Traveller's Tales

Himachal Diaries(03/06/11-10/06/11)

Day 0:Delhi
I've been up all night, celebrating the last day of second year with friends. My parents come to pick me up from the hostel. We've hired a Tavera and a driver to take us along the mountain trail.
We travel through haryana and punjab. It's okay so far, green flats and raised mercury. Spend the time listening to my favourite songs and trying to get Delhi out of my mind.

First stop:Solan
Its pleasantly cool here, the valley looks gorgeous, with all the lights shining like a million fireflies in the woods.
And the sky is a clear star studded one. It's eight at night so we head to the first hotel we see and get ourselves a room.The view from the balcony is beautiful, we sit there for an hour or so, enjoying dinner in the cool mountain breeze.
Its so quiet here.

Day 1:On the Road

Got up early, bathed and dressed and got myself ready for travelling on the mountain roads. But, ah, the medicine for motion sickness got me and I winded up sleeping through most of the journey.
We're headed to Thanedar, ninety kilometres from Solan.
valley view:thanedaar
When I woke up,I could see the snow covered Himalayas in the background. We'd just crossed Shimla and were near Kufri. The air has become thinner and the breeze colder, but the sun is out, playing with the landscape, reflecting on the snowy peaks and making them shimmer.
We saw a couple of yaks and memory took us back to our experience riding them when in manali.
Oh, how we love the mountains.

Stop 2:Thanedar

We reach here in time for lunch, our abode-banjara camps.
Thanedar is a little village, known for its apple and cherry orchards. The first apple trees here were in fact brought and sown by an American, Mr.stokes. And that explains the difference between the himachali and kashmiri apples. Hm.
One would wonder why we chose to stay in this village rather than go to Shimla. Its beacuse this place is pure, unknown and untouched by commercial tourism. Hence we can get a taste of the local life, of the pahadi way. Our resort has hardly 7-8 rooms and they follow a fixed menu and so we get to really meet and interact with all the families who've come to stay here and try out new stuff to eat (apple chutney,pineapple curd,cherry dessert and lockey kheer).
The highlight of our stay is the trek through the woods. The first one took us through the apple orchards overlying the resort. We were completely on our own and got lost in the greens without any phones. Nevertheless, followed our instincts and followed a narrow trail to the road.
the orchards
in the forest
After tea, it was time for another walk with Mr.Tony, our guide. Tony is from Brisbane and is a passionate traveller. He arrived in India in february and has been staying at banjara since may. He's voluntarily helping in managing the place. We were surprised to find him well acquainted with the villagers in spite of the language barrier. He'd even learnt the Indian names of the trees and fruits. And so he took us on a walk through the woods of thanedar to the kotgarh church. There wasn't much wildlife but we got to see a variety of trees and flowers. There were loads of apple laden trees and cherries, but alas, picking was striclty prohibited. Apart from these,we spotted apricots,peaches, pears and almonds. Kids and women were picking up timber and leaves for their homes.All smiling,healthy faces.
dad at the waterfall..feeling blissful!
The trees were magnificent, some were nearly a hundred metres. There were spruce,pine,oak,cedar and mighty deodar. But hardly any monkeys or birds could be sighted.
We came across a waterfall and stopped there to rest for five minutes. The water was cold and clean but people like us had littered it with plastic bottles and wrappers.
Oh, and marijuana grows wild here, and looks like many poeple don't know about it. Tony grinned at us, pointing to the plant.
One and a half hours later, we reached the church where the reverend welcomed us and showed us inside. A quick look and we made our way back to the waiting car.
So, we'd walked today for nearly two and a half hours, but we didn't feel a tad bit tired. The cool breeze and the fresh unpolluted oxygen kept us energised.
Back at the resort we had a bonfire and everybody sat around it singing folk songs and listening to Mr.Thakur (the owner of the property) tell tales about the village.
At the end of the day, we retired to our beds feeling satisfied and with images of the beautiful forest paths in our heads. A day well spent.

