Info from my trip to Himachal Pradesh

#1 May 1st, 2010, 05:42
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  • madri is offline
#1
Hello,

Thought I would try and provide some information to the rest of the forum in an effort to give back after getting so much information from the various threads and members.

First, the trip I took took me through the following major places:
Dalhousie - Khajjiar - Chamba
Dharamsala
Kangra - Palampur - Baijnath
Manali - Naggar - Kullu
Nagini - Sarahan - Sarahan
Sangla - Rakcham - Chitkul
Kalpa - Nako - Tabo
Kaza - Kibber - Ki - Dhankar - Komic
Shimla

Just a couple of points about this trip before I start describing my journey. This trip was made during the tourist off season time which had its pros and cons. I enjoyed being able to get rooms for cheap and also being able to visit places without having a million tourists nearby, but also hated not being able to find public transportation or even running water in some places. This was also a completely unplanned trip and the route I took and places I visited were all based on recommendations from the forums and that of people I met along the way. I didn't have a guidebook or anything, but made it a point to find an internet cafe at each major spot to figure out where to go next and get some idea about what there is to do. Not having my own vehicle made it a bit challenging, but also exciting having to depend only on public transportation and my own two feet to get me where I wanted to go. Also, this was my first attempt at budget travel and while I ended up in the luxury budge range, I still think it wasn't too bad for my first attempt and not being able to eat from roadside stalls after having recently suffered a stomach infection. My daily average was around ~ Rs 700 a day. The biggest portion of this was spent on lodging, then came food, transportation, internet, and other misc stuff. One thing that should go unsaid, but I see an abundance of is TRASH. Please do not throw all your candy wrappers etc and instead collect them for proper disposal later. If you find some trash that isn't too nasty to pick up, take that along with you as well. Also, most importantly, take the time to speak with the locals and learn about their lifestyle and culture and traditions. Always show respect and treat everyone just like you would like to be treated and you will have a fun trip.
Last edited by madri; May 2nd, 2010 at 19:52..
#2 May 1st, 2010, 07:13
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  • kshil is offline
#2
Great!! to see you started and waiting for more, my major attraction Spiti would be last leg I know but would wait for that

One more learning it seems attaching thumbnails Snaps are really cool

Another interesting observation is give back to community started on exactly 100th post in IM (you become senior member )
#3 May 1st, 2010, 08:13
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#3
Thanks Madri!! Eagerly awaiting the next installment!!!
#4 May 1st, 2010, 13:16
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greaat...waiting for more,specially the ghnp part..
#5 May 2nd, 2010, 19:52
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Post Dalhousie - Khajjiar - Chamba

DALHOUSIE:

After arriving at Pathankot from Amritsar, my initial plan was to take a bus towards Jammu to explore that state before going to Himachal, but after seeing the large number of army personnel, I got cold feet and decided to go directly to Himachal Pradesh...a decision I now regret. I guess that just leaves more for me to do later on which is good. From Pathankot the only bus I recognized was the one headed towards Dalhousie and hopped on for around a three hour ride which got me into Dalhousie early evening. Dalhousie bus stand itself is located where you can't really see much of the city. I tried to look for the hotel area, but was only able to easily spot a couple and after asking some of the locals, I was sent packing up one of those uphill roads with no end in sight. Now usually I ignore the touts and their offers, but after huffing and puffing for a little bit, I decided to check it out after negotiating the rate down to Rs 250 a night from Rs 500. This I learned was the most important part of travelling off season...bargaining!

Anyway, a decent walk further took us to the Dalhousie View hotel which looked decent enough and room was clean, had a tv, geyser, and most of all, had the best view I could ask for. Since this is my first trip where I got to see snow capped mountains in India, I was enthralled by the sight and absolutely loved it. The roof of the hotel is at the same level of the road and you can have your tea and snacks there and soak in the breathtaking view. Here is the picture of the hotel from my window. Little did I know that as I got futher into my trip, the views would only get better! To get to this hotel from the bus stand, ask anyone to point the road leading up towards Subash Chowk and follow that for a nice blood pumping walk slightly uphill till you reach the place with the statue and a decent view. From there ask anyone to point the road towards the hotel and they will be able to tell you and its maybe a few minutes away. Even if you don't plan on staying there, you could walk up there for the view and a cup of tea perhaps. Here are the contact details for them:
Hotel Dalhousie View
6, Subash Chowk
M: 093187-71808, 098173-90814, 094181-42520

Now for Dalhousie, the tourist spots that I was told about were the Subash Baoli, Panjpulla, Gandhi Chowk, and Tibetan Market. The nearby places of Kalatop and Khajjiar were also recommended to me. From Subash Chowk, ask someone to point the road heading towards Gandhi Chowk and walk for about 15 minutes and you should reach the main market place. This is where most of the tourists can be seen shopping in one of the stores or grabbing a bite to eat at the various food stalls. Since I still had light and wanted to pack in as much as I could in a day, I decided to head on towards the Subash Baoli. The path is from Gandhi Chowk and any of the locals can point you towards it and there is a sign with a distance of I think 1-2 km. Now the locals did ask me why I wanted to go to that place and said there is nothing much to see there, but I decided to make that determination myself. I walked and walked and walked and it was a nice walk through quiet forest type area with a lot of black faced monkeys. When I finally got to the place, I realized that the locals were right and this was not really worth the trip. I'm not sure about the history or significance of the place, but it had a small stream of water and had nothing to look at. My recommendation is to skip this place unless you want to enjoy the walk.

