A Road Guide from Manali to Leh




By Saundarya Rai


Explorers and travel bloggers often tell stories of their adventures of the Manali-Leh route; some call it once in a lifetime experience while others see it as another trail to unwind. This route comprises of many passes that lead you to Leh and its undying charm. The total length of the highway is 490kms and it’s known to be one of the most thrilling road trips in India.  

Manali
The route begins in Manali, a beautiful valley that has undergone many changes but hasn’t lost any of its hill station vibes. It has great weather through the year and there’s a lot one can do in Manali.  From Trekking to picnic near the river, Manali will offer you the best – and if not anything else, the beauty that surrounds it will entertain you.
On the way from Manali to Rohtang

Rohtang la - Gramphu

A two hour drive from Manali should get you to Rohtang - the first pass on the journey at 13075ft. For most part of the year, this pass stays closed due to heavy snowfall. Only from June – October motor vehicles are allowed to explore it. It has made its way into many movies; a fact which is evident once you reach the pass – the scenery is purely cinematic. People often travel here to see thick layers of snow on each side of the road. Maintenance of the road is great, so you won’t face any sort of inconvenience except maybe traffic during the season time. 14kms away lies a lonely town known as Gramphu, from where the road also diverts to Spiti Valley. Gramphu doesn’t have a lot to offer except a good spot to rest and some supper. Till Kokhsar the roads are downhill and don’t promise the most comfortable experience. Driving here with a slow pace is a must because you never know what to expect from nature.

Sissu – Tandi
Another half an hour later you end up in Sissu, a village in Lahaul Valley. This village stays disconnected from the world half of the year due to heavy snowfall. In Sissu, the dense forest surroundings make you feel alienated from the world, combine that with its surreal natural beauty of waterfalls and you have yourself a perfect getaway. Next is Tandi which is an important part of the Route, it has the only Petrol pump you’ll get before Leh. That’s 360kms without petrol - so make sure you have enough before you leave Tandi.

Keylong
Much more than a beautiful city surrounded by snowy mountains, Keylong is the administrative hub for Lahaul and Spiti district; it is also a hub for travelers and explorers. With a number of monasteries and temples, you will feel calm and composed here. You can even trek or hike to Barachaa la, an intersection point of Spiti, Lahul and Leh; the mountains from each part of Himachal can be seen here. A blend of cultures and mountains with a splendid view, makes for this must visit destination.
When in Keylong, why not take a dip in the mesmerizing Suraj Tal. It’s a calm lake surrounded by mountains, also known as the lake of the Sun God. Locals say that if you swim in this lake you get cleansed from all your sins. Another plus point is that the cold water will keep you refreshed for your journey ahead.
Zing Zing Bar


Jispa – Zing Zing Bar
22kms ahead of Keylong you arrive at Jispa; another village in Lahul. The best season to travel here is from June – September if you actually want to explore the village. The beautiful riverside view makes it a great place to camp and spend the night, listening to the river flow and watch the snow capped mountains fade in a sky full of stars.

From here it will take you 30kms, to reach Zing Zing Bar. Picking up from the quote 'name so nice you say it twice', this location delivers to it. Zing Zing Bar is a beautiful road that goes in a zig-zag pattern on the Manali-Leh route. People usually camp here at night to spend some time wandering around the roads and enjoy a relaxing cup of tea - little things like these have so much importance in the hills. But sometimes during rain you can get stuck here as the roads fill up with water.
Baralacha La

Baralacha La

22 kms after crossing Zing Zing Bar, you cross the second pass of your journey, Baralacha La - which is at a height of 16043ft. Given the title of world’s deadliest pass, here is the thrill you’ve been waiting for on your journey.  It is always advisable to cross it before Noon because both sides of the road are covered in snow and there is also a stream that you need to cross to complete this pass. The melting of the snow might cause the current in the stream to increase by night. Other than that, the view is spectacular as you get closer and closer to Leh.
Sarchu

Sarchu -  Lachulung La

Sarchu is the hub for campers, 32kms away from Baralacha La it’s between the boundary of Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir. It’s one of the most important spots on the Leh-Manali route. The place has unique resemblance to Ladakh with its sand-stone texture hills. In earlier times people used to call it a trading hub on the ancient Silk Route. 

Lachulung La is another pass amidst this route. It’s 24kms before Pang, at a good height of 16579ft. Some say it’s an auspicious location. Locals tie prayer flags around rocks near the milestone of Lachulung La respecting their age old tradition.

