a tasty dinner there. The boy was very enthusiastic to keep me for another day with them and wanted to learn cooking Bengali fish cuisine, but I had to leave because I could not take risk to waste one day at the beginning of the tour. At night I had a deep sleep in that cozy bedroom. In the early morning the lady woke up and made tea for me. She offered me a packet of apples of their garden. I could not take them all because that would make my luggage more heavy. The boy took me up to the bus stand in their car and helped me to catch the bus for RecongPeo. It is needless to say that I shall never forget their sincerity, kindness and kinship.

My itinerary ( HP)

Himachal Pradesh

Spiti, Lahaul, Pangi Valley and Chamba

September 2nd half, 2019

Recong Peo

Sealdah – Delhi – Shimla – Recong Peo – Kaza – Batal – Chandratal – Batal – Gramphu – Kelong – Trilokinath – Udaipur – Kilar – Chamba (via Sach pass) – Jamuhar – Chamba( Valei mata, Chamara Lake ) Pathankot – Delhi – Sealdah.

On the way to Kaza from Recong Peo (Nako)

Himachal Pradesh is a large state situated in a very strategic location of Himalayas where one can find cold arid landscapes as well as lush green fields full of orchards.There are high mountain passes with dangerous roads. It is said that the drivers of the buses which ply from Keylong depot are the most expert drivers who drive in the deadliest roads of Himachal Pradesh. It is difficult to cover all the beautiful places of Himachal Pradesh in one lifetime specially for a person like me who started traveling very late. So I tried to cover the major parts in segments. This was my 3rd solo Himachal Pradesh trip. According to the advice of a young travel freak friend of mine I started the trip from Shimla and ended in Chamba.

Kunzum Pass

The whole journey was very strenuous but spectacular with deadly gorges of rivers, beautiful valleys, snow covered peaks of Himalayas and apple orchards. Most of the roads that I covered in this trip were unmetaled because they remained closed 6 months in a year due to snow which made the journey more difficult. I went to Shimla by HPTDC Volvo Himsuta from Delhi. I took shelter at night in Shimla in the house of a generous family who helped me seeing me in difficulty to find a shelter near ISBT after 9PM. I took a bus to go to RecongPeo. It started in the morning at 6-30 and reached RecongPeo at 5-30 in the afternoon.

Chandratal

I stayed one night at RecongPeo. From RecongPeo next early morning at 5-30 I caught another bus for Kaza which reached Kaza via Tabo at 4 PM. I was not interested in visiting monasteries, so I started for Chandratal next morning. I did not want to catch Himachal Roadways bus because I was too tired to wake up so early. This bus starts at 4AM. I bought tickets of a private run traveler bus service which was a bit costly but affordable for me. I booked seats for two consecutive days so that on the first day it could drop me at Batal and on the next day it would pick me up from Batal. I hitchhiked for Chandratal in different people’s car as there was no other option except to trek 14 km or more specifically 16+16 km up and down to witness the heavenly beauty of Chandratal. I spent the night in a tent(with attached toilet) of Tenzin Camp at the campsite of Chandratal.

On the way to Killar from Udaipur

I reached Kelong next evening via Gramphu. Keylong is a small transit town. I stayed there one night and then went to Trilokinath. After visiting Trilokinath temple I went to Udaypur. I liked this peaceful small town very much for its scenic beauty with many apple orchards, Chandravaga (Chenab) river and Snow peaks. I visited Mrikula Devi temple. The wooden carvings of this temple was spectacular. From Udaipur bus stand I took bus for Kilar. The distance was not so long but it took a long time due to the dangerous narrow road and very bad road condition. It is like traveling submitting one’s life in the hand’s of Almighty. Kilar is more populous town than Udaipur though situated in a more interior part of Himalayas. I did not take risk to cover Sach Pass in a bus. So I traveled in a shared jeep arranged by my hotel manager.

Sach Pass

Sach Pass is one of the deadliest pass with it’s extraordinary beauty of nature. It is full of innumerable large and small glaciers, uncountable streams that fall on the road like sudden torrential rain, snow covered peaks, and deep river gorge. There was an accident on the way due to which we were detained for two hours. We reached Chamba at night, 9-30 PM. As I did not want to stay at Chamba so according to the hotel owner’s advice I went to Jamuhar, a quaint hill station 18 km away from Chamba. I rested and enjoyed the solitude there. No tourist was there in that area at that time. I came back to Chamba after two nights’ stay. I visited Valei Mata Temple and Chamara Lake. Then I bade good bye to the hill and reached Pathankot to catch the train.

A village at Trilokinath

My Experiences at Batal

Batal is a transit point on the way to Manali or Keylong from Kaza or vice versa. Here the road bifurcates for Chandratal also. There are very few halting places on this way for refreshment. So those who go through this road normally halt here and have morning tea or snacks and soft drinks or breakfast or lunch. Here the only Dhaba that exists is Chacha-Chachi’s Dhaba.