Disappointed with Subash Baoli, I wanted to head down to Panjpulla next which is 3-5 km from Gandhi Chowkin a different direction (downhill), but all the locals said people usually go in the morning and return in the evening and I should do the same. After being right about the previous place, I decided to heed their warning and went to the Tibetan market (which is a short walk from the bus stand) and then down to the tourist information center to ask about getting entry into Kalatop. The guy in that office had to be the worst person for the job and didn't give me any good info and said I should go to Khajjiar instead and that Kalatop was not worth visiting. I knew he was wrong since I love nature and have heard a lot about it from the forums, but decided to leave that for Chamba where I had to get the permissions anyway. Also just to mention, there is a internet cafe near the tibetan market which was Rs 30 an hour and the cheapest and fairly decent one that I could find. The only other one was on the way to Subash Chowk and is Rs 50 an hour and has an attached gaming arcade.

Next morning I decided to leave around 7am to check out Panjpulla and come back in time for the 10:30 bus to Khajjiar. Well after a nice person gave me a lift on his bike down to Panjpulla, I quickly discovered it didn't rank too high on my list either. All I saw was a bunch of shops there and a small man made lake with a few paddle boats for the tourists. Again a bit disappointed, but with some time to kill I decided to find the waterfall and walked around until I saw it the board talking about the trekking trail. I did find the waterfall and it didn't have much water at that time so it was a very small stream of water falling from a short height, but the Panjpulla trekking trail really interested me. Since I was planning on attempting to climb Triund in Dharamsala, I decided that I need to start warming my body up from couch potato mindset to trekking mindset by climbing up this trail. I struggled all the up the entire trail, stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. Comparing this trail to thing I did later on in the trip, it really isn't that bad, but I was just that out of shape in the beginning. The walk is nice though and the trail path is quite decent. You get some good views as you go up especially one of some of the houses and the mountains. I went all the way till the group of houses near the top then I decided I just had to turn back in order to catch the bus for Khajjiar. I ran down the entire trail and after nobody wanted to give me a ride up, I struggled back to the bus stand only to find out the bus left an hour ago. That is when I learnt the importance of asking locals for bus timings and not relying on the websites!



CHAMBA:
Next day I learnt about the mood swings weather can have up in the mountains. From a bright, clear, sunny day, it went into a gloomy, cloudy, rainy day. I decided with the weather not co-operating, to skip Khajjiar and just move into Chamba and try for Khajjiar the next day. Arrived in Chamba about 2.5 hours later and it was still cloudy and drizzling there. Chamba was a bustling marketplace filled with shops and people. From the roadside fruit and vegetable shops, to the several garment and medical stores, it was just a busy place. I walked around a bit and didn't find too many nice looking hotels to stay in. The Jimmy's Inn looked a bit wore down and I couldn't find the other guest houses and so I settled for the City Hearts hotel for Rs 400 a night. It was more than I wanted to pay but definately less than the sticker price of Rs 1500 and with the rain and bad weather I decided to take it. Chamba is one of those places that most people overlook, but is definately a place worth checking out. While it may not be too touristy or offer many tourist services, it is a nice place with some great sights to see. While I don't think this hotel was a good value for money, I still provide its details for someone who might be in a bind and needs a place to stay:
Hotel City Heart
Main Bazar
M: 094180-35450, 094180-36770


The first sight I saw was the Lakshmi Narayan group of temples which was the first time I saw a temple of that style of construction and really liked it a lot. It is within the market place and a bit tricky to find by yourself, but ask a few people who will give you directions to go uphill a bit and you will soon see the top of the temples. Near this complex of temple is the Church of Scotland which is also supposed to be very beautiful, unfortunately it was closed when I was there and I did not get a chance to visit it. There is also the museum which was worth a visit to see some of the old tablets and items recovered and on display. There are several other temples that people visit in that area and there is even a board near the tourism hotel that marks all the temples in Chamba (which were quite a few), but I decided to skip the rest and make my way up to the Chamunda temple. To get to this temple, you can either take a bus, or walk up from the bus stand, or climb up the flight of stairs. I decided to walk up from the bus stand which is a shortcut till it met the road that led me to the temple. The view of the valley just gets better the higher you go and from the temple, you get the best view of the entire valley with the river snaking through it on the left side, and a lot of snow capped mountains in the distance to the right side. On my way down I decided to take the stairs down which start from the backside of the temple and go all the way to some streets from where you can go back down to the marketplace. There is also a Rang Mahal which is an old structure but is now a post office or something and really nothing great to talk about or see.


KHAJJIAR:
The next morning the weather was back to being just perfect and so I took the morning bus to Khajjiar, planning to spend the next 4-6 hours there before catching the last bus back to Chamba. On the way in to Khajjiar from Chamba I noticed this tall Shiva statue and upon being dropped off at Khajjiar, the first thing I did was walk back to this place. It is a temple with an 80 ft tall statute of Shiva with the snow capped mountains as the backdrop. It wasn't more than a 15-20 min walk from Khajjiar and great to visit and get some photos. Khajjiar itself was a pretty place and I enjoyed walking into the woods following the several birds and trying to catch them on film. The entire place is surrounded by dense pine forests and you can get excellent pictures of the village with the snowcapped mountains in the backdrop. A small and old Khajinag temple is very near the place you get dropped off and worth a quick visit for some of the carvings. Now while I planned to spend all this time in Khajjiar, I quickly realized that I didn't need more than an hour or two max before I was done with this place. I remember reading the descriptions of Khajjiar as being a beautiful place and one of the few with pasture, forest and lake nearby, and while all that is true, the pasture, pond, and forest are all right there when you disembark from the bus. The pond has a bunch of fish and it doesn't take long for the ponies to arrive and some of the morning tourists along with it. Apart from taking a walk around the pasture, there really was nothing else to do that interested me so I decided to take the bus back to Chamba and spend time figuring out how to get to Kalatop.


