Exploring the untold Himachal Pradesh. “Bhai Behen or woh”

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Oh wait! Before I start, it is not exactly as what you’re thinking like. Maybe a little bit? Mmmm, we’ll see. So, my only purpose to put up this title is to obviously grab your attention. 😃

Those of you who are only here to get the itinerary of this trip, I feel you guys! You can directly hop on to the sixth paragraph of this blog and thank me later.

This is ‘just another’ travel blog like many others in the market- one of a girl and two guys. Typical enough these days, yeah?

We shall see.

So, I attended this big fat Indian destination wedding of my cousin last month, in May, at Jodhpur and happened to meet some more cousins there! Whoa, so basic, no? Except that I connected with one, Himanshu, so instantly, and so well, that we ended up planning a trip to Himachal Pradesh, straight after this marriage in the next month.

(Also, a fun fact: This was my eternal escape after preparing and giving a never-ending era of exams as I’m an aspiring CA. If anyone reading this can feel my pain, thanks for empathising, you have my heart!)

Honestly, though, we thought Himachal has places one could go gaga about instantly! And we were so damn right! I’ll get upon the details of that later. So, next up, came my cousin’s friend, Gaurav, whom I was introduced to and who ended up becoming a part of our ‘instantly planned trip’. Trust me; all this was as instant as Thanos’ snap of fingers! No second thoughts, no figuring out things like how what and when nothing! Just a plain sight of having the happiest and most memorable trip with people I thought I’ll grow with, in the journey.

This wasn’t my first long trip, I have had many in the past and I can say that I love travelling. My planning for the trip went well in cooperation with the two guys. So, that was it for the story; the itinerary with a twist begins now.

(We wanted a trip that would be lavish and meagre, both at the same time. So yeah, a leisure budget-friendly trip with luxury was in our minds.)

Day 1: Jaipur To Chandigarh

As Himanshu and Gaurav were from Jodhpur and I was a Mumbaikar, we decided to meet at Jaipur since the flights from Mumbai to Jodhpur were more expensive than to Jaipur (had to save somewhere). From there began our, “Oh so amazing road trip” to our first destination, Chandigarh. Okay, I know that Chandigarh lies nowhere in Himachal. But since we were driving from Jaipur (Almost a 9hrs long journey), we had to stop and give a night to the spark that Chandigarh holds. To our surprise, we attended some crazy parties there and had a ball of a night! So, if you’re one of those whose only notion about Chandigarh is being all about, “Makki di roti and Sarso da saag”, let me tell you, the place is not just about the Saag, but a lot of Swag as well.

Day 2: Chandigarh to Kasauli

The next morning, we parked our vehicle at the resort we were staying in and headed to the most charming hill station of Himachal, Kasauli. It was a mere 2.5 hours from our resort at Chandigarh. Sticking to our ‘lavish and meagre trip’ plan, and after a lot of searching, we came across this place called ‘Meadows on the ridge’ by ‘Vista Rooms’ on the outskirts of Kasauli. The first picture that popped up at their site was enough for us to lock it for booking. And, my God, what a perfect decision it was to stay there!

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Out of all of it, this place and accommodation have my heart. ‘Meadows on the ridge’ is a beautiful Victorian-style villa built-in 1963 on the edge of a hill. We stayed in this cute vintage style room ‘Mountain Breeze’. The room, along with the attic space upstairs (fulfilling my childhood wish to stay in such an attic space), and bathroom, boasted of beautiful English designs. This property added to the excitement and charm that the hill station naturally carried. The sunset was to live for! We had an amazing time filled with peace and serenity, perfect to get into the vibe of a trip. This place can also be a perfect get away for a weekend for people staying in Chandigarh or Delhi

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Day 3: Kasauli To Kotgarh

We left Kasauli with a heavy heart and a huge smile to head over to Kotgarh Village which is around 5 hours from both Kasauli and Chitkul, lying in between. Yes, Chitkul, a famous village in Himachal, was our next ultimate destination, but due to a good 10 hours distance between Kasauli and Chitkul, Gaurav came up with this idea of relaxing at the village instead of spending all the hours, travelling.

Tip: (If you are someone who wants to avoid night travelling or someone who believes that, ‘Journey is more beautiful than the destination’, try breaking the journey and halting at some unexplored villages and enjoy nature to its fullest.)

Getting back to the itinerary: Being a travel bug, I came across this network of luxury homestays called Zostel X that has homestays in some offbeat locations and so we booked one for our stay at Kotgarh. The hosts of Zostel Kotagarh warmly welcomed us with big smiles. They were a family of six, actually eight because they owned a cat and a dog. But we could only meet the Grandma, her son, his twins and their cat, Snowy from the family. Grandma carried an ageless beauty while her son owned great knowledge about travel and always willed to help us.

