August 27, 2012

Poem on Farting

I least expected this poem in one of my latest reads - Hall of a Thousand Columns by Tim Mackintosh-Smith; the author retraces Ibn Batutah's route in India.

The most sagacious men of Hind,
Have spoken to the point on the wind:
'If you should feel a fart come on,
To hold it in is very wrong.
Fling wide the gates and let it loose --
Its breeze to ease will sure conduce!
We class as not nice habits these:
To blow one's nose, to cough, to sneeze;
The oral fart, or belch, is worse --
It smells far sweeter in reverse.

I read it twice in the book just to get the 'flow' right  :)

August 26, 2012

One day ride : Pyramid Valley

A gloomy and dark skyline coupled with the chillness in the air that acts like a belt and keeps you strapped to the bed was enough to give a late start to what was supposed to be the start of a day long ride to explore something new around Bangalore. It was alreay 6:30am and the early morning filter-coffee did not do enough to shake the laziness out of me. After quickly skimming through the newspaper and a few games of TempleRun, i was still unsure about the ride - the powerful mind was fickle today and was not able to decide. The secondary idea of hitting the gym also surfaced for a few seconds only to be taken precedence by the idea of finishing Sudha Murthy's book 'Wise and Otherwise'; this also did not last for long and the mind was yearning to venture out. Another dose of hot chai made me realize that this newly acquired trait, that is laziness, was doing me no good and i was slowly slipping into a trap which would be tough to come out of.

The clock struck 9.5 times and i started from my abode of peace and tranquility, and with the option to take the rains head-on. Since it was already late, i decided that a short ride spanning a few hours would be nice enough. I had spotted Champakadhama Swamy in Google Maps along Bannerghatta Road and it looked like a possible destination to check out. But only after i took the deviation from Bannerghatta Road, did i realize that this temple was still 'in' the proximity of civilization and i could see many going inside the temple. I was not in a religious mood and hence dropped the idea of stepping inside the temple. I had expected this temple to be REALLY old and dilapidated, as this temple was supposed to be constructed by the Pandavas - i moved on.

There was a small lane, next to the hillock on the right and i just kept riding, the tarred road soon gave way to gravel road and soon i hit a Bannerghatta National Park unmanned checkpost - i was excited with the thought of exchanging pleasantries with some lions and tigers. But the muddy stretch just spanned a couple of kilometers and i was soon out of the National Park. The tarred road again began and i continued. There were hardly any boards suggesting the locality in which i was, but the mind was busy looking at the distant scenery which had a few hillocks. I wasn't sure where this road would lead me to, and hence i was all the more excited. The thought of stumbling on some ancient ruins or an old temple or just a beautiful viewpoint kept me going. The road soon gave way to some more gravel road which lasted for quite sometime. Driving at a measly 10-20km/hr, i was enjoying the surrounding scenery while keeping a strict vigil on the surroundings to spot anything 'interesting'.

With only greenery and plains all around, i continued and realized that this was possibly the closest village neighboring Bangalore and wanted to know the name of the region. After a good slow 30min ride, i hit a stretch of tarred road again and the boards informed me that i was in Kagalipura and then the inevitable happened - i hit Kanakpura road. I had no intentions of returning to the city traffic for now, and hence took the left and continued. A Karnataka Tourism board informed me that Mekedatu was just 70kms away and it looked like a possible option. I stuck with Kanakpura road. The occasional drizzles were soothing for this tired soul, but the soothing was short lived and the rain gods fell upon me and my fellow beings with EverReady power. Taking shelter in what was like a warehouse i quickly packed everything into my daypack hid it inside my jacket. The EverReady power was probably half charged and the rains stopped soon.

Have you seen cloudy skies but still the Sun shines and the whiteness blinds you? Well, it was precisely like that. The ride was beautiful and there was hardly any traffic on Kanakpura Road. I was 'cruising' at a good 50km/hr(remember wet roads?) and suddenly spotted a board with the label 'Pyramid Valley'. Took the left, and after a 1-2km ride reached Pyramid Valley campus.

I always wanted to visit Pyramid Valley, but the thought that this might be another rip-off ,like KempFort, made me stall the plans. I simply hated visiting KempFort as it offered no spiritual solace!

Sometimes, its really wonderful that places with no expectations turn out to be good experiences.

