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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Durga puja is a great festival for the Bengali. It is celebrated in the Bengali calendar month Ashwin (September/October). Every year my son would stay with me during puja and we both enjoyed puja, cooking and eating together. But in this puja ( October 2018) he was not with me as he was in abroad for his higher studies. So, I found staying in Kolkata alone during puja was absolutely purposeless for me. I suddenly thought that it would be the best way to spend the time in the interior of Himalayas. I searched for a place in North Sikkim which would be serene even in the time of Durga puja. Normally most of the people in Bengal get 3/4 days vacation during this period and schools and institutions remain close for at least ten days. So many people travel during this period. Sikkim being a nearby destination there remains a rush for Gangtok or popular places of Sikkim.
I found out the name Dzongu after a few days home work. It is a Lapcha village. Lapchas are the original native residents of Sikkim. The valley is a protected area and one needs to get permit from the local DC office to go there. As I planned for Dzongu I also planned to visit Gurudongmar lake because during my last visit to Sikkim I could not manage to go the lake due to heavy rainfall.
I boarded Tista -Torsha Express from Sealdah and reached New Jalpaiguri. Early in the morning when auto started plying to Shiliguri bus stand from the railway station I went to the bus stand and boarded a bus which was going to Gangtok. Buses ply regularly from Shiliguri to Gangtok every hour. I got down at Singtam and went to the taxi stand to get a shared jeep for Mangan. I reached Mangan Taxi stand at 1 pm. I found another shared jeep which would go to Dzongu. But there was no driver and no one could tell when the jeep would start. I also had to make permit for Dzongu and Lachen so I hired a taxi. The driver took me to the police station to make permit because DC office was closed then. The officer in charge inquired why I had been alone and then checked my documents. He gladly gave me the permit addressing me a brave lady. I reached Dzongu. As I did not have any previous booking and I did not know very well where to stay the driver took me to a home-stay at Paasingdang village.
It was a pleasant stay at Dzongu . I stayed there for 3 days. The home-stay owner helped me to get a taxi to go to Lachen. I could go by shared jeep too but I had pain in legs due to 10 km down hill trek from Tholung monastery previous day. I went to Lachen. I stayed in another home-stay there. I went to Gurudongmar by a Scorpio arranged by my hostess. It was a beautiful experience watching autumn colours of the trees on the way with Lachen river by the side. Weather was quite clear this time and I watched the magnificent turquoise blue lake.
From Lachen I got down to Mangan. I visited the Monastery of Mangan and Shinghik view point. Shinghik is a place on the way from Chungthang to Mangan. Then I came down to Shiliguri again by Sikkim Government bus and caught Kolkata -Shiliguri Volvo bus.
I received a message in the early morning from IRCTC that Kumbh Express would start at 8 PM instead of 1PM. I felt a bit disturbed and anxious. Thank God! The train was not cancelled. As it started late it reached at 7-30 AM after two nights’ journey. I did not want to waste time in Haridwar though I had accommodation, booked previously in GMVN’s Rahi Motel. I got the last bus for Joshi Math from the bus stand and boarded immediately. I could not get a window seat but it did not matter much to me because it was not my first journey towards Joshi Math. When the bus dropped me at Helang the sun had already set down behind the hills. I lodged in a hotel on the highway.
Next day I waited for shared jeep at Helang since 7 o’clock in the morning till 12 noon. When at last the jeep came I forcefully stuffed myself within the jeep in a desperate manner and reached Devgram. I trekked quite fast and reached Kalpeshwar temple, though construction work was going on, the workers helped me to cross the difficult parts. I came back at 3PM and then went for Gopeshwar.
I spent the night at Gopeshwar GMVN. I went to Chopta from there at 12 noon by a bus that plied from Gopeshwar to Ukhimath. I spent the night at Chopta. Early morning I started for Tunganath. As it rained heavily at night so there was haze. I could not capture sunrise on the mountain range. There was plenty snow on the top. The weather in Himalayas is absolutely unpredictable. I did not expect so much haze everywhere in the month of April. After coming down from Tunganath I went to Sari village taking lift in Lakhpat Singji’s car who owned a hotel also and I was acquainted with his name through the travel vlog of Chinmay Nath in You Tube.
After visiting Deoria Tal I went to Ukhimath. Luckily Kedarnathji and Madmahewarji had been staying in Omkareshwar Temple at that time. I felt myself blessed visiting them. Then I went to Kanakchauri via Rudrapyayag.
After coming back to Rudraprayag I thought to go to Pauri and Khirshu. I spent one leisurely day at Khirshu and another day at Kaudiyala. The end was not very smooth and pleasant as the tour was. Kumbha Express left Haridwar at 7-30 in the morning instead of 11 pm at the previous night. The co-passengers were terrible. They were two students of Doon Valley school who had appeared for 12 class board examination. They were extremely smelly in every way and very much ill behaved. I came to know that one’s father was a politician of Mughal Sarai and other’s father had real estate business at Patna. They were the burning example that money can not buy culture. When they got down I felt a bit relieved but they left their smell till I came back home and washed all my clothes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gangotri and Yamunotri are two important pilgrimages of Uttarakhand. The temples there normally open on the day of Akshay Tritiya. In the year 2016 it opened on 9th May. According to that I planned my trip in the next week to avoid opening rush. But then summer vacation already started. This was my second solo trip. I did not have much idea that how much the rush would remain during summer vacation.
I reached Haridwar in the evening by Kumbh Express. It was 3 hours late. I kept my luggage in GMVN tourist rest house near the railway station which I booked from kolkata. Then I went to the bus stand to know when could I get the bus for Barkot. I came to know that no bus was going to Barkot from Haridwar then. In the season getting public transport was quite difficult. Jeeps and buses were mostly hired by the pilgrims. Only one bus plies to Barkot from Dehradoon which leaves at 7 o’clock in the morning and the first bus for Dehradoon leaves at 5 AM from Haridwar.