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The room was luxurious having wooden floors and walls with a beautiful balcony. Kotgarh made us experience yet another beautiful sunset, apple orchards, moonrise and stargazing late at night, all of which were perfect for a view straight from our balcony! It was an offseason for apples so we couldn’t relish eating them, but walking amidst the orchards where trees were covered in white nets (to prevent birds from nesting in hedgerows) was beautiful. Another attraction near Kotgarh is the hike to Hatu peak (but we preferred laying back and enjoying the beauty of our property and the location). I made sure to not miss the sunrise at 5 am in the morning; we know how often do, we ‘busy people’ underestimate the chances to admire this natural cycle.

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And oh! How can I forget the food? The best part was that Zostel being a homestay, we got our ‘Ghar ka khana’ feels as grandma served us with some delicious Himachali cuisine with fresh fruits plucked out straight from their farms, which we relished with them in their dining space. I mean far away from home, how awesome is that one can only imagine!

Day 4: Kotgarh-Rampur-Sangla -Chitkul

Here begins the day of our most awaited journey to Chitkul. Our journey began right from passing through the luscious apple orchards to entering the thin roads with huge mountains that allowed the great Sutlej river to flow out of their bellies. As I write this, I am getting into a major nostalgia feel of the fresh air, breeze and soulful sound of the river that I experienced there. We took a halt for lunch at Rampur, a town in Shimla district along the way, and left for the famous Sangla Valley lying in the district of Kinnaur. Honestly, the roads along the valley were too rocky and full of hurdles, but the driver of the car that we’d hired was experienced enough to make sure that our ride was more about the beautiful views with a refreshing breeze and less about the obstacles along the way. We entered Sangla to visit the Kamru fort, the sacred place of Sangla which required hiking for 20-25 mins through Kamru village.

Tip: Carry your water bottle (avoid plastic bottles though). We forgot to do that, but the Pahadis are really sweet and seeing us exhausted due to the sudden rise in altitude, they offered us water with a big welcoming smile.

water with a big welcoming smile.

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After hikiing for about 10-15 mins, we saw a temple and we are at the fort in the next 10 mins. A fort with a different tradition: no leather belts or wallets were allowed, we were given holy belts for our waists and Kinnauri hats for our heads. While talking to the guards of the fort, we got to know that no one is allowed to enter the fort except the Pandits for Puja once a year.

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Our next destination was, finally, Chitkul. The route to Chitkul was the best on the entire trip! We passed through Rakcham village and as it was almost sunset, and oh my god, the view of the sky! It had that perfect blend of orange, pink and faded yellow reflecting on the mountains and mesmerising us to the core of our hearts! (Oh, this reminds me of owning a dress of that colour blend. Any designers here? 😛 )

Also, Chitkul is at an altitude of a good 11320 feet! Thus, people with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) must carry their medications along. Nearing Chitkul gave us that instant satisfying sensation. For our stay, we again had chosen Zostel and my pre-booking idea got us a room there which otherwise would’ve been impossible due to the peak travel season. So for the first night, we stayed in dorms which was a bit of an unpleasant experience. Now dorms are decent for a stay, but my major cuss at this dorm was the bathrooms as they were very unclean! Nevertheless, the music of the river flowing by the side of Zostel and fresh air taught us to neglect the flaws and cherish the beauty of the moment instead (which also is a major life tip, by the way, guys).

The cafe at Zostel had these pretty fairy lighting and benches to just sit, relax or have a conversation and just chill for hours. The common room, which is the most interesting part here, has all the colours of the world and everything else to keep you entertained throughout the stay. Meeting strangers from different places, different careers, chit chatting with them while drinking our favourite hot chocolate, playing games, listening to their stories and whatnot, one can hardly miss any of this! Also, this was a world cup season and voila! We witnessed a match where India was to play and people from different parts of the world were all cheering for our national team. Another sight and experience to behold!

Day 5: Exploring Chitkul On Our Way

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It was high time we stopped just sitting and chilling at one place, so we decided to add some thrill and started our day early in the morning for a forest trek at Chitkul. Okay yeah, the Flag point trek and Glacier trek were beyond our energy capabilities, so a forest trek along a river was perfect for a beautiful and thrilling experience for us. We reached a bridge where we could either take a right and accompany other travellers for the trek or instead, take a left and explore the place all by ourselves. And obviously, owning to the best decision ever, we took a left, duh!