Unfortunately for me, after finding the right people to talk to about Kalatop, I was quickly dismissed away because I didn't have a vehicle and was alone and they also claimed that the road was snowed in. Unable to get the permissions to stay at that place and with nobody sounding too encouraging towards a single traveller on foot looking to visit that forest range, I gave up my dream to go visit this place and instead spent the rest of the day hanging out with several shopkeepers who gave me a tour of their place and decided to take the night bus towards Dharamsala so as to reach in the morning and check out that place.
Last edited by madri; May 4th, 2010 at 06:27..
#6 May 2nd, 2010, 21:15
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Post Dharamsala

DHARAMSALA:

The bus from Chamba dropped me off at lower Dharamsala at 4am and there was no bus towards McLeodganj until about 8am. Having travelled the night in a COLD bus and not gotten much sleep, I couldn't help it and had to try to find a place where I could get some rest and some sleep. Climbed up the stairs from the bus stand to the market place and there was one place that looked open and the groggy guy let me have a room for Rs 200 which I had no choice but to accept and got under the warm blanket and quickly fell asleep. The next day I woke up a bit late to simply wander around and also try to find an internet cafe, and the first sight I saw outside the window made me realize that I was gettting closer to the mountains by the day and that things were going to get much better. I quickly realized that there wasn't much to see in lower Dharamsala and decided to move towards McLeodganj and took the afternoon bus up there. McLeodganj was quite a busy and interesting place filled with a LOT of tourists. I managed to find a place to stay for Rs 200 a night along the road that leads to the temple. I can't recall the name of the hotel and don't have a business card from there. I decided to first go visit the temple which was an interesting experience especially to see all the monks there drinking their butter tea and following the lectures being given to them. They take security quite seriously and compared to the security theater at all the other places in India, here they actually check you completely before letting you in. Note that no cell phones or cameras are allowed inside the temple. From the temple I visited the Tibetan museum which was a really good experience since I didn't know much about the invasion of Tibet except what I saw in the movie 'Seven years in Tibet', and there I was able to learn more about it and also view some of the artifacts from Tibet like their currency and stamps etc.

A place to check out near the bus stand is this one shop...I don't recall the name, but it is the first shop on the right when you come from the bus stand towards the temple and inside you will find lots of items from decades ago which is great to see. You have to walk inside the shop to find it, but it is almost a mini-museum of sorts with an odd collection of items from the past. The next place I went to was the Bhagsu falls...you can either walk or take the auto-rickshaw for Rs 30 to get there. From where you are dropped off, you have a short walk to get to the falls which at this time of the year didn't have much water flowing, but had a great view of the rest of the area. You can climb up and around the Bhagsu falls towards the Shiva cafe just for fun and maybe to get a chai or some food there. There is also the Bhagsunath temple on the way to the falls that several people visit. For internet, there are several places, but the one I settled on finally was the cafe at Green's hotel where they had good food and atmosphere along with decent internet for Rs 30 an hour. It is on the way towards Bhagsu falls and maybe a 5 minute walk. I also had the oppurtunity to visit the Tibetan Childrens Village with a Tibetan friend who explained about the purpose of the school and told me stories about how families in Tibet take their kids and try to smuggle them across the border so they can end up at this boarding school. Many children get frostbite in the process, but being among other children who went through the same thing makes them feel more safe and secure together.


The next day I met up with fellow IMer 'anubhav_chd' and we were planning on attempting the Triund trek together for the first time. Luckily he had done a lot of research on the treks in the nearby area and suggested we do the Guna Valley trek first as a warm up exercise. This trail is about half the distance of the triund trek at 4.5 km from Naddi to the Guna Temple and takes you up to 2310 m. For this trek, simply take an auto-rickshaw ride to Naddi for Rs 100 and ask them to drop you off at the start of the trail. The trail is easy to follow and there aren't many places where you can get lost etc. At one point you will cross a bridge with some water running underneath it and the path from there forks a bit and taking the left track takes longer but is a more gradual climb taking you through a few villages, and the right track is a steeper climb that reduces the overall time needed to get to the temple. While I was huffing and puffing almost the entire way, 'anubhav_chd' did a lot better and we finally made it to the top and enjoyed the good view of the entire valley. After chatting a bit with the caretaker of the temple, we headed back down following some kids who took us through the shortcuts all the while snickering about how I couldn't keep up with the younger of the two. I don't recall how long it took us to go till the temple, but this was definately a good trek to do before triund. There was absolutely noone else on this trail path except for us, so it was a nice experience as well. The Dal Lake is also near Naddi, but the entire place was dry and work being done on the lake bed so not much to see there at the moment.