I woke up at 4 o’clock and got myself prepared to catch the first bus. when I went to the bus stand and was asking for the bus, a guy, who seemed to be a conductor of a bus, was clearing his account there. As I told the attendant in the counter that I must not miss the first bus for Dehradoon because I had to catch the bus for Barkot from there, then that person said that his bus would go to a place which was just 10 km away from Barkot. I could easily go to Barkot from there by shared jeep. I went with him and he offered me his seat just beside the driver as all seats were already filled up. I started the journey. As soon as we reached the destination the driver showed me the bus from Dehra also reached there. He shifted my luggage and asked the other driver to drop me at the proper place.
At Barkot I stayed in GMVN annexe. There I met an intellectual happy couple from Chennai, Sunil and Swati. The former was an IAS officer who was also an engineer from IIT Madras and his wife, a professor of Hindi. They had two daughters and their parents with them. I had a nice chat with them. Next day I went to Yamunotri by Shared jeep. There I hired a pony, did darshan and came back. What really hurt me was offerings of saris in the river Yamuna, which I considered not only a cause of water pollution but also a wastage of money, in a poor country like ours,, which could be utilized in a much better way.
I spent the night at Hanuman Chatti as I did not get accommodation at Janki Chatti. Next early morning I went back to Janki Chatti by a matador truck to catch the bus for Uttarkashi. In Uttarkashi I visited Viswanath temple. Then in the next morning I went to Gangotri. In the afternoon I booked for a pony and made my permit with the help of my guide for Gaumukh and watched Ganga arti. I spent one night at Bhojobasa GMVN rest house. Next day I came down to Gangotri and took a shared jeep to reach Harsil. Harsil is a beautiful hamlet on the way to Gangotri from Uttarkashi, established by an absconded British army officer Mr Wilson.
From Harsil I went to Chamba via Uttarkashi. I went to Tehri dam hiring a jeep from Chamba. Tehri dam had a huge reservoir cum lake where I had a water scooter ride. The same jeep dropped me at Dhanaulti. I visited Sarkanda Devi temple and came down to Mussoorie and then caught train from Haridwar.
The trip was full of incidents. I enjoyed all of them whether good or bad, they enriched my experience. I saw forest fire while going to Uttarkashi from Barkot. One can not imagine it without watching the destruction caused by the nature. For more than an hour the bus went through the hghway where in both the sides forest was burning. The heat could be felt and there was burning smell all over. After Harsil I wanted to visit Nelang valley but could not manage it alone, instead I went to Dhanaulti.
Valley of flowers is a unique place in the Garhwal Himalaya at the altitude of 3658 meters from the sea level where hundreds of variety of flowers bloom only in the monsoon season. They start blooming in the month of July. They bloom in different phases and wither away gradually till the end of September. Rest of the years the valley remains covered by snow. It is a world heritage site and no camping is allowed there. One has to trek 7 km up hill to visit the valley from Ghangharia.
Hemkund Sahib is at the altitude of 4,633 meters which is a famous Sikh pilgrimage. It is 10 km from Ghangharia. Ponies and porters are available for them who can not trek.
I booked a package of GMVN for Valley of flowers, Hemkund Sahib and Badrinath in July 2015. Unfortunately, or I can say now fortunately, the package was cancelled due to natural calamity. I decided not to cancel my train tickets and try on my own. So I boarded the train on time . It was a great experience for me. I realized that in Himalayas no one is alone and if one comes out alone on the roads of Himalayas with a bit of courage the path automatically opens. I did not expect I could make it but when I came back from the valley tears came rolling out unceasingly with joy from my eyes. I felt the blessings of Almighty.
From Haridwar I went to Joshimath by a shared jeep. At Joshimath I stayed in GMVN tourist rest house. Next morning I took another shared jeep from jeep stand and reached Gobindghat. I was quite late to reach there as it took almost 3 hours to get 10 local passengers. Normally those who go to VOF reach Gobinghat directly from Haridwar and stay there at night. They start early morning for Ghangharia. I felt quite fortunate that there was one pony-owner with his two ponies. I had to hire both because there was none to share. I reached Ghangharia at 3 PM and lodged in a hotel. I arranged a porter cum guide for VOF asking the hotel manager.
First I visited the paradisaical valley because I had to walk there and I wanted to go there with full energy. Second day in the early morning I went to Hemkund Sahib by pony. I came down from there at 1 PM and happened to meet the same pony owner boy in front of my hotel. He asked me whether I wanted to go back to Gobindghat. I went back with him and spend the night at Gobindghat. Next early morning my hotel owner arranged a jeep for me who took me to Badrinath. I did my darshan very peacefully, watched morning aarti and got kheer prasaad as there was hardly 15/20 pilgrims there. I did “pind daan” for my late parents. Actually it was a tribute to their memory. As it was my second time Badrinath darshan I did not want to stay there. It was raining also, so there was a fair chance of land slide again. I came down to Joshimath.
After covering the places planned by GMVN I found I had few days in hand which I utilized staying in Auli, Karnprayag, Rudrapayag and Rishikesh. I went to Auli GMVN rest house by Gandola and chair car.I spent one noght there and came back in the same way. It was a divine experience staying there.Then I went to Karan Prayag. I stayed one day there. It is a place where Alaknanda and Pindar river meet. I stayed another day in Rrdraprayag. There I visited Jim Corbett bark where he killed “Man eater of Rudraprayag”. Then I spent one day in Hrishikesh and one day in Haridwar. When I came back successfully my confidence increased and I decided to travel alone in future.