Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley

Tripoto
13th Oct 2018
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Day 1

"The Mountains are calling and i must go"
-John Muir

I had always believed in some supernatural force attracting me towards the mountains, valleys and the perennial rivers or atleast that's a bizzare excuse i have for my friends, family and colleagues as i cannot stop myself from wandering:P

The idea of this trip was long ingrained in my subconscious mind after i heard about the adventures of Bir-Biling in person from one of my close friends. I started planning for it right after the Valley of Flowers excursion i did in august which gave me over 2 months to finalize the itinerary. Bir alone can be covered in a couple of days and hence there was a need to to think about an extended roadmap that can be stretched for more than a week (a longer itinerary keeping in mind i was travelling all the way from Mumbai).

After surfing through various travel sites (primarily Tripoto & Tripadvisor) and other independent blogs, i found trippers predominantly going gaga over Tirthan valley of Himachal Pradesh, a valley tucked away from the maddening crowds of Delhi and Chandigarh. My usual travel companion came to the rescue as our other acquaintances ditched us with no remorse.

We took a early morning flight to Amritsar (as i had never been to the much revered sikh shrine) and reached around 10 am to pay our respects to Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple. We deposited our bagpacks at the locker room facility right in front of the temple gate. The place was over crowded like any other place of worship nowadays. Such religiously and culturally important hubs are now being used as picnic spots rather than a place to find peace and solace.

The Gurudwara was nowhere near the way i have pictured it to be as a deluge of tourists were flocking in the premises making every available square inch a selfie spot. Nevertheless we sat besides the lake sparkling in beautiful sunshine that also made the distant gold structure glitter in all its might. The gurubani playing in the background helped us filter out all the other noises and enjoy the serenity the pious surroundings had to offer. We spared some time to visit Jalianwala baug, a national symbol to commemorate the gruesome massacre carried out at this very place during the Indian independence struggle. The park is open to the general public and hosts the Amar Jyoti, a torchlight that is a symbol of love and sacrifice for the country.

As suggested by the locals, we went on have our lunch at Kesar da Dhaba and believe me, you absolutely can't miss this place in Amritsar. The dhaba is over 100 year old being run by the 5th generation of the first owner lala kesar mal. The way to the dhaba itself is like a maze running through the old fabrics market and a couple of other eateries that leads to a hairpin turn weilding a billboard " Kesar da Dhaba- Over 100 years of great taste". We tried the famous Dal Makhani and cholo ki sabzi along with different rotis viz, butter paratha,  missi roti and chopari. Everything was equally delicious that oozed out a peculiar taste achieved from decades of perfecting recepies. We ate and ate untill we satiated our hunger but not our hearts. A glass of lassi at the end completed the full course meal. It was already late noon as our bus to Mclodeganj was waiting at our designated stop. To our surprise it was a mini bus that only had one more traveller, Daniel Horovitz, a lawyer from The U. S. The ride was interesting as we had numerous topics to discuss upon. The guy has already been to more than 30 countries most of them travelling solo which gave us serious travel goals. We started witnessing more and more open fields as we crossed pathankot and the distant mountain ranges were clearly visible now. The sundown brought a cool breeze along with it as the temperature tuned down while we approached the Kangra Valley.

It was all dark and chilly at the Mclodeganj bus stand and drained from a very long tiring day, we checked into our pre booked OYO near the Bhagsunag Temple to call it a night.

Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Chronicles of Himachal: Bagpacking across Kangra (Mclodeganj/Bir-Billing), Tirthan & Parvati Valley by Suraj Bajaj
Day 2

A bright morning greeted us as we filled our lungs with not so common fresh air of the mountains. After a fulfilling breakfast by the side of the Bhagsunag Pool we started our ascend towards the waterfall. The climb can be easily covered in half an hour and the path is swarmed with street cafes which to our delight were non operational partially due to the early morning hours and rest due to the ongoing off season.

We spent some quality time near the falls for about an hour and took a small detour on our way back for an uphill hike to a spot from which gave birds eye view of Mclodeganj. On the downhill trail, we brought pahadi kurtas at a local shop for mere pennies. The warmth of these pahadi people has always amazed me, no matter what kind of transaction i am involved in. I think their hearts mimic the air they breathe and the water they drink, as clear as it can be.

We checked out at noon to take a shared cab to dharamshala where we decided to stay a night. The idea was to catch an early morning bus the next day from the nearby stand that would give a whole day to explore Bir. Another option we had was to go for the famous Triund trek but as my friend has already being there and i am not a big fan of such over crowded trails hence we gave it a miss to explore the adjoing areas of dharamshala and Mclodeganj on our rented moped.

