Being a free spirit, traveling to new places is one of my favourite things. When ever i get the opportunity to travel , i’m up for it. For me travel isn’t just about pleasure and frolic but also about exploration and learning. I’ve traversed extensively throughout my country (India) and have had some marvelous experiences that will stay with me for life. Today, i’d like to introduce you to some magnificent but lesser known places from my own home state – Himachal Pradesh. These destinations include – Kasol , Manali, Rohtang La, Spiti, and Kinnaur Not only are all these places spell binding but also nominal to visit. In fact they are some of the most traveler friendly locations in terms of budget. One can either visit these places one at a time or visit all of them in the same trip, since they all lie on the same route.
Before i start sharing my thoughts on the places mentioned , i’d like to give all my readers a brief introduction to my beloved state – Himachal Pradesh. A small but gorgeous state, Himachal lies in the northern region of India. It literally lies in the lap of the magnificent Himalayas and has some of the country’s most amazing destinations with the perfect landscape and serenity. It is called by some people as ‘Dev Bhoomi‘ in Hindi, which means the ‘Land of God.’ It is called so not just because it is beautiful but also because the people here are exceptionally kind and compassionate. Also, it is one of the safest places to visit for a traveler. That is why a lot of people take frequent solo trips in this part of the country.
Now let me get started on some of my favourite destinations from this part of the world. I can vouch for the fact that if you come here once, you’d want to visit again.
The first place i’d like to mention here is –
A small village in the beauteous state of Himachal Pradesh. It is located in the Parvati Valley along the Parvati River. Most people are not very familiar with it. Especially the ones who travel in a very conventional way. But being a traveler myself , i recommend this small but awe-inspiring place. It is the ideal place for a pack packer. I have always felt that the more untouched a place, the more gorgeous it is. Kasol is one of those places. Best part is it balances perfectly the modernity with the tradition, in terms of its culture. You visit Kasol once and you get addicted. Kasol is an adventurous place for trekkers who want to feel the experience of the majestic Himalayas. It has a large amount of camping sites. It is the base for trekking towards Yanker Pass, Pin and Parbati Pass commence. The weather is pleasant for most of the year. Winters can be harsh sometimes.
In the recent years , the place has seen a huge inflow of foreigners from abroad. This is a place that is hard to get over. Due to the increasing visitors, the small village has come up with excellent cafes and restaurants. Also the place is sometimes referred to as ‘mini Israel’ owing to a large number of travelers from Israel. The Himalayan Village Resort has come up between Kasol and another place called Jari. The resort provides facilities for mountain biking, rope climbing, river crossing, rock climbing and trekking. So a lot of visitors love staying here. The resort is so popular because it rests within the thick Pine forests , amidst wildlife and people of different etnicities but provides within its interiors spa and sauna facilities. It also has a Jacuzzi, aroma bath therapy, kero therapy, acupressure, and massaging for after the hectic day doing adventure sports.
Inseparable Parts of Kasol
It is an extremely serene village where one can sit for hours and hours staring at the picturesque view or just mediate without any disturbance from the outside world.The village is filled with scenic trails. One can only reach Tosh by foot from Kasol by crossing the suspended bridge that is over the free flowing Parvati river. One should take a moment there and listen to the gushing waters of the Parvati river. A large number of people sit near the river on huge rocks and just spend some time with themselves. Cafe’s and guest houses are readily available so accommodation is not an issue here. Some natives are courteous enough to allow visitors to stay in their houses as well. Hashish or Hash , a drug is cultivated in the region so a lot of foreigners visit Tosh for this reason as well. Some visitors also throw regular psychedelic parties for enjoyment and making merry. These parties can go in for days.The major crowd puller for these parties are world class DJ’s who come all the way to this beautiful valley just to perform for the music festival. There is an entry fee for these parties which is not too affordable any more.
It is an ancient village in the lap of the majestic Himalayas. The peculiar and unique location of the village geographically has helped preserve the village’s biodiversity. The most distinctive feature of Malana is that it has its own social structure and set of rules. It is one of the first democracies of the world and is believed to be the oldest republic in the world. The inhabitants are distant from the modern civilization and don’t like their local customs and traditions changed. They intend to keep it that way. A native of Malana village can provide food to a visitor but never receives food from an outsider. That is their custom. The natives speak the Kanashi language which is nothing like the other local languages. it is kind of a secret language for the natives. Another interesting feature about Malana is that it is the hub for Cannibis plantation. The product from the Cannibis plant in Malana is called Malana’s creme (a special kind of marijuana) which is a stoner’s delight across the world. Consuming weed is illegal in the region and there has been in the recent past regular police patrolling.The livelihood of the native people depend on Cannabis Cultivation. For them it’s just a plant and not a potential source of a world famous drug. The easiest way to reach Malana is from Jari, which is around a 20 Km picturesque trek to Malana.