After resting up the rest of the day, we left the next day at around 9am to conquer Triund which is at ~2900 m. For this we cheated a little bit by taking an auto-rickshaw ride to the start of the trail at Dharamkot for Rs 200. Now initially I thought this price was quite steep, but after seeing the condition of road that we had to travel through, and realizing that this saved us about 3-4 km of walking, I am glad we made the call to do so. We ate breakfast at the 'Rest a while' cafe and then after getting basic directions to the trail and renting some walking sticks, we got started. It didn't take long for me to start panting and stopping for breaks, and after quite a few of these breaks we finally made it to about the half way point marked by the appearance of a cafe. After getting some tea and relaxing for a bit, we continued onwards and finally made it to the top after 3 gruelling hours. Getting to the top was a great feeling of accomplishment for a couch potato such as myself. The place was quite empty and that made it a little bit better as I had heard stories of there being a lot of people there at any given time during peak season. Had some chai and ordered some lunch when we asked about the path to Ilaqa and heard about another group that were heading that way. I decided it was best to follow the crowd than try it alone and so we met this group of American Students who also had two guides with them and they had no problem with us following them. The group spoke about how they would trek upto a certain point and then they would have to rope everybody together as the terrain gets worse and so our plan was to follow the group till they started to rope up and then turn back towards triund.


We started and things seemed fine until we started to hit the snow covered trail...it just kept getting worse and worse with each step. We would walk a few steps and then have one foot fall through the snow entirely and have to get back up and continue on. What made things worse was we were quite close to the edge and any mistakes here would mean we would start sliding down very easily and hope that you can grab onto something. There were sections that only one person could pass at a time and all in all it was a very scary, yet exhilirating experience. The guides decided that the trail wasn't as bad as they had estimated and there was no need to rope people up, but I had gone past the point of no return and so had to push forward with the rest of the group. I'm not sure how far this place was, but it easily took us 2 hours or so to get there. After a long, scary, and tiring walk through the snow, with wet and frozen feet and hands, we finally reached the place and it was absolutely worth every bit of the trouble it took to get there. Words cannot describe the place at that time when it was completely covered with virgin snow and all the surrounding mountains slowly appearing as the clouds moved away. I was finally where I hoped I would be...I was no longer cold, hungry, or tired...I was just speechless at 3200 m. After spending quite some time just taking everything in, it was time for the cameras to come out and try to capture what we were seeing, but the pictures don't do justice to the real thing. The plan was to hike further to a temple which was another 2 hours away, but the weather took a turn for the worst and we started to face hail and heavy snow and the sky was completely covered with dark clouds and the sound of thunder was getting closer. With the weather not co-operating, the decision was made to turn back to the Triund camp and as much as I hated to do so, I must say I was glad we did because after the hike and not having had any lunch, it took all my energy just to get back to Triund.


The path back to Triund seemed harder due to being tired and I found myself falling through the snow and slipping and sliding a lot more, but we finally made it back to Triund and after some hot dal and rice, I decided to take a room at the guest house for the night for Rs 500 since it was getting dark and didn't seem smart to head down at that time. Not having any spare socks, or other clothes, my feet were freezing since my shoes and socks were completely wet. Then came nature to the rescue...well not in getting my clothes dried, but in the form of a distraction...sunset! Watching the sun go down was beautiful and when it finally did, there was a big campfire going and I was invited to dinner and hang out with my new found friends and I managed to dry off my socks and shoes...even burning them a bit. We spent the rest of the night at the campfire just talking and trying to keep our jaws from dropping too much when looking at the clear night sky with all the stars and the milky way easily visible. It wasn't too hard to fall asleep and some of us woke up early in the morning to try and catch the Himalayan sunrise. The sun was to come up from behind the mountains and it was almost like the saying 'a watched pot never boils', where the longer we stared the longer it seemed to take and when the tea shop was finally open and we went in to grab some tea, the rays of the sun started to hit the peaks of the mountains and it finally emerged in all its glory. After sunrise and a quick maggi breakfast, I decided to head back down to McLeodganj to rest up. One thing about the triund trekking trail is that there are two places where you might have more than one route to choose from...the key to staying on the trail is to look for the ribbons tied to the tree branches. They will lead you in the correct direction. As long as you see the ribbons on the trees, you are fine...if the disappear on you, you might want to think about backing up till you figure out where you went wrong.


A few other places to visit while in McLeodganj are the St John's church which is not too far from the busstand and you can either walk or take an auto-rickshaw for Rs 30. It is in a beautiful forest setting and nice to check out. The other place I highly recommend is the Norbulingka institute. This was a place created to preserve the Tibetan culture and arts for all to see by showcasing some of their works. The institute is a little hard to get to as you first need to take the bus heading towards Palampur and ask to be dropped off for the Norbulingka Institute. When you get dropped off, you will be quite lost so ask a bunch of locals (more than 3) for the way to the institute and they will point towards a path that goes beside a school and reaches a road that you continue along until you will finally see the sign for it and also probably some tourist vehicles parked outside. I don't think there is an entry fee or anything and it is a very quiet and serene place. There was someone there who asked if this was my first time there and proceeded to show me a map at the entrance and pointed out where to go. I went to the main temple first where they had some beautiful wall paintings and a huge 12 ft Budha statue inside. Nearby the temple is a doll museum where they require an entry fee and inside you will find a great collection of Tibetan dolls in traditional costumes depicting various scenes from Tibetan life. Also near the museum is a wood carving center where people can observe the master crafters skillfully carve intricate designs onto their wood pieces and I think they also offer training for those interested. With all the sights to be seen scratched off the list, I was lucky enough to be treated to one more event that I didn't know about till I got there...Tibetan Uprising Day. My new found Tibetan friend told me when to be at the temple and there already was a long line of people waiting to get in and after finally getting in and being squeezed by the number of people there, I found a good spot with a view of the dias and maybe 30 mins later I could see the Dalai Lama walking from behind us towards the dias and making his statement. There were some performances by the Tibetan institute of performing arts and after the Dalai Lama left, one only had to walk outside to be suprised at the large numbers of people gathered right outside along with a number of police personnel. People from all walks of life, Tibetan and foreigners alike, joined together in a march all the way from the temple to lower Dharamsala protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet. It was quite an interesting event to participate in until I realized I had to walk all the way back uphill.


