This Hidden Village In Sainj Valley Is Straight Out Of Alice In Wonderland!

10th Mar 2019
Photo of This Hidden Village In Sainj Valley Is Straight Out Of Alice In Wonderland! by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

As the indistinct chatter in the Himachal Roadways bus persisted, the sun sneaked up behind the serene Shivaliks highlighting its contours. As dawn broke I found myself withdrawn from the unbridled motion, going back to that day, a year ago, while going through Shubham Mansingka’s travel blog post on Sainj, when I couldn’t stop obsessing over this place. You know how you see something spectacular and can’t stop thinking about it! The fact that he used the phrase ‘Secret Homestay in a Secret Village’ piqued my interest to find out where this stunning piece of jewel hid itself in the mountains. And like they say ‘Mystery creates wonder’!! Exactly a year later, I just returned that mysterious hamlet that I often dreamt of and it was even prettier than how I had imagined!

The hour of Dawn...Kiratpur

Photo of Kiratpur Sahib, Punjab, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

To be honest, initially I was in two minds, whether to continue keeping this gem a secret or share it with folks like me, who craved for peace and serenity. I am writing this, with a tad bit of faith in my tiny bunch of readers that they respect the sanctity of this place and don’t turn it into yet another Kasol or Dalhousie, swamped with filth and irresponsible loud tourists.

I wanted to do a budget stay and like always, a friend I made on Instagram, Rajeshwar Thakur, came to my rescue. The trip was planned in a way that I spend minimum and see maximum. Budget traveling and a homestay was the idea! Like many of my day hikes in Bhutan, my friend Tripti agreed to tag along this time as well. At a ghoulish time of 4am did we reach the bus stand to begin our adventure. The fields near Kiratpur had metamorphosed into greener grains and the landscape flaunted the arrival of spring. Seasons are the best makeup artists when it comes to giving a makeover to the landscapes!

The omnipresent silence was only interrupted by the conversations between the bus driver and conductor. The passengers who had a long way to go till Aut were in their deep slumber while the ones who boarded the bus to get down at the nearby spots seemed familiar with the driver and conductor. One such man was a village school master who sat down in the drivers cabin, telling the conductor about board exams, how kids tend to cheat at an all new level during exams. Later the conversation drifted to some local rich man who adopted a girl, for the wife was working and there was no one at home and he needed someone for domestic help! That’s all i could decipher for they spoke in Himachali. A part of me wanted to believe in that rich man’s goodness, in the fact that he adopted a girl child and ignore the latter half. The driver was really chatty and described many road accidents and how government aids should be increased for betterment of roads in some parts of Himachal. The conductor often filled a steel glass with tea and served the driver on regular intervals! I was in the process of developing a new found respect for this lesser known being, at the steering wheel.

Dhaaba with a view!

Photo of Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Short of Bilaspur, we stopped at a Dhaba while we waiting for a bus change as the one we were travelling in broke down. As we waited, the calm waters of the Koldam Dam glistened a dreamy green. It reminded me of my times in Ooty when we used to chill beside the Avalanche Lake. for all those who haven’t visited Avalanche lake, you must include it in your itinerary if you’re passing by Ooty. I was hoping to not encounter traffic jam ahead on the Aut road and luckily this time around the bus sped its way from Mandi to Aut. The Aut tunnel is almost 3 kms long running along the Sainj river. Last time around, we didn’t see it for we took a right just before turning for Jibhi and Tirthan. Well one takes the same turn for Sainj as well but in order to catch the bus from the Aut bus stand, one needs to cross the tunnel. This tunnel is apparently the second longest in India.

I spoke to Mahi after reaching Aut and he informed us that he was waiting at the Sainj Town. Sainj was an additional hours drive. We however booked our ticket all the way up till Deori Village as our destination was another 2 to 3 kms hike up from Deori. Deori is the last place connected by a so called motorable road (read muddy track that was then loaded with slush) and made our ride the bumpiest one ever!