When in Mclodeganj, a bike ride would be the only recommended way to experience the sheer delight of wandering this place has to offer. Especially in spring when the cool wind would keep you refreshed the entire day unlike in winters when it might freeze you to death :P.  The good vibes from the Dalai lama's residence, the spectacular view of the Dharamshala cricket stadium followed by an almost perfect lunch at the Illiterati cafe beared all the components an ideal afternoon. The cafe had some pretty cool and eye pleasing interiors and serves some amazing Italian cuisines along with the opportunity to get immersed in book reading with a valley view. We spent hours sipping coffees and iced teas with nothing else to worry about and nowhere else to go.

As the evening started to creep in, we throttled our way up to the Naddi town. The old church on the way was charming enough for a quick pit stop and to admire the adjoining pine trees that were straight out of some dreamy fable. The walk around the dal lake on our way back was equally peaceful as we watched the lights come up in the placid waters of the lake. We had a good stroll around the market in Mclodeganj before trying Thai food at Jimmy's Tibetan cuisine. The vegetarian option that i tried was non-eatable after some point but conversely my friend was all praises for the non- vegetarian dish he ordered (Chicken Thupka, if i am not wrong).

We stayed the night at an old house turned lodge near the bus stand that had a open roof terrace perfect for star gazing. The caretaker enlightened us about the life of the common people in Mclodeganj and how tourism has helped them earn their livelihoods in such remote part of the country where other sources of income are quite rare. The conversation was followed by our classic old playlist which lasted for about an hour. By the time the cold was unbearable outside, we were already half asleep on rocking chairs. We crashed into our beds underneath the warmth of those heavy comfortable quilts.

Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Day 3

The early morning bus was late by almost 30 mins as we kept waiting with our caretaker friend. He was so adamant to see us off and hence accompanied us till the stand to say his goodbyes. Soon we were on our way towards our next destination Bir which was a drive of around 2 hrs. We were famished by the time we deboarded our bus on NH154 from where we took a local taxi to the Bir town (landing site). Our taxi driver Sandeep informed us that Billing is the jumping site from where we have glide till Bir for landing. He also advised us to be done with paragliding first (there went our hunger for toss) as there was an ongoing Military gliding competition which forbids civilians to paraglide after noon.

As suggested, we went directly for paragliding with out driver cum guide to Billing. The roads upto the jumping site were in pathetic shape yet Sandeep drove his Alto in cruise control mode like on an expressway. Every drop of fluid in our body was perturbed by the time we reached Billing to finally experience the highlight of our trip. All the necessary paperwork was done in the matter of few minutes. We were made aware of all the protective harnesses used for our safety, the instructions to launch ourselves from the mountain slope and obviously were latched with a Hero Gopro motion camera to record this unbelievable feat we were going achieve, paragliding from the 2nd highest site in all of Asia.

I could see the town beneath the mountain slope like a petri dish which reminded me of the elevation that we were jumping from. The spirits were all high with a miniscule sense of fear at the back of my mind as i could sense the adrenaline flowing through my body. With a shout of "Run" as my trainer swinged the glider up in the air, I was on my way running down the slope without any hesitation, free of all the nervousness i was experiencing a moment ago. I hardly ran a few steps when the slope ended and we were projected swirling like a boomerang into the wind. For that split second when i opened my arms giving out a wining cry into the blue sky was one of those of moments that makes you realize the privilege of being alive and more importantly to be able to feel that rush through your veins when you do something awe inspiring like this.

I got all comfortable in my glider's seat in a few minutes as the rider kept maneuvering the glider all the way round. The silence up there was soothing as i could only talk to the wind that kept howling into my ears establishing it's strong presence. I kept on eye balling the clouds above me, the mountains with whom i was head to head now, the eagles who gave me a disgusting look as i had taken away the thing that they could only do until today :P and the earth that was ready to welcome me after my first flight.

The flight lasted for approximately 30 minutes. The landing is the tricky part for the rider as he has to take of the wind speed, direction and force. Luckily my rider was seasonal champ involved in the gliding business for over 12 years and have also participated in the world paragliding competition held in Bir (yes, you heard it right) in the year 2015. I was waiting for my friend to join me at the landing site after which we took off to our pre-booked Go stops stay. Throwing away our bagpacks at the reception, we went straight away to fill our stomachs which felt like empty from some ages :P. After a healthy lunch at the cafe Osho, we resorted to our hostel for an afternoon nap.