When visiting Malana , stick to your prescribed path.Do not touch the walls and belongings of the native people, else you will have to pay a fine. Also do not consume the ‘Malana Creme’ (extracted from the Cannabis plantation which is cultivated vastly in the region) because smoking marijuana is illegal if found guilty, you can be subjected to prison for 10 years. If you feel like getting ‘high’, get high watching the majestic mountains.
INFORMATION FOR TOURISTS
BEST TIME TO VISIT: March to June
BEST WAY TO REACH: Travelling by road is the best option here. Luxury buses are available from New Delhi , Chandigarh and Shimla. Flights are available too till Bhuntar airport but they are not very frequent.
INTERNAL TRANSPORT: None required. Explore the region via trekking.
BEST EATING PLACES: Evergreen Cafe and Stone Garden Cafe.
ACCOMMODATION: Budget Hotels, Resorts, Guest Houses.
At a drive of around 2 hours from Kasol lies the beautiful valley of Manali.
A small hill station nestled in the mountains northern end of the Kullu Valley, and fed by the Beas river lies Manali. It is located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh at an approximate distance of 250 kms from the state capital of Shimla. Manali is replete with scenic beauty. The snow clad peaks surrounding this small town and the sparkling waters of the Beas river add to the grandeur of this place. You literally feel bewitched here. Manali is also the base camp for many high altitude treks. It is also a hub for various adventure sports including paragliding, river rafting, zorbing, and skiing winters). You can either hire a cab, a bike or even a cycle (if you’re a professional) to explore the place and its adjoining areas. You can also take short hikes from one place to another (i can tell you from personal experience, they’re lot of fun).
While you decide to step out and explore places to visit near Manali, you’ll be surprised with these even more beautiful and less crowded spots located in the lesser-traversed areas of the Himalayas. If you’ve had your fill of the Manali’s central Mall Road and want to venture out from the hill town, then here are some short trips that you can plan while you’re in the area.
Must Visit Places in Manali
Solang Valley is a 50 minute drive from Manali and the landscape all along the way is just splendid. Once you reach there , you just wanna immerse yourself with the beauty around and venture into the mountains. Good thing is there is a ropeway which gives you a thrilling ride from the base of the valley mid way up to the mountain. You can hang out there till 6 and after that get back. After 6 the ropeway closes. Solang offers paragliding and zorbing. I insist you try both. For paragliding you can either go for a 15 minute ride or 45 minutes. You are provided with a trainer so don’t worry. Let go of fear and just experience the thrill of flying high in the sky. Once on the base, try zorbing. It is an inflatable pvc ball which contains another smaller ball that is suspended into position by thousand nylon strands of varying colours that is suitable only for grass covered slopes. Zorbing stops when snow covers the grass slope in winters.
The mountains with their snow clad peaks are a marvel to see. A lot of waterfalls in and around the area are also visible from the valley. You can explore the valley on foot. It really is fun. You just want to discover more and more of this place , when you start your trek. If you’re lucky you can even catch a glimpse of some wildlife.
Jogini falls are one of the least visited places around Manali . I insist you must visit them. Most tourists go back to Manali directly from Solang Valley , making a brief halt at Vashist. But my friends and i trekked right from Solang valley to Jhogni Falls via Vashist up till Manali. It was so much fun. The trek is covered with lush green meadows, pine forests, rivulets, waterfalls and some amazing wild life. One you reach Jhogini falls, you can take a brief halt and just feel the place. We had taken off our shoes when we reached the place and immersed ourselves in the water. Feels divine.
A few stalls are available from the way onward here to Vashist. You can get a cup of tea and some decent snacks. The place has the perfect feel to it. The trek up till Jogini Falls is really interesting. At the beginning itself you can observe the native people living life in a traditional and simple way. They’re warm people and will not hesitate to offer you a cup of tea in case you talk to them. You can also see these people doing some fascinating indigenous things.
Once you reach Vashisht, experience the hot water springs there. I won’t suggest a bath there, especially for women since there is no privacy but sure you can feel the water from the spring. It is said to have therapeutic properties. The distance from Vashist to Manali is a mere 2.5 kms. You will reach faster on foot than in a cab owing to the daily traffic jams in the region.