Straight from the desk of HRTC Driver..The lesser known Heroes

Photo of HRTC BUS STAND MANDI, Motipur, Kartarpur, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

My head screamed with joy “ Welcome to the bluest skies, the cherry blossoms and the roads so shy”! I saw a young guy standing at the bus stop, running towards my window. Mahi’s smile was infectious and he instantly gave me a high five! That was nothing like a first time greeting! His aura and zeal told me that I’d have to let go of this asocial being inside me and it came easy with company like him and Tripti. A horde boarded the bus from Sainj for Deori as there was no other way to travel up. The roads were non existent and there were just a few buses in a day. The drive from Sainj was another 45mins to Deori. The apple blossoms and green fields gave way to drier lands with enormous giants called Dhauladhars looming outside our windows. The path defined offbeat in its true essence being the slushiest and narrowest but the views were simply breathtaking. I was in a constant uttering either Ouch or Wow! The paranoid me dug my nails into Tripti’s arms leaving the pretty Himachali lady beside me royally amused. I badgered her with my forever ‘Deori Kab Aayega’ and every time she smirked and said ‘thoda aur time hai’! By now my head was spinning! We were on the bus for almost 12 hours now! Things I do for my beloved…The Mountains!

The Himachali Lady whom I badgered my lame queries with!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

The last stop at Deori!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

The bus journey finally concluded at Deori. Tons of people made a queue and headed towards their village, some who had their homes just a few away while few like us who had to walk a little more till Upper Nahi. Like most of the villages, this one too had a temple right in the beginning A white building adorned with bright green colored roof with purple window frames that turned out to be a Post Office stood right next to Mahi’s Uncle’s place where we halted to grab a bite as our tummies were growling with hunger! Who would mind being a postman working at this gorgeous Daak Khaana ( like they call it in the villages)!

Post Office At Deori!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Half an hour of climb through Deodar forests and some green fields by our side, we finally landed at our home for two days. Upper Deori..the secret village I had read about was now right here! I was living my dream. Shubham is Mahi’s good friend and I therefore asked him to show me all the places he had written about in his blog. I remember him mentioning about this Swiss Couple’s cottage which now has no one staying. It stood in the middle of apple orchards, looking bereft of company and love!

The Swiss Couple's Cottage!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Just as you enter the village, the sacred Pundrik Rishi Lake, though bereft of water graced the landscape along with green meadows bearing tall pines and deodars. The fields had just started to turn green but I could well imagine how insanely gorgeous would it be in the monsoons. Colorful houses with slanting slated roofs dotted the village landscape. Most of the houses followed the KATHA KUNI architecture, made of wood mud and slates. No cement or modern material is used for building these structures. My favorite part about most of these houses is the outside balcony with huge wooden frames with no glass as such, so one has non obstructed views for miles galore.

One of the many houses with Kath Kuni architecture!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

A village primary secondary school stood there in the middle of the field with two temples around. Children played cricket when we arrived and the sun was almost on its way to call it a day! Plumes of smoke spiralled out of the houses and the last rays of the sun kissed the snowy peaks around. The secret homestay actually seemed to be mysterious for we had crossed half the village and still not reached our home for tonight. Mahi’s is the last house in the village with spectacular views and happy vibes.The outside porch was my love at first sight and I knew where I’d be chilling for the next two days.

Tripti and I would sit here, sipping on our tea, talking endlessly to Mahi and cuddling up with Whitey Boy for hours!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Huge wooden framed windows gifted one with spellbinding views of endless green sprawling farms and the snow covered Dhauladhar Mountains and in case you’re lucky enough to have a clear day then a stunning sunrise too! There were last few minutes of sunlight outside and we decided to drop our bags and get out to see the village before it would get dark.

This Village and the landscape that puts you in trance state!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Just like old times in Bhutan, me and Tripti wandered around in the hamlet with a furry pal whom we named Browny( we always end up naming dogs on the basis of their colors and that must sound so racist right ;\) this time with Mahi too giving us company. He wanted to play cricket with the kids and so tagged along till the school meadow. I’ve often noticed how friendships based in these little hamlets are never based on age, caste or community. Well, it turned out what I’d observed wasn’t true completely. Certain societal vices still existed in the hinterland. Can’t blame the people though. Our country has miles to go probably because of illiteracy and archaic beliefs. Shall tell you about my tryst with that in Himachal later in this post. While walking around we saw many hidden facets of the culture, for instance this knitting and weaving machine used by the village ladies to make the famous Himachali shawls and dresses like Pattu. Vibrant colored wool were entangled around the frame. On asking one of the village women, how soon she’d complete one shawl, we got to know it took eight to ten days and at least a kilo or two of wool for one shawl, depending on the work! Browny ran around the green fields like a liberated soul! All that dull headache and fatigue dissipated into the thin cold air leaving only warmth and happiness behind.

