Day 12 (20th July): Around Padum - Dzonkhul, End of road beyond Reru (135 kms)We got up early with the plan to first go to Dzonkhul and then come back for breakfast. Although Dzonkhul is on the way to Rangdum, stopping there on our way back would not have been possible due to lack of time, also a trip to Dzonkhul and further on to Padum would have been too much to do for a day. We were on our way by 6:30 in the morning. At the Tungri bridge, instead of taking the road which crosses the Stod river and goes on to Rangdum, we went straight. The ‘road’ now was quite bumpy and was being leveled by the villagers. At Ating village, we gave a lift to an old man who was going to the Monastery with supplies of a puja scheduled for that day. We then took a left towards the Monastery, and started climbing. Now this climb was awful, the road scattered with rocks of all sizes, and we moved at not more than 15 kmph. I would imagine 2WD jeeps facing extreme difficulties maneuvering through this stretch after the village and would suggest stretch essentially for 4WD as it is loose gravel with terrible ascent and U-bends. Finally, after a very treacherous ascent, we reached the cave monastery of Dzonkhul. And what a sight it was! Built on a slope just below some jagged rocks, the Monastery peeks out of a cave, and the prayer flags adorning the monastery complex provide the much needed colour in the stark landscape. Village Dzonkhul must consist of less than five households, and most of them cater to the needs of the monastery. As we entered the monastery, a monk came to greet us, and then started showing us around. He first took us upstairs to a room the roof of which was the cave’s roof itself! It was very dark there with the little light coming from the burning lamps. The roof of the cave here was full of coins stuck to it, and looked like a dark sky with stars! We somehow managed to get one photograph since using flash was not allowed, and their was no way in heaven a tripod would’ve fit in that cramped room. After that we went to the terrace and then to a couple of other rooms which housed their ancient scriptures and books and other precious valuables such as cups studded with semi precious stones. They also had printing blocks of the scriptures and print new ones every now and then. Finally, the lama took us to a room where all the resident lamas of Dzonkhul were having their breakfast. They asked us to sit with them, gave us two bowls and filled them with the soup all of them were having. Now I know this will sound really mean, but that soup was AWFUL! I somehow finished mine, gulping down most of it so that it did not linger on my tongue, only to see Aarti looking expectantly at me to finish her portion too! I knew she wouldn’t have it, and that it did not look good not to accept their generous offering, so I had a second bowl too After thanking the lamas for the meal, we went downstairs and had chai with the people who were cooking lunch for the monks. They also gave us some bread, which was delicious! Over tea, we chatted a bit with them, and then bid adieu to Dzonkhul. The journey was quite tiring, and it was nearly 11 am by the time we reached Padum. After freshening up, we had an early lunch. The next thing to do was to check out Reru, which lies further south from Padum and the end-of-the-road beyond it. We left around 1 pm for Reru. We got lost at first. One has to go towards the older part of Padum, a Muslim dominated area, and take a left near the bus stand. The road runs parallel to the Tsarap Lingti, and the valley is pretty narrow. First up is the Bardan gonpa, perched precariously on top of huge stone which protrudes into the river. The road till Reru is tarred, although not very smooth, but after this the tar disappears completely. Here we saw a bunch of lamas playing cricket in a wide, open ground. About 6 kms from Reru, we came to a bridge to cross over to the right bank of the river. I believe this was the place where Salil went upto during his excursion to the region way back in September 2009. With the bridge now complete, we crossed over. The road from here on is very narrow and is a complete dirt track with a steep ascent to the village of Itchar. I wonder how would normal traffic cross this stretch given its sharp ascents, tight U-bends and narrow road. It was here when our car started acting up again, losing power on the incline! It was very frustrating, stretches which were supposed to be done in 4H mode were now being done in 4L mode and at extremely high RPM. There was an option to turn back towards Padum as the scenery was hardly beautiful or enticing, but being spoilt, we had to see the end of the road before we could turn back. We crawled ahead, occasionally having to deal with loss of power as well. The road was too dusty for me to crawl down and drain the sedimenter and decided that it would best be done on the way back. The road continued like this for about 8 odd kms from the bridge, before it came to an abrupt end where work was still being done. It was time for us to turn back. The drive back till Reru was again painful where I finally disembarked from the car and went down to drain the sedimenter. Once I was back on the wheel, the vehicle refused to start even after multiple cranks. Finally, I opened up the bonnet and primed the fuel pump a bit, and finally Kiyang started with a sputter. It was a smooth ride from that point till Padum which we finally reached by about dusk. This was the first detour that we regretted taking, the drive was neither beautiful nor worth taking, in our opinion. I would suggest further travelers to the region to avoid this drive until it’s complete all the way to Purne, which is about 15 km away from where the road ends currently. One could then trek to Phutgal gompa which I’ve heard is quite beautifully located, and the valley beyond Purne towards Kargyak and Darcha is very wide and spectacularly beautiful. Until then, it’s best to avoid the stretch. We had to start early the next day as we were targeting to reach Kargil in a single day from Padum, so hit the sack early.
