March 10: We started our day leisurely and set out for Dharamshala.. On reaching the bus stand we learnt that the bus to Dharamshala was only at 12pm….more than two hours to go….we kept the luggage in our bus and went for a long walk to the sleepy lanes of Dalhousie. I saw locals busy in daily chorus like mending their houses, drying their hair in the morning sun, all at a leisure pace! Our bus started at 12.30 pm on it slow ride to dharamshala. We passed by market places ,farms and valleys….again same sites of beautiful and simple women folk and healthy children….The bus took a late lunch break near a dhabba and we again ate Punjabi food of dal, roti, sabsi …Passed many lush green valleys and colourful flowers enroute that reminded me of my journey to my native place in Konkan in Maharashtra!
We reached the busy town of Dharamshala at about 5 pm. I was disappointed to see the crowded roads and herds of people walking down the roads…I thought my holiday was reducing to another version of crowded place like Mumbai! I attempted to blame my travel agent for giving me this itinerary! Gaurav asked me to be patient and see wats in luck! We got down at the bus stand and started the search for our hotel – The Dhauldhar. People gave us directions leading to small lanes leading to more crowded roads…I felt more n more dejected! Just off the main road we entered a small lane that led us to the Hotel The Dhauldhar. It was a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Hotel and seemed to be made up of sturdy stone walls. Seemed good to look at but I was very skeptical! It turned out to be a well maintained property with spacious rooms and all required facilities. We parked our luggage and went to the restaurant for a cup of tea. The restaurant was a valley facing open air verandah. It was a breath taking view from that place with mountains surrounding us and birds flying high up in the air…We were overlooking the entire town of Dharamshala…I instantly came to like that place and started praising my travel agent for booking this hotel! My husband made me realize how impatient and judgmental I can be at times.
We went for a stroll along the road and saw the simple but wonderful town of Dharamshala. We visited small temples which had beautiful idols of almost all deities. We saw a small garden with a toy train for children. Maeclodgunj another town adjoining Dharamshala was 9 kms away. This town was renowned for tibetian monasteries, markets and hang outs. We decided to check out the town the next day. On route we saw many young tibetian boys and girls moving around in groups on the way to maeclodgunj. I guessed that these people must be living in Maeclodgunj and attending schools and colleges in Dharamshala. They stood out conspicuously like foreigners from the local himachali people.We also saw many monks and lady monks on their way to maclodgunj on their way back after shopping for necessities.
We reached our lovely hotel and got to our rooms to freshen up and then left for an early dinner to the restaurant and while watching our favorite film ‘Tango Charlie’ which was incidentally playing on TV. The meal was delicious! We returned to our room and started chatting out the plan for the next day. Gaurav wanted to go and visit the temples at Masroor which is about 52 kms. from Dharamshala. This is a monolith (cut in one rock) temple which was built at the time of Mahabharata. The legend goes that at the end of the Mahabharata War, when the Pandavas wished to go to the heaven for their moksh, they were trying to build a temple within one night and steps that would lead them to heaven! Unfortunately their temple could not me completed in one night and the steps to the heaven were not completed either! However this temple is an exact blueprint of a much larger temple complex found in Cambodia known as Angor Wat. We decided to accommodate masroor on a priority move to maeclodgunj and spend the night there. We did not have any booking for a hotel for the next night which left us with good options!
March 11: We prepared for our check out from the beautiful Dhauldhar hotel and kept our luggage in the bell room. There are hardly any tourist that visit this place and 99% of them are foreigners. We decided to catch a local bus from Dharamshala to a more central location enroute and from there change the bus or hire any vehicle to go to Masroor.We enquired at the bus stand and the person asked a man to usher us to our destination. I was very suspicious of this ‘pseudo guide’… I kept asking him the route etc. He said we would have to change our bus from Gaggar (central place en route).
We again saw beautiful women in our bus. Himachali women wear this special nose ornament made of gold with a red stone in the middle. This intricately designed ornament looks stunning on these fair and sharp nosed women. I was fascinated by this and could help clicking their photos. First they shyed away but later when I showed them the photos through the digicam, the wanted me to click more n more snaps!