In the evening we had a choice to visit a nearby monastery on rented cycles or enjoy the hues spread around by the setting sun lying on the carpet of fresh grass at the landing site. We chose to go the lazy way and oh boy! It was indeed a treat to our sore eyes. We witnessed a spell binding sunset relaxing on that vast a meadow. The sky was painted with the colours lesser known to the mankind and as the sun went down, small distant twinkling lights started to come up one by one decorating the mountains slopes like some carnival in the west.

We walked towards the town searching for a cafe in dire need of a hot latte as we stumbled upon this cozy and cute little joint with a helium sign board in front saying "June 16 cafe". The lady running this joint was utterly sweet and the cashier for the day was well Mr. Rajat Barmecha, you heard it right the innocent kid from the movie Udaan released in 2010. It was a fan moment for my friend as he clicked a few selfies there and Rajat was holidaying in Bir and extending a helping hand to his friend. It was a rather memorable day with some high spirited and equally light moments. After a short walk around the town we went our beds with some widest smiles on our faces.

Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Bir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Day 4

We packed our belongings in a hurry and set out to catch a bus on NH154 for Aut tunnel (the junction on the way diverging towards Banjar, Tirthan valley). A fine gentleman gave us a lift till the halfway and rest we walked till the highway. While we were waiting for the bus, Sandeep our taxi guy from the other day showed up asking about our plans. According to him we must visit the hidden waterfall of the nearby village and the ancient shiva temple, Baijnath before leaving the town.

With no second thought,  off we went for a little detour with Mr. Sandeep. His claims about the waterfall fell right on the money when we saw this majestic hidden gem. A 50 feet waterfall tucked away in the wilderness, hidden from the world surrounded by the mountains on three side. It was a water lagoon straight out of some Hollywood flick. We spent some time beside this marvel and were on our way to the Baijnath temple. To our evergreen luck, it was the afternoon aarti time as we received blessings from the head priest. It was late in the noon as we were waiting for our ride in harsh sun along with Sandeep as he kept assuring the availability of buses for the tunnel.

After a breif wait, we were on a private bus marching towards our destination. The distance was long and went on scalling the winding roads, bypassing villages and rounding valleys till we reached Aut tunnel in the evening around 6 pm. It was already dark and we needed two more rides to reach Gushaini a small remote town located on the banks of Tirthan river. After a while a local govt. bus for Banjar packed with passengers arrived at the junction and we quickly hopped on it with our heavy bagpacks. We were the only outsiders on the last bus to Banjar among the local villagers. The roads were treacherous and we were already getting the vibes of venturing into untouched Himalayan habitat. The valley was devoid of any modern infrastructure with negligible private transport. The roads were just enough for necessary commute and not for some full fledged tourist activities. We were moving with a snail's pace keeping in mind the narrow roads and falling darkness.

It was pitch dark by the time we reached Banjar as we started enquiring about a ride to Gushaini. We were high on luck as we found a taxi going to Gushaini hired by villager named Geeta, who worked as a reporter in Kullu with a local newspaper. During an hour's ride we had some interesting discussions regarding the role of media in the valley and educational opportunities for the locals outside their villages. We even spoke about the floods that haunted the entire Kullu region a couple of months back from which the villagers were still recuperating. The taxi guy was kind enough to find a stay for us at his friend's place. There are no hotels in any of these villages of the valley but only homestays, which establishes the fact that the valley is yet to be commercialized. The family was very welcoming especially the lady of the house who always had a smile on her face while she served meals. We had a heavy dinner sitting a few feet away from a stream of river that we couldn't see but can only hear. We went straight to our beds to recharge our batteries for the next adventure that awaited us.

Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Day 5

Did you ever believe in love at first sight? No?  Me neither until i stepped out of my bedroom the following morning in Gushaini. It was sight that would always remian etched in my memory until offcourse i see something more beautiful:P. The homestay was located right above the pearl white tirthan river surrounded by the mountains on all sides. The early morning sunshine was struggling to penetrate the mighty Himalayas as we were tucked deep within the valley. A mild fragrance of the adjoining vegetation on the slopes could be smelled in the air. We exchanged the morning greetings with the caretaker lady and gave a go ahead to serve the breakfast. The food although  being modest tasted more delicious and fresh owning to such unadultrated surroundings. We played with the homestay's pet dog Tuffy as he kept circling around wagging his helicopter tail. 