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179 Kms from Reru
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.
151 Kms from Reru
Best time to visit - August,September,October,November
A perfect combination of ancient and urban, this city has been deemed the most futuristic in the country, while also having been occupied by the Harappan civilisation almost 8,000 years ago. In fact, BBC has named Chandigarh as a perfect city with regard to its cultural growth, modernisation and architecture. Nek Chand Rock Garden is a unique and fascinating site, built solely by a man (after whom the garden is named), who used remnants from various demolition sites (particularly the debris while Chandigarh itself was being built) and a whole lot of scrap to build 2000 sculptures, statues, all integrated on walled paths, wherein one can also see man-made interlinked waterfalls. A short walk away from there is the artificial Sukhna lake, a landmark for families to relax and walk around while enjoying street food and keeping kids busy with quaint toys bought from vendors all around. Pertaining to Le Corbusier's (chief architect of the city) vision of Chandigarh being a garden city, Rose Garden is home to over 1,500 varieties of rose and the Garden of Fragrance is perfect for those mind-refreshing walks. Popular places to visit for an insight into Chandigarh and the entire country's history through various artworks are the Government Museum & Art Gallery and the Chandigarh Architecture Museum. Being one of the top four metro cities of the country, Chandigarh has a bustling food scene, home to every cuisine you can think of right from Mediterranean (Kelong, Virgin Courtyard) to Thai (Tao- Bar & Lounge). Some popular places for Punjabi dishes are Punjab Grill and Sher-e- Punjab. Chandigarh is also close to many hill stations such as Solan, Kasauli, Shoghi and Naldehra.
296 Kms from Reru
Best time to visit - March,April,May,October,November
Dehradun is easily one of the most popular hill stations in India. Though easily accessible by all modes of transportation, taking the road would be the best way to experience this heaven. The drive will take you through dense forests on the hilly road and if you're lucky, you might even see a wild elephant or leopard pass you by. The fresh and dewy hill air will infiltrate your lungs and put you in a great mood right away. In terms of things to see, there is Robber's Cave, a river cave formation and Sahashtradhara, which is also a stunning sight of nature consisting of sulphur springs. But more than its sights, Dehradun is the perfect place for a family getaway. After all it has everything that you could need for a relaxing holiday. The town has many vintage bookshops (Natraj Publishers, The English Book Depot), college campuses with hilly backdrops, architectural marvels (such as the Forest Research Institute), alleys filled with quaint restaurants, adventure sports gear shops and forest resorts and hotels to fit every budget. Vishranti, a resort tucked away discreetly in the Sal forests of the Doon valley, deserves a special mention for its beauty and luxury. The city is a haven for foodies as Dehradun offers a lot of variety and affordability in its cuisine. Restaurants and cafes such as Doon Darbar, renowned for devour-worthy Mughlai dishes and The Buffet for its mouthwatering burgers, cutlets and coffee, are popular options.
204 Kms from Reru
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.
323 Kms from Reru
Best time to visit - April,May,June,July
Scenic and serene, Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh is perhaps one of the most unexplored places in Himachal. Passing through serpentine roads, refreshing, lush greenery, the district is a delight to explore. Though travellers looking to enjoy a luxurious holiday may not have a great time here. Kalpa is the first village that greets you when you enter Kinnaur. Reckong Peo, Nako and Sangla Valley are some of the villages and valleys that make up Kinnaur district. A journey to Kinnaur is marked with adventure and also an unpredictability that comes from travelling so high up in the mountains. The people in all the villages are very warm and welcoming and are open to sharing their way of life with travellers. Do plan a long trip here, since Kinnaur district can easily take up to 2 weeks and it's best not to hurry your way through this spellbinding valley.
87 Kms from Reru
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.
178 Kms from Reru
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.
141 Kms from Reru
Best time to visit - January,February,September,October,November,December
Lahore is the intellectual and cultural capital of Pakistan and a journey to this bustling city will remain with you for a long time. From Lahore Fort to the Khizri or the Sheranwala Gate, there is so much to see and do here and it isn't just another run-of-the-mill city in a country. History, architecture, art and music envelop the city and everywhere you go, there is a story to unravel. You will also have an opportunity to experience exhilarating Qawaali sessions and a tryst with Sufism. Do spend time at one of the city's many rejuvenating gardens and a day exploring the many historical sites that the city is home to. If you happen to be here on a Thursday, a visit to Wagah border is unmissable. The intensity of the profound ceremony is so deep that it'll demand another visit from you! There is lots for shopaholics here as well, including Anarkali bazaar and the Pace and Fortress Stadium Market. If you have a little space in your itinerary, you can also squeeze in a visit to the largest museum in Pakistan, the Lahore Museum. With a collection of rare art, objects and paintings including the Fasting Buddha of Gandhara. There is plenty to choose from if you are looking for a decent place to stay including luxury hotels and budget accommodations.