We got down at Gaggar and the person told us to wait at a tea stall for another hour or so till the connecting bus arrived. We started chatting with our new pseudo-guide and learnt that he worked in dharamshala in HP state transport and lived in a village near Masroor. He followed this route every third day when he traveled back home from work...I started to shed my initial suspicion and became slowly comfortable. In the meantime we started searching for any possibility of shared car to go to Masroor while our companion was whiling away his time at a tea shop (this must have been his routine, I thought).
We found a Maruti 800 parked on the street along with numerous other cars for hire. We asked him the charges and the little boy said he would take Rs800 for a return trip to Masoor which was 32 kms. I started bargaining with him and after about 20 mins Gaurav and I succeeded to strike a deal at Rs500. We decided to invite our pseudo guide with us and give him a lift en route which was nearest to his home. Our new driver looked of age 14-15 years. He was so amused at my concern that finally he showed me his driver’s license and I felt safe to make the trip in his hand! I was really excited for Gaurav because he really wanted to go and see this historically significant and off beat place. The locals called them as Paudiyon wala mandir which means Temple with steps (to heaven)!!
Barely a few kilometers down in our new vehicle, we had a flat tyre. We pulled over at a tyre shop and driver said it would take 20 mins!!! Anyways, to kill time, we started walking on the road and saw lush green fields spread out with little yellow flowers contrasting the deep greens.They were mustard fields..I coaxed my husband to come with me in these fields and we saw himachali women farming in these field. I was over excited to see these folks at work and eager to strike a conversation with them. They were very shy and just giggled at my every question. Finally I clicked their snaps with their permission and waved them goodbye…it was fun walking through the mud lanes. Our flat tyre gave us a true flavor of himachali rural life!
After a 45 mins drive we bid our pseudo- guide goodbye and he told us to join him for lunch in his humble home! How kind of him! We gave him some fruits we purchased en route and proceeded further. The road started getting worse and it seemed like a never ending journey. Finally we reached the ancient temple premises on a hillock.
The temple premises were calm and there was a huge pond in front of the temple. This temple had numerous sculpted idols of various ancient vedic deities like rahma, Vishnu, etc. Some sculptures were incomplete; It felt like they were left incomplete when rays of the morning sun fell on them on that deadline given to Pandavas! To my surprise, the temple was closely guarded by several chameleons like creatures. These creatures were present only on the rock structures and remains and did not venture in nearby areas of the pond and other land! This surprised me and I really believe that these were God sent guardians to this ancient monument. We saw the paudiyas (steps to heaven) and various other structures like the lotuses, elephants etc.
In the serenity of the place, I felt as if I had traveled back in time to the mahabharatha era and trying to understand how the pandavas attempted to build this huge structure in one night!
On our way back to Dharamshala we took a hpstc bus after leaving our little master and his car at Gaggar. We took a shared cab to Maeclodgunj immediately and toured the overcrowded and over hyped town of Maeclodgunj. The street leading to the Monastery was colourful with all Tibetan handicrafts and clothes, ornaments for sale. The town was infested with foreigners, and beggars and had a bad stink! I failed to understand why tourists liked this place so much! We visited the monastery and took a shared cab back to dharamshala. We really got a feel of the hippie culture that so closely co-exists with the sleepy himachali culture
We were left with two options, stay at Dharamshala for the night, or proceed to Manali by a bus at 6pm. We could take the night journey and reach Manali the next morning at 6 am or break the journey and spend the night en route in a hotel and continue the journey the next day. We caught the bus to Manali.
Our fellow passengers were a group of monks about 6-7 of them who were traveling from maclodgunj to manali on a religious tour. I struck a conversation with one of the elderly and friendly monk and he told me he was from Ladakh. He belonged to Diskit monastery in North ladakh. I told him that we had visited his monastery during our memorable ladakh tour the previous year.
The bus journey was getting very uncomfortable for me and I was trying to persuade my husband to break the journey and stay at some place midway. Also before leaving out favuorite Dhauldhar hotel we had enquired about HP tourism hotels midway to manali and the person referred us to Hotel mandav at Mandi. We still decided we would play it by ear and decide about breaking the journey when night falls.