Going too near the waters of the Beas river is not recommended. There are a lot of dams in and around the region and the waters from these dams gets released every day so there is a good chance you can drown in the rising waters. So if in case you feel like clicking pictures, click them from a distance. A lot of unfortunate incidents have happened in the past. Try not to do that to yourself. Remain safe.
INFORMATION FOR TOURISTS
BEST WAY TO REACH – Volvo AC buses from New Delhi , Chandigarh and Shimla.
Flight till Bhuntar Airport from New Delhi are also available.
INTERNAL TRANSPORT – Local transport , Rented bikes and cabs.
BEST EATING PLACES – A German Bakery by the name of ‘Manali Day.’
ACCOMODATION – Home stays and Guest Houses.
Once you’re done with Manali , you should plan a trip to Rohtang La.
The Rohtang La , also known popularly as Rohtang Pass is a natural divide between the humid Kullu Valley which has a predominant Hindu culture and the arid, high altitude Lahaul and Spiti Valleys which are predominantly Buddhist. The Pass offers beautiful sights of glaciers, peaks, Lahaul Valley and the Chandra River. The twin peaks of Geypan are also visible from Rohtang. The initial part of the drive is along River Beas on one side and alpine forests on the other. The pass is on the watershed between the water basins of the Chenab River and the Beas River. In fact the Beas has its origin at Rohtang. The main place at Rohtang Pass is the ‘Snow Point.’
Snow Point is not any particular location, rather, it is just a stretch of snow on the way to Rohtang La identified by local vendors to set up their stalls. In peak winters, Snow point is at a location very close to Manali. As the summer progresses, location of snow point moves higher and higher till it reaches Rani Nullah and then further towards the Rohtang Pass.
Enthusiasm of tourists converts snow point into some sort of a snow theme park. Tourists can indulge in various snow activities like Amateur skiing, yak rides, snow scotters and snow mobiles and of course throwing snow balls at one another. Even in summers this region is chilly so make sure to carry proper woolens with you. A lot of tourists a one day trip to Rohtang from Manali and then get back on the same day. I insist you book a hotel in advance and stay for atleast a day. From there you can head back to Manali or move along to Spiti , whatever suits your schedule. Rohtang lies at a distance of around 50 kms from Manali and it takes around 3 hours to reach there , owing to the terrain.
Only a limited amount of vehicles are allowed to go to Rohtang Pass in one day. So make sure to get the permit before you leave. The permit can be obtained from the office located at the Mall, Manali. Also dress in really warm clothes , even if you’re visiting in summer months. This part of the world remains chilly all through the year. If you don’t feel like carrying woolen clothes, you can rent them on the way to Rohtang Pass from Manali.
INFORMATION FOR TOURISTS
BEST WAY TO REACH – Cabs and buses with permit can take you to Rohtang from Manali.
INTERNAL TRANSPORT – Not required
BEST EATING PLACES – Local stalls. You can eat on the way to Rohtang at a place called Marhi.
ACCOMODATION – Guest Houses located on the way to Rohtang, Tents.
At a distance of around 80 Kms from Rohtang lies Spiti. Rohtang is the gateway to Spiti.
Enter the valley of Spiti, and the terrain changes to a different kind of stark grandeur. No more lush green alpine vegetation. Now you tend to stare at contours of a far more complex nature. Endless layers of powdery maroon and glowing ochre slopes loomed in the distance, with the beautiful River Chandra drawing patterns in the lap of an ever-widening basin. On this route there are no tea-stalls and eateries at every turn. Instead, you will find pea and potato fields. Stop by and sample some. These are the sweetest, most succulent peas you’d have ever tasted. There is very little vehicular traffic too, but do expect to slow down as a big flock of sheep takes over the entire width of the road and slowly ambles by. Don’t even bother to hoot because this is where you go at their pace – unhurried, unfazed, happy to find a patch of grass in the largely barren terrain. You watch them quietly and the moment becomes your oasis.
This land often known as Little Tibet, was historically a part of the kingdom of Nariss Korssum (Western Tibet), and is home to few of the oldest Buddhist monasteries and temples in the world. Tucked away in the interiors of the Trans-Himalayan belt of Himachal Pradesh, this high altitude cold desert region has only recently been opened to the outside world. Situated at an altitude well over 3000 mts above mean sea level, this valley is exposed to temperature variations of -28 degree centigrade to +28 degree centigrade and remains cut off for most of the year by the high mountains that encircle it. Due to its relative isolation, various unique and rare aspects of the Buddhist culture (Tibetan Buddhism) are well preserved in this valley. Spiti is also a storehouse of various rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, such as the Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, to name a few. Home stays offer one a unique and exclusive insight into this mystical land, its people, their rich cultural heritage, and its diverse flora & fauna.