Pang – More Plains
Plains near Pang


Pang a good place on the Manali-Leh route to grab a bite. By this time your eyes will grow tired of the desert and start looking for a little bit of civilization, which Pang offers - but don’t expect too much because you will only find a nomad lifestyle here to adapt. This little town is very charismatic and gives you reasons to have a little layover here so you can absorb all the sights and chase the wanderlust within you.
Like the name suggests, More plains is a road on the plains of Himachal 31kms ahead of Pang. After a really rocky ride you will enjoy being on this marvelously expanded road. There are absolutely no shops here or any sort of civilization to connect with. You’ll be all alone with nature and its allure, with otherworldly Himalayan panorama all around you, which will make you feel at someplace other than Earth.

Upshi-Tso Moriri  

After a journey of 114kms from More Plains you’ll find Upshi -another village on your way to Leh. This village has a population of 128 people (which is probably equal to the amount of members on some people’s whatsapp groups). The people are very kind here and put a lot of effort to make the guests’ stay as comfortable as it can get.

173kms from here lies Tso Moriri - known to be one the magical lakes in Leh. This is one destination you shouldn’t miss out on if you’re traveling through this route. The blue water, still very cold under the burning sun makes you question nature. A beautiful lake resting in the mountains, hidden from civilization, absolutely unpolluted and fresh - this lake treasures more stories than people do. The location is perfect to practice your photography skills, and make your own stories.

Tanglang la- Hemis

132kms from Upshi lies the last and highest pass on your journey, Tanglang- which is an achievement of its own. The view from here onwards is phenomenal as you get closer to Leh. At 17511ft people sometimes get a little dizzy as oxygen level decreases, so always carry first aid with you. If you’re lucky you might be able to find a little bit of snow here, otherwise it’s still a beautiful road like no other.
One of the most famous villages in Leh, Hemis holds importance because of its magnificent monastery which is 79kms away from Tanglang La. Established by a Ladakhi King, this monastery is an example of royalty. Monks here have kept it’s beauty alive by maintaining it since 1672. A historical site in the valley of Leh, a true mountain experience is never complete without knowing about the traditions practiced there and the beliefs that never reach the surface.

Pangong Tso- Leh

Pangong Tso

As seen in many Bollywood movies, the hype for Pangong Lake has increased as soon as we put a camera there. This lake is frozen more than half of the year. Perfectly framed by mountains and desert, this lake is a must visit on every list. Not only people who follow the Manali Leh route visit it, but even tourists make a day trip from Ladakh to find this small bit of heaven that exists only here.

This brings us to the final destination, Leh. 224kms away from Pangong this city is where one returns back to civilization again.  Leh is known for so many things. From its breathtaking locations to its traditional Thukpa - everything makes you fall in love with Leh. A bit unusual, every dairy product comes from yak, and the tea is made from butter, something new to encounter every day. The markets are a lovely affair here where you not only find the best jam but also the best people. You can visit many monasteries here that will give you a wider horizon on the outlook of Leh. All this and much more makes for the journey of a lifetime which will remain etched in your memory for times to come.

About the Author:

Saundarya is a student of journalism and mass communication, who believes in writing about her feelings rather than disclosing them. Her love for writing is her foremost priority and she wishes to write for a living. A frequent contributor at UntravelYou can find more of her work on Instagram at @melfab.

Picture Courtesy: Untravel.com


                                                                      *****

Have you been on an adventure road trip on a challenging terrain? Tell us about the challenges faced in the comments! Or write to us at blog@indiauntravelled.com to publish your travel story!

Fear and Fun of being Solo in Goa!


By Ausmita


I am not an adventurous person but from time to time I like to challenge myself, step outside my comfort zone and do something I have never done before. Like take a solo trip to a place I have never been to before.  All through my adult life, I have often consciously avoided going to Goa for vacations simply because I thought it to be a tourist infested, over-exposed destination. Whenever my friends planned that Goa trip, I would step in and manoeuvre it elsewhere. At other times, fate intervened and spared me the ennui of visiting tried-and-tested-Goa. The only thing that could tempt me to visit Goa was perhaps the opportunity to travel by the famous Konkan Railway, touted to be one of the most scenic train routes in India and an engineering marvel in itself.

Hence, earlier this month with my regular travel partner travelling for work and me with some spare time on my hands, I decided to travel to Goa solo and find out for myself, what the whole brouhaha was all about.

I booked the travel and the stay. Read up on what to see in Goa, where to eat and made a mental map of all that I wanted to fit into my four days in Goa. But as the trip drew closer, I started having serious misgivings about this whole solo travel thingy. I was really skeptical if I would be able to enjoy on my own on a solo trip to Goa. I mean, having lunch or going on a drive on your own once in a while is always a welcome relief but imagine doing that for four days at a stretch! But I had made the bookings and told friends and family and it was too late to back out now. So begrudgingly, off I went to Goa not really expecting to have much fun.