Parked my bike inside the campus and was told that there would be an introduction to the campus in the Information Desk on the left of the entrance. They played a 10min video which detailed almost every aspect of Pyramid Valley. I liked the way it was presented - simple, short and not much verbiage. The clock had struck 12pm and i was starting to feel hungry. The place serves FREE FOOD daily :)(hurray!) Decided that i would first have lunch and then enter the pyramid, for i knew that once i enter the pyramid it would take a few hours to roam around.

A very simple lunch - comprising of onion+tomato chutney, okra curry, sambhar, rice and buttermilk was perfect.

I then entered the pyramid. This was a huge space - around 25,000sq ft of space. The center of the pyramid has a small tower on top of which there is a space for 'intensive meditation'. A notice at the entrance of the tower 'informs' you about the 'heat' on top of it and requests you to climb only if you think you can brave it for 30minutes. I took the challenge and climbed up. I saw a few lying down and had opined that they were doing shavasana, but i could hear a gentle rumbling sound from one of the men lying down. I sat down and tried to meditate, only to be disturbed by this 'rumbling'; i tried!(trust me i tried!) But me got the better of me, and i nudged the guy(who was deep into one of the best REM sleeps) and asked him to 'calm' down.  And that's how I restored silence again in here :)

A 45min meditation was perfect, at the end of which i could feel my tshirt totally soaked in sweat. By the time i climbed down , there were hardly half-a-dozen people inside this HUGE space and i simply loved the chill air flowing through at the ground level. Sat there for a few more minutes and then left this absolute 'black-box'. The pyramid is not made of concrete, but is a steel structure, made of girders.

Took the Kanakpura road on my way back. Stumbled on Trimurthy temple(on your right) which has 3 big statues of Ganesha, Hanuman and Krishna.

Hit the NICE road and was back home by 3:30pm.

Distance travelled : 70kms
    Petrol : 150
    Coconut Water : 15
    NICE Road toll(from Kanakpura to Bannerghatta Road) : 9

I would definitely recommend Pyramid Valley as a nice getaway from Bangalore - just to relax and enjoy the calmness. There is no 'intrusive marketing' about the courses and other things about the place and you are pretty much free to do whatever you want(albeit 'silently'). I would go there again, for sure, mostly with my family.

The place also offers stay options - dormitory and private rooms. Also some residential courses are offered. Looks like a possible weeklong holiday for your elderly parents who might be tired with the city life.

I did not want to talk much about the Pyramid Spiritual Sciences Movemement or the associated belief system in here, as i am myself not educated about them. But if you are into meditation, then this place is a MUST visit as you can sit inside the pyramid and just float away in the all-pervading silence(i just hope that you do not hear the rumbling!). The place is also EXCELLENT if you just want to ride out of Bangalore and read a Book :)

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August 04, 2012

Two Weeks in the Land of Gods - Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul

Been almost a year since our last trip to Himalayas and the annual Call-of-Himalayas was in the offing. The process of shortlisting possible destinations began and after not much deliberation it was either Ladakh or Arunachal. But this was not the season for Arunachal, as the region will be seeing some extreme monsoon, and Ladakh was proving to be very expensive for two and also needed some more time if one had to go to remote regions(well, the touristy parts are best avoided!). Also, since bulk of the snow would have been melted by now, Ladakh was removed from the list(also, i had visited the region once time for something new :P ).

Spiti came across as a possible option and we zeroed in on it after considering a possible trip to the beaches in South East Asia. I started with some pre-travel research and decided that Shimla to Manali via Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul looked good and doable in 2 weeks, though there were concerns of monsoon in the region.

Our daily schedule was getting hectic and i hardly had any time to do any research about possible uncharted destinations in the valley(s).  Decided to book the to-fro tickets to Delhi and then take it on from there - we liked this mode of unplanned travel, as it was adventurous with loads of new experiences. Also, booked the bus ticket from Delhi to Shimla as Shimla was decided to be the starting point of the 'actual' trip.

Bulk of the planning of the route was based on this map. We had planned to the route from Shimla via Sarahan, Sangla, Rekong Peo, Tabo, Kaza , Losar and finally ending at Manali. This way we could do the entire Eastern side of Himachal Pradesh. Time permitting we planned to do Chandigarh on the return journey from Manali to Delhi.

