Monday, 3 December 2012

Himachal Trip: Part I: Dharamshala, Manali and Naggar

My friend and I did a 9 day trip to Himachal and Chandigarh last September. It was a beautiful trip and the more I think of it, the more I truly believe that it was the best that we could have done in 9 days considering that it was a sudden on-the-spur-of-the-moment trip that we didn’t really plan for.
We [I rather. My friend brought my stuff along with his - my bag included - from bangalore. It was that sudden as far as trip goes. Had to depend on someone to bring my clothes and stuff for the trip duration] started from Chennai and headed to Delhi on the Duronto express with an idea that things will work out fine [and we would be able to book tickets, hotels, have buses available and on time and we should be able to reach the Himachal and see the Himalayas from that place and so on. What we did end up doing was something that surpassed even our most optimistic imagination. More on that to come]. We had a nice 28 hr journey to Delhi [and my friend was travelling by Duronto the first time and most of the journey was a very pleasant shock to him]. We met nice friends along the way and had interesting conversations and headed to the ISBT once we were in Delhi [we used the metro in Delhi to reach there. A good ride!] Once we were in the ISBT, a hop skip and a jump and we were on the bus taking us to Chandigarh with no idea as to what we were planning. [We were also looking at going upto Amritsar and have a look at the Wagah border and see the Golden temple too. Besides Chandigarh is also on the way to go to HP]. We were slightly late at Chandigarh and we decided to move ahead full steam to HP and do Wagah and Golden Temple on the way back. [A sensible decision in hindsight as we couldn’t have afforded to spend time there] So, off we went to Dharamshala.
3rd day of trip: We were in Dharamshala at about 3.30 in the morning and we were on the lookout for a place to stay. The dogs in the road were having a keen interest in what we were trying to do [and were on the lookout for some fresh flesh too, probably]. We escaped the dogs and finally ended up in a hotel for a decent bargain and off my friend went to sleep. Unlucky for us, it rained almost the entire morning, [here] so we bought ourselves new umbrellas and started walking towards McLeodGanj in search of Enlightenment food and entertainment. More walking brought us to the Monastery [Tsuglagkhang complex] and the sights kept us at peace with the world. More walks in the Tibetan museum, Kalachakra temple, more momos in the entrance and some book and souvenir buying later, I realised that I  had left my umbrella at the book shop and it was locked... and no one knew when the shop keeper will be back as he had left for the day... As I was left brooding about my new umbrella, a thought chanced upon me to talk to the guys around... random talking with security led me to the monks quarters where we met a few monks and they helped us catch the shop keeper on phone and get my umbrella back. [Lesson No.1: Every problem presents a new opportunity...] So, once I got my umbrella, we said our goodbyes and went on our way back. We were just roaming around the place and were doing nothing when my friend caught up with a security there and was speaking to him. I was waiting for him and ready to move along when he stopped me and said “Wait, the Dalai Lama might come”. So we waited, along with the rest of people, for a while and lo and behold, he DID zip through in his car and the customary cavalcade. [Lesson 2: Some problems present beautiful opportunities]. Later, quite satisfied with the day’s work, we went through a carnival and my friend played a bit but won nothing and we walked through onto a small hill and ended up somewhere near the mountaineering institute in McLeod Gunj. We rested for a while after our efforts and also to plan on what next was required...
We decided on leaving McLeodGunj as it was too touristy and move on to an equally touristy place – Manali. [Except that we had no tickets... talking to the hotel owner helped and he pulled a few strings and arranged for 2 tickets...and in no time we were in the bus all over again after just about 12 hours of staying without travelling after 3 days of all kinds of travel.] Off we went through to Manali – the roads were long and meandering and had lovely views of the lower Himalayas... we were more awake than asleep and we were mostly looking through the window at the nice sights. [My friend had a nice sight even in the bus - on his left [I was on his right, FYI] and behind him, if you want to believe him]
4th day of trip: Landed in Manali. We were in “safe” hands and territory even before we got down – about some 15 hawks  hotel brokers descended upon us ready to push us to the hotel that they want us to move in to. We took it in for a few minutes and then started walking away to decide matters on our own. Came across the very interesting looking HP Tourism Rooms [called HPTDC, if I remember right. good place to stay!] and decided to stay in it [friend initially had reservations as it was slightly on the higher side [for him]... but in the end, he was very satisfied with the place too]. Some more sleeping / surfing, lonely planet checking to check the stuff to be done and logistics and we were prepared to take on the to speak.

We went and had a look at the Manali Museum, the Dhungri temple [Hadimba temple. Sad that we had to see Genelia the Bollywood actor in it too when we were there. My friend was very happy on sighting her and reckon, he also winked at her and she smiled back... or so he says],  Gadhan Thekchokling gompa and a few more. It was time for lunch and we came back to the hotel and had our hearty meal there [HPTDC has a good place to eat [restaurant] too!]. I slowly started initial negotiations and talk for a ride upto Leh, Ladakh or somewhere closer to the mountains [without knowing what we were getting into, obviously]. The initial rates and time quoted were expensive and we weren’t really looking at it - we were more likely shooting in thre dark at that time - and thought we will take it a day at a time. We were in a quandary after lunch – visit Solang Nullah or Naggar. Friend said Solang Nullah and I said Naggar... finally, settled on Naggar as it was mid point to Kullu too.
Maheshwar temple

Interior of temple

Yak in tow

In the meanwhile, more talking with the tourism desk and more decisions later, we finally decided on a 750 km Himalayan hinterland jeep ride [ the Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur, Sangla and Shimla valley]. We were paying a fairly steep price and the driver said that he hasn’t done a 5 day trip of the Spiti valley and it would require atleast 8-9 days... so we compromised to do the travel on best effort basis and decide on a day-by-day basis as to what can be done.
Naggar is a beautiful place in the midst of the road between Kullu and Manali and it was also the erstwhile capital of Kullu region in the 1460’s. Naggar has a nice castle with good views and also an old temple close by. 

Naggar Castle

View from Naggar castle

Temple inside Naggar castle

We came back to the room, after viewing all the sights, fully aware of the fact that we will start on the most important part of our trip on the next day - getting up close and personal with the Himalaya mountains.