We shared the cab to jalori pass (start point for the serolsar lake trek) with our fellow guests at the homestay that reduced out cost by half. The roads from Gushaini to Jalori pass were narrow and steep, ideal for only a single vehicle to traverse at once. We went past apple orchards and numerous fruit cultivations on the slopes of Shoja, Jibhi and other small villages on our route. We even tried the local delicacy "Siddhu" at a local shop that was indeed something unique. It tastes best when freshly prepared and consumed.

We started our trek from Jalori pass after visiting the adjacent Mahakali temple at the junction. The 6km trail was well defined with no other travellers around when we started our trek to the mystic lake. The air carried extreme chill as we could sense our breathing getting heavy while walking. The trail is almost flat till the water body with almost negligible ascends that makes it suitable for all classes of travellers. The entire path is covered by the fallen autumn leaves from the adjacent tall trees that were our constant companions throughout the trek. The trails passes through themoss covered oaks and  rhododendron forests with intermittent rock passes and throny vegetation. The sunshine never felt so good on our numb faces and it was such treat to walk on this deserted trail nested in the lap of the mighty Himalayas.

There were a couple of shops that serves tea and snacks as we approached the lake. A pathway into the mountains is cut to access this hidden gem of nature. I remember the exact details of the first sight of the Serolsar lake that glistened green bathed in a bright sunshine. It had a round circumference around it that led all the way upto an elavated point on one side from where the entire lake could be captured in a single frame and yet another elavated point where rested a small temple dedicated to Budhi Nagin (Old snake goddess) who is believed to reside in the lake. The lake is surrounded by the Kharshoo trees on all the sides giving it a picturesque setting. The lake is holy to the locals in the valley and is believed to have medicinal properties. It also believed that the birds around the lake won't even allow a single leaf to fall in it and hence keeping the water still and clear.

We gave it some time to embrace the beauty and vibe of the place that once was visited by the pandavas during their exile. We walked up the ridge opposite to the temple to capture some amazing panoramic shots after which we resorted to have to the nearby shops on the way for some Pet-Puja. We even stopped for a while on the way back to climb a steep slope up the way towards the north side. The spot gave us a bird's eye view of the those coniferous oak forests and majestic layers of the fold mountains to a distance. The lone hut on the ground made the landscape complete for being ready to be captured on a canvas. We were privileged to have a conversation with an old shepherd on our way who told us the stories of the past. The wildlife residing in the mountains and importance of preserving the culture around the valley which was slowly on the verge of extinction due to the infiltration from the cities.

After spending ample amount of time on our way back to the the y -point where our ride was parked, we were quickly on our way towards Gushaini. We stopped at a village named Jibhi by the side of a stream while our driver went ahead to drop our fellow travellers to their stay. The evenings are always in a hurry in this part of the world as its pitch dark before 6 pm. We were still at a considerable distance from our destination as our cab driver drove on those slopes like a maestro. We reached Gushaini right on time for the dinner ready to be served hot and tasty. We went to our beds immediately to rise early for the trek to the gates of The Great Himalayan National Park.

Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Serolsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh by Suraj Bajaj
Day 6

We left around 8 am in the morning towards the gates of the GHNP.  Yes you heard it right, the trek to the gates itself was more than a 10km hike after which you need special permission and a local guide to venture into the one of the most dangerous valleys of the Himalayas. The park is the hotspot for biodiversity and is a junction between the two faunal regions: oriental to the south and palaearctic to the north.

The hike to gates of this park is a journey in itself and one of the most beautiful treks i have ever done in the Himalayas. The path to the gates traverses to various small hamlets nested on the slopes of the valley and roads are practically non existent as we walked on the muddy and rocky trails bypassing huge boulders and crevasses. There are numerous ascends and descends in this single trail leading all the way down to the river bed and up to the valley view points. The opposite mountain slopes are connected with suspended bridges and you can witness a waterfall at every turn on the way. The locals are kind andready to help you in whichever way possible. The path is not well chartered as you have to enquire about the trail at every twist and turn with the locals. We only saw a single sign board along the 10km trail that too was not quite clearly pointing the direction :P. We went off the track a couple of times after which we decided not to go ahead at any diversion without some help. You get no cell reception here and many tourists return back halfway due to the uncertainty and lack of sign boards on the way. These slopes are absolutely impossible to travel after dark and hence the catch is to start early and finish early.