Day 1: Two’s company, one is glum

For the first two days I had booked myself in a backpacker’s hostel in Calangute, North Goa just because I hoped to run into other solo travellers and team with them and go around. The hostel was tucked into a rundown neighbourhood off Calangute Beach with very very basic rooms and amenities. I took that as a sign to spend more time outside the room. I decided to walk to Calangute Beach. The sun was about to set and although I had been warned about Calangute, nothing could prepare me for the enormous sea of human population that hit me on Calangute Beach. It was like all my worst nightmares about Goa had come true. Add to that pesky shack owners, tattoo artists, water sports people and shady masseurs who seem very interested in knowing who I was travelling with. At first I was amused by their persistent questions but soon I got irritated and decided to walk to the neighboring Baga where the crowd is supposed to be slightly better.


Thankfully at Baga, no one bothered me with pesky questions. I happily lounged in one of the many beach shacks, soaking in the music and neon lights all around and sipping away to glory. But it started to get boring soon. I was trying hard to pretend that I was enjoying in my own happy little oasis but the peals of laughter and chatter emanating from the groups around made me miss my friends and my regular travel partner. It was still early evening but after a while, I decided to call it a day and head back to the hostel glumly.

On entering the room, I realized that two new girls had arrived after I left for the beach and had occupied the upper bunks in my room. They were cousins, part of a huge joint family living in Delhi, on their first trip to the sunshine state as well. Seemed like they had teamed up with another boarder at the hostel, a software engineer from Hyderabad travelling solo and they were all heading out for the evening. One of the girls asked me if I would like to join them and I jumped up and said yes. I was elated at the prospect of being able to spend the evening with some fellow travellers than stay in the drab hostel room and sulk. That night I had a nice time chatting and dancing with my new found friends.

Day 2: Comfort in Numbers

Next day the four of us hired a car and went around the churches in Old Goa, Dona Paola and chased the sun as it dipped into the Arabian Sea. It was good to be out with friends, to laugh, pose for groupies and discuss about each other’s previous trips, jobs and families back home. Since I had booked the hostel for only two days, I would have to check out the next day. Given the rundown condition of the property, at the time of checking in, I had just wanted to quickly get done with the first two days and move on to a better place for the last two. But I was in two minds now. Leaving the hostel would mean saying goodbye to my new friends and I did not want to go back to being alone and miserable again.


That evening we headed to a popular shack. The place was hosting a trance party and was packed with revellers eating, drinking, smoking and dancing the night away. Looking around I realized that there was not an inch of Goa here or in most of what I had seen in the past two days. Goa had left a long time ago and had instead been replaced by noisy tourists looking to get high and shack owners from the Northern part of India or Russia serving pizza, chicken fried rice and blasphemous Goan food along with imported spirits. My friends seemed to have a good time but I was getting restless. Surely, there is more to Goa than smoking up, drinking and endless partying.

Day 3: Unsure but Solo

Next day, I decided that it was time to bid goodbye to my new friends and head out on my own to find some real Goa even though it meant risking being alone and miserable.


I left the hostel, took a bus to Panjim and checked into a home stay in Fontainhas, an old Latin quarter in the city. Painted in bright yellow and overlooking the white St. Sebastian Chapel with a small hill in the backdrop, the homestay with oyster shell windows was being run by a Goanese mother - son duo. I felt right at home. After some good rest and a quick chat with the lady of the house, I set out to see Fort Reis Magos in Verem, across the Mandovi.


Originally a bastion of the Adil Shahi dynasty and later of the Portuguese, it had fallen into disuse and disrepair before being restored a few years ago. It is now open to public both as a historical and cultural centre. I was especially interested when I heard that some of Mario Miranda’s work (famous for his caricatures on everyday life and the mural in Café Mondegar, Mumbai ) is displayed in Reis Magos. Even though it was almost late afternoon and the fort closes around sunset, I decided to give it a shot. From Panjim Jetty I boarded one of those enormous blue ferries along with the horde of office goers, their bikes, cars et all returning home after work. The setting sun had turned the waters of the Mandovi to gold but all around us the floating casinos of Goa were still looked lethargic. On the other side, I boarded a crowded mini bus to take me to Verem Market and from there I followed the road along the river. It was getting dark all around and I realized that I had probably missed the chance to see Mario Miranda’s illustrations. Nevertheless, it was good to see a non-touristy side of Goa and travel like a local. I spent some time along the river, watched the lights in the casinos come alive as a river cruise boat decked up with fairy lights sailed past blasting some popular Goan songs. On the way back, I stopped over at Ritz Classic, a popular sea food restaurant in Panjim and feasted on some delicious Goan prawn curry and rice. Since Christmas was around the corner, street corners and churchyards had come alive with lights, fireworks, dance performances by local kids and pop up bands playing Christmas carols on saxophone and violin. The cheer in the air was contagious.

