The Himachal Experience At Manali And Shimla
Neeraj Shinde Monday, September 22, 2014 Himachal Pradesh
Soon after our mind boggling tour of Kashmir, in June 2014 we decided to have a grand family tour to the state of Himalayan wonderland – Himachal Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh is one of the northernmost state in India and one of the major tourist destination cities are Shimla and Manali. Although it is generally freezing cold during the winter months, it was rather pleasant to be here in June when the rest of the States in the Country are witnessing early monsoon showers.
The Journey towards Shimla
On Day 1 of our tour, we reached the New Delhi airport in the afternoon. The temperature in Delhi was already competing with that of the major cities in the middle east countries and I am quite sure that it was somewhere close to 50 degree Celsius. After a late lunch at the hotel, we planned to have a local sightseeing of the national capital. Delhi has it’s own charisma and visiting the major tourist attractions here is an affair of half a day. We had a quick visits to the famous Kutub Minar, the Bahai Lotus Temple, India Gate and the Indian Parliament. The very next morning, our journey to Shimla began. We chose to board a comfortable Volvo bus since the journey was a long one that lasted for nearly 10 hours. On our way to Shimla, we had a stopover at the historic Pinjore Gardens. It was quite neatly maintained and felt like an Oasis amidst the soaring heat. This was the last place where we saw plain land and ever since we started from Pinjore, it was all a mountainous road trip. The weather started to change gradually as we continued our uphill journey towards the State Capital, the city of Shimla. Summer had just ended but it was good to see greenery spread across the mountains that passed by. After a few hours of uphill climb, it started getting dark and even darker as we approached Shimla at around 8 PM in the evening. After such a long and tiring drive, there was not enough motivation left to have an evening walk on the streets of this beautiful destination. We left it all for the next day. After a good dinner at the hotel, we simply chose to squeeze ourselves inside the comfy quilts and put ourselves to charge up for the next day just as we plugged up our cell phones to the switches.
I had heard someone saying that the night sleep gets over early amongst the mountains and that was an apt experience for us. Despite a tiring journey last day, we woke up early and the present day was solely dedicated to admire the beauty of Shimla. It was a good idea to start with the tiring activities first and that brought us up to Kufri. June is that part of the year when you really would not find any snow in Shimla. We took up this rather optimistically since, absence of snow gave us a better view of the city. On our way towards Kufri, it was rather unusual for a metropolitan resident like me to see numerous houses built on top of sky rising mountains which leaped straight towards the deep valleys. Seeing these housing in so large numbers, felt like a huge honey bee comb trying to grab their hard earned honey inside. Certainly, with such natural beauty scattered all around, it must have been a privilege for the localities here to stay at a hill station. But, that is just a perspective of a stupid tourist like me, I thought. Living at such a place for ever has it’s own challenges. The mountainous roads gave us chills inside to see deep valleys just a few inches away from us. It was indeed a breathtaking experience. We came across several schools on our way – schools right inside a valley and children effortlessly climbing to their classrooms. This was something unusual for us to watch. Everything here is stuck to the mountains – schools, colleges, government buildings, temples, hotels, houses and private offices. This is the specialty of a hill station like Shimla.
|One of the numerous breathtaking views from Rohtang Valley|
Kufri was a 2 hour drive from Shimla and soon as we got down, we were encircled by a group of horse owners offering us their horses for a ride. At Kufri, the localities do not allow outside vehicles beyond a certain point where outsiders will be mandated to park their vehicles. In order to reach to the top, you need to hire a horse ride or if you are adventurous enough, you could opt to have a small trek. We hired few horses for INR 480/- per head and later realized that this was a better decision given the condition of the roads towards the Kufri temple. The horse ride was very enjoyable and was scary at times esp. when the horse climbed a sloppy mountain surface. The overall impression after reaching the Kufri point was not that great and soon we realized that the experience would have been much better in winters. It was rather dusty up there and snow was what we missed a lot at that very time. But, it was good to have a memorable horse ride here. Certainly, it is hard for us to imagine Kufri without the horses.