The Journey
What we had planned and what it turned it out to be?...well read on..
We took our chances with the weather and started with this unplanned sojourn.

Day 1 - Jul 16, 2012. Monday
Had a wedding to attend in Chennai and then we caught the 11:40am Spicejet flight from Chennai to Delhi. A mediocre(& expensive) lunch in the flight was necessary as the flight was at an awkward time and also we did not get anything packed from home - a rather expensive start to the trip! After reaching Delhi at 2:30pm we caught the Volvo Bus from just outside the airport to Connaught Place. The idea was to roam around till evening and then catch the bus from HPTDC office in Janpath at 8:30pm.

Delhi was hot, dusty and humid. The heat was unsettling and we preferred to stay in the shades of CP. Another lunch at McDonalds followed by a gallon of flavored milk at Keventers was perfect for our already tired souls. A nice and heavy downpour in the evening calmed the surroundings and was a much needed respite. A few donuts, totally drenched, in white salwar-kameez, were seen around ;)

Boarded the HTPDC bus to Shimla, decided that we would hit Sarahan from Shimla and then immediately fell asleep. The bus stopped somewhere in the middle of the night for dinner where a small buffet spread was priced at 160(duh!).

Day 2 - Jul 17, 2012. Tuesday
Reached Shimla at 5:30am. The bus stops somewhere near a small tunnel, walked further up the road to the bus stand and were told that there are no buses to Sarahan from here, hence proceeded to Lakkad Bazaar which is just a 10-15min ride away. The few minutes halt at Shimla was uninspiring - the weather wasn't cold as i had expected and also the monsoon was yet to arrive(greenness was yet to spread); and no views of snow capped mountains!

Lakkad Bazaar is a small place with a few shops tucked on the side of the mountain from where the buses which start from down-the-hill-Shimla arrive. After a quick breakfast, and getting packed a few parathas, caught the bus to Rampur. Rampur is the transport hub of the region and the chances of buses to Sarahan from here are more. Reached Rampur at around 12pm. Rampur was blazing hot - hotter than Delhi or Chennai and the heat was prickling. A nice lassi was perfect for the heat.

After a few inquiries, caught the bus which mentioned that it was going to Sarahan, but instead dropped us at Gharat which was 2km away(down) from Sarahan. The ride was also longer than the usual route via Jeori - it took us almost 3-4 hours more than the usual route via Jeori(do note this). But the ride was beautiful; the bus was almost always going through apple orchards with apples being just a metre away from the bus. I wished they stopped somewhere so that we could pluck, but the driver always decided to stop somewhere far away from them. Nevertheless, it was a beauty to just watch them.

We reached Gharat at 4:30pm and were told that there are not many options to Sarahan which is just above Gharat. There are not many buses from Gharat to Sarahan, the last bus is at 5:30pm and we caught this. There was a mild chill in the air as we got down the bus at Sarahan, but i was yet to see some snow covered peaks. The evening fog had almost drawn a curtain on the entire scenery, though the sunlight was still ample. Checked into the Bhimkali Temple Guest House and had a small nap - a long day indeed it was! A quick visit to the temple premises and around with some hot momos for dinner and chai was a perfect end to this uneventful day.

Was surprised to see the sun set and the darkness emerge only around 8pm - i had expected short days in the mountains. This was good, as for travellers, long days always help. And now i was curious to know the sunrise.

Day 3 - Jul 18, 2012. Wednesday
I could see the pale blueness at almost 5am and then by 5:30am the place was well-lit and by 7am the sun's rays were hitting at us directly. The hot alu parathas with chai was a perfect breakfast; morning visit to the temple ensued. There were hardly any tourists around and the place had a tranquil charm to it.

Caught the bus to Jeori and were told that there were no direct buses to Chitkul and the bus to Sangla leaves early in the morning. The best was to go till Karcham and try our luck from there. In the meantime, finished one more dose of breakfast(yes, more alu parathas) and bought the first(and last?) dose of apples. Also, happened to stumble on a 'new' fruit(atleast to me) - called 'aazhu' - this is a green colored apple look-alike with a yellow to orangish interior and a red big seed.