The weaving frame outside one of the houses!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

While Mahi continued playing cricket with kids, we decided to venture out further into the village, curious to know the folks and their stories. A pretty green house stood quiet and lonesome looking down at the valley and the mountains around. Its attic had undisturbing views and we decided to find out who lived in this dreamy abode. A thumping sound came from one of the rooms on top and a flight of huge wooden steps took us up to the attic. We knocked on the door couple of times but there were no response. An old man came out in a bit and said hello. We asked him if it were okay to sit in his attic and chit chat with him and his family and he smiled and said ‘of course’! He even asked us for tea and we politely declined for we didn’t want to trouble them too much.While sitting outside at the porch staring at the hills, the calm silence in the air was interrupted by a heavy voice of certain someone who told us to come out of the house. On being asked why, the person said to come down immediately and that she’d tell us the reason later. We were apparently pulled out of the house for the inhabitants were of low caste! Did I seriously hear that!?

at one of the porch of the village houses

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

I was flabbergasted then and somehow contained my feelings within. Though I did try explaining to this certain woman how senseless her ideas about caste were but who was I to lecture. They’ve grown up hearing folklores where mostly the sinful things were committed by lower caste folks and how unhappy the almighty was with that. I remembered how my homestay auntie in Kareri felt apologetic on getting to know how we were just two sisters in the family with no brother. Also why I hadn’t planned a kid even after six years of marriage. That too wasn’t acceptable to me. But there are times and places when we have to let go! When I sit down and think about it, who am i to judge their thoughts. We in the cities bound to be cl-assist. We don’t approve of our maids sitting on the fancy couch in our drawing room or eat in those bone china crockery. So even though I lectured for a bit and kept thinking about the same whole night, i knew in the heart of hearts how impossible it were to bring about that change in a day or two!

Mahi being an excellent host made it sure to fill our tummies well before we called it a night. He too ate along sitting around the heater, cracking jokes that sounded the lamest yet got us laughing our guts out.

Love how the clouds make their mark on the mountains in the form of those grey shadows!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Tripti and I went to bed discussing how it felt like homecoming for the place might have changed from Haa Valley in Bhutan to Sainj Valley in Himachal but we were the same mad women, wandering around hungry for mountain love. And then again those Mighty Giants, The Mountains and its people were the same old..same old!

Day 2

I woke up at 6;30 am to Mahi snoring in the next room and Tripti in deep slumber next to me. Like always I was up early in the mountains, wishing to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. But the clouds seemed to have their way today. It wasn’t even seven and I see a lady sitting on her knitting machine, weaving a shawl early morning. Bright red with black wool flung across the machine frame and she worked diligently on it. And here I was still groggy, taking pride in the fact that I woke up early. The mountain folks sure know how to keep yourself grounded!

Early Morning Scenes at Upper Nahi…A lady is up and about at her job at 6;45 AM! Howwww?

A little later I was joined by Whitey and he walked along every step. I sat down around these mustard fields with him staring at the village houses beneath my feet just when a pretty bright blue birdie flew by. I sighed for having missed seeing it clearly and just then a flock of them fluttered by! The pretty dainty Magpies! My genie was somewhere close by listening to my wishes! I won’t be surprised if it was Whitey The Furry Boy! The early morning is always my favorite time in the mountain villages. The stillness in the air is broken by the chirping birds and every house seems to add a little drama by belching out spirals of smoke through chimneys while women are already at work, walking across the fields, their backs hunched with the weight of wooden baskets behind.

An hour or two later we were ready for our hike to Sarikanda.Leaving the greener pastures behind we made way to rockier climbs and trails made of slush and pine cones. Sarikanda was a meadow on top and was most probably snowed out today. Old habits are hard to die and Tripti just like old times in Bhutan, started with her ‘ Aur kitna time hai or how far is it now?’ And i like always kept telling her ‘ we are almost there!’ That’s how we hiked three years back and that’s how we were managing now too ???? Enroute Mahi showed us the place where, back in the day his ancestors would stay. After the earthquake of 1905, they relocated to lower areas. A small little temple with a local deity like Shiva stood around that patch and red flags fluttered in the air. The trail eventually gave way to rocks, demanding us to climb the rocky steps but as we went higher, the views only got more and more magical. The clouds unveiled the Snow clad mountains as if it were a trophy being unveiled for trekking up to this place.