|A Local Himachal Girl on her way to School|
A couple of kilometers away from Kufri, we visited the Himalayan Zoo which claimed of having several wild animals and also advertising themselves to be worth a visit. However, to our dismay we did not encounter enough beasts that could entertain our 3 year old. After the Zoo, we had a quick lunch at a local restaurant at Kufri and headed back towards Shimla city. Our next destination was the Shimla Mall. Hold on; like you, the word ‘Mall’ did confuse me as well. If you were expecting something like a modern building just as we have in our metropolitan cities, then this place is not at all one like that. It is just a big market place and is the prime area to shop at Shimla. As I mentioned earlier, everything in Shimla resides on mountains, this market is a no exception to it and we had to wait for more than half an hour for a paid elevator which took us there in two different phases. I had never ever paid money to use an elevator nor waited for so long to board one; this was my first time doing so. Optionally, you can climb stairs to reach atop at the Mall. As soon as you reach up, you will come across the famous Shimla Church where you can spend some time if you wish. However, we got too much engrossed at the various shops at the Mall that we did not realize when it was dark. After enjoying some shopping, a little bit of street food and tea, we drove back to our hotels. It was a remarkable experience and it was hard to believe that it was our second night at Shimla. After such a weary day filled with some new memories, it was hard to bid an adieu to Shimla the very next morning.
Nature getting better as we head up towards Manali
It was nearly a 60% hilly drive all the way towards Manali. If you have a motion sickness or a nausea, better to have a light breakfast as the roads from Shimla towards Manali will only get more curvy at the beginning of your Journey. I had this problem as a kid but hilly drives just stir away my stomach even today. A recent solution I have found out to this problem is to stare at the upcoming curve on the road and that is how you can get rid of the motion sickness. I am sure if it works for me, may be it may work for anyone else too. I was happy to see some straight roads approaching soon after a few hours that gave me a sigh of relief. We halted for lunch and most of us decided to have a bit heavy one after we learnt that the worst hilly roads were just over. That may sound funny but this was a practical problem with most tourists travelling on these roads. A dangerously magnificent view of the River Bias caught our attention soon as we were a few miles away from Kullu, a small town near Manali. The river was breathtakingly beautiful and dangerous at the same time since it had won a credibility of engulfing several teenagers just a week before our arrival. We could see the search operations by the Indian Army men still on at the Dam on the river. The River water although looked muddy at the start, but soon began changing it’s color as we headed upwards towards Manali. White water river rafting is one of the famous water sport being played by tourists visiting Manali and soon we started to realize why the water was called white. The weather began changing it’s course gradually and it soon started becoming colder and even more colder. All throughout our journey, the Beas waters continued giving us a good company. We enjoyed the human settlements across the River and amid the beautiful mountains. It was a long day long journey and the Sun was almost on it’s way to go down beyond these mountains. The Golden rays emitted by him gently kissed the white waters just like a lover kissing his beautiful girl and promising her to meet up soon the very next day. A flock of Himalayan sheep blocked our way at one of the crossroads which gave my camera a room to work and capture the scene permanently on the memory card. I looked at the Shepherd guiding them towards home with envy. Merely having a carefree look at them was so soothing, so relaxing. It was dark by the time we reached our hotel Manali. I had a casual look outside the hotel balcony. It was 10 PM and the night was captured by the silence of the mountains. I heard a distant noise which soon turned out to be a music; one that was the best I had ever heard in my life. It was a distant sound of the dangerously beautiful river Beas cutting the silence of the night. I held the beautiful hand of my wife who too joined in listening to the music produced by the River. Just then my eyes stuck upon something that caught my attending in the night sky. For a moment, it was hard to imagine what it was but the very next moment I took a guess. It must be the snow resting over the mountain peak. Priya, my wife did not buy that but was almost went by surprise the very next morning when She had a majestic view of the snowcapped mountain from the window; the first thing to see when she opened her eyes that day. This was the beginning of our most memorable moments at Manali.
Adventures activities at Manali
Manali is a place known for trekkers, for people with a zest for adventures, climbing snowcapped mountains, indulging in water sports and for most of other things that would be on your 100 things to do before you die list. The next morning, we got ourselves busy with adventures such as, Zipline climbing, parasailing, river crossing and shooting. We chose a spot beside the River where there was a camp arranged by a local organizer that carried out these activities for tourists. River rafting was stopped due to the unfortunate incident the took place last week and authorities were on a lookout for anyone indulging in such dangerous activities. The River itself is so rough and to add to the difficulty is it’s uneven rocky bed which will not provide even a single chance to someone who unfortunately gets into it’s powerful current. Believe me, my intentions are not to scare my readers but rather to make them alert on the unpardonable nature of the River Beas.
