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 never ever heard the word “Corona”, probably no one in India. Gradually situation changed and a deadly disease named Corona 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 for 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 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.

Tunganath, the highest Kedar.

Chopta evening

Tunganath (12,000 ft app ) is considered as the highest Kedar among Panch(5) Kedars, though it is not as difficult or long trek as Rudranath, Madmaheshwar or Kedarnath. It is just 3/4 kilometers walking from Chopta. The path gradually goes up to the temple. Only the way to Chandrashila from Tungnath is a bit difficult as it is quite narrow in places as well as steep and ponies only go up to Tunganath Temple gate.

Temple Gate

I went to Tunganath in the month of April 2018. I reached Chopta from Gopeshwar by bus which was going to Ukhimath. Chopta is a beautiful small hamlet on the road, from where the trek for Tungnath starts. I took accommodation in a small hotel. The hotel owner arranged pony for me. As it was off season I had to pay for two ponies because there was no other person. Ponies normally prefer to go with their companion. The weather started getting cloudy from the afternoon and it started raining at night.

Early in the morning, before dawn the pony owner came with his ponies and we started for Tungnath. There were three hill dogs who accompanied me on the way. In the middle of the road we got a small tea shop which had just opened at that time. We had tea and I asked the shop owner to feed biscuit to the dogs. I took some snaps of myself and the mountain range though it was not very clear due to fog. As we started going up we saw plenty of snow which fell at night. At the temple gate the pony owner dropped me and left.

Rhododendron Tree

I had no idea about the path of Chandrashila. It was just a kilometer trek. I thought I could manage to go to the top on my own. Two dogs left us midway but one followed me. I started climbing but gradually the path became too narrow and slippery due to snow. After a certain point I realized that it would be very risky if I tried. No one was there, and if I had fallen I would fall directly into a deep bottomless saddle, no one would ever come to know that what had happened to me except the dog. So I abandoned my adventure. The dog was climbing before me. I looked at it helplessly and said in my mother tongue, “Lets go back, it is too slippery to walk due to snow ! I don’t have courage either to go with you !!!!” He understood and immediately came down. We then gradually walked downwards. He walked before me. I took lots of snaps of mountains and beautiful Chopta Valley. When I got down more than half a way I found tourists going upward. I met several people on my way back and I got acquainted with two very congenial persons and they are still my Facebook friend. One is a young enthusiastic solo trekker, and another is a mature aged Bengali lady doctor from Pune who travels all over the world. Meeting such people and interacting with them enrich my travel experiences. The dog was with me till I came down to the hotel.

When I came down it was 12 o’clock. I wanted to go to Deoria Tal. It was drizzling. The hotel owner was persuading me to spend another night there, but as it was raining and there was no chance to witness sunset at Chopta that evening, I wanted to leave. But by that time the local bus had gone, there was no car to hire, my pony owner helped me to make an arrangement with Lakhpat Sing Ji, who brought four ladies from Sari. I was acquainted with his name and about his hospitality from a blog. So I started for Sari Gaon in his car with four Bengaluru based ladies. It was raining heavily with small pieces of ice.

My companion

Chilika, the beautiful lagoon.

Rambha + Barkul (Odissa)

Chilika is a large brackish water lagoon situated at the coast of Odissa. It covers 1000 square kilometers approximately and is connected with bay of Bengal at Satpada. It is a great source of livelihood for many fishermen of Odissa. During winter many migratory birds come here from the countries of northern part of Asia.

This year I planned to visit Chilika in October for five days to avoid the crowd and noise of Kolkata Durga puja. I had no purpose to stay at home during those five days either. I planned to go to Chilika because the availability of train ticket for Berhampur was not so scarce as it was for New Jalpaiguri during Puja vacation. I booked accommodation in OTDC hotels from their office at Lenin Sarani for both the places.

Breakfast Island

I boarded Falaknuma Express in the early morning of “Sashthi”. The train reached Berhampur at 4-45 in the afternoon. I took an auto and reached old bus stand to catch bus for Rambha. It took approximately one hour by bus to reach Rambha. When the bus dropped me on the road, a generous person, who was going to the same place by his scooter for work at the same time, offered me lift on his back seat saying that OTDC rest house was quite a distance from the main road.

