Drizzling meadows, catching rainbows, taking halts at every corner that we found picturesque, I never could have imagined this trip would leave such a long-lasting and deep impact on my soul. From watching the sun and the clouds play hide and seek in the lap of the mighty Himalayas, every moment has made a home in my heart. What acted as a cherry on the top was an amazing company of enthusiasts who were full of life and positive vibes. So let me take you on a journey of a lifetime and share my personal experience on a recent road trip to the land of the higher Himachal.
Day 1 Shimla to Narkanda
After leaving from Delhi the night before we reached Shimla the very next day, we left for Narkanda, a small town around 100 km from Shimla famous for its apple and plum orchards. We were welcomed by heavy rains and cold winds as soon as we reached Narkanda, which got our trek to Hatu Peak cancelled due to the bad weather. But what came next was far beyond my expectations. Instead of cursing the weather for getting our mojos off on the very first day, I had a very nice time interacting with fellow travellers, who had come from the rest of the parts of the country. A nice introductory chit-chat followed by catching amazing views of the valleys with glistening apples which peeped out of the settled mist that had covered the complete landscape.
On the very first day, all of us got so friendly with each other that the night was spent in one room playing dumb charades and listening to some nice melodies in the background.
ABOUT THE HOMESTAY
The best part about the local stays is the homely feeling they offer. My stay in Narkanda was no less than a home for me. I was served simple “Ghar ka Khana” topped up with warm buttery love. Our host and trip leads were so humble that they organised a delightful Maggi meal even in the bad weather. The best part about the homestay was its location which was secluded from all the noise of the city and vehicles.
The very next day when we had to leave for Chitkul, being an explorer myself I left early in the morning for a walk to find out the source of the voice of falling water which was coming from somewhere around. Only to my surprise, I discovered a small waterfall just a few km ahead from my homestay. This is the best part about staying at local locations. You never know what gem you are missing on.
I always make it a habit to wake up early in the morning to discover such gems. The fragrance of the morning sunshine and the earthly aroma you get in the environment is an experience that everyone should at least have for once in their lifetime.
Day 2 Narkanda to Chitkul
The next day we all left for Chitkul which was a 7-hour drive from Narkanda. I have never been to Chitkul before and the very first reaction that I had when I took my first step off the tempo traveller was beyond any comparison. I was awestruck by the beauty of this Himalayan village and I instantly fell in love with it. After having a small rest at our stay, I left for a small trek to Baspa river via exploring India’s last ‘Dhaba’ (restaurant) where I had my morning ‘chai’ the next morning. It was a small and easy trek where we all had a good time. Since it was a long journey I could not walk around the place much as it was getting dark too. Hence I decided to calm down the Dora inside me and to set her free the next morning.
Chitkul being the last Indian Village on the Indo-China Border is a small village in Kinnaur District of Himachal. It also houses the many local temples along with homestays and flowing Baspa River. One interesting fact about Chitkul is that it is also the last point in India where one can travel without a permit.
The very next morning the usual me left for a walk which was accompanied by light drizzling. Walking along the bank of the Baspa with a clear view of the snow-capped peaks was an instant treat to my eyes. I sat there for an hour fondling the beauty of Chitkul with my eyes trying to feed all of it in my mind permanently.
Day 3 Chitkul to Kalpa
The best part about staying in Kalpa was being surrounded by Khumaanee trees which is a local fruit in Himachal that resembles plum. After having a short halt at Reckong Peo for Lunch and gathering our basics from the market, we reached Kalpa.
Luckily my room had an amazing view of Kinner Kailash which was a lovely sight which invited the fellow travellers to my room.
The evening at Kalpa was spent walking down the town and roaming around. We also saw a few local temples and monasteries which had some really good examples of handicrafts and wooden work on them.
As the night approached, I started to realize that it was getting cold. Luckily one person among us had bought Old Monk with him. So we had to take a few sips to survive the cold weather. Our stay in Kalpa had this one big chhajja on which we spent time till late in the night in hope of some stargazing. But instead, we all ended up shedding our outer facades and become more close. This is one of the best things about travelling. We get to meet so many new and unknown souls with so many hidden stories full of adventure. And one lifetime is just not enough to take a ride into these adventures at all.
I do not recommend having alcohol consumption but here I am saying out loud. Thankyou old monk for giving me an amazing night full of diverse stories and experiences with an amazing view of the Kalpa valley.
Day 4 Kalpa to Dhankar Village
After an amazing night gazing and a nice time with my fellow travellers, we left for Dhankar which is the capital of Spiti Valley. Our journey to Dhankar was the longest amongst all our days. Covering a distance of approximately 220 km in around 8 to 9 hours, we covered two stops on our way. But before telling you about these two stops I would like to take a moment of appreciation for this road journey which I found the most beautiful among all the days. After Kalpa, as one starts to approach towards the higher side of the cold desert mountains, the roads have many treats to offer to its admirers.
As one goes beyond Kalpa, towards Spiti valley, they can see the beautiful transition of the green Himalayas slowly turning into the brown desert with a much closer view of the snow-capped summits. Not only this, the roads have many interesting rock-cut formations which are always surrounded by bikers taking pictures. From low rise roads with rock-cut formations to much-heighted desert valley views, this road journey has got all those adventurous feel right.
We took a halt at Nako Village which is another village located nearer to the Indo-China border and houses some of the oldest monasteries in the Kinnaur region. Places that can be visited here are Nako Lake and Nako Monasteries along with several local trails that can also be explored.