Trekking up to Sarikanda!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Enroute the trail up we were greeted by some coal black scarred trees reminiscing of an age prior to being struck by the purity of lightning. These remnants were a stoic reminder of how nature can be violent & raging even in lightning which is signified by our symbol of purity i.e. white. As we trekked higher the snow mat got denser until a point wherein our boots were no longer visible. In those two feet of white powder with cool mountain breeze flirting with us did we truly realise that the beauty of the trek lay in its remoteness & wilderness. Upon reaching a shepherd’s ‘Dhok’, we took some time off admiring the views around us while Tripti was engrossed in drying her feet as she hadn’t got any trekking shoes on this trip. I offered her my socks for the meantime & i blissfully wandered around the meadow allowing my sensory receptacles in my feet to soak in the purity & trueness of mother nature.

Sitting at one of the abandaoned sheds with that view! This was just so hypnotic!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Sometimes all you need to connect with your roots to this planet is to let go of the hesitation to digress into the path less travelled. After a short break, dark angry clouds laden with moisture started to approach our location and we decided to scamper back to the safety of our homestay. On our descent as luck would have it, we were driven away by an impromptu snowfall which added wings to our feet as we rushed to the warm licks & wagging tail of Whitey.

Mahi, like a good guide, leaving a trail behind for us! All hearts for this Boy!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

Raajma Chaawal and fuzzy blankets around Bukhari are all that you need after hiking in that beautiful yet challenging snowy weather. We had the evening free for us and Tripti decided to ask the family help us dress up in their Himachali attire called Pattu. I had never imagined getting dolled up on a backpacking trip but then that’s what girlfriends do right..add a whole lot of drama and excitement to your trip. Deepa, one of the family members helped us drape the Pattu. She was kind enough to share her dresses with us and man they were absolutely gorgeous. Such intricate embroidery over beautiful woolen shawls. We later went gallivanting the entire village,catching the limelight.

Look at us in Pattus and look at that view behind!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

The villagers giggled looking at these two female travellers dressed up like them and were kind enough to compliment us even though i know i looked quite funny. Infact in my head i thought i could easily pass off as ‘A Black Magic Woman’! ???? Whitey like always wandered around with us, through fields and meadows.

Pose Pose Pose!

Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

A little later that evening, we sat down next to the heater listening to Mahi’s tales. There was never a dull moment around this boy. He had named us Bhaangdi and Chirkundi and we had no idea what that meant but in return we called him Bhaangdu! He’s probably one of the warmest hosts i know and literally took care of us like we were his family. He’d often tell me that i am the serious kinds and that he had to think before saying anything to me and how Tripti was a chirpy bird ???? but i absolutely loved his brutally honest nature! We’d never get tired of his stories.


Photo of Sainj, Himachal Pradesh, India by Akanksha Siwach. Tales of The Hidden Trails

People like him make me want to travel more, makes me want to trust in the strangers more than ever and continue finding joy in the unknown!

Because The Blog Post would have been incomplete without this Boys Picture!

What waited for us in Shangarh was yet another fairytale! ( To be Contd)


There are enough buses that ply from Chandigarh ( Sector 43 ISBT) for Aut. You could catch any bus that goes towards Manali and get down at the Aut Bus Stand. The bus stand is located right after crossing the Aut Tunnel and is on the right side of the road. One has to get down via steps as its not on the main road itself.

Try catching an early morning bus from Chandigarh to avoid jams. I caught the 4 am bus and reached Aut by 2PM.

From Aut obe has to catch a bus for Sainj. Incase you happen to get a bus for Deori, it’s even better. Deori is another 45mins of drive up from Sainj. The road is pretty rough and avoid driving in your own vehicle.

Upper Nahi is 2kms up from Deori. One has to hike from here as there is no motorable road to Upper Nahi Village.

This gorgeous homestay we stayed at is called Aastha Homestay named on the little girl of the family. Each and every member of the family is extremely warm and helpful and you’re in for a terrific time.

Aastha Homestay is a budget homestay. The washrooms are not attached to your room and our built outside, in the home compound but are well kept and clean with hot water available.

The rooms are basic but have all the essential things like heater and enough blankets to keep you warm and comfortable.

They charge you per head, Rs 700 for a day which not only includes your rent but all the three meals and yes the meals are absolutely delish and filling.

Mahi, the host is such a livewire who would not only keep you comfortable but also guide you with hikes and places to explore in and around the village.

Sai Ropa and Shangarh are must visit places and if you have enough time, you could ask him to guide you for hikes in GHNP ( additional charges may apply for that)

The internet connectivity is poor but that’s the best part no? I have a Jio sim and therefore had no coverage while my friends vodafone was working well.

Mahi’s Contact Number…8679139227.