We were right on track in terms of time but owning to the uncertainty of the remaining distance to cover, we thought of returning back a couple of times as it was already noon. Although we kept on walking without giving up (something we had never done on any of our expeditions) in search of the gate. After almost another hour past noon we reached a view point and we heaved a sigh of relief as we could feel nearing the destination. To our surprise we were wrong more than ever as we kept walking for another hour tired, confused any agitated because of the decision we made. Finally after almost 5 hours of trek we reached the gate that felt like an entrance to 4th the Jurassic park. It felt like a gateway to some utopic place residing in our imagination. We saw a gloomy English couple coming out of the gates and on enquiring we gathered that they returned back after a single day of trek owning to the inability to keep moving in the difficult terrain.

We spent some leisure time trekking down to the river current on the huge rocks to rest our trembling legs. The blue stream of the river was a treat to watch and its splashing sound was like an eternal bliss. We started our journey back to the town targeting not more than half the time we took to reach the gates of GHNP, now that we well versed with the trail. On the way we met a jovial local tea shop owner who insisted that we spent some time with him trying his hand made sweets and Pahadi tea. He was over 80 years old but moved like a youngster in his twenties. It was indeed a treat to converse with this absolute gentleman who even refused to accept money for his services.
Bidding adieu to our friend, we were back on our way towards Gushaini hopping over the rocks and jumping down the slopes of this untouched habitat.

We beat our target this tome to reach back at the Gushaini taxi stand in little over 2 hours from where we took a cab all the way till Banjar. We settled the bills of our stay on the way and thanked the sweet and welcoming family to host us. There was a 4am bus waiting on the Banjar bus stand towards the Aut tunnel from where we took another bus to Bhuntar. We reached at this crowded, smelly and polluted town late in the evening sightly after the last bus for Kasol had left. The place carried the impact of an uncontrolled tourism to Manali and the parvati valley that made us instantly regretting our decision to leave Gushauni. Nevertheless we paid an exorbitant amount to a private taxi for a ride till Kasol as it didn't make sense to stay the night in Bhuntar.

We reached kasol at around 10 in the night, found a lodge nearby the main matket which was not better than any place in a ghetto. Stinky bed, dirty toilets and air carried more THC than the necessary oxygen were some of the highlights. We didn't wanted to shell out any more bucks at this place and hence made peace with it to somehow pass the night waiting for the morning light. Kasol is no more a traveller's paradise as it used to be a couple of years back. The streets are overcrowded, the hotels are utterly spoiled due to the excessive use of recreational drugs and the only intention of the tourists to come and get high has sucked the life out of this place. I am not against any means of enjoyment and I might be wrong, but at somepoint such behaviour and notoriety should be limited by the administration.

Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of The Great Himalayan National Park, Forest Office Road, Shamshi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Day 7

After a sleepless night, we left the lodge right after sunrise towards Manikaran on foot as the entire town was asleep. We found a snack corner just opening up at the end of the Kasol market where we had our breakfast. kasol seemed be a much better place in the morning just because of the missing human element.
We luckily got a bus towards Manikaran on the way as we hopped in for the ride.

Guridwara shree Manikaran Saheb is located on the banks of the Parvati river. The early morning scenes at the revered Sikh shrine were refreshing to our sleepy eyes. The hot water springs emitted fuming vapour on a very cold morning making them a ideal source of warmth. We spend some quality time inside the gurudwara listening to the evergreen classical bhajans. Its always a treat spending time at such places that soothes your soul and lets your wandering thoughts rest for a while.
We took some lucid snaps on the bridge above the river having perfect exposure due to the partial sunshine.

We started to walk towards the Tosh village which was ahead on the same route at about 16km distance. We knew it was not feasible to cover such a distance on foot and luckily hitchhiked our way with a local from Bhuntar in his pickup truck. Tarun bhaiya as we called him was a bright young man in his early thirties employed on a pickup task from a nearby village. As the conversation went, he was supposed to meet a friend midway who would then guide him to the village from where the shipment was to be picked up. The roads was ahead of us, the destination was unknown and we sat in pickup truck going somewhere with a individual we had only known for not more than an hour. The cell reception was too weak to get in touch with the guy who was supposed to meet midway. Tarun bhaiya on the other hand was ready to drop us at Tosh even though it didn't made sense for him to do so :P.  We were selfish enough to not object and let the proceedings take the natural flow. It was about noon when we reached Tosh and finally got an active cell service. Tarun was about to leave when his friend called and guess what, he asked Tarun to reach a village named "Tosh" (Ring any bells).

Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe in karma?  I guess we all should, atleast i was a believer now after this incident. We had a scrumptious lunch at the Tosh cafe with our new friends in the backdrop of an amazing snow clad mountain view. After relaxing for sometime, Tarun asked us to accompany him to an adjacent mountain top where he was going to college the shipment and to our surprise the shipment was nothing but lambs. Hence we turned shepherds for a day, how's that for an offbeat travel activity. The climb was of an hour as we scaled the mountain with no trail or a designated path. We followed our pahadi friends as they kept climbing like a mountain goats waiting intermittently for us to catchup.

We reached the top and saw a flock of sheeps and lambs running haywire on the mountain. Here we got our first assignment as shepherds  to get these guys together in a circle and then proceed to guide them down the mountain. As easy as it sounded, the task was such a nightmare as we couldn't even manage to get a couple of lambs together. Finally the chief shepherd got these animals in line and we started the descend. The flock followed us diligently to the base and we guided them to the pickup truck. Tarun offered to drop us at the Bhuntar bus stand where we would get our volvo bus to Delhi. We resisted but finally gave up in front of the sincere help offered.

We collected our luggage from Kasol and some really delicious confectionery from the German bakery. We stopped for a late evening snacks cum dinner on the way to Bhuntar again by the courtesy of Tarun bhaiya, finally arriving at the Bhuntar bus stop at 7 pm. We bid farewell to Tarun, our brother and friend because of whom we had such an unexpectedly memorable day. I realised the magnitude of happiness someone can impart to others with such an act of hospitality. For everything Tarun did he didn't even accepted a penny from us starting from the time he let us hop in his ride till the time he waved his hand saying goodbye with a genuine smile on his face. We waited for almost a hour  after finally crashing on to our seats and go into a deep state of slumber.

Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Tosh, Himachal Pradesh, India by Suraj Bajaj
Day 8

We checked into a lodge near the New Delhi Metro station after getting down at the Kashmiri gate stand. Our flight was scheduled to leave late in evening that gave us ample time to explore the city. We started off with the Parathe wali gully that serves traditional variety of parathas. We were satiated in a matter of minutes as there was still so much more to try. We had some lip-smacking Rabdi -Jalebi followed by Gajaks, from the old Merathwala's shop.

After satisfying our taste buds, we went on a monument watching spree. I was handed the task to escort my friend to the various monuments located across the city as i had already been there couple of years back. The sun was harsh and by late afternoon we decided to find a place to chill and have some liquid therapy to beat the heat. Cafe MRP in cannought palace popped up in our radar as we spent the rest of the afternoon under the influence of our third companion.

The evening was spent visiting the India Gate and back to cannought palace for having dinner at the famous Kake da Dhaba. The palak panner was the best one i have had till date and the butter rotis were equally delicious. We rushed back to our lodge to college our baggage and catch a metro straight to the Indira Gandhi International terminal for an onward flight to Mumbai.

Total cost: 25k pp

Flights: 8k
Stay: 5k
Paragliding : 3k
Food:5k
Other Transport: 4k

Things to look out for:

1) keep an day extra for Triund trek, a day more for Prashar lake trek in Mandi on the way to Aut tunnel.

2) Only combine Kangra and Tirthan valley together, parvati valley itself needs a week time including the Kheeraganga trek.

3) The ideal itinerary would be
Day1: Amritsar
Day2: Mclodeganj /Dharamshala
Day3: Triund Trek
Day4: Bir Billing
Day 5: Prashar lake trek
Day 6: Gushaini (GHNP Trek)
Day 7: Jalori pass/Serolsar lake trek ( Shoja stay)
Day 8: exploring adjoining areas of Tirthan valley ( can include Raghupurgad fort trek)
Day 9: Delhi and onward journey home.

4) Carry proper winterwear as the days are cold enough to give you chills and the nights are best spent indoors.

5) Go for Trout fishing in Tirthan valley, its an indigenous occupation and sport.

6) frequent public transport is available making your travel hassle free except for some interiors  parts in Tirthan where you have timely bus services.

7) You can easily save 3-4k when travelling in a group of 4 and more.

8) Tirthan is a hidden gem still on the brink of transitioning from a offbeat location to a full blown tourist spot just like Parvati valley. Its upon travellers like us to preserve its culture and natural habitat. Don't let it turn into another Kasol.

Happy Travelling.

Photo of Delhi, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Delhi, India by Suraj Bajaj
Photo of Delhi, India by Suraj Bajaj
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