A dusty and rickety ride it was to Karcham, as the road construction next to the power project(s) was under progress. We were dropped right in front of the Karcham Dam off NH-22 and the road to Sangla diverged off from there. Had to wait for the next bus to Sangla which arrived in 30-45mins. The ride to Sangla was beautiful and the scenery changed; what was earlier full of apple orchards was now huge mountains on either sides with the Baspa river flowing right down along the valley and the roads meandering through, cutting along the sides of the mountains. Still there were no sights of snow capped mountains and my yearning increased. After a quick lunch at Sangla, we waited for the next bus to Chitkul which was to arrive at 2:30pm(the last bus). Had lunch at Sangla and then waited for the bus to Chitkul. The ride to Chitkul was even more beautiful and the chillness in the wind was perceivable.  The first views of snow capped mountains and virgin landscape, and evening views of the mountains were simply awsum after 2 long days of bus rides.

After exploring a few guest houses, preferred a room in Thakur Guest House (not a great place!). The temperature dipped in the evening and it was pretty cold in the night.

Day 4 - Jul 19, 2012. Thursday
Day spent just relaxing and enjoying the views. Went for a morning walk around the river Baspa and the rest of the day was spent reading a book and talking to other strangers and fellow travellers. For the first time in my travels, i finished a book - it was 'The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers' by Paul Torday.

I did not expect so many foreign travellers in Chitkul; nevertheless the place was not touristy at all. Evening went around the Chitkul village and clicked loads of pics. Its interesting to note the village life in this part of the world, most of the people are engrossed in their own life and hardly care. Many labourers(or villagers?) were working on the construction of a canal which was to save the water(from snow/rain?).

There are two shops in Chitkul which sell biscuits and other items; and they sell at Marked Price. When asked, one of the shopkeepers mentioned 'sir, pachta nahi hai' , i.e, money obtained by charging more neither gives pleasure nor is digested. His response was heart numbing, for the shopkeepers in the city charge a rupee or two more for just keeping a bottle of water refrigerated. Note that Chitkul is indeed far away, though there exists a road to connect the village, but still its remote and needs a full-day's travel to reach the nearest towns of Rampur or Rekong Peo.

Day 5 - Jul 20, 2012. Friday
Again, we were treated to the beautiful early morning view of the mountains. With the blueness of the sky  all-pervading and the sun's rays striking only the top of the mountains and the noise of the Baspa river striking the boulders, this place was definitely a charming place to relax for weeks. But, we had to move on.

The first bus from Chitkul to Rekong Peo leaves at 6:15am and reaches Rekong Peo at 9:30am. Had a late breakfast in the canteen(not a great place again) in the Rekong Peo bus-stand and replenished our stock of biscuits, chocolates and juice. The next bus to Nako was only at 12:30pm and hence the long 3hour wait in the bus stand; the only saving grace being the sun not being harsh -- preferred to just wait in the bus stand. Another 'really' long bus ride commenced - the ride was one of the most trecherous i have done till date - there were roads at few places, and 'no-roads' at almost all the places :) Boulders and loose gravel from the side of the mountains looked threatening. The 1hour stretch before reaching Nako was beautiful and the terrain now was devoid of any greenness. There patches of green only in the small villages ensconced along the gradient of the mountain.

Reached Nako at 6:30pm and checked into Lovon hotel. A nice room it was having the full view of the mountains. Went for an evening stroll around the lake and monastery.

Would have loved to wait here for a few more nights and explore more, but had to rush and make arrangements for the next day ride to Gue. Hiring a car in this part of the world is expensive and i was looking for possible travellers who might be interested in tagging along and sharing the ride costs - after a few unsolicited checks, a Russian couple agreed and we were set.

Day 6 - Jul 21, 2012. Saturday
The target for the day was to visit the monastery at Gue which houses the mummy of a lama(I shall talk more about Gue/Giu and about the mummy in a later post). Gue does not have any bus connectivity and hence going by private transport, namely car, was the only option, for which the arrangement was made the previous evening. Started from Nako at 7am and reached Gue around 9:15am. Gue is at a 9km detour from the main road; there is an arch on the right(when coming from Nako) near Gue-nala from where you have to take the road under the arch and keep going straight.

The village of gue is one of the most beautiful villages tucked away in the middle of mountains, the Chinese border is just a mountain away. After visiting the mummy-lama, we got a drop at Sumdo from where we  luckily got a lift(a gentleman who was the VP of the local panchayat) to Hurling. An awsum breakfast at Hurling which included nicely made hot alu parathas with dal and some spicy curd(real spicy!) and then waited along the roadside for almost an hour for the next ride. We knew that the next bus would be around 2-3pm or evening around 8pm - both of them being buses which start from Rekong Peo. Minor drizzles threatened onwards journey but were glad that there was no downpour.

