July-August-September won’t be the period, I would have suggested anyone for going towards Manali myself but here was I, left with no choice but drive to Manali during that period. Monsoon means greenish and pleasant hills but the same time, less chances of snow play and scares of landslides. Only good thing, the journey start date coincided with birthday of wife.
Its always hard to wait for the day and this time too it wasn’t any different. I took a day off in advance as for the first time, I was set for an overnight drive. The idea was to take as much sleep before the drive as I can but then kiddo and other office issues kept me awake till late evening and the idea didn’t worked out. That wasn’t some big concern for me either. My plan was to drive through plains in night and hit hills with first ray of sunlight. Chandigarh – Ambala was around 300km+ so keeping the average of 60kmph in mind, 12AM seemed the perfect time to leave. While I had my share of worries for night drive, it came out to be quite comfortable as traffic continued on that particular route throughout night and it never felt vulnerable at any point.
As I usually do considering the kiddo on board, the drive was steady than rushing at any point and starting from 11.50 PM, July 22, 2015, we were at Kiratpur by 05.30 AM, July 23, 2015. Roads were perfectly fine till this point as I had anticipated and the real test was about to begin from here.
Drive been on a slower side from there and first break was taken when hills were visible at around 6.15 AM. Our scheduling was almost on spot as we were on hill roads with early sunrays. From here, road widening work, which seems to be going on don’t know from how many years, had kept the roads in tatters but still from administration point of view, it seemed to be in finishing stages and I really do hope that by next year, the roads would be awesome and well widened.
Notorious Bilaspur – Swarghat patch was surprisingly in good shape and considering early morning along with a non-weekend day (Thursday) the rush was quite ok. But the shock hits me at Sundarnagar at around 9.30 AM I guess. Four Lane work of roads had left the road kind of unpaved and car speed has to drop to 0-10 kmph at regular intervals. It continued for an hour or more at least and momentum which I maintained till now was lost. Nothing kind of impossible roads but patches been horrible with mud. More irritating for me as it wasn’t like this last year and I didn’t had accounted for the same in my plans.Anyway.. delays there ensured that I would not be reaching to hotel by 1.00 PM or 2.00 PM.
Good news is, considering the pace of work, things should be good by next season as Kiratpur patch was almost flattened and Sundarnagar path also seemed to be half done. Bad news, there seem to be no avail from the trucks menace between Bilaspur – Swarghat.
We reached Aut Tunnel by some 11.30 PM where I made the call to Hotel Tourist that we are still some 80 kms away and expect us to be there by 3.00PM (I had accounted for the lunch at riverbanks of Kullu). As I had made videos of the tunnel last time itself, wasn’t interested in doing the same this time. Roads conditions though ok but seemed a little away from the buttery ride as it was last year. May be rain does that every year or I didn’t recall bad parts of journey for long.
We stopped at the same place, where we had stopped last year to soak over legs in river but this time wife was in strict mode for not permitting me to go anywhere near the river. It wasn’t like I would have gone for some adventure but first the water wasn’t white like last year June and the day was birthday of wife, so I obliged to her wish. The butter chicken we took at the place was delicious and reminded me of the same meal taken in Bhimtal GMVN Guest House. Sweet Sour Tomatoish.
Finished the lunch by some 1.00 PM and then we drove ahead towards Manali. At check post of Manali, I enquired if its indeed the case of 2500 Rs etc for driving to Solang or Vashisth etc and reply was, no that’s not the case and was given a pamphlet, which is being distributed across Manali post NGT verdict. I was relieved a little. The green tax was the same 200 Rs as last time and validity of the same was till July 29, 2015.
When you are heading towards a known destination and known hotel, it makes the life a little easier. We reached Hotel by 3.10 PM without any hiccups and were greeted warmly. I wished for the room above reception but being a family suite kind of premium one and currently allocated to a group of foreigners participating in some kind of challenge, we were given the room adjacent to that. No complaints as that also was similar in views and much better over the room we got last time.
Room was nice and environment was full of green and with flowers all around. After a long drive, we preferred to rest and take bath etc. We ordered Aaloo Ka Paranthas, Tea, Coke etc and then spent the evening at the garden and looking at vistas. We also found out that there was an Apple tree full of fruits touching the rooftop of the hotel itself, which was an exciting new thing for the kiddo and wife.
The rest of the day remained lazy and idle at the room itself while we preferred an early sleep, but before that I enquired and booked the cab for the day next to Rohtang and Travel reception guy promised us that token etc would be taken care from their end itself. Cost of 2000 Rs being off season and there were two schedules available 0800 hrs and 1000 hrs ..We preferred the first time than rushing in early hours like last time which was a grave mistake.