When I got down from the traveler bus at 9-30 AM, the driver told me that they would pick me up from the same place at the same time next day, Chachi welcomed me. I informed her that I wanted to go to Chandratal and I was alone. She assured me with a smile that I must get a lift from someone and it would not be a great problem as I was alone, but I have to keep patience till lunch because people come for Chandratal from Manali then. I sat at their Dhaba where Chacha and his daughter-in-law were attending their customers continuously with a smile on their face. I ordered a cup of black tea and watched tourists. The clock kept on moving forward.

At 12 noon I ordered my lunch, rice, aloo ki sabzi(Potato curry) and fried eggs. They also had daal(pulses) and rajma curry(Kidney beans). But I avoided it because I was worried about my next plan and also about getting proper toilet. There was a toilet at Chacha-Chachi’s Dhaba which was work-ably clean and water was available there. But many people don’t have a habit of thinking about other people, they are just satisfied after fulfilling their own requirements. So the toilet was smelly.

I became very impatient after 1PM, but Chachi again consoled me telling to have patience. After trying few groups, a generous couple agreed to give me a lift for Chandratal. Chachi gave me the card of Tenzin Camp and requested me to stay there. I kept my rucksack in the custody of Chachiji and took only my small backpack with necessary things. I reached Chandratal, enjoyed the heavenly beauty of Chandratal and again got lift from two good Mongolian women, who were friends and came to visit India, while coming back to Batal next morning.

When the two Mongolian friends dropped me at Batal it was 6 o’clock in the morning. They had breakfast there and then they left for Solang valley. I kept on waiting. In the mean time I asked for my rucksack which I had kept there previous day. Chachaji said with a serious face, “Someone has asked for it on behalf of you and I gave it, didn’t you send him? ” I became puzzled and said, “I told you that I am alone. why did you give my luggage to a stranger ?” But suddenly I watched that Chachaji’s eyes were twinkling with humour. I understood that he was joking with me as he did regularly with his customers. If someone had a bill of 500 rupees, he asked him to give 5 thousand and when someone challenged he said, zero had no value, so what if he added an extra zero !!! I enjoyed there watching their activities and had breakfast.

Chacha Chachi are famous in that region. They gave shelter and food to hundreds of people last year (2018 September) when tourists got stuck during a sudden natural calamity. They got several accolades from different organizations and famous people. There was an unceasing smile on the faces of this industrious couple. They called every customer “beta (child)”. Watching them I realized that inner beauty and complacency are the two invaluable possession which they own.

As usual the bus was late. But Chachaji said not to worry if they had taken money they would definitely pick me up sooner or later. At last the bus came and picked me up from Batal for Keylong. That is another part.

My itinerary for HP

Himachal Pradesh

( Tirthan, Parvati, Barot valley, Rewalsar and Mandi)

Sealdhah- Delhi- Aut- Banjar- Sairopa- Sojha- Jalori pass- Banjar- Bhuntar- Kasol- Tosh- Kalga- Manikaran- Mandi- Barot- Mandi- Rewalsar- Mandi- Prashar Lake Mandi- Chandigarh- Howrah.

Time – March 2nd half, 2019.

Tirthan River, Sairopa.

Tirthan Valley, Parvati Valley and Barot Valley are not so common tourist destinations among the Bengalis or to the travelers of Eastern part of India as they are to the tourists of Delhi or Chandigarh. When I planned for this trip I took some tips from the people who visited these places. Every time I plan a trip I do a lot of homework. But this was a bit different one from other plans. So the advice I got failed in the beginning of the tour. I should inform that it is risky to get down before Aut Tannel if it is not day time and no public vehicle is available there before 9 AM either for Bhuntar or for Banjar.

Parvati river, Kasol

Tirthan is a beautiful valley with so many places to stay like Sairopa, Nagini, Sojha, Gussaini, Gada Gusaini, etc. Banjar is a transit point from where one can get public transports for these places. There is a Forest rest house at Sairopa. There are home-stays also in every places. I stayed in Sairopa. I planned to stay at Sojha for 2 nights and visit Serolsar lake. But in the end of March there was 6 feet high snow and local people dissuaded me to go there. I went to Jalori pass but it was unfortunate, due to late retreating monsoon this year (2019 March) everywhere there was too much snow and I could not visit Jalori mata temple. Trout fishing in Tirthan river and trek in Himalaya National Park are the main attractions of this valley.