We were lucky again and a truck carrying timber agreed to 'carry' us with them. Initially, we thought of getting down at Tabo which was around 20kms, but on reaching Tabo(figures prominently on the tourists who visit this region) we decided to give it a miss and continue onwards till Schichling from where we could go to Dhanker. Little did i know that Tabo was a UNESCO site until i saw a beautiful picture in the guest house at Dhanker, but it was too late by then. The truck-wala dropped us just outside Schichling, near the arch from where Dhanker is around 10km uphill. The truck-wala was so nice that he did not take any money from us ; i felt so small in front of him.

We got down at 1:30pm and for the next 3 hours(!!) we sat by the road, in the open , waiting for a possible lift to Dhanker. A calf, few dogs, a kid and a granny(who did not know hindi) gave us company; the granny also offered us some tea - i thanked her. A lama later joined us in our wait and the conversation with him was very nice. Little did i know that for the next few days he would be our guide. I had a long conversation with him regarding Buddhism and different facets and tenets of it. Finally around 4:30pm , a tractor, which was carrying silt from the river came up - this was going up till the village - the sand was to be used for construction. We perched on top of it and the next 45mins was a rickety ride up.

And a nice 15min steep trek - ascent - till the monastery guest house, ensued - the lama helped us by carrying one of our bags which let my wifey climb. A much needed chai with the lama was perfect to cool us down; and he suggested visiting LhaLung - another village with an old monastery and also a climb, till the Dhanker Lake. A visit to the new monastery at Dhanker wrapped up the day.

Day 7 - Jul 22, 2012. Sunday
We struck a deal with the lama whom we had met the previous day to be our guide and also take us to LhaLung. Started for Lhalung monastery at around 8:30am in Maruti-800.  Surprisingly, despite the extreme terrain small vehicles like Maruti-800 are very common here - they seem to be cheap and economical.

A 10km ride it was LhaLung from Dhanker; enroute we spotted the beautiful village of Demul. Apparently, there is a trek route from Kaza which goes through via Langza-Komic-Demul-Lhalung.

The monastery at LhaLung looked small from outside and i was worried about a possible tourist trap - but it turned out to be otherwise. The monastery abbott greeted us in and told us about the history. Unlike other monasteries which have murals all around the main sanctum, this 1008 year old monastery had many sculptures of the yogis and dolmas on its wall. It is said that the earthquake which stuck this region earlier did not have any effect on the structure or the idols in it.

We checked-out post lunch from Dhanker monastery Guest House and waited for a ride to the base. Though i wanted to climb till the Lake uphil, i left it to be done an another day.

Got no ride to the base and hence waited for close to 2-3 hours. Finally hired a cab(again the same lama's) to let us a drop till the base and then again a long wait for the connecting bus to Kaza. The bus to Kaza came at around 5:00pm(it had met with a flat tyre somewhere around Sumdo and was late)

Reached Kaza around 6:30pm and checked into a hotel after exploring a few options. I do not remember the name of the hotel, as it was a tibetan name, but this was perched on the first floor above a pharmacy, a few hundred yards from the bus stand(near the fork). It was a new hotel and the rooms still smelled off the lacquer that was used for the wood. Had an early dinner at Dragon restaurant, only to be disturbed a few noisy Indian women and dogs.

Day 8 - Jul 23, 2012. Monday
After breakfast, we hired a car for ride to Langza and Komic. With no other tourists to share the costs, this one, was fully on us. But i was all the more excited to visit the remote villages than to notice the costs(quick calculations of the expenses so far made me comfortable and we had sufficient reserves). We started from Kaza at around 10pm and were back by 1pm. I wanted to go to Tashiganj too, but was told that the gorge/nalla before Tashiganj was tough to cross for now. More on Langza and Komic in later posts, but a quick one would be : These were probably one of the most beautiful villages that i have seen in a long time. The view of the mountains and the big Buddha statue will be remembered for a long time.

Evening - we roamed around the narrow lanes of Kaza and bought the tickets for the early morning ride to Manali.