Day two: A green drive to Rohtang
Last time the drive to Rohtang was during very early morning hours in dark, so I wasn’t able to make any videos or to understand the route, but this time it being post 0800 hrs, we were relaxed a bit. Also the weather was much pleasant side than early morning cold last time. Despite of our fears, the day started on a sunny note. When I called the travel desk by 0750 hrs then got to know that he was waiting for us and the delay was over us only.
We would have left the hotel by 0810 hrs and after initial bad patches before Palchhan, we reached Gulaba post in no time as there was no peak season rush during Monsoon though the drive was much different than those winter or summer drives considering greenish mountains all around. This time I was making video of entire drive for keeping a record for self and others about the road conditions.
By 0930 hrs, we reached Marhi, the place which becomes Rohtang during Winters when Rohtang pass not open. This was apparently the last place to get any eatable in route to Rohtang as NGT order has removed shops from Rohtang completely. Thanks to kiddo, we took a sweet time here and left the place by 1000 hrs only. The driver also had to take his breakfast while we preferred taking snaps and getting freshened.
Note this time, we didn’t took those traditional rented cloths and boots etc. Even for kiddo, didn’t felt their need this time at least. Around 1000 hrs, we started moving towards Rohtang again and the first glimpse of the glorious snow peaks with blue sky came around 1030 hrs. I would say, we were extremely lucky about weather as getting such blue sky in late July when rest all days of July been blessed with heavy rain was pure luck.
The Rohtang Pass which I had visited last time was no more like I had imagined that to be. Though I managed to recognize it due to that Igloo style temple, Wife wasn’t even able to recognize it. The cab driver assured us that there is some snow just few mtrs away and drove ahead. First place where cab driver stopped had little unattractive snow and we thought that we would be needed to settle with that but then one more driver told our driver that there is a better stop a few kms away and we moved ahead to reach to finally the place showing up above.
Many were gathered there and were skiing without any gear etc. Trekking upwards with kiddo and then balancing self to put yourself in middle of snow wasn’t an easy task and I was never in mood to risk the kiddo even a little. Wife went first with skiing and later on insisted me as well. I would have avoided it otherwise as after coming down, I was to trek back up to bring kiddo yet again, but … it went as per wish of wife.
When we had started moving towards Rohtang, then it looked like not much tourists today but at this point, it looked completely opposite. On the other side of snow patch, there was some water, which would have provided a great base for some rocking photos with reflection but sadly I thought that I would be doing that once finished with sports etc. Sigh….. first rule of photography is nail the opportunity when it comes without any delay otherwise you would left with regrets only.
Just look at the pictures above that how within mins, the whole area was covered by thick fog. I was already tired and attempt to walk towards that water body seemed futile now. Driver told us that once the fog sticks then it never leaves for hours here. I felt pity for the people who might have taken 1000 hrs slot / token for the drive as they were denied the view completely.
It was time to drive back now. We had passed through two impromtu seasonal waterfalls in the way and one bridge with water body while coming up and had thought to stay for a while when returning back but we were this tired now that if driver had not asked us if we wanted to stay then we wouldn’t have stayed.Even though the photo can’t judge the place well, but it was a nice place.
While going upwards, the route looked a little bad at some starting patches, during the return I found it quite easy and well built unless heavy traffic with bad drivers. Heavy slopes make trucks and other local vehicles going merciless. Moreover, the ticketing process and extra charges have made the cab option more reliable and efficient than own vehicle even if driving on those terrains would have been a loveable experience.
I asked the driver about Solang Valley (though I knew it would be wasted place in this season) so that if I come during season sometime again then at least I might be aware of the area, also I knew that Solang valley would be nearby from Palchhan. He replied that he would be able to manage the same in additional cost of 300 rs only. I gladly obliged on that offer. Even though we didn’t stayed for even 10 mins at the place, but one more checkbox was checked from the trip by around 1400 hrs.
We might have been back to room by some 1430 hrs or more and then we ordered Aaloo Paranthas again. Trust me, even though chicken etc didn’t felt any good, Aaloo Paranthas and tea of the hotel were picture perfect. Right amount of ghee\ oil, potato, cooking etc and crispy taste. I would not order anything else even for experiment.
The day was still remaining, so we thought to visit Hidimba Temple once. Kiddo always loved the rabbits there. We stayed there for only a few mins and then were back to hotel by 1800 hrs. Rest of the day was passed in watching movies on laptop and resting only along with plucking some of the Apples from the adjacent Apple tree (yeah yeah.. I know the word is stealing).