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Walking through the aisle made by the farmers towards a never-ending route, we took short breaks, stepped down to sit on the stones near the river, feeling the cold, clean water and breathing pure, fresh air. Looking at the lush green and snow-capped mountains made us realize the incredible diversity of nature and we didn’t even know when 5 hours passed, just sitting there. We were the only three people around with literally no other human in plain sight. And the experience was, indeed, unforgettable! (Tip: Do apply a good amount of sunscreen to your whole body as the rising sun might give you a heavy sunburn/ tanning.) While returning, we had lunch at the famous dhabha in Chitkul called ‘Aakhri Dhaba’ which had a good view but a limited menu to choose from. Nevertheless, fun it was!

That day, we were to stay in a private room instead of a dorm at the same Zostel, which was way cleaner and better for our experience. We met a few more travellers and while the other two decided to just stay put, I tried sketching some of the beauty around me in my book (Couldn’t control the passionate sketcher in me.) After that, we went for a walk in a village nearby and spent the night waiting for a moon or stargazing event, but the cloudy weather ruined it for us both nights, but also giving us the reason to visit Chitkul again.

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Day 6: Chitkul To Kalpa

The next morning, the boys decided to go cycling to the post by the cycles available at Zostel. But they had to return halfway through, as the curves of the road were too sharp for regular cyclists. Also, this place had no network, no Wi-Fi, all in all, there was zero digital connectivity to the world, except for BSNL users. Well, this makes the place even more special because you actually live every bit of your time thereby meeting and talking to the people who are visibly around you and not just virtually. Truly, a must-have experience for our technology-driven generation.

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We then left for Kalpa, a small town in the Sutlej river valley, back in Kinnaur, around 2 hours, 40 minutes from Chitkul. But, in between, we decided to halt at Rakcham, a completely unexplored village. While chatting with one of the locals from this village who was 82 yrs old and owned not only a stationery shop but also the sweetest smile, we got to know the details of this place with a population of just 845 people but famous for the most expensive variety of potatoes, Kinnaur Aloo which are widely exported. I came to know a little about this place while researching about Chitkul. (Yes, I believe in researching about places of the trip and advisably, everyone else should, too. :P) but couldn’t find as many details as I did for the other places, so we decided to explore this village by ourselves

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As we reached there, we did a small hike up to the farms and visited a school having 18 kids studying in different classes but all being equally cute. We also had the Kinnaur Aloos at Rakcham café, and oh, what a wonderful experience spending time there! This place has my heart. I can say that it is a must-stop while visiting Chitkul. Highly recommended!

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Moving towards Kalpa now that is known for its beautiful Kinnaur Kailash sunrise and sunset views, we crossed the Reckong Peo town which also comes along the way to Spiti Valley. Unfortunately, due to the clouds, we couldn’t see the unset and the lights dazzling on the snow-capped mountains, but we went for a village walk and visited their school monastery, temple and fort, and had Momos from the small blue local restaurant.

Walking through thin roads, we got back to our hotel Kalpa Deshnag. The staff was very polite here too and, guess what, they made us ‘Bhajias (pakode)’, as we sat in our balcony, enjoyed the light drizzling and the view of Kinner Kailash covered with clouds along with the Pakodas and Chai.

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Day 7: Kalpa To Theog

As Kalpa to Chandigarh is again a 10 hours long journey, we decided to break it and stayed in Theog for a night which was 6 hours from Kalpa. The route from Kalpa to Theog was straight out of a postcard with wide roads surrounded with luscious green trees. Again there is not much to do in Theog, but we did hear about an amusement park in Kufri which is just 30 mins from Theog.

Coming to the stay, we booked De Exotica Crest which was our most unpleasant stay; no doubt the property’s location was great but when it came to the maintenance, it was very poor with even unclean pool water. We were highly disappointed as this was our last stay in Himachal. Nevertheless, the views still kept us happy.
Day 8: Left Himachal Pradesh

“Veni, Vidi, Amavi”.
We came. We saw. We loved.

As we left Himachal Pradesh, our hearts were heavy but full of happy memories. We reached Chandigarh in 4 hours and repeated our first 2 days of the road trip. We stayed in Chandigarh for a night, then spent another day Jaipur, did some shopping and club-hopping, and the next day, we halted at Ajmer to visit the famous Ajmer Sharif Dargah and also had the famous Kadhi kachori. We then straightaway ended our road trip in Jodhpur. The roads from Chandigarh to Jodhpur were the best and the drive was absolutely wonderful!

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I Do want to end my blog with a small request to all the travellers:
‘Please take only memories and leave only footprints’.

#DONOTLITTER

Keep travelling, Keep exploring!

(Special shout out to my talented friend Mansi Sharma, who really helped me in completing my first travel blog)

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