All in all Dharamsala was a great place to visit and meet other travellers and hang out while also getting an education into Tibet and the issues faced by its people. Now it was time to try to get away from all the tourists and wander towards the Kangra valley.
Last edited by madri; May 4th, 2010 at 06:28..
#7 May 3rd, 2010, 02:19
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#7

Hello

Amazing ... Bring it on ..

Cheers,
Dhananjay
#8 May 3rd, 2010, 17:27
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#8

Thumbs up

Nice detailed report...
A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
#9 May 3rd, 2010, 19:26
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#9
Great stuff Madri, I feel like I just spent the day in H.P. with you.KK
Last edited by kullukid; May 3rd, 2010 at 23:45..
#10 May 3rd, 2010, 20:19
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#10
Great stuff! Made me relive my memories from just a month ago Happy memories..
#11 May 4th, 2010, 06:26
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Post Kangra - Palampur - Baijnath

BAIJNATH:

After asking a few shopkeepers in Dharamsala, I learnt that Kangra, Palampur, and Baijnath were in sort of a line. I planned on staying in Kangra for the night so figured I would take the early morning bus from McLeodganj that leaves at 4:30 am and connect with the 5:00 am bus at Dharamsala and head towards Baijnath and then work my way back to Kangra. Sounded great in theory until I realized that the road actually connects Dharamsala with Kangra which then leads towards Baijnath heh. I sure felt stupid since I could easily have left later and found a hotel to drop my bag off before travelling, but whatever, I wrote it off as one of the drawbacks of an unplanned trip. We didn't reach Baijnath till about 8 am and the bus stand was a nightmare with small streets leading in and out which were causing major traffic jams. The Shiva temple at Baijnath is very close to the bus stand and anybody can point the way. There was an entire school's worth of kids there at that place for a trip I guess and they were running all over the place and staring at me hunched over with my bag trying to figure out what I was upto. Walked around a bit and there is also a way to get down closer to the river which I skipped. I don't think photography is permitted inside and there were so many people that I didn't want to risk getting in trouble and so I took a snap of the familiar temple structure from the outside and with nothing else to do in Baijnath, decide to move towards Palampur.


PALAMPUR:
In Palampur I had heard about the Andretta village etc, but after getting down at the bus stand and not getting much help from the locals there, I decided to walk up towards the market area and get some food. Now here is where I made the mistake of thinking I could actually order south Indian food from a restaurant just because it had four walls and a fan. After getting some food that was prepared weeks in advance, and the owner not being too helpful either, I left to find an internet cafe and returned to the bus stand to see if the one there was open by now and it was. Spent some time reading about Palampur and the tea estates etc and also about a nature park in nearby Gopalpur. I went onwards towards some of the tea estates and realized that this wasn't my cup of tea and moved on and saw the Taragh palace hotel which seemed like a good place to stay for someone with a bigger budget. I really wanted to find this Pizzicato cafe which I read online was famous for its dark chocolate pastries and also wanted to find this Neugal Cafe which was supposed to be near a scenic view etc etc, but I did so much walking with my bag and nobody could tell me how to get to any of these places and I got mad enough to just get back on the bus and move towards the next place.

- Gopalpur:

So after not really seeing much in Palampur like I expected, my next stop was at Gopalpur to go checkout the nature park. I guess I expected it to be like a forest type atmosphere with the possiblity of seeing wild animals, but it is more like a zoo with bigger cages. Not being allowed to leave my bag at the ticket counter, I had to lug the damn thing with me trying to find my way around the park with the hindi signs. I saw the Himalayan black bears for the first time with their unique white V on their chest, also saw some sleeping leopards, sleepy wild boar, deer, and some birds. They had a lion on exhibit but it was hidden away in its den and I never could catch a glimpse of it. I guess the concept of having a nature park for the people to appreciate and promote the message of conservation is good, but better maintenance is required to really make a difference.

After leaving Gopalpur, I had the bus conductor drop me off at the spot for the Chamunda temple after reading about this as well. Right opposite where the bus stops is a path that goes all the way down towards the river and the temple. I was hoping for a picturesque view to take a photo, but I don't think that is the reason most people come here and so I decided to take off towards Kangra.