Jalori Pass

Parvati is also a beautiful Valley in Kullu district situated beside Parvati river. I went to Kasol via Bhuntar. Kasol is a bit crowded place now a days. I went to Tosh via Manikaran and Barsaini. Tosh and Kalga both are beautiful places with their pristine scenic beauty. People mostly go there for Kheerganga trek. Parvati Valley is also famous for its Israeli food and narcotics. I tasted only Israeli food because I was already intoxicated with the natural beauty of these places.

Tosh , Parvati Valley

Manikaran is a sikh pilgrimage. There is a Gurdwara with hot spring attached with it. From Manikaran I went to Mandi and from Mandi I went to tranquil Barot Valley beside Uhl river. I liked it very much though it apparently looked a bit dull. It is famous for Trout fish and there is a government run Trout fishing farm.

Barot Valley

From Barot Valley I went to Rewalsar via Mandi. It is a place full of Tibetans. There are few Tibetan Monasteries and a Gurdwara. There was a large lake in the middle of the small hill town which was full of fish. After visiting Rewalsar I went back at last to Mandi and stayed two nights there. Mandi is a large hill town. From Mandi Taxi stand I hired a Taxi to visit Prashar lake which was unique for its natural beauty. I had to trek 3+3 km through the snow to reach the lake. Next day I came down to Chandigarh to catch Kalka mail.

Prashar lake

My itinerary (HP)

Himachal Pradesh

Manimahesh, Kugti(Kathikswami Temple) and Dhauladhar Circuit.

Howrah – Pathankot – Chamba – Bharmor – Hadsar – Manimahesh – Hadsar- Kugti – Chamba – Khajjiyar – Dalhausie ( chamara Lake -Dainkund etc )- Dharamsala ( Masroor Rock cut Temple – Kangra devi – Kangra fort -Jwalamukhi – Chamunda Devi ) – Macleodgung (Bhagsu Naag temple- Vaagsu falls- Daal Lake – St. John’s Church- Dalai Lama’s house etc)- Pathankot – Kolkata

On the way to Hadsar from Bharmor

Manimahesh Kailash is a pilgrimage in Himachal Pradesh which is considered as the abode of Manimahesh Shiv, it is not so popular like Kedarnath for its difficult accessibility. The altitude of the Manimahesh Peak is 5653 meter and the height of the Manimahesh lake is 4040 meter ( 13, 390 ft) which is a high altitude lake situated at the foot of the peak. The lake is the venue of a highly revered pilgrimage trek undertaken during the month of August/September. Hadsar is the last motorable point, after that it is a 17/18 km (app) trek. Pony is also available. But one has to walk time to time on the way because at some places slopes are very steep.

Khajjiyar

When I planned the trip I planned for visiting Kugti Village. It’s an Eco village. There is Kathik Swami temple 7 kilometer up hill from the village. There is no motorable road up to Kugti. It is 10 km from Hadsar. Shared jeeps ply from Hadsar to Kugti. One has to walk 2 km to reach the village. There is no hotel, only one forest rest house is there but locals give shelter for night.

Chamara lake

I also planned to cover a major part of Dhauladhar circuit of Himachal pradesh. After visiting Kathikswami I went back to Chamba to complete the circuit. I could not see Dhauladhar range in this trip because it was all covered with cloud and mist. From Chamba I went to Khajjiyar. Kajjiyar looked mystic with clouds. Dalhausie is a typical Himalayan hill station established by British. In dalhausie I did local sight seeing in a car sharing with another tourist. Then I went to Dharamsala. Dharamsala is a large town. One has to hire car to go to Masroor rock cut temple, Kagra Devi temple, Kangra fort, Chamunda Devi temple, Jwala devi temple etc. McLeod-gunge is very near to Dharamsala and a very beautiful place to stay. There also I had to hire car sharing with another tourist for sight seeing and visited Dahl lake, Vagsu nag, Vagsu Nag falls, Dalailam’s house etc. The market of McLeod-gunge is alluring for those who love shopping.

Kangra fort

The end of the trip was a fiasco for me. When the car reached near Pathankot, the driver informed us that all the trains had been cancelled due to political chaos. On that day the verdict against Baba Ram Rahim was announced, he had been accused for several crimes. His disciples started breaking government properties, attacked press and media people. Curfew was declared in several places, transport services were detained for unlimited time. Communication services were withheld. I became too much worried and called my son over phone. He was in Bengaluru then. He asked me which was the nearest airport. The nearest airports were Chandigarh and Amritsar, but it was not possible to travel within Punjab so I preferred Jammu airport to get flight to come back to kolkata. I went to the interstate bus terminus to inquire about the bus service to go to Jammu from Pathankot. When I came back the flight tickets of next two days were already sold, so I went to Jammu and waited there two days to get the flight. It was my 4th Jammu visit, so there was nothing much left to see. I went to the Raghunathji temple and roamed around the market, and had Kebabs from Papa Di Hatti.

Bhagsu Falls