After lunch we headed towards the Hadimba temple, a temple which was of a different kind. It looked like an ancient temple of the asur (Devil Goddess) Hadimba. It was rather unusual to see people venerating a Devil in so large numbers and to see people in large numbers forming queues outside the temple. Apparently, most of the local vehicles at Manali carried the name of the Devil Goddess. Localities had a deep belief in her. The temple surroundings were one with the best ambience a temple could have. With huge pine trees surrounding the temple, it is quite easy to imagine why not only Gods, but also Devils chose such places on Earth to relax, to meditate. Certainly, humans are no exception to it and so weren’t we. We spend few minutes admiring the temple architecture and rested at a rock in front of the temple for a few soothing moments. That was a much needed break after an adventurous day. But this was just a beginning of a great adventurous time we were going to have further in Manali. On our way back to our hotel, we also visited the Vashista Kund, a place where we found hot water springs amidst the cold weather of Manali.
Rohtang Pass and Solang Valley
We started at 3:30 AM at dawn towards Rohtang. The Rohtang Pass is known for the most scenic views of the Himalayas in the entire state. It is filled with snow almost at any part of the year. This was our impression about Rohtang before we actually visited the place. It is really required to start the journey towards Rohtang from Manali this early as traffic is a huge problem to and fro. If you start this early, it is only then your timely reaching there can be assured in approximately 3 hours. However, there is absolutely no guarantee or any assurance on the time required to come back from Rohtang. This very fact alone added to the thrill of visiting Rohtang.
|A Selfie shot soon after we landed at Rohtang Valley|
We reached the Rohtang Valley in almost 3 hours. The beautiful early morning drive on the roads, seemed to have nearly no trespassers for ages. Of course, this turned out to be a joke when after the Sun got up, we saw these roads getting crowded with traffic. We rented out the snow jackets, caps and glasses on our way towards Rohtang and just when we got down from our vehicle, we realized that such thick jackets turned out to be incapable of handling the cold winds which continually attacked our faces. Our attempts to keep ourselves warm in this kind of weather turned futile every other moment that passed by. I wanna get inside our car, our 3 year old murmured. Well, it took us a few more minutes to adjust in this climate. Our bodies were shivering as in hell. For those very moments, we were only thinking of keeping ourselves in a better condition. It was only then when we realized how extremely difficult nature could be in a cold atmosphere. Soon we decided to walk towards the Sun in a hope to gather some warmth. Exposing our hands in the Sun gave us the confidence to walk around. After our bodies got settled at Rohtang, we were carried away by the beauty that almost killed us by it’s mere looks. India has such a variety of geographies. It has beaches, rainforests, deserts, snowcapped mountains – you just name it and it is there, I thought. It was so good to see people enjoying skiing and driving snow trucks. More interestingly, it was a surprise to see a small local restaurant operational up here which offered a variety of breakfasts. I never expected such a fully operational business at a difficult place like Rohtang. Attractions all around the world have been deeply commercialized lately and Rohtang was no exception to this. After spending a couple of hours in the valley, we recollected our chauffer’s words who insistently asked us to come back to the car early lest we may spend the rest of the day in the traffic. It was not easy to find our car and it took nearly 30 minutes searching for it. To add to the difficulty, cell phone signals do not work at Rohtang. Soon after we found our vehicle, we started towards the Solang Valley. We spent more than 3 hours later in the traffic and Ironically, this was the best time I have ever spent in a traffic jam. At every point on the road downhill where we got stuck up, it was another chance for a majestic view of the Himalayan snowcapped mountain ranges. Every time we stopped, our cameras did their jobs well. This was the best experience of all we had during our Himachal tour.
At Solang Valley, we got engaged in quick eateries and enjoyed the distant view of the snowcapped mountains. We were back out of the snow and each one of us very well realized the fact that the distant beautiful views were hard to sustain being so close to them. Certainly, beauty comes with thorns and our today’s experience well explained it. After all these days we had spent at Manali, there came another day to start a long journey back home. In order to have a rather comfortable journey, we decided to arrive at New Delhi after a night’s stay at Chandigarh. This provided us a breather and courage to cover a long Journey way back home. Himachal has been a memorable place and the memories will undoubtedly remain green in our minds for the rest of our lives.