KishtwarI spent 2 days in Kishtwar doing almost nothing. The bike got a well-deserved breather. Apart from a twice-a-day, 2-odd kilometre ride to the local marketplace to grab some food and an even shorter one in order to get her washed, she was left to be.For the first time in a long time, I had the chance to be lazy too (by my standards). The most strenuous activity I undertook during those 2 days was a constant three-way battle between my mobile phone, its charging cable and yours truly. About a week before, my phone had started acting up because of a loose connection in its charging dock. This meant that the phone would initially only charge when the charging cable was placed at a certain angle. This progressed to a situation where it charged only when a weight was placed on top of the part where the cable meets the phone, and by the time we reached Kishtwar it was so bad that it would occasionally charge if I was constantly holding the cable and the phone at a specific angle, and this too would work temporarily. The angle was not fixed, and I remember spending several hours hearing nothing but the beep notifying that charging had begun promptly followed by the one that let me know it had ceased to charge. The noise was so constant that it continues to haunt me effortlessly until this day. No phone meant no mobile camera. This was going to be a problem. So, when I did eventually manage to get it charged, I put it on aeroplane mode so that the charge would be retained for longer. It would from here on cease to be used as a phone and would instead only serve as a camera.When I wasn’t pre-occupied by the battle with my mobile phone, I would walk out to the open ground across the road from where we were staying. The locals referred to this place as a ‘park’ when, in reality, it was more like a sprawling meadow. Apart from being incredibly beautiful, it was a fascinating place to be because it seemed to be the go-to-location in this town. At dawn, it was overrun by the ‘morning-exercise’ brigade. Hundreds of people getting in their morning session of socialising, while a little bit of exercise happened incidentally. The place would be swarming with walkers effortlessly dodging the dollops of horse and sheep dung that was generously deposited all over (or maybe they weren’t dodging it?) without looking down or breaking conversation. The central area was reserved for the more ambitious fitness afficianados, namely those showcasing the progress made in their pursuit to tame a challenging yoga asana, and (my personal favourites) the exponents of deep-breathing exercises. For those who don’t know what deep-breathing exercises are, it’s a cloak provided in order to allow practitioners to not only get away with making weird faces and awful noises in public places but also get to feel good by deeming themselves to be part of the community that actually does physical exercise. Later in the day, the meadow would transform into a cattle-trading market of sorts. Hundreds of horses and thousands of sheep grazed aimlessly, whilst their human folk transacted business on the sidelines (this explained the poop situation). By evening, it would be taken over by the youngsters playing football, cricket and just about anything else that caught their fancy.he
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199 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - February,March,April,October
The land from where once an ancient trade route to China would be embarked on, Manali is an abode for modern creativity now as much as it for withdrawal and adventure in the majestic mountains. From offering hostels, hotels, co-working spaces to the cave where once Arjun, the Pandava king had supposedly meditated (Arjun Gufa), Manali is no less than a global village. The mighty Himalayas have inspired many foreign settlements here, giving rise to popular European and Israeli cafes, restaurants and hostels, providing one a consortium of around the world cultures. This town is a true haven for adventure junkies who can indulge in river rafting, paragliding, camping, rock climbing, rappelling, zorbing at Solang Valley and Aleo. Manali has an array of breathtaking treks and sights for its nature lovers, for instance the Patalsu Peak, the Deo Tibba basecamp, Jogini Falls and the Rahala Falls. For all the solo riders out there, cruise your way through the snowy alley of Rohtang Pass while those who wish to travel back in time, can indulge in the exquisite display of culture and heritage at the Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Art. Restaurants and cafes such as the Khyber Pass, Johnson's Cafe, La Plage, Drifters' Inn, The Hangout attract foodies for their culinary justice to everything from Thai to European cuisines and even some live music. If all this is too over the top for you, then reconnect with simplicity at Naggar Village, which is home to waterfalls, a beautiful castle, an art gallery and locals which have many stories to share and a cultural heritage to take pride in.
138 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - April,May,June,July,August,September,October
Gar firdaus ruhe zamin ast, Hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast. “If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” This is how the Sufi mystic Amir Khusrow has described the Kashmir Valley, and Srinagar is at the heart of the valley. Smack in the middle of the city is the mighty Dal Lake, its placid water reflecting the vivid kaleidoscope of innumerous houseboats, shikaras (taxi-boats), and the snow-capped Pir Panjal range: a sight that will make your heart skip a beat. The city is home to the state-of-the-art Mughal Gardens, Shalimar Bagh and Nishant Bagh being the most famous of them. The gardens exhibit the Mughal taste of nature and the philosophy of disciplining nature rather than imitating it: fountain pools and canals, meticulously manicured hedges, and motley flowerbeds. Also known as the Kashmiri Venice, Srinagar is a place not to be missed by those seeking a tranquil refuge in the lap of the Himalayas.
248 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - March,April,May,June,July,August,September,October
A kingdom that has risen above disasters like the 2010 cloudburst and is still able to magnetise a plethora of tourists and travellers every month to it, even when the mercury dips below sub-zero levels. This former capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh is chiefly dominated by the ruined Royal Palace of Leh and the eternally serene Pangong Tso, Tibetan for 'high grassland lake', which is spread for 134 km from India to China. If you're someone who loves travelling unconventionally and is interested in the lifestyle that thrives in this high altitude desert, you can stay with locals who have turned their homes into 'homestays' and are open to interacting with non-natives. For a more spiritual and mystical experience, one can also spend the night at monasteries such as Thiksey, Lamauru or the Hemis Monastery, where you will get a chance to interact with Lamas (Buddhist teachers) and learn all about their lives and what they preach. For more visual and audio insights and treats, one can attend the 6 day Ladakh festival, a multihued explosion of Ladakhi culture and tradition, celebrated annually in the month of September in Leh's villages. Leh can always keep you entertained, for instance, with trekking (frozen river trek to Chadar, Padam to Darcha trek), mountain biking, skiing, camel safari, paragliding and even having your car pulled uphill by the magnetic force at the Magnetic Hill. Foodies will get no better thrill than eating at the highest cafeteria in the world, Rinchen Cafeteria. Other popular cafes such as Gesmo, Nirvana Garden, Cafe Jeevan and Norlakh are a must to go to for their lip smacking Italian, Himalayan and local dishes.