Day 4: Solo and loving it!

The next day, after spending sometime exploring the winding streets, colourful houses and art shops selling porcelain figurines and hand painted tiles in Fontainhas, I set out for Chandor a sleepy village in the heart of Goa known for the opulent houses of Goa’s former landowners.



An hour and a half, a bike taxi and two bus rides later I arrived in Chandor. Since I was the only touristy looking person in the whole bus (courtesy the straw hat and the big camera bag), as soon as I asked for the ticket to Chandor, the conductor had looked at me and exclaimed, “Bada ghar dekhne ja rahi ho? Braganca House near the Church?” Before dropping me off at Chandor, he pointed to a longish two storey house across the road surrounded by an overgrown garden. The four hundred year old house with two wings housing two offshoots of the same family: the Menezes-Braganza and the Menezes Pereira is a museum in itself. Words will not do justice to its grandeur; hence I will cover it separately in a photo blog.

It was Mrs. Aurea Menezes Periera who told me and gave me directions to the other house in Chandor that is open to public, the Fernandes House. So after thanking her, I set out towards the Fernandes house on foot. It was mid afternoon. I crossed the road and walked past the church. In the school ground behind the church, kids were practising march-past. I walked further past Chandor social club to edge of the village but still no sight of Fernandes House. A little ahead, I saw a woman who appeared to be waiting for a bus/ pickup and decided to reconfirm the directions with her. She was indeed waiting for a bus to Madgao. She confirmed that I was on the right path but will have to walk another fifteen minutes. Famished in the hot sun, I enquired if I could hire an auto rickshaw to get there. She laughed and said there are no autos available here for hire but offered to stop one of the passing bikes and request them to drop me at the Fernandes House. I was too exhausted to decline. As she tried to wave down a bike for me, she kept asking me various questions. Where are you from? So you are a tourist huh? You came here alone all the way from Mumbai? Have you had lunch? She also kept repeating almost apologetically that in case her bus comes in the meantime, she will have to leave even if she is unable to flag down a bike for me by then. Unlike the pesky shack owners in Calangute, her questions had a tinge of concern that really touched me. At long last, she was able to flag down a bike. A young boy who apparently was her milkman. Grudgingly, he agreed to drop me at the Fernandes House.

The Fernandes House looked more time worn than the Braganca house. All the windows on the lower floor were closed. I was about to turn around after several bells and knocks on the door went unanswered, when suddenly a man popped his head out of one of the upper floor windows and asked me to wait. He was the matriarch Mrs. Sara Fernandes’ son. The Fernandes house is almost 500 years old and although crumbling had very intriguing stories attached to it.

The next day, I took the Konkan Railway back to Mumbai. The route was scenic indeed. We passed through several tunnels, chugged over hills , ravines and. Alas, I could not click any good pictures through the dusty windows of AC 3 tier. Next time, I will make it a point to travel by second class. Yes there will be a next time as there is so much that Goa has to offer that one trip is indeed not enough. Cheers!


 Author Bio: Ausmita and her husband, Praneet are avid travelers. But with work and life often playing spoilsport with their travel plans, they devised a cunningly simple work around - Weekend Trips. WanderfulWeekendz is a living chronicle of their weekend sojourns. For more weekend sojourns off the beaten track, read and follow their Blog and  Facebook Page.



                                                                        *****

Have you ever ventured out Solo with doubts and enjoyed the trip nevertheless? Please do share your experience in the comments!





Visit Ladakh - The Responsible Way!


By Sifti Dhillon



Ladakh is a one of the most sought after destination, not just within India but also internationally. Much has been talked about it in blogs, Travel stories, and magazines. Something or the other has been written about it by every travel blogger. So much has been talked, written and heard about it that it is on almost everyone’s bucket list. The region has a lot to offer to every kind of traveler. For the adventure seeker, the terrain is perfect for hikes, biking and river rafting in the Zanskar. For the history lover there are numerous Monasteries and Gompas speaking of an era gone by. And for the one who dwells in culture we have the local ladakhis. These mountains are their homes since many centuries. Generations of these people have been living here in these mountains knowing nothing about the world apart from their lives here.