It was quite dark then. I could not see anything from the room. Next early morning before sunrise I went to the jetty from where the boats ply for local sightseeing. There were plenty of birds. I took photos of few of them. Gradually the sun rose from the back of the hill like a golden platter. Then I came back for morning tea. I requested the manager that if any group came and went for local boat trip he should try to add me with them for that trip, otherwise it would be costly for me. The manager assured me that he would help me to go for that trip. Before lunch an aged couple came. Normally people go for three destinations, but I convinced them that we should do all five. They agreed to do so. They were very nice to me and showed a lot of affection to me. We visited Breakfast island, Ghantashila, Bird island, Honeymoon island and Sankuda island. It was a two hours boat journey. I enjoyed every moment.

Next day I went to Barkul by an auto arranged by OTDC guest house. Barkul is 13km /14km from Rambha. I reached there just before lunch time. So after keeping my luggage in the room I went to the dining hall and took a crab preparation with rice. That was soft shell local crab of Chilika lake. It was tasty. I came back to my room and had a short afternoon nap. During my sleep I had an itching sensation, I thought there was mosquitoes, I switched on the mosquito repellent and slept again. When I woke up and went to bathroom, I saw in the mirror my swelling face and I found that I had rashes on my whole body also. I went to the reception to inquire about medicine shop. They took me to the doctor and doctor gave me anti-allergic tablet. Next day I was fit. I went to the jetty in the early morning. There was haze due to which I could not see sunrise. I wanted to go for a boat trip. I met a group who came on that day to offer puja to Kalijayi temple. I asked them if I could join the trip with them. Knowing that I was alone they offered me a free ride.

Kalijayi Temple

The journey was long. It took one hour to reach the temple. It was a pleasant experience. There were lots of Pankauri birds ( little black cormorant) and different types of storks, egrets, cranes, etc. But it was difficult to capture photographs from the running boat. I went with them in the temple and offered puja and made a wish there. After coming back to hotel I had my breakfast. The evening was spent roaming leisurely around the lake and watching birds.

Next day also after breakfast I went to Kalijayi Temple by OTDC boat. People visited different places like Rambha, Gopalpur, Daringbari from there, and for other local sight seeings , but I just went there to spent time peacefully and in a leisurely manner, which I did sitting most of the time on the balcony watching Lake Chilika, birds, boats, and activities of people. My return ticket was from Balugaon by Chennai-Howrah Mail. In the afternoon OTDC hotel reception arranged my auto. It was 7 km approximately from the hotel. I reached the station an hour before the train schedule. It was a small station and the train stopped there for 2 minues. Next early morning I came back to Kolkata when the city was fatigued by the merriment of the celebration of Durga puja and was fast asleep.

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.

Dhanaulti, a place for relaxation.

Dhanaulti is a small hill station, at an altitude of 7500 ft, situated at the foothills of the Garhwal Himalaya located 24 km (15 mi) away from the very popular hill station Mussoorie . There are few hotels and GMVN tourist rest house for the tourists. There are few good restaurants too for the day travelers who come from Musoorie or Chamba.

I went to Dhanaulti from Chamba via Tehri Dam . As I could not manage to go to Nelang valley so I had two days extra which I decided to spend in Dhanaulti. There was Sarkanda Devi temple which I visited on the day I arrived. Sarkanada Devi is a Sati Pith where the scull of Sati fell. Next day I just idled away walking on the roads and visiting the two Eco parks watching people enjoying leisure time with their families. The weather was pleasant even in the end of May.

Dhanauti is full of deodar and ceder trees, orchards of apple and walnuts , fields full of green vegetables on the slope of the mountain. It is away from the hustle bustle of the crowd not being so popular as Mussoorie. It is a pleasant place for those who want to spend peaceful leisure time.

I enjoyed good food there. The hotel owner was a congenial person. He arranged a jeep for me to go to Sarkanda devi temple. He was quite worried and concerned about me because I was traveling alone. He asked me to go down to Mussoorie because public transport was uncertain from that place and advised me that I should not take risk to reach Haridwar from there on the day of my return journey to catch train. So after spending two relaxed night there I came down to Mussoorie by a shared jeep that was going to Dehradoon.

Tirthan Valley adventure

Tirthan is a beautiful valley in Himachal Pradesh near Kullu. Normally I read a lot before planning a trip. But sometimes those information do not work. It happened in the Tirthan trip also. According to the information, which I received from a travel forum, I took HP tourism’s Volvo bus “Himsuta” from Delhi ISBT for Manali to get down at Aut. It was instructed that one should get down before Aut tunnel, where the road bifurcated, to get a bus for Banjar. The Volvo started at 6 PM from Delhi. My co-passenger was an old man from Bhuntar. When I informed him that I had to get down before Aut tunnel he discouraged me to do so saying that it would not be wise to get down there as the place would remain absolutely deserted at 5 AM in the morning. He instructed the conductor to drop me after crossing the tunnel where there would be light and locality.