Day 9 - Jul 24, 2012. Tuesday
We started from Kaza at 5am and stopped at Chatru for lunch(we stopped somewhere before that for breakfast too - but do not remember the name).

Before that, we stopped at Batal - this was a shit break! The entire scenery of Batal consists of two tea shops which sell cigarettes and food; and the air reeks of shit. The open land next to the river has become a big shitting ground. Note that the road to Chandratal diverges from the road to Kaza here. You can also trek from here till Chandratal.

Lahaul officially starts from Chatru and i could feel the terrain change as we were introduced to the first views of greenness and that of wild-flowers here. After having left the barren terrain of Spiti, Lahaul was a much needed change ; the air was wet , the greenness was beautiful, and the smell of the wild flowers for kilometers was just too beautiful. The road was interspersed with many waterfalls which continued to paint  the scenery.

The climb to Rohtang Top lasted for 4 hours and i was surprised to find quite wide roads and almost zero-crowd at the Top. Things had changed and i was VERY happy. An Old German couple who were travelling with us(they had settled in Spiti) were also surprised to see that Rohtang was indeed clean and there was hardly any nuisance at the Top. A quick chai break was perfect to enjoy the fog-laden views. Our joy was very premature, as we soon hit upon a roadblock - a fresh landslide had made the traffic stop and for the next 1hour things came to a standstill.

Finally, reached Manali at 4:30pm and checked into Pushpak Hotel which is just opposite the bus stand.

We could have gone to Old Manali or Vashisht which would have been cheaper and less crowded, but we were tired and decided to retire for the day. Went around the Mall Road in the evening only to see hordes of tourists! Was waiting to get out of Manali as soon as possible.

Day 10 - Jul 25, 2012. Wednesday

And hence after the breakfast, checked out of the hotel and reached Kullu and then a connecting bus to Mandi. Reached Mandi around 2:30pm with rains greeting us. A late lunch near Police lines was much necessary to recharge us. Caught a bus to Rewalsar at 3:10pm and a nice 1hr ride it was. Checked into Nyingmapa Monastery Guest House.

I simply loved the ambiance of Rewalsar - it was a quiant little town perched on top of mountains with a nice green lake being overlooked by Guru Padmasambhava. A chai followed by an evening stroll around the lake brought the day to its end.

I can keep going on and on about Rewalsar - not here - but in a separate post.

Day 11 - Jul 26, 2012. Thursday
A good sound sleep was what i needed and this was perfect. A nice lazy start to the day and after breakfast i decided to go uphill to the temple of Naina Devi. Also, there is a lake called Kunti-Kund which Arjuna had created for his mother Kunti when she was thirsty ; and there were 2-3 buddhist caves. There are buses to Naina Devi from Rewalsar. And from Naina Devi you can trek down till the caves; or if you like walking, would suggest walking from Rewalsar to Naina Devi and then down till caves and then catch a bus from there back to Rewalsar.

Rewalsar - Lotus Lake
Naina Devi temple was totally engulfed in fog and the view from the top was almost nill. I climbed down the mountain till the caves and then visited the small monastery there in which the lamas were performing the daily puja/rituals. The mantras in the air with the occasional drums and bells was magical in this foggy cold weather. In one of the caves, a big statue of Guru Padmasambhava welcomed the visitors. This was a perfect place for meditation, as there was hardly any noise or sound from the roads.

In neighboring cave, was the idol of Mandarava. After spending sometime meditating and talking to the lamas there, i took the bus to Rewalsar, which was at 12:15pm.

Evening was spent roaming around the lake and in the Tso Pema cafeteria (near Drikung Kadyud Gompa). 'Dawa' who is almost always present in the Cafe(is the attender) was a lama earlier and chatting with him was fun. There is a small library in the Cafe and the calm surroundings makes it perfect to read a book sipping some hot chai.

We also checked the possible options to Delhi from Mandi and were told that either there are the VOLVO buses or the HRTC 'dabba' buses. After a nice trip, i did not want to stress more and decided to book the tickets to Delhi from Mandi in Volvo; so, visiting Chandigarh was out of the radar now. A thing to note here is that you have to pay the FULL tariff(from Manali) in-spite of boarding the bus from Mandi.