There are some locations that can’t be missed in Spiti –
The foremost location which is an absolute delight for a traveler is the Chandratal Lake. Also known as ‘Moon Lake,’ Chandratal is a surreal lake located in Spiti. It is so magnificent that one can just sit there for hours and hours gazing at its beauty. The turquoise colour of the lake soothes the eye of the beholder. Chandratal is serenity presonified. In fact the entire region of Spiti is serene. One can spend the night at this splendid location in tents that are available at a nominal price. One cannot take a cab or a bike here. You will be dropped by your vehicles at a place called Batkal and you have to trek from there till Chandratal. It is a 14 km stretch. In case you’re traveling by bus , make sure to note the timings since only two buses run daily. One towards Manali and one towards Kaza – the sub- divisional headquarters of Spiti.
Chandratal rests in a rock basin that has been closed by the mountains surrounding it. The lake is situated on a plateau called Samudra Tapu, overlooking the Chandra River which originates from a glacier near Bara-lacha-la. It reflects the Chandra Bhaga range in its calm blue waters and is fed by the surrounding glaciers. I followed the circular path that goes all around the lake, marveling at how with every changing curve, the water also changed from turquoise to emerald and then to a deeper green. Once the sun was high, every shade, very stroke of colour from the mountains was reflected just as lucidly in the lake.
After spending a night at Chandratal , one can head towards Kaza and from there reach Tabo Monastery. You can halt at Kaza, spend a night and then visit the monastery. Kaza mainly serves as a tourist base for Spiti valley and one can visit places like the Tabo Monastry, Ki Moneastery, Kibber village. Kaza and its nearby village has good accommodation and other facilities like Petrol/Diesel pumps. It also has a market for daily necessities.
The Tabo Monastery was constructed as early as 996 A.D . That makes it the oldest Buddhist enclave in India. The monastic complex of Tabo (Ta-pho) is the first large religious site found in the barren and desolate moonscape of Spiti, between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar Range. Inside its temples one can find extraordinary examples of early Indo-Tibetan art. They have rare and priceless collection of thankas, statues, frescos, religious manuscripts and murals on the walls.
Kibber, in Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, has the distinction of being the highest motorable village in the world. The village is known for its scenic mountains, barren splendour and monasteries. Kye Monastery, the largest in Spiti Valley is situated close to Kibber. The architecture of the houses and fortified look of the village are worth seeing. Houses are made of stones and adobe bricks. It is the biggest monastery of the Spiti Valley and a religious training centre of the Lamas. It looks like a house built on the top of another and they are haphazardly spread over the hill cliff. This monastery was damaged many times in the past due to the war, fire and earthquake. The successive trails of destruction and patch-up jobs have resulted in a haphazard growth of box-like structures, and so the monastery looks like a fort, with temples built on top of one another.
Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary is also located close to the village. It is home to the Ibex, blue sheep, red fox, Tibetan woolly hare, Himalayan Wolf, lynx, pika, Tibetan wild ass and snow leopard. It is the only sanctuary in India that is situated in a cold desert area. The high altitude and pollution free atmosphere is a boon for sky gazers. Watching the night sky from Kibber is an amazing experience. The stars and the constellations seem very close and can be seen clearly even with the naked eye. Another claim to fame is the presence of large amount of fossils in and around Kibber. The village is among the most fossilferous region of the world and has earned Spiti the sobriquet of ‘Fossils Park’.
Only BSNL Sim cards obtained in Himachal Pradesh work in Spiti, and that too only in Kaza (Spiti’s administrative capital) and some of the lower villages. There is a single cyber cafe in Kaza, that draws on the army satellite to offer an internet connection whose speed reminds you of the dial-up days! You’ll find an ATM or two in Kaza, but their functioning is often erratic, so it’s advisable to carry enough cash from Manali / Shimla.
INFORMATION FOR TOURISTS
BEST WAY TO REACH – Cabs and local HRTC buses from Manali via Rohtang to Kaza
INTERNAL TRANSPORT – Cabs, Bikes
BEST EATING PLACES – Sol Cafe and Makang restaurant (Kaza)
ACCOMODATION – Home stays and Guest Houses.
At Chandratal Lake, tents with food are available.