As the main attraction was done, the third day was reserved for the visit to Naggar as I had heard that Manikarnan would be distant and with bad roads, some small patch one way and with unpaved kind of roads. Has no confirmation on the same but still thought to skip that. Weather was still favorable on us and we left the hotel by 0730 hrs, July 25, 2015.
Average of car must have been good with AC on, bad roads in between and rushe as I drove with full tank from Faridabad two days back (600 kms around) and then tank was filled somewhere after Ambala by 1000 rs (50.10 Rs/ ltr) only. Today I got it topped up by 1000 rs again. To my surprise, the rates were even lower than Haryana\ Delhi\ Punjab. It costs 49.36 rs / ltr right now in Himachal while last year, it was more than 5-6 rs higher than the plains as Hill areas usually put higher VAT/ surcharges over Diesel for environmental reasons. May be recently hiked VAT rates in Delhi triggering the same in neighboring states to stop smuggling etc be a reason for that.
The first stop we took were on some bridge in between, which might be a good stop during seasons as it had beautiful water current passing from under and clear snow peak views on the top. Even though we wanted to reach Naggar fast, it would have been a crime to skip the place.
We did some photos etc at the place and I created one 360 degree Panorama of the place as well. While leaving the place, I noticed my stupidity. I had parked the car where there seemed to be some small landslide or something like that a day before. When on hills, one should always be very careful about where he is parking the vehicle. I knew this and yet committed this mistake. Anyway…
Weather was good and the roads we passing through were full of nature blessings. Loads and loads of Apple tree were tempting us to pluck some of them. I might have collected more than 1-2 Kgs of Apples in between (in addition of those plucked at hotel). Roads weren’t like National Highway but still good enough being early morning and also not much traffic. Last few mtrs of Naggar Castle route were of little high slope and when we reached there then there was just one vehicle other than us.
I was wondering that how the place manages crowd in peak season as far as parking vehicles are concerned as there isn’t much place for more than half a dozen vehicles.
Naggar Castle was a calm place in early morning as it opens by 0900 hrs and we had reached there by 0845 hrs. Tickets been some 30rs per head for adults. There was nothing much to do at the place. A small temple and a restaurant looking at vistas. Charges were sure on higher side but the food was good. Just an omlette\ tea and a plate of chicken pakora + chips cost me a little more than 400 rs and rather than settling our hunger, left us asking for even more. Anyway, as there wasn’t much to do, we decided to leave the place by 1000hrs. We asked if there is some waterfall around as I had heard about one in the vicinity. The answer was Jana waterfall which was around 10kms away from the place though with no so good roads. Locals told us that it would be drivable as Buses go that way and I thought let’s do it.
Don’t know what kind of buses travel this way and how as the road was narrow and in no way passable by both side of traffic at many of the places. We kept on driving on narrow, high slopes roads but when the same drive was about to finish, we came across a place where road was completely unpaved and due to mud created by rains, it looked slippery and risky enough to make the car stuck. Just last 400-500 mtr were remaining and I could have driven ahead but that didn’t seemed worth the risk. Turning back wasn’t easy either.
Mud marks of heavy vehicles, stones at left and hundreds feet down at right, turning the car was going to be a challenge for me. I asked wife and kiddo to get down and started trying the same. My struggles for next 10 mins reminded me of the fact that I am yet to master the art of driving in tough terrains as car felt underpowered at times in the very precise maneuvering which has margins of one and half feet only. The tires slipped and engine roared and trembled and finally inch by inch, I managed to turn the car. Reminded me of my last trip when I was stuck at Hamirpur. Only this time I thought that I am prepared for that kind of incidences then fate also upped their bar. Anyway… we didn’t took any pictures there and finally were on return path.
We might have come back to hotel by some 1140 hrs or so and most of the day was still remaining. We ordered non-veg at room only for lunch (didn’t liked that though as pieces weren’t right like last time) and post lunch by 1430 hrs or so, moved towards Vashisth Temple in Auto this time. Autos charge high in the area but same time, their machines take tough toll in driving those heavy slopes. The kind of grunting and smell of fuel reminds me that why tourism taking a huge toll over nature.
Vashisth Temple expectedly didn’t had that much crowd as we had witnessed last time, but the same time, there wasn’t much to see either. Same scamming shops trying to sell you sparrow, same bad taste cashews and same allowing of even trucks in those narrow streets. After paying a small visit inside the temple, we walked towards Jogini waterfalls against the wishes of wife as she didn’t wanted to walk for 3kms at a heavily sunny day. At last, her wish prevailed as we returned back from the place where stairs start.
There were glimpses of snow peaks in between though hide and seek by clouds didn’t allowed me to take a good snap.