KANGRA:

Arrived at Kangra around 4 pm and I decided to immediately head towards the fort which was the main attraction I had heard about. Tired of carrying the bag around, I ended up taking an auto-rickshaw ride for Rs 100 which included taking me to the fort, waiting 1.5 hours and taking me back. It also meant the bag would be in the auto so I decided to go for it! It really wasn't as far as the guy made it out to be, but I wasn't sure if buses went that way anyway so it was just nice to not deal with all that. The Kangra fort was a suprise because after Palampur and the other two places I was prepared for a let down, but instead I was very very excited when I saw it. It really is a nice fort and reminded me of the one in Kumbalgarh although not as massive as that one. After spending time walking around and taking some pictures, I decided to head back to town to find a place for the night. It took me a while to find a place there and finally I found a guest house that was cheap and had its own bathroom compared to all the other expensive ones on the main street from the bus stand. You can find this one by going towards the market from the bus stand and when you reach a chowk and the road has a Y junction with a street going to the right, take that and it should be on the right side further down. The room was for Rs 200 a night and while the people were nice and even cook food etc, I did see some small roaches in the room which I wasn't too happy about. Here is the info for anyone who wants it:
Maharaja Guest House
College Road
M: 09418-080600, P: 01892-255113

- Masroor

I only found one internet place in that entire market place and it is on the same street as this guest house and had resonable rates and connection speeds. After some research I learnt about the Maharna Pratap Sagar bird sanctuary. Now I love nature etc and I decided to jump on this and try to get to this place and since I was planning on going to Masroor anyway, this worked out well since you have to go beyond Masroor for the Sanctuary. From Kangra I took the early morning bus towards Gagal and I was just in time since there was a connecting bus ready to leave towards Lunj. I got down from the bus and there was a guy squatting who I obviously ignored since I thought he was either resting or taking a dump and either way I didn't care...well, turns out the guy had a heavy package he was trying to lift off the ground and he decided to use all his leg muscles to thrust himself upwards and hit me on my face and nose with the back of his head. I was completely shaken and moved off to the side and leaned up against the tree when he came by and asked if I was ok...I asked him 'well, you tell me, do I look like I got hurt pretty bad?' And his reply was, 'Well, you are bleeding from your nose...maybe you should stick a bandaid up your nose' haha...yeah right. Anyway I was profusely bleeding and used my handkerchief to try and catch it all and since the doctors office didn't open till 9am, I had to choose betwen staying back and losing a day or going ahead...I decided to man up and just go for it after checking to make sure my nose wasn't broken. I don't remember the entire travel time between Kangra and Gagal, or Gagal to Lunj, but I think it was about maybe 1.5 hours or so. In the Lunj bus make sure you tell them you are heading towards Masroor as then they will drop you further from Lunj where the road turns left for Masroor and the bus goes straight. At this point you have two options, you can either wait for a bus going towards Masroor or walk the 3-4 km stretch. I didn't know there was a bus and so started to walk and got all the way till Masroor when the bus pulled up behind me and that made me so mad. All my anger was quickly dissipated when I paid for my ticket since I was the only one there and had this wonderful ancient monument all to myself. This was a group of 15 carved monolithic temple and since I havn't been to ajanta/ellora, this was my first exposure to such rock cut temples and it was simple amazing. This place is definately worth the detour! From one of the rock carvings in the middle there are rough stairs cut into the rock that you can use to climb to the top and get a better view of the entire area. I would definately recommend this place for anyone in this area. Do try to go early to beat the tourists that show up late in the morning.

- Maharana Pratap Wildlife Sanctuary

From Masroor, I took the bus that went back to Lunj and all the way to this town called Nagrota Suriya which is basically the last stop for the buses going that direction I think. There is even a railway station in that place that you can use to get there. The purpose of getting this far was to visit the bird sanctuary and I found out after getting there that it is actually located on an island of sorts and the forest department ferries people via boat to that point and there is a rest house one can stay in for Rs 500. I was super stoked and hired a guy to take me to the forest rest house and figure out all this stuff for me and paid him Rs 100. Got to the office only to find out that since it wasn't peak season, they had only 1 boat and it was already dispatched to take another group like 30 mins before I got there and that I was screwed. I was totally disappointed and didn't want to leave without at least getting close to the Pong lake and so got suckered into paying Rs 200 more to have this guy take me to the shores of the lake formed due to the Pong Dam. Definately wasn't worth the money although I got to see some water birds and had some good landscape views from there including some super fertile land on the banks of this lake where it was just completely filled with green crops and one hut with a person to shoo the birds away. This sanctuary is supposed to be one of India's wetland sites and is also on the Ramsar wetland list registered with Switzerland. After speaking with people over there it seems like this is really a great sanctuary with a lot of migratory birds that visit and the rest house in that isolated island makes things even better. For others who might also be interested in visiting this sanctuary, here is the number of the range office which you can call to make advance bookings. If you do use this number and visit this place, you owe me some pictures! (Range office: 01893 265053)