Day 12 - Jul 27, 2012. Friday
After chai and breakfast, we visited the big 123ft statue of Guru Padmasambhava which is on the side of the hillock overlooking the lake. The sun was getting hotter and the climb was mediocre. The monastery below the statue was simply beautiful and breathtaking - the walls were FULL of paintings and i simply fell in love with the view from outside the monastery.

Later, we checked out from the Monastery Guest House and spent the day in the Cafe. I also visited the new monastery(dont know its name) which was just above the Gurudwara and also visited the Rewalsar zoo on my way back. The zoo is extremely small and has a few deers, porcupines and beers - though small, i was all the more surprised to see its presence here.

The best thing about this Tso Pema Cafe is that lots of travellers visit here and you get to have some nice conversations. Met a German couple who were spending some time in Rewalsar and were clueless about what to do next ; i adviced them Spiti and gave them the map that we used - they were more than happy and decided to do the same.

At around 5pm, caught the bus to Mandi and reached there around 6:15pm. We had 3 hours to kill before we boarded our our bus to Delhi and hence we spent sometime in the Mandi Sports complex (opposite Police lines) watching the kids play football and the elders walking around the playground. Dinner was at the same restaurant near Police Lines(guess it was some Sai ....) and then boarded the bus to Delhi at 9:15pm.

Day 13 - Jul 28, 2012. Saturday
Reached Delhi at 7am and then caught a bus to New Delhi railway station. Deposited the bag in the cloak room there and then roamed around Paharganj.  Spent a few hours in the Ramakrishna Ashram till 12pm and then post lunch spent some more time in Paharganj. Delhi was still hot and the blazing sun made us go back into the shades of the railway station and relax. The A/C waiting room in the station was overcrowded and we decided to move to Hazrat Nizamuddin. By the way, the small canteen at the A/C waiting room serves some nice cutlets and veg burgers.

You will be surprised to know that the local train from New Delhi Railway station to Hazrat Nizamuddin costs just Rs.2 per head(!!) - the platform ticket costs Rs.5 for your information! Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station was better as it was less crowded and clean - though there are no A/C waiting rooms, but the breeze outside the waiting rooms was nice. Spent the rest of the evening sitting outside, listening to music and talking to strangers and sharing experiences.

The train departed at 9pm. Bangalore Rajdhani Express serves you dinner on the first night of travel - but the dinner arrived late at around 9:30-10pm; so if you are not used to late dinners prefer a bite at Comesum on platform number#1.

Day 14 - Jul 29, 2012. Sunday
Uneventful ride back in the train and conversations with strangers. The idli with coconut chutney at Secunderabad Junction was perfect after weeks of parathas.

The train despite being Rajdhani Express was not upto standards; the compartment was an old one and the toilets were not kept clean at all.On top of it the food was not served the right way; this was suitably brought up by a few ex-railway officials travelling with us. A mini protest (with the chants of Anna Hazare) started and almost 50% of the compartment marched towards the pantry car. Later lots of complaints were lodged. After all this, i came to know that one of those retired ex-officials had met Anna Hazare too and was part of the Anti-Corruption rally. I also submitted my complaint and was instructed by one of those retired officials to follow up with an RTI.

Jul 30, 2012. Monday
Early morning chat with a guy who was a driver in the army stationed at Leh - the story of Dhoni who came to Leh to play cricket with the Army guys and ended up panting for breath due to altitude, surfaced ;)  Reached Bangalore at 7:15am(Rajdhani delayed by almost 30mins!) and then home by 8am and then office by 11am :)

This trip was by far the BEST trip i have ever done till date, and i highly doubt if anything else would topple this for now(by the way, this circuit just toppled Ladakh as my numero-uno destination). The terrain and the experiences were simply amazing and it kept surprising me. The 3 different valleys - Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul - offer completely different terrains and this is the best thing about this circuit. Be it the apple basket of Kinnaur or the rugged and treacherous terrains of Spiti or the nice and green Lahaul which has an abundance of wild flowers, this circuit will not let you down. And hence probably this is called by Rudyard Kipling as 'Land of the Gods'? The food could have been better, as its thukpas, momos and aloo parathas almost everywhere; but the chai/tea is awsum. Also, budget-wise, this was a very economical one, though the air rates to Delhi have almost doubled in the last few years, but i guess the place deserves it.