Our next stop was Tabo Village via Gue Monastery. Gue Monastery is situated in Gue Village which is 10499 feet above sea level and just a few kilometres away from the China border. This monastery is popular among the tourists because it has preserved mummy of a Llama which was found during an army excavation and is said to be 500 to 700 years old. The locals there believe that the mummy is of a holy man Sangha Tenzin who decided to sacrifice his life for the well being of his village. The tourists can glance on the mummy which is kept preserved in the monastery.
One interesting thing that I saw here was that the locals here in this village were very shy but extremely helpful. Not only this they happily told me about many local beliefs and stories of the area and guided me throughout the visit.
The next stop Tabo, had an old monastery which had a mud structure which is a prominent form of primitive architecture of that time. But unfortunately, it was closed by the time we reached there. So we decided to have a nice cup of evening tea and coffee while roaming around the small and clean town.
We reached Dhankar late in the evening and resumed with our nightly ritual. Talking about lives out there in our respective places, the people and the vibe there. And ended up sleeping late in the night in the hope of waking up early the very next day, as we all had to trek to the Dhankar lake.
DHANKAR LAKE: An experience that got my eyes wet.
The very next day our trip lead, Shadab took us all to trek to Dhankar Lake. Luckily we all got up at the right time and left early in the morning when it was dark. Dhankar lake was around 5 to 7 km from my stay location and we walked and trekked the complete way.
As soon as the morning light started to rise, all of us realized that it was not an easy task to trek as all of us were getting tired and started taking small stops for resting and drinking water. As an addition, the cold winds also accompanied us which felt crisp on the ears. There were many moments at which I almost gave up and decided not to trek anymore as it was getting exhausting, but there was still a strong urge to not stop and keep moving ahead until I reach my destination. All thanks to Shadab for motivating me throughout the trek.
As soon as I reached the lake I became numb. I could not move a single inch and looked around. While writing all of this, I am still in the same feeling that I had the very first moment I saw the lake. This experience is one of those moments in my life that I will cherish all my life.
Dhankar Lake which is situated above the village Dhankar at an elevation of approximately 4140 meters in the middle of the hill provides an extremely beautiful view of Kinner Kailash range. One can peacefully meditate there for hours provided that the area is not crowded. We were smart enough to leave early in the morning as there was no one there. By the time we were coming back, we could see people trekking upwards and the crowd was increasing in numbers as the sun started rising.
Dhankar has amazing rock-cut formations which are in the form of ant houses. One interesting fact about these rocks is that they have these shaped structures because of the strong winds that flow over the area. We all left for our next destination which was Kaza after coming back from our trek and resting for a while.
Day 5 Dhankar to Kaza
From Dhankar we reached Kaza via seeing Pin Valley. We took a small halt at a local monastery which I explored only from outside as I was more interested in seeing the local town around.
Pin Valley is a national park where a variety of rare migratory birds can be spotted. Apart from the diverse flora and fauna, one can admire the beautiful valley landscapes which seem right out of some scenery painting.
We reached Kaza early in the evening and explored the market and some amazing cafes. One of my personal favourite and which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Kaza is Cafe Zomsa. This cafe provides a nice and hippie vibe that a traveller craves for. With amazing live music and a variety of delicious cuisines served in aesthetically pleasing presentation, this cafe has got it all right.
We stayed at Kaza for two nights. The next day we went to visit Key Monastery, Kibber, Komic, Hikkim and Langza. This road journey was my second favourite. Our trip leads suggested us to have a ride while sitting on top of the tempo traveller. Since Langza has roads with shallow ends which are not dangerous at all, we all took a ride and saw this beautiful side of Himachal while sitting on top of our tempo traveller. Shadab if you are reading this, thank you for giving me an experience of a lifetime.
We covered Langza Gompa, Komic, Kibber, Hikkim which also has the world’s highest post office and then back to Kaza. The night was spent at Cafe Zomsa again with a bunch of some really good travellers and a nice vibe of course.
Day 7 Kaza to Chandratal Lake
Our day 7 of the expedition was accompanied by an adventurous road journey to Chandratal lake via Kunzum Pass. We also took a small stop at a nice location somewhere in Losar for clicking pictures but had to pay the price as our traveller got stuck in the muddy road. Although we managed to get it out just at the right time.
We saw many glaciers lying around us as we approached closer to the lake. Chilly winds and runny nose was easily visible on each faces around me. But one thing that stood intact was our urge to reach our final destination and like our usual ritual to have a warm bowl of Maggi there. After seeing Chicham Bridge, Kunzum Pass and Chandratal Lake, we reached our campsite in the evening where we spent the night after having tea and Maggi.
As this was our final night together not a single person slept and we all spend the night talking and discussing how badly everyone wants the trip to not end.
And it seemed as if the universe also wanted all of us to stay together. You all will find out soon why.
Day 8 Chandratal Lake to Manali
We left our campsite at Chandratal early in the morning, to cross Rohtang Pass as it was the rainy season and the roads get blocked. We even got stuck at points where it took us more time to resume our journey back to Manali.
We reached Manali in the evening at stayed at a hotel for a few hours after which we all boarded our Volvo back to Delhi.
Spoiler alert! We did not reach Delhi the next day.
Around 11 pm in the night, our bus driver told us that the roads in the Mandi district had got blocked due to heavy rains due to which we all had to stay back at a local hotel somewhere between Manali and Mandi in Aut. And the best part about this mishappening, no one was sad about it. As we all were very happy to spend one more day in the laps of Himachal and with each other.
Throughout the complete trip to where there were no networks in phones, there was not a single moment when we missed our homes. It was entirely an experience which I cannot put into words. I hereby express my huge gratitude to Justwravel for providing me with an adventure of a lifetime accompanied by an amazing bunch of travellers and our trip leads Shadab and Shivam.
Himachal never fails to mesmerize me but this time it has blessed me not only with an entirely new place that I explored but also a family that I would love to travel with again.