I woke up to a loud bang. The noises varied from explosions to fireworks, the sound of a gun firing to an enormous roar. It sure looked like my last few moments on earth and all I wanted to do was call up my Mother to talk to her one last time. It took me more than few minutes to come to my senses and realize that I was alive and so were some 20 people around me.
This was Day 2 of my trip to Himachal. We were stranded at this place called Tindi. The bridge ahead had collapsed and Border Roads Organization (BRO) was blasting the other side of the hill with dynamites to construct a small passage for us to be able to cross it. The horrendous noises were a result of the blasting, which I mistook for ‘I-am-about-to-die-what-to-do phase’ in my half-asleep state. Phew!
I had decided to explore Pangi Valley and was pretty excited about this trip.
I took a Volvo bus from Vidhan Sabha, New Delhi for Manali. After a gruesome journey of 15 hours, I reached Manali. I had booked Gypsy from Black Sheep Moto Adventures for the trip and was happy to receive a pick-up service from Manali bus stop.
I was happy to see my old friend, the sturdy rocking Gypsy. I had travelled in Gypsy to Ladakh last year and had fallen in love with the beast. We left Manali around noon. The roads looked familiar… I could hear the soft wind breathing though the grass… And as ‘Hey There Delilah’ played in the background, I knew I was at the right place with the right set-up… this is the stuff that my soul feeds on. I was home.
Crossing the Gulaba check-post, Marhi, Rohtang, Koksar, Sissu and Tandi, we reached Keylong (10980 ft.). Keylong is the district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti district and is the most preferred stop for travelers going to Leh-Ladakh. Since Independence Day was around the corner, artisans from various states had come here to set-up a kiosk and display their home products. We reached Keylong in the evening… sipping tea and talking to artisans from Kashmir I realized that these people have one of the sanest views on the whole Kashmir issue and the politics around it. After a huge discussion on the current J&K crisis, the economy and the work flow/routine of the local artisans, we went out for a drive around the town, followed by a late night dinner.
After a quick breakfast at Jhalma (9470 ft.), we crossed Thirot (8950 ft.), Kukumseri, Udaipur, Tindi (*the place where I had/imagined the near-to-death experience…. We had to wait for almost 3 hours before a small passage was constructed by BRO). I was awestruck by the beauty of the Pangi Valley. Pangi Valley is thickly forested and amongst others has trees of pine, oak and deodar. It took us about half an hour to figure out the PWD guest house at Killar. It was already dark and we were freaking hungry! And so we decided to stay the night at Killar. The PWD guest house was nothing less of a haunted house but the view from the room was killer! After gorging on a plate full of rice-daal-sabji, we called it a night.
This was the day I was looking forward to the most! We had left from Killar and had planned to reach Sach Paas. Crossing several waterfalls, clearing the landslide on our own, driving through the narrow and deadly lanes, watching other vehicles escape death…it looked like we had landed in a action-packed movie set! The journey to Sach Paas was an adventure of a lifetime! We were happy to find patches of roads throughout the way. Light rains and the ever-gushing Chandrabhagha River added to the whole beauty of the valley. We reached the Paas a little after noon and the view was breathtaking! It was worth every effort! Situated at an altitude of 14000plus, Sach Paas connects Chamba Valley with Pangi Valley.
Since Chamba is about 120 kms from Sach Paas, we decided to move ahead and drive around the Chamba Circuit. On our way we spotted different species of birds and were lucky enough to spot mighty Vultures too. We reached Chamba via Bairagarh, Guwadi, Tares, Teesa, Badoh, Kandla in the evening and stayed at the PWD guest house there. The roads through these places reminded me of the lanes in the movie Leap Year! J A walk around the town, dinner from a local dhaba…and we called it a night!
We left from Chamba early morning and decided to have breakfast at Dalhousie. Crossing one of the buzziest towns, Khajjiar, we reached Dalhousie. I was craving for Pancakes and my prayers were answered at Mongas Café which is situated in the main market. With the clouds passing through you, the place really is magical! Our aim for the day was to drive as much as possible and reach a town where we can spend the night. We realized that Dharamshala was just 156kms from Dalhousie. Passing through Dunera, we reached Mcleodganj (5 kms from Dharamshala) in the evening. We stayed at Greenwoods Inn and from the balcony we could see the vibrant town and Bhagsu riverfall. We were in trance!
I decided to visit the Monastery in the morning. It was incredibly peaceful and calm…having attended the morning prayers, I went around the market to shop! ????
We had breakfast at Palampur (*the parantha here is really huge!). Crossing Jogindernagar and Billing, we reached Mandi. The weather wasn’t pleasant throughout this area… and we had to stop for nimbu-soda breaks to keep the heat at bay. We had to find a calmer and quieter place…and this led us to the beautiful town of Rewalsar, 24kms from Mandi. Rewalsar is sacred to adherents of three religions – Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The place has a Gurudwara, a Shiv and Vishnu temple and 2 Monasteries. Seven theologocal lakes associated with the Pandavas of Mahabharata are located above Rawalsar. The town also has a 123 ft. statue of Padmasambhava which was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 2012.
We stayed the night at Tso-Pema Ogyen Heru-kai Nyingmapa Gompa.
After a quick breakfast at Rewalsar, we headed for Manali. I had booked my stay at Sparsh Resort. Located near Loggers Hut, the resort was magnificent! I quickly freshened up and decided to explore the cafes in Old Manali. I spent the evening at Cafe1947…one of the most popular cafes in the market. This place will blow your mind with its set-up, food and the overall service. With the river flowing by, soul-soothing live music by Benjamin, you can chill at this place for hours. For all those who love their Tiramisu a certain way, this is the place to be!
I checked-out from the hotel at around 11am and decided to spend my time exploring few more cafes in Old Manali. I loved Driffters Inn and The Lazy Dog. I didn’t realize how time flew… I was reading Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer and was moved to tears with every word.
“As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think. I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities. Do you blame me then for staying here, where I feel that I belong and am one with the world around me? It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty….
Even from your scant description, I know that I could not bear the routine and humdrum of the life that you are forced to lead. I don’t think I could ever settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.”
7 days… 934kms… this trip was indeed epic! It will go down as the most treasured experience! I still can’t believe I made it through it…that I am alive!
PS: A big thankyou to Bantu, the guy who drove around the Himachal circuit like a boss and ensured that we stay alive!