Day 2:Sangla
On the stairway to heaven

Woke up to the most gorgeous of sunrises, with the valley bathed in yellow light and shadows. Walked around and got ready for the trip to Sangla.
The journey itself was interesting as the road follows the river Satluj and then Besva with a few dam sites and reservoirs here and there. You can feel the scenery changing as you cut through the hills and go higher, the snowy peaks coming in view. Civilization thins out and there are only a few small villages on the way, but there're lots of military bases. The road is narrow and winding and you realize the amount of manpower that must've gone in cutting pathways through the hard basaltic rocks. Every now and then, we see a waterfall or catch glimpses of the clear blue-green river.
We arrived in the banjara camps here at sangla at around three in the afternoon.
And the view took my breath away!
The place is surrounded by mountains on all sides, brown and green arravalis in the immediate vicinity and the snow covered himalayas further off. Nothing could've prepared me for the beautiful scenery I got to enjoy here, with the view changing every hour with the change in sunlight and perspective.
mom,by the river
We were greeted here by Marriene, a post graduate in world geography and sociology from Finland. Like Tony, she has also been staying in India since the past few months and is volunteering at banjara.
After lunch, she took us to the riverside. It was an amazing experience,the mountains, the sun, the clouds, the crystal clear but rapidly flowing water, the white sand and multicolored cobblestones. We sat down on the boulders and dipped our feet in the freezing water. Felt like paradise.
It was right there, sitting by the water and hearing it gush, that I felt unusually serene and peaceful. I saw how trifling all my worries were and realized that there was just so much more to do and see in this world. When given a choice of metaphors, I would always compare life with the sea.
At around six in the evening, the staff made arrangements for the river crossing activity. Poles were set up on either side of the river with steel ropes hanging between them. One would be suspended by a rope and harnessed to the steel ones and would have to use his/her hands to pull themselves to the other side of the bank. It sounded easy but I was still pretty unsure about it. Saw a couple of people attempt it successfully but still couldn't gather ebough courage to attempt it. Maybe day after tomorrow...
Post tea we went for a short walk in the village and observed the local people.
While returning to my room, watching the moonlight bounce off the snowy peaks, all I could think of was, if kashmir is rightfully the heaven on earth, this place is definitely the stairway to that heaven, both figuratively and literally.

the temple

Day 3:Adventure is in the Air

It rained here last night, the weather is colder and there is more snow on the peaks. We quickly dress up and have breakfast and get ourselves ready for the walk to the glacier. Two families will be accompanying us alongwith Mr. Ojha, our guide. We take a walking stick and pack sun screen, water and biscuits.
bonding :)

Thus we begin walking towards the Sangla village, our first stop is the temple. Now,the people here follow hinduism with a slight buddhist overtone and this could be seen in the temple. It was built like a buddhist monastery and had carvings of the religious leaders of all faiths. Having crossed the village, we reached the river bank and crossed to the other side on a makeshift vibrating bridge. The forest started from there. It was mostly uphill and rocky with lots of trees and thorny bushes.
Halfway through I realized that my shoe was torn.
Mr ojha helped me fix it with some polythene bands, but they would just keep sliding off. Anyways, we continued on our upward journey. We could see the glacier and that kind of motivated us. Climbing up the glacier was not at easy task as the ice was slippery, but we negotiated it with the help of the stick and tips from the experts. So we climbed up to a comfortable place, laid sheets of polythene on the ice and sat down to take in the majestic view. Behind us, we had the muddy white glaciers, on one side there was a waterfall and forest below us. And all around us, we could see the mountains, both snowy and brown. It was a scene I'd never forget and one that made the three hour long journey worthwhile. We had a mini picnic there, with fresh pineapple juice and biscuits. When everybody was suitably energized, we began the walk back, improvising and inventing our own track. By this time, the sole of my other shoe had also come off and I had to repair that one too. Had some trouble walking every now and then, but it was okay. The downhill journey was not tiring and time consuming but it was more difficult as one wrong step could result in a fatal fall. Hiking, we observed, is a great stressbuster as all you can think about is your next step and breathing rhythm.

my nike :(
A funny incident happened near the village,a stray dog developed a fancy for us and started walking with us, leading the way in fact and stopping at regular intervals to wait for us. It disappeared near the camp but was waiting for us near our room!Dogs, and their sense of smell, never fail to amaze me.