We got an auto from there by some 1600 hrs and returned back to Mall Road to head towards Van Vihar now. Reached the place by 1620 hrs and spent around an hour or less there. We tried to cross the wall for reaching to riverside but crowd of youth drinking at riverbank and more importantly the warning signs that crossing the wall has penalty of 1000 rs made us turned back. Last time when we visited, wall was still there but there was no penalty and even many shops been there on the river side.
We came back to Mall road and spent some time there for a while to rest. Took some cash from ATM as on day next, we had to start the drive back home. We were back to hotel by 1745 hrs. Now it was time to rest and pack the things. I also informed the reception that we would be leaving very early morning tomorrow and paid the related bills etc. Like last time, I had asked for car wash as well, which was done by the night @ 100 rs.
For ride back home, our plan was to start a little early like 0430 hrs (last time, we had started by 0530 hrs) and I was very skeptical about the weather conditions as all predictions had pointed for a rainy day. Club the same with bad roads in Sundarnagar, I was expecting the drive back home to be challenging in case, mild or heavy rains start.
I woke up by 0300 hrs without alarm etc and didn’t felt like sleeping post that. It was already raining outside then but the same been the case in earlier days as well when it was used to rain during night but mornings and days been dry. I wasn’t expecting the same luck to be extended even today. I woke up wife by 0400 hrs, got freshened by 0420 hrs and started moving the luggage inside the car. It was still raining a little but we left the hotel by 0440 hrs sharp. It was still dark and roads been empty hence easy drive.First sunrays might have started post 0510 hrs when I was half way to Kulu. River was roaring, rain was still continued and I wasn’t willing to drive beyond 30-40 kmph.. So the start remained like the last year, slow and steady.
By 0600 hrs, we reached around Kullu and then I stopped the car all of sudden due to the magnificent rainbow formed in front of me. As I knew that such views don’t last long more than a few mins. We took a few snaps of the same and also spotted pomegranate trees on side from which we might have plucked 2-3 pomegranate. Kiddo was very excited of that part at least even if she didn’t knew much of rainbow etc.
As we drove ahead, the weather was getting cleared to our surprise. We reached Aut Tunnel before 0730 hrs I guess and spotted few impromptu waterfalls created by nature and a Haryana numbered Honda City caught into an accident by the same night I guess (as poice was on the spot right then). "What’s the need of driving badly in hill areas?" I thought even though I didn’t knew whose fault it might have been, some bigger vehicle coming from front or the car driver himself.
Driving cautiously we reached Sundarnagar by 0845 hrs around and by then the sky was totally blue unlike rest all days of the entire trip. "And then the prediction was of the rains…" I thought in mind.
We crossed Bilaspur – Swarghat patch cautiously and by 1145 hrs, we were at this place in Swarghat hilltop I guess and were driving towards Kiratput now.
We crossed the place, we had our first tea of this journey and were almost about to reach in plains when we came across this. Four Laning road work had caused a blast or something causing big stones to block the road. It took 5-10 mins though as crane was already on the job. I should have made a video of the way crane driver was performing the job. Many a times, front wheels would hang in air and the crane would stand on last two wheels only. Stones looked way powerful than the machine…. but anyway it was done within mins and the road was cleared for us.
After reaching into plains, the driving was much relaxed and less taxing over the body. The roads in Punjab were good and I didn’t felt like stopping anywhere, but had to stop somewhere. Took the first break at 1240 hrs, received some calls of office, took tea etc and got one Aaloo parantha packed for kiddo. Stopping was also important for getting freshened up and to have some cold water etc.
Started driving again and got stuck for more than half an hour at a bridge where half of two way bridge was under construction and impatient drivers couldn’t coordinate the passage as usual. Police was there in no time and even if it took sometime, they managed to regulate the traffic to allow us pass.
The lunch was done around 1500 hrs near a petrol pump at place named The Villager’s Dhaba (adjacent to Hot Millions, Ambala). Food was good or may be we were hungry by then. By then it was dry heat, so we had chosen an AC dhaba. Post that it was an uneventful drive which was filled with moderate traffic, nothing on heavy side, nothing on lesser side being a Sunday and we managed to reach at our Faridabad house by sharp 1940 hrs. Means it was almost 15hrs ride again, just like the ride to Manali three days back. Could have been faster, but if soft driving keeps us away from sign of harms then why bother speeding up.
One more journey was over and along with sense of satisfaction of completing a safe journey, a feeling was crushing the heart like something is snatched away from me, those vistas of hills, those chills of driving.. and now the next opportunity would be at least months away. From tomorrow again the same office life (Already one week long training was waiting for me at office)… but then that’s the life.