Tips and Suggestions:
  • If you are new to hitch-hiking or long distance bus travel in mountains, then avoid this. This is a TOUGH ROUTE.
  • If you have a bike, then this terrain is a MUST-DO; its much more treacherous than the Ladakh terrain.
  • Prefer to start from Shimla and end in Manali, you gain altitude slowly and are acclimatized by the time you reach high altitudes in Kaza.
  • The disadvantage of ending in Manali is that you have to face the wrath of the Rohtang and can get stalled,but if you have enough buffer in your plans, then this is not a problem. Plan to hit Rohtang on a weekday, so that you can avoid the weekend crowd.
  • It would be great if you can spend more time in each of Chitkul/Langza/Komic/Gue - Gue does not have stay options, but i hear you can always ask the villagers for a space for the night.
  • Carry enough biscuits, fruits and fluids while travelling in buses. Have enough reserves too.
  • Keep drinking water; fluid intake is a must at high altitudes.
  • When you are having a headache or any symptoms of nausea or AMS, consult a doctor IMMEDIATELY. Carry a dose of diamox in case.
  • There are not (m)any restrooms along the side of the roads while travelling, and this will be a problem during long distance bus travels. So have a good bowel movement and clear up in the mornings.
  • If you are a chai(Tea) lover like me, then you need to tell the maker to put sugar as per your tastes, the mountain people generally prefer more sugar.
  • Buses do not ply in the nights. In the mountains the frequency of buses is always less, espcially direct buses to remote destinations. You might have to change buses often or hitch-hike. Be freindly with people and am sure commuting wouldn't be a problem.
Expenses (All expenses are for Two): 

Transport - Total  : 24,000
Chennai-Delhi(Spicejet - Air) : 10618
Delhi Airport to Connaught Place (Volvo Bus): 100
Delhi-Shimla(Volvo Bus) : 1760
Shimla to Lakkad Bazaar (Bus) : 10
Lakkad Bazaar to Rampur(Bus) : 280
Rampur to Gharat(Bus) : 120
Gharat to Sarahan(Bus) : 10
Sarahan to Jeori(Bus) : 40
Jeori to Karcham(Bus) : 130
Karcham to Sangla(Bus) : 50
Sangla to Chitkul(Bus) : 60
Chitkul to Rekong Peo(Bus) : 160
Rekong Peo to Nako(Bus) : 256
Nako to Gue(Car) : 1000
Schiling to Dhanker (Tractor) : 50
Dhanker to Schiling(Car) : 200
Dhanker-lhalung-Dhanker(Car) : 400
Schiling to Kaza(Bus) : 58
Kaza-Langza-Komic-Kaza(Car): 1200
Kaza to Manali (Bus) : 456
Manali to Kullu(Bus) : 90
Kullu to Mandi(Bus) : 160
Mandi to Rewalsar(Bus) : 50
Rewalsar to Naina Devi(Bus) : 20
Mandi to Delhi (Volvo Bus) : 2240
New Delhi to Hazrat Nizamuddin (Local-Train) : 4
Hazrat Nizamuddin to Bangalore : Rajdhani Express (Train) : 4190

Food: 6030
Sundries: 148 

Accomodation: (Total : 3450)
Bhimkali Temple Guest House, Sarahan(1 Night) = 300
Thakur Guest House,Chitkul (2 Nights) - 2*200 =400
Lovon Hotel, Nako(1 Night) = 500
Dhanker Monastery Guest House, Dhanker(1 Night) = 500
Kaza (2 Nights) - 2*400 = 800
Pushpak Hotel, Manali(1 Night) = 450
Rewalsar(2 Nights) - 2*250 = 500

Total (for two) : 35,000 INR

Note : I will cover each of Chitkul, Gue, Langza, Komic and Rewalsar in finer detail in later posts. For now, have tried to pen down much of the itinerary.

Do let me know if you have any questions w.r.t the route or need help planning your itinerary or travel.

Further Reading:
If you liked the above travelogue, you might most probably like the following 3-part series on 3 highlights in this region.. that got published in The Hindu - one of the leading newspapers in India..
  • Dt. 1-Sept-2012 - Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh, India  [Links: Source - Blog]
  • Dt. 27-Oct-2012 - Chitkul - Last Village, Himachal Praedsh, India [Links: Source - Blog]
  • Dt. 30-Mar-2013 - Gue, Himachal Pradesh, India  [Links: Source - Blog]