After a wonderful lunch, we drove down to the sangla village and bought a pair of trekking shoes.
Then it was time to go and sit by the river, relaxe and take a few snaps.

By the end of the day,my eagerness for adventure and exploration had increased manifold and I was eagerly looking forward to chitkul and whatever experiences it might bring.

atop mt.glacier :D
 Day 4:Bring me more of it!

Dad went for a walk at 0530 today with Mr.Ojha, the spirit of adventure has got to him!
Back after two hours, he excitedly narrated all he did and saw. They'd met a postmaster and had tea at his place. Observing the beautiful view of the glaciers from his window, he remarked to the postmaster that he was lucky to be living in a heaven-like place. The postmaster replied that it indeed was heaven for half the year, but for the other half, it was worse than hell as piles of snow made venturing out impossible and he'd be trapped in his little hut for days.

Its pretty chilly today.
Dark clouds.
last indian dhaba
But we have drive to chitkul, the last village in India. We're here to walk to the last Indian Paramilitary borderpost. It's a three kilometre walk from the village. Sounds fun.
At the start of the trek, we're met by a dog who curiosly starts walking with us, stopping when we stopped and sitting when we sat. We were told that the path to the border would be flat and easy but instead it kept getting steeper and steeper. Forty minutes later we realised we were on the wrong path. The climb to the right one was so steep that mom grew scared and just sat down, paralyzed by fear. Fortunately, an officer came along and helped her complete it.

When I got to the top, I was rewarded by a breathtaking view: a clear river, green meadows, and mountains so close you could reach out and touch them.
We walked through rain, clouds and sun, crossed streams and waterfalls. Reached the border post in one and a half hours and were stopped from entering by two army jawans. They chatted with us, claiming that this was a peaceful area and they rarely encountered the Chinese army around here. But the Dragon, they warned us,was growing stronger, while we drown in bureaucracy.
last border post
The dog bid us farewell here, following the jawans to their mess for lunch. Huh. It won't eat the biscuits we offered. Looks like it was there with us just for company.

The walk back is always easier and less time consuming and this time, we were even following the right path:a mule track through the fields.

For lunch, we got down for a picnic in the forest, but unfortunately, it started to rain and we had to rush.

Back at the camp, walked down to the river. Collected some sandstone, quartz and chalk (Geology lessons, thank you).There was another event today: rappling or rock climbing. You had to climb down a rock, using ropes, you know, the way they show it on tv.

And no,thank you,I'm a chicken.

Day 5:

'Take me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
Oh won't you please take me home'

Left Sangla with a heavy heart,with thoughts of coming back clouding my mind. Such is the beauty and atmosphere of this place. The guides, the staff had all become friends to us and leaving them was a task we undertook gloomily.
However, the journey continues, in spite of the greed of staying there for a walk to raksham and a forest picnic.

Next stop:Kalpa
The drive to Kalpa was both dangerous and scenic, as we crossed streams and boulders and rock mining areas.
But lady luck was not happy with our decision to leave Sangla it seems and had sent her dark clouds after us..they floated down from over the mountains and descended into the valley with rain,hail and snow.

The view of kailash kinnor,the reason we came here, is clouded for now.
The rain subsided by evening and we braved the chilly wind to venture out towards Rogi village, and it was worth it. Not only did we get to see the kailash kinnaur range but another snow covered range came into view,white with fresh snow. We'd thought that Chitkul offered the ultimate beauty, but the scene that beheld us now shattered that illusion.
The snow is enchanting, you can never take your eyes off it, watch it mingle with the brown and green of the land and the blue of the sky, sparkling under the sun and the moon.
There were waterfalls, streams and tall deodhar trees..the perfect walk to end our journey in the mountains, combining all the elements of beauty.
the tall deodhar

We walked for around 4 kilometres from our hotel and then drove back to relaxe and watch some tv. Baba ramdev,the bjp-congress blame game and youth against corruption: reminders of a reality we feel loathe to embrace after this journey through paradise land.

Day 6&7:
The way back.
Non-stop driving, the heat, exhaustion :|

Oh,but the memories :)
ever seen roses like these?