135 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - February,March,April,May,June,October,November
Barely 4 km away from Dharamshala by foot, the hill station of McLeod Ganj is home to many majestic monasteries, delicious smelling kitchen cafes, video rental shops, western food cafes, trekking companies and wall to wall stores selling Tibetan souvenirs and many more goodies. Also known as Little Lhasa and the abode of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual influence and its mystical green hills mark McLeod Ganj as a significant tourist destination and a major traveller hang-out in the Kangra Valley. A 5-minute walk south of this town will take one to the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which comprises the official residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, vibrant monasteries with beautiful murals and even a bookshop cafe that goes by the name of Namgyal Gompa. Tourist activity after monsoon picks up, after October, with February March being pleasant months to visit the hill station to witness the Losar Festival or the Tibetan New Year being celebrated. This compact sized town is best explored and enjoyed by walking or trekking. Intriguing short walks around Mcleod Ganj include one that goes 2km east to Bhagsu which leads one to a waterfall and a temple. The most well-known trek, 8 km starting from the town, is to Triund, a snow-flanked and serene camping spot from which one can also travel 5 km ahead to reach a charming little forest rest house. With many many hipster eateries, the food here is some of the best you'll find at any mountain destination.
292 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - January,February,March,April,May,June,October,November,December
Once known as Shyamala, synonymous with Goddess Kali, Shimla has been a summer retreat long before India even gained independence. This famous hill station similarly has a lot of places and things to see untouched by time. For instance, take a vintage joy ride from Kalka station to Shimla in a charming toy train that will take you through towering Deodars, hills and villages. Shimla truly comes alive during winters when a blanket of snow covers it all over making every nook and corner gleam and glisten. One such place is the ice skating rink (natural ice) near Lakkar Bazaar that opens from November to December. More winter sports include skiing, which can be enjoyed 21 km from Shimla in Kufri. Adventure activities such as rafting at Tattapani or a trek to Shali Tibba and Pabbar Valley are also worthwhile experiences. If you are fond of haunted stories and interested in having your own spooky adventure, you'll love Shimla. A lot of people including the renowned Rudyard Kippling (in 'My Own True Ghost Story) have written various eerie stories set around Shimla. A place known most for giving many people the jeepers-creepers is the Charleville Mansion. Another time travelling portal is the antique bookstore, Marina Brothers, located on Mall Road, which is truly a reader and collector's paradise. There are many luxury and budget hotels here, meaning you'll never fall short of options. Popular places to eat include Wake & Bake, Ashiana, Cecil and Minchy's that serve commendable Indian and multi-cuisine dishes and delicious gourmet food.
212 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - January,February,March,October,November,December
Amritsar has made a huge contribution to Indian history and is the holiest hub for Sikhs. The name of the city, which means the pool of nectar, is derived from the pool that surrounds the Golden Temple. Though the city is quite congested, it has an air of spirituality and a heart to it. The stunning complex of the Golden Temple, with the Central Sikh Museum, will surround you with a spiritual energy that is hard to shake off. The gurdwara is located at the nucleus of the lake, which glitters like gold after the sun goes down. At every corner you’ll find devotees who have volunteered for either cooking or cleaning the premise. Eat a free meal at the dining hall and make sure you don’t waste any food. The Jallianwala Bagh, from the pages of history, comes to life here. The complex, where around 1500 people were massacred, still has bullet marks all over it. A peek into the well, inside which hundreds jumped to save their lives, is sure to leave you feeling uncomfortable. An hour away from the city is the Wagah Border, where the gates divide Pakistan and India. An evening parade, held before sunset every day, is an experience worth savouring. Amritsar remains incomplete without the lassi with heaps of malai, available almost everywhere. There are endless options to stay in the city but if you want to splurge, consider the Green Acres Haveli and Country Inn Hotels and Resorts.
159 Kms from Kishtwar
Best time to visit - March,April,May,June,July,September,October,November
A picturesque and quiet little town, Palampur is a panorama of stunning tea gardens, brooks, creeks, rice paddies and colonial era buildings all set against the backdrop of the breathtaking snow-peaked Dhauladhar ranges. It is perfect for those who seek a getaway from noisy cities and most importantly crowds. A not so popular tourist destination, Palampur is a town early to rise and early to sleep, whilst being a haven for to those who seek solitude, especially in the lap of nature. Places such as the Neogal Park is highly recommended for refreshing and soothing walks amidst the forest overlooking a river, which even consists of a small man-made lake for boating activities. For all tea lovers out there, visit the tea gardens and the Palampur Cooperative Tea Factory to understand the entire process behind tea manufacturing, which will be happily explained to you through a free tour by the people working there, wherein you can also purchase fresh Kangra tea leaves and many different types of tea. For handcraft enthusiasts, especially pottery, Andretta Artist's Village is the perfect place for one to not only purchase those clay crafted beauties but also to learn how to make them from scratch. Palampur is open to both Indian and Western cuisines, with a number of commendable and affordable restaurants to eat at. To try something more authentic or 'Pahari' for that matter, Sai Gardens is highly recommended for its versatility and prowess especially in the Himachali cuisine. Adventure seekers can enjoy paragliding and other activities in Bir, a place about an hour away from Palampur, guaranteed to give you a memorable time.