Anyway, after all this I took a bus that went all the way to Kangra and called it a day because the next day I was planning on catching the toy train that left at 6:25 am towards Baijnath. Yes, I did take a bus from Dharamsala to Kangra to Baijnath then came back to Kangra and now I am going back towards Baijnath. I overslept and ran as fast as I could till I met a traffic policeman who I asked directions to the Kangra Mandir station and the guy only heard the first two words and pointed me towards the town temple...after losing 10 minutes going the opposite way, I saw someone else who was walking at that time and he told me which way to go and after a LOT of running and twisting my ankle, I made it to the station. It was pretty cool since you have to cross a suspension bridge of sorts to get to it. At the station you basically get to wait for the window to open about 10-15 mins before the Train might arrive and buy your tickets which were super cheap and it cost me only Rs 11 to go all the way to Joginder Nagar, the last stop for the train. This was definately a local train and not one meant for tourists as it was completely packed with people and I jumped onto the coach with the picture windows and ended up sitting at the door watching the view unfold. I had read online about how this train starts at Pathankot and ends at Joginder Nagar, but the view is best from Kangra onwards and I really did enjoy the view of the snow covered Dhauladar range of Himalayan mountains slowly come into view and get closer before disappearing again. When the train got to the station before Baijnath, people started clearing off giving me a place to sit and when it reach Baijnath, I had the coach all to myself. Very happy with this I was sitting till I noticed it going in the reverse direction and I looked out the window to see they had disconnected the last two coaches and connected with a different engine and were going back. Good thing it was a toy train and not going too fast as I was able to jump off and get onto the coach heading towards Joginder Nagar. After reaching Joginder Nagar around 11:15 am, I wasn't too interested in trying to see what there was around to do or see, and found the bus station which was quite near to the railway station and got onto a bus that was just leaving towards Manali. Armed with some snacks in lieu of lunch, I was ready to go see what the popular Indian tourist destination of Manali was all about.
#12 May 4th, 2010, 07:55
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Beautifully written and great photographs Madri. Waiting eagerly for the Spiti part.
#13 May 10th, 2010, 10:32
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Very interesting, Madri. Looking forward to further chapters.
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#14 May 10th, 2010, 13:54
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Madri, Loved reading your travelogue... Look forward for more.
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#15 May 21st, 2010, 04:36
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Post Manali - Naggar - Kullu

MANALI:
Reached Manali in the early evening after a 5 hour bus ride from Joginder Nagar and at first glance it seemed to be a busy and crowded place. I found a hotel very near the bus stand for Rs 300 a night and it seemed decent enough with a tv etc and I later found out that is right on the main drag. I wouldn't be suprised if they charged 1000 or more for the same rooms now during peak season as I heard that the demand for hotels is quite high. Here is their information for those who can't find a better value for money:
Hotel Highway Inn
The Mall
P: 01902-252220, M: 98161-22646, 94180-71038

Started out the next morning VERY early after seeing online that there was a bus that left at like 4:30am towards Rothang pass only to find out that the pass is closed etc etc. I was a bit miffed at waking up so early for nothing, but I had only heard about this high motorable pass a few days earlier and knew nothing about it so I guess it was worth a try. Went back to bed and then woke up for a late breakfast and a walk towards the Hidimba temple. Anyone can point you in the right direction and there are some signs along the way and its not too far a walk from the main street. Of course there is a bit of an uphill climb involved, but it isn't too bad and takes you through those tall deodar trees with the wind howling which is always fun. The exterior of the temple is different than the ones I had seen before and was quite interesting, and I also got to see my first yak and mutant bunny rabbit. Since the yak doesn't naturally flourish at such a low altitude place, I hope with all the money the guy makes giving people yak rides and letting them take its photograph that he takes good care of it! It didn't take long for the number of people showing up to increase and also the nearby yak population to grow accordingly, and that was my cue to leave to check out the Manu temple next.


It is a fairly decent walk from Hidimba all the way to Manu which lies in old Manali. Just ask anyone the way towards Manu temple and once you get to the red bridge and cross it, just follow that road all the way to the top and the temple. I didn't find the temple itself to be very interesting, but there some great views of the surrounding snow covered mountains. After spending a little bit there I started to walk back through the village and noticed a bird with a very long and pretty tail that I followed into the village for a little bit. While trying to take its picture, I stumbled across a path that I continued on which opened up some more great views of the surrounding mountains and wanting to get a better view, I followed the path and a goat herder all the way down to some sort of water station situated near the river. I sat down next to the goat herder and we shared some stories before I finally told him I wanted to go check out the waterfall of sorts I could hear coming a little upstream and he told me not to go there but to instead climb up this mountain in front of us. After asking to make sure the path is easy to follow and free from any hungry predators, I headed on up and the path just kept going and going. The view of the houses below in the valley with the mountains surrounding it just kept getting better and better the further I climbed. I walked till I met some women who were bringing wood from the top where it was being cut. I decided to follow them back to the top where there is a meadow with a small patch of snow still left that the monkeys were lingering around. After spending some time talking to them, and being laughed at for groaning while attempting to pickup 1/4 the load they were packing, they told me to go on ahead as there were several more people cutting wood there. I continued on till I got to this precarious place where the melting snow water was flowing down making things a bit slick and I could see the people at a distance above me,8 but I decided to skip the risky climb up and just return. After meeting and chatting with a bunch of other locals along the way, I headed back down and back towards the hotel for some rest and to check out the Tibetan temple and marketplace next. On the way back, instead of taking the road the entire time, I entered the place that has a walking trail and just filled with deodar trees and I think it was called 'Van Vihar'. This made for a great peaceful walk back taking you alongside the river and when you exit, right next to the stree is a small place with people sitting nearby and just relaxing and taking photos of the statue dedicated to Jawaharlal Nehru.