Magpie at Sairopa

It was completely dark when the bus dropped me on the highway at Aut at 5 o’clock in the morning. It was drizzling. I found an ATM booth where there was light. I walked in front of it with my luggage. Three dogs came running towards me. I had an old newspaper in my hand. I thought to sit there spreading it on the floor in front of the ATM booth. One of the dogs snatched it and two others started sniffing my bags. I felt scared. I entered into the booth to avoid them. Then suddenly the burglar alarm of the booth started ringing. I felt completely bewildered. I came out and became victim of the dogs again There were vehicles on the highway which passed by very fast.

Jalori pass

After sometime I saw a car was coming down slowly along an unmetalled road. As soon as it slowed down to take a turn in front of the ATM booth I shouted desperately for help. If it was a big city I would have preferred to be bitten by the dogs than to ask help from two strangers. But it was Aut, so without any hesitation I accepted the lift. They took me to a nearby tea shop, offered me tea. They were two civil engineers who were on duty for some construction work. They came down to the tea stall to have morning tea and snacks. They knew it opened early.

Sojha

In the shop there were three men sitting and having tea, two of them also experienced the same like me taking shelter in the ATM, and later came to the tea stall. I waited there for the local bus to go to Banjar. In the mean time I had my breakfast there. Then a taxi came for distributing news paper in the morning which would go to Banjar. The tea stall owner negotiated with the driver and managed a lift for me up-to Banjar instead of hundred rupees. The taxi driver dropped me at Banjar bus stand. He suggested me to stay at Sairopa instead of Nagini. I boarded a local bus and reached Sairopa. It was a nice place.

Banjar

There is Himalayan National Park in Sairopa. It is also famous for trout fishing. One has to get permit for fishing and to trek in the forest from the Forest office. There is a Forest Rest house in Sairopa. Himalayan Magpies are in plenty in this valley with other species of birds. I enjoyed the serenity because there was no tourist at that time. I roamed around, watched beautiful birds and blooming plum fruit trees and Tirthan river.

Next day I went to Banjar by local bus and from there I went to Sojha and Jalori pass by shared jeep. Sojha is also a beautiful small hamlet in Tithan Valley. I wanted to trek to Serolsar lake from there but locals dissuaded me because there was 5/6 feet high snow. Jalori pass was also blocked due to snow. I could not reach Jalori Mata temple. So I decided not to waste time in Sojha staying there another day. From Tirthan Valley I went to Bhuntar by bus to go to Parvati valley.

Amarnath and Vaishno Devi

I always wanted to visit Amarnath since my teenage years. When I got the opportunity in July 2014 then I crossed 50. I was hesitant to plan this trip alone. So I took help of a reputed travel agency of Kolkata. Vaishno Devi was also included in that package. I liked their plan because they had been starting from Chandanbari and ending at Baltal. I was happy that I could be able to travel both the routes.

That was the first year when medical checkup from fixed nominated government hospital and issuing of fit certificate was introduced and the yatra permit had to be taken from the assigned bank paying a nominal sum as fees for yatra. We reached Pehelgham. The manager of the tour arranged doli and pony for us. But they took Rs 7500 from us though they only paid 5000 to the pony owner, they made profit of Rs 2500 for each horse. Everything went fine otherwise. Reaching the cave at the height of 12,756 ft was a unique as well as spiritual experience. I was fortunate to witness not only the huge ice Shiva but also natural ice made Sri Ganapati and mother Parvati beside Him.

On the way back to Baltal I fell from the horse 4 times due to the negligence of my syce who did not tie the saddle on the horse back properly, it was really a terrible experience. I became very much scared and panic stricken. The last time I started shouting as soon as my saddle tilted from the horse back. Indian army, everywhere on the way to Amarnath, was very active and helpful. They rescued me in the forth time and threatened the syce to take care of me. Then he checked and tightened the saddle properly.

We rested two nights in Srinagar and enjoyed local sightseeing, boating on Shikara in the Dal Lake, and shopping as well. Then we went to Katra . Vaishno Devi trip was nice, though the day was quite rainy. After that we all came back to Jammu and caught our train.

Traveling through an agency gave me some good and bad experiences. I got few good friends from that package though they are not in contact now. It is beneficial for them who can not make a trip on their own, specially aged people. One doesn’t need to bother about hotel booking or arranging food when one is dead tired. There are few members who are always discontented and complaining even on trivial issues which is disturbing. There are always few people who are very curious and keep on asking personal questions which is annoying. These travel agencies normally provide trips to conventional places. For off beat places one has to take initiative on one’s own.