After you have enjoyed the serenity and the beauty of the Spiti region, you can head towards Kinnaur – the last destination on my list.
Kinnaur surrounded by the Tibet to the east, in the northeast corner of Himachal Pradesh, about 235 kms from Shimla is a tremendously beautiful district having the three high mountains ranges i.e. Zanskar, Greater Himalayas and Dhauladhar. enclosing valleys of Sutlej, Spiti, Baspa and their tributaries. All the valleys are strikingly beautiful. The slopes are covered with thick wood, orchards, fields and picturesque hamlets. The apples, chilgoza and other dry fruits are grown here are world famous. The high terrain here give way to great adventures sports of all kinds. Beautiful trekking routes includes the ‘Parikarma of Kinner Kailash’. Here is also the Beautiful Nako lake and three famous wild life sanctuaries.
When in Kinnaur , do visit the following places –
Sangla is a town in the Baspa Valley, also referred to as the Sangla valley, in the Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh. It is covered with dense forest trees with views of the Himalayan range. Earlier one could not enter the Sangla Valley without special permit due to it being close to the Indo Tibet Border. Sangla is the major town in the valley with having petrol pump, Bank ATMs, Post Office, Restaurants, Bar, mid range hotels and shops. The valley is surrounded by forested slopes and offers views of the high mountains.
Situated halfway between Sangla and Chitkul, is in a bowl shaped valley on the banks of Baspa river; snugly surrounded by the Greater Himalayas lies the breath taking village of Rakcham. Starting from the main road, a 10-15 min walk in any direction will see you climbing the swooping ranges. Remember those picturesque, outlandish cards with snow flaked trees standing proudly on the slopes of snow mountains, unblemished whites interspersed with a canopy here, conical shaped trees there, a river with crystal clear water flowing past ? Well, imagine all those beautiful frames you might have seen during childhood, in movies/posters/cards or even dreams; stored in recess of memory. Rakcham appeared to be a blend of all those pictures created to the perfection.
We passed through Rakcham while on our way to Chitkul and back, and were surprised by the beauty of this small village. There are cascades on the way with water so cold that it’ll make your hands freeze. And of course, there is an abundance of trees and greenery. While travelling on the road, you can see a stretch of farms running alongside the river. This combination of everything is what makes Rakcham so alluring. You must stop by and enjoy sitting on the rocks while letting your feet slightly touch the water of the cascade. Most people don’t go beyond Sangla Valley but i insist you definitely should head beyond.
It is the last inhabited village near the Indo-China border. Chitkul is a ‘out of the world experience.’ The population is hardly around 600 people.You leave the village and get on to trek further 7 odd KMs to be at Indo-China border. Like a doorway opening into this vast, windy landscape of serene beauty, a curve around a small hill and you see this majestic and beautiful valley. Like something out of a movie (Really!).There’s a guest house located right when you enter chitkul and another a few minutes ahead, close to the big tree with the things hanging from it.
The food available is usually very basic with non-vegetarian food made only on customers special demands and a little extra cash but good. Chawal, Dal, Rajma, Subzi and Roti are pretty much all you get to eat and yes eggs for breakfast and bread butter.If you’re planning to go there, stay at least 5 days. The different landscapes present there will keep you intriguied in exploring all that there is to seen. Meadows, Mountains, Grasslands, Big rocks, River, Jungle and Apple orchids! This place has everything!
The roads in this region are one of the most challenging roads of Indian subcontinent and at times breath-taking. It is utmost important to plan your itinerary meticulously, outline your destinations, overnight stops, pit stops before cruising into treacherous terrain. Else, you may miss some of the incredible attractions of these valleys and return back with frowning curiosity. So plan accordingly.
INFORMATION FOR TOURISTS
BEST WAY TO REACH – Cabs and buses from Kaza
INTERNAL TRANSPORT – Cabs, Bikes.
BEST EATING PLACES – Litte Chef’s restaurant.
ACCOMODATION – PWD Guest House , Circuit House (Kalpa), Camps (Raksham), Camps, Home stays (Chitkul)
Once you have seen Kinnaur till your heart’s delight , you may head back to home. The nearest city is Shimla. So take a bus or hire a cab/bike to get there. From Shimla you can either go back by road, by rail, or even by flight.
I hope my post proves useful for all the travelers who wish to visit this part of the world. Don’t wait any longer. Take a break from your busy schedule , pack a bag and get going. Hans Christian Anderson once said, “to travel is to live.” Holds true.
Happy traveling :-)