After our previous trips to Sikkim, Ladakh and Kashmir…my husband Gaurav and I had decided to make a short trip to much - hyped about Himachal Pradesh…
As we began our journey from Pathankot to Dalhousie in HimachaI Pradesh State Transport bus, I noticed the women were all very fair, had sharp noses and wore bright colours with red lipstick and red bindi. To top it all they had pink cheeks which made them look really stunning…The children had chubby cheeks and brown eyes…they looked ultra cute….
In the sleepy lanes of Dalhousie I could see piles of dried snow on the roadsides….was a beautiful site to a Mumbaikar’s eyes, though the snow was mixed with lot of dust making it almost black! It was getting cold too…We reached our hotel Shangrila and were escorted to our room which was the last in line facing a deep valley just below our common balcony…Its then that we realized that we had reached a very high altitude
The next morning we started on our way to Khajjiar which was about 23 kms from Dalhousie…Switzerland of India!
Enroute we saw lovely landscapes of snow filled hills and deep valleys with all the coniferous trees rising tall from these valleys.. It was a breath taking view and I was reminded of the song ‘Yeh hasin vaadinyaan’
Khajjiar place was a miniature of Gulmarg The landscaping is beautifully done by mother nature. .. hills almost like plateaus that were filled with greenery, white snow and surrounded by large coniferous trees. There were tiny manmade bridges over what formed like small lakes. The entire place was a perfect picnic spot carefully drawn by the Natures Artists! There were lovely snow white horses and flock of sheep to make the scene as lively as possible...sweet nothings and mesmerizing views.
We lay sleepily on the plains when a himchali singer from Chamba district came with his weird musical instrument. He sang chamba valley folk songs for us that are generally sung in himachali social gatherings like weddings etc. We were delighted to have a feel of himachali folk culture!
We left Khajjiar with wonderful memories and proceeded on our day trip. Though it was not as fascinating as Switzerland, it had made a special place in my heart that I will cherish forever..
Once we reached Dalhousie we left the car and took a long stroll in the lanes and by lanes of the sleepy hill station. We saw houses that and locals getting back from work and school in a relaxed manner, unlike our rush to catch local trains and buses in the evenings! What a life!
The next day we started our day leisurely and set out for Dharamshala in the HPSTC bus.
We reached the busy town of Dharamshala at about 5 pm. 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. It was a well maintained property with spacious rooms and all required facilities. The restaurant was a valley facing open air verandah. It had a breath taking view from that place with mountains surrounding us and birds flying high up in the air… overlook the entire town of Dharamshala.
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 is renowned for Tibetan monasteries, markets and hang outs. We decided to check out the town the next day. On route we saw many young Tibetan 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.
My husband 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!
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 took a bus Gaggar (central place en route) and theraftre hired a Maruti 800 for Masroor
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.
We pulled over enroute and In the mustard fields there were himachali women They were very shy and just giggled at my every question. I was a different experience to walk through the mud lanes. .true flavor of himachali rural life!
The road started getting worse and it seemed like a never ending journey. Finally we reached the ancient temple premises on a hillock. The locals called them as Paudiyon wala mandir which means Temple with steps (to heaven)!!
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 Brahma, 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!
Next destination was 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
The same evening we caught a 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 we deicded to break the journey and stay at some place midway. We checked in hotel Mandav (HPTDC) in the Mandi town which is midway.
On the next morning 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. The melas had hundreds of colourful palkhis of local deities 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 gatherings at one place. Everything from clothes, large traditional utensils, local delicacies, were there in the fair. i was really glad we broke our journey last night!
On our way to Manali 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 adventurous I thought!!!
As we reached 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!!
Kullu town is on foothills and is surrounded with tall mountains of coniferous trees.. The drive Kullu onwards for 41 kms to Manali was quite steep. I started seeing the change in landscape..it started becoming more and more sparse in vegetations, 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 witness 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 steep climbs on the roads..Nevertheless we were enjoying our stroll in cool breeze, tiny roads, green conifereous trees!
Our new abode at Manali was '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 room overlooked a well maintain garden and a view of tall himalayan mountains and snow clad peaks. The exteriors as well as the room interiors were just the perfect for our trip! I could see most of the rooms were occupied by foreigners and even the menu was quite continental.
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. A 30- seater bus was waiting for us. We were accompanied by some family tourist with children. We rented out snow dresses and snow shoes on our way so that our clothes and footwear remained intact. After struggling on the ugly roads, we reached Solang Valley. (We couldn’t go to Rohtang pass as it was closed during that time due to heavy snowfall) Solang Valley had snow covered peaks and we saw hundreds of tourists with lot of traffic in the parking lots. This place has definitely sprung into a commercial destination with numerous photographers, small tea shops that served momos and Maggie, and caps ad shoe too.
There were various activities going on like adventure sports- there was paragliding, skiing, and the most funny one was tyre skidding. I decided to try my hands at paragliding first…after striking a negotiated deal with the person I started following him on a hillock for getting into my paragliding gear.. The cold wind was brushing against my face but my spirits were high…I was going to do this for the first time in my life! I carefully took the instructions from my gliding instructoer and fastened the parachute. I was asked to keep running till the land was over and air started under my feet! Sounds really scary…..I waved my husband from top (as if it was our last) and started running on the hill ……and kept running till I saw myself floating in the air…What a magnificent experience……I could actually feel TOP of the World…freely floating in Natures Bounties…This as a heavenly feel for me…I was gliding in the thin cool winds of Himachal! The glide hardly lasted for 2 minutes, but at the end of it I felt I had lived my life to the fullest…and wanted nothing more from it..right then!
We decided to try out this funny and dangerous looking game the tyre-skid ride… The ride required us to climb up the hill and reach the top to sit in the large tyre tube. I enjoyed the ride so much that we decided to take this ride again and again.
Time to go!! We sat in our bus extremely exhausted and reached the castle built by ancient Maharaja of Himachal. It was a beautiful wooden palace and overlooked a beautiful valley. It started raining and getting freezing cold…The palace is now converted in to a restaurant. Our return journey was hardly memorable.
We spent the rest of days at manali very leisurely like morning jogs, sumptuous breakfast, long walks, local sightseeing, Italian dinners and mindless strolls and souvenir shopping at the market.
Our return journey to Delhi from Manali was a night journey and was very uncomfortable in the AC vlovo…I missed the local HPSTC buses that we used for the passed week.
But as our bus left Manali, my heart sank at the thought of leaving this beautiful countryside…last eight days flew like beautiful tender birds out of my hands making a permanent footprints in my mind and on my life….