After the dinner break, we were on our way to Mandi. At about 12 am we reached mandi and decided to call it a day. We went to hotel mandav and checked in this HPTDC hotel.
March 12: We were woken up by the loud noises of trumpets and drums playing on nearby grounds. We were informed that Mahashivaratri festival is still on at mandi. From our hotel rooms we could see religious processions and vast melas (fairs)in full activity. We decided we had to vist this mela before our trip to Manali. The melas had hundreds of colourful palkhis of local deitites from every village in himachal being carried and danced on the shoulders of men. It was a mesmerising site to see thousands of rural folk gathering at one place. Everything from clothes, large traditional untensils, local delicacies,were there in the fair. i was really glad we broke our journey last night! After touring the melas we went to the bus stand to look for our bus to Manali. There are numerous buses on the stand and more n more buses were entering Mandi with overflowing people. We caught the first bus to manali and began our jouney to our dream destination!
We passed deep valleys and long rivers with clear water and lots of greenary. Every view made us spell bound.This was another reason that we were happy for breaking the journey as we would have missed these lovely bounties of Mother nature in the night travel! At few places there were small cradle like cable cars (manually operated) attached from one end of the river to another. Locales used it to cross over the river instead of a bridge how adventerous i thought!!!
As we started near Kullu, we started passing by lovely apple orchards.Unfortunately for us, the apples were still very small and green. My mind started imagining these petite trees with red apples! Wow, just the thought made me delightful!I wondered wat life will be for the Himachali people who see these sites day in and day out...I compared them to our concrete jungles in Mumbai....no way...I was in Heaven right now...please dont disturb me!!
The bus took a lunch stop at Kullu. Kullu town is on foothills and is surrounded with tall mountains of coniferous trees..We made a bhelwala prepare special fruit bhel for us...he must have thought we had lost it! But fruit bhel had become our favorite food in Himachal! That was our lunch...light and fresh...just like himachal!!
The drive Kullu onwards for 41 kms to Manali was quite steep. I started seeing the change in landscape..they started becoming more and more sparseinvegetations, it felt as if we passed from spring to Autumn! Also we noticed a change in the types of houses, features of locals...I felt it more like dry plains of ladakh...I was amazed to vitness this change around me...
We reached manali in the evening. It was much colder than Kullu. We started walking with our luggage to our Hotel which was 3 kms from the bus stand near Hidimba Temple. The walk seemed easy at first..but later i struggled to pull my luggage thru the stepp climbs on the roads. W thought our travel agent must have really booked a great hotel for us...Nevertheless we were enjoying our stroll in cool breeze, tiny roads, green conifereous trees!
We checked in our room and were happy to see our Apple suite...The hotel was at a secluded place with hardly any transport availiblity to the market place. After having lovely snacks we ventured to the market place again with a 3 kms walk. En route we started screening various hotels as we were open to hotel bookings for next 3 nights...We shortlisted and enquired a place called Johnsons cafe and found it suitable..We then went to Himachal Tourism office and booked our next days tour to Solang valley and few other tourist points. The tourism office offers cheaper price as compared to the private taxi owners who deny sharing facility and are out to fleece us.We also checked out some HP toursim hotels, but found them very mediorcre. We had an early dinner and luckily got an auto to drop us at our haunted hotel!
March 13: Woke up early and check out of our hotel...As we started walking on our ritual 3 kms trek, we were offered a lift by a local in this omni. We gladly accepted and he dropped us to our new abode 'The Johnson Cafe'..We loved the rooms and the landscaping done in this hotel. it had stone walls with wooden finish for doors and window sills. The rooms overlloked a well maintain garden and a view of tall himalayan montains and snow clad peaks. The exteriors as well as the room interiors were just te perfect for our trip! I could see most of the rooms were occupied by foreigners and even the menu was quite continental. We hurriedly checked in, parked our luggage and rushed to the tourism office for our tour!
A 30 seater bus was waiting for us. We were accompanied by some family tourist with children.