From the main drag the Tibetan temple is quite close and you just walk like you are heading back out of Manali and it'll show up on the right either before or after the movie theater (great directions huh). The Tibetan temple was filled with tourists who were quite noisy and that ruined the experience for me, but it was fun to watch the kids playing around and just walking through the market and going deeper in and trying to find my way back to the main street. Once I got back it was early evening and I was just walking around doing some people watching and I couldn't believe how many people were there already. If this is what they call off-season and represented 30% of the visitors, I just can't imagine going back during peak season time...phew. After hanging out with the crowd I was a bit tired from the earlier walk up the mountain and so I decided to head back to the hotel to get some rest. All I wanted was a decent night's sleep, but instead I was treated to loud blaring music all night courtesy of a 24 hr marathon pooja at the temple right outside my hotel room window. After being up all night, the only thing that made the situation a bit better was that they were offering free food over there and that took care of my morning breakfast the next day . I still don't know what the pooja was for as I couldn't understand the explanation given. To anybody else as clueless as me and wants to avoid the huge crowds, look at staying in old Manali which I discovered only during my trip to Manu temple which is so much more peaceful and relaxed than new Manali. Several of the villagers offered to let me stay with them if I was going to spend another night at Manali and I think that would have been a lot of fun to experience a village lifestyle in this popular, crowded, and crazy Indian tourist destination. Even now I wish I had spent 5 more minutes online looking up Manali and learning about old manali, but oh well, leaves something for next time...if I ever return to Manali. Anyway, without much sleep and not liking the crowded place, I decided to skip the other nearby sights like the Rohla falls and Vashist springs and instead head down towards Naggar which I heard was a more quieter and peaceful place to relax at.

NAGGAR:
A 45 minute bus ride took me to the bottom of Naggar and from there it is a faily long walk up a decently inclined road with all the bags you might have. Halfway up I was wishing I had taken an auto or hitched a ride. When I finally got to the top, the first place I saw was HTDC's Castle hotel and there were a few other places nearby including an internet cafe that was never open. Usually if I can, I try to go online to find at least one hotel in the area I plan on arriving so I can get locals to help me get there and then hope there are several others in the same area for me to browse. For Naggar I had picked up Hotel Alliance after reading about it online. After asking for directions I was sent packing further up and after some more walking , I saw the stairs leading upto the hotel and decided to take a room for the night there for Rs 350. I'd recommend this hotel as it is clean and nice and also has a heater which was nice at the time. I was only planning on staying one day at Naggar and so off I went to check out the sights. I started by walking further up from the hotel towards the Roerich Art Gallery place which offered some great views and I especially liked the Kullu god stones and the place with the collection of items from the early expeditions. I loved finding the early dictionaries and other artifacts which were very suprising. After spending some time here, I walked back all the way down towards the 'Castle' and really wasn't that impressed with it. Apart from one or two photo oppurtunities and just a small exhibit, it didn't have much to offer. It was a nice place to stop and get something to drink and relax before heading up towards the Krishna temple. Another popular place which anybody can point out, has a trail that starts a little futher up from the cricket field. After spending some time watching the kids play, I headed up the trail which I was determined to do quickly to catch the sunset and made it up in about 15 minutes or so, but for a comfortable walk it would be about 30 minutes. The walk up was nice through the tall trees with the birds chirping and the monkeys curiously watching as I walked by. The view from the top was excellent and there was nobody there making it quite nice and peaceful. With some time left before sunset, I was able to curl up under a tree and read a book and watched as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. The temple is also nice and is somewhat similar in construction to those found in Baijnath and Chamba. After my walk down I decided to return to the hotel to do some more reading and slowly drifted off for a good nights sleep. Here is the contact information for this hotel which I would definately recommend for others:
Alliance Guest House
C: 9817097033, 9418953969
E: voyagealliance@yahoo.co.in, gilloualliance@yahoo.com



KULLU:
I think of all the places I visited, Kullu is going to be the one without much to write about since I didn't end up going to see any sights or anything. After leaving Naggar towards Kullu, I got off at the bus stand and saw a crowd of people walking in one direction towards the market and I just followed them assuming they are all going to the main part of the city and after crossing the brigge and climbing up the narrow street filled with shops and people, I got to the top and found an internet cafe to do some research. I guess Kullu is the valley of the gods and mostly only has temples as the main attractions. The one temple at the top of the hill I wasn't interested in climbing and just missed the bus that goes there so decided to skip it. I did read about the Bijli Mahadev temple which sounded interesting due to its history and also since it involved a trek. I looked up information on it online and was confused about whether I start from Kullu, or Naggar, and without any good solid information, I decided to skip that one as well. With zero sights seen and the sun going down, it was time to find a place to stay and I was only able to find a couple of hotels and most either wanted too much, or were really nasty. I finally asked one of the locals to recommend a place and they gave me directions to a guest house which I had actually walked by earlier after seeing the sign for it, but didn't notice it since there is no sign at the entrance and is basically a house complex of sorts. Anyway for Rs 200 a night, I took a room which was fairly decent, but had Indian style toilets which I didn't plan on using since I wanted to leave the next day. I don't have the contact information for this place, but the name was Vikrant Guest House. After dropping off my bags I went back to the internet cafe to try and get some information on the Great Himalayan National Park since I would love to check it out, but the phone number listed didn't work and I couldn't seem to get any good information other than going to the Sai Ropa visitor center for arranging treks etc. I finally managed to figure out that to get to Sai Ropa I would need to go to Banjar and then walk or hitch 3 km towards Sai Ropa and was planning on doing that the next day. I also had to withdraw some money in case the entrance fees were high and when returning from the atm I noticed the tourist information center for Kullu and the man inside was quite nice and I explained how I really wanted to visit the park and was hoping he could give me some contact numbers or further information about how to go about doing that. He handed me a brochure while he made a few calls and finally gave me the number of a guy and told me to get to Banjar and then take a bus towards Nagini where this man will meet me and help me out. Totally excited, I thanked him for his help and left to get some dinner and sleep since I decided to leave the very next day for the park.
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