                          Ladakh’s popularity among the travelers has been a bane as well as boon for the locals as well as the region. Its delicate ecology is being harmed every year with the season time rush of travelers. Cheap Guest houses have mushroomed all over Leh in order to provide economical stay options to the tourists without giving a thought to the environmental aftermaths of the same. Keeping in mind the need of travelling responsibly to the region, India Untravelled has partnered with GHE to provide travelers an opportunity to visit Ladakh not just in a responsible way but also to contribute directly to the local communities. Trips have been planned in such a way so that they are informative and indulging for the travelers and benefit the local community in some ways as well. 

A few of the trips are:


1.       Renovate Village house – Not only does this trip let you experience life in a ladakhi village, it provides one with the opportunity to make a difference to the life of a local family by assisting in renovating an old village home. One also gets the opportunity to visit the Moriri Lake and of course the world famous Khardung La - The highest motorable road in the world. Local sight seeing of Leh is included as well.


                         


2.       Solar electrification of a house – Yurutse is a village in Ladakh with no electricity.Here, our partners GHE, who are championing the cause of solar electrification in remote Ladakhi villages will head a team of travelers which will bring solar light to a village home for the very first time. It takes a 4-5 hour trek to reach this village. Enjoy the celebration with the locals in the evening as they celebrate another home receiving electricity. Along with this visit the Pangong Lake.


                                    


3.       Learn the fading art of making Copper utensils – The copper artisans of Ladakh are gradually fading away due to the lack of buyers. Learn this fading art from the skilled artisans, buy a few souvenirs to take back home, thereby helping in reviving this lost art. Try your hand at archery and experience the adrenaline rush as you river raft on the Zanskar river. Also, get an insight on Buddhism on this trip as you attend a chanting session at a monastery.


                             


Though everyone who visits Ladakh is sure to be in awe of its beauty, the ones travelling
responsibly and giving back to the local community are definitely leaving it a shade
prettier for the future travelers. 

                               Give Back to the Community, Travel Responsibly!

                                                  ********************

For more information on our trips please visit our website. You can also write to us at untravel@indiauntravelled.com for a detailed itinerary.


                                                  ********************

Have you travelled responsibly to a place in India? Please tell us in the comments about your experience.


                                                 ********************

Chettinad Chaska!



By Ausmita



An overnight train from Chennai brought us to Chettinad. Hopping off, we noticed that only four or five other people had alighted there.

The place we were supposed to stay at, had called us back the previous evening to ask how we planned to get to Kanadukathan (our final destination) from the railway station. I had answered nonchalantly that we will simply take an auto or a taxi (like we do everywhere else duh!). The person at the other end had dismissed this with an amused tone and went on to say that he will send an auto to fetch us from the station. I had thought this to be unnecessary but finally agreed to the humble pick up arrangement.





Stepping out of the station now under the slanting rays of the rising sun, we realized how naïve we were to assume we could just sashay out of Chettinad station and hitch an auto to get to our destination.  There were only two autos and a private vehicle waiting outside the station which appeared to have been booked in advance by the other travellers.



The fifteen minutes journey from Chettinad railway station to the heritage village of Kanadukathan was a bumpy one. As the auto rickshaw slowly made its way through what was left of the road, we passed crumbling boundary walls and majestic gates of what might have been grand estates at one time, now lost to wilderness. It was the tales of these grand estates and palaces that had brought us to Chettinad.


The Chettinad region;  synonymous with spicy aromatic food prepared from freshly ground masalas; originally consisted of about 96 villages spread over an area of 600-1500 sq mile in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu. It is this that Chettiars, a prosperous banking and business community of South India, claim as their traditional home. The Chettiars were successful maritime traders who became immensely prosperous by trading in salt and rice in the South East Asia, especially Burma. Unofficial figures put the total number of these palaces in Chettinad, each covering 30,000 to 40,000 sq feet area at 11,000.




Fuelled by the handsome returns from maritime trade, the Chettiars left no expenses spared in opulently decking up their palaces with Italian Marble, Burmese Teak, Belgian glass, intricate iron grills, ornate carvings and colourful Athangudi tiles indigenous to the region. However, the Japanese occupation of Burma during the Second World War was a blow to their business. Unable to repatriate their wealth, most suffered terrible loses. The direct impact of this was felt on the maintenance and upkeep of their mansions.


The sun was high in the sky when we finally managed to step out for the tour of the village. Home to about 70 Chettiar mansions, Kanadukathan is a virtual ghost town with most Chettiar families having migrated abroad or to one or the other major city of India over a period of time. Even in broad daylight, the streets of Kanadukathan fortified by the high walls of the mansions on either side were practically empty except for a stray cycle or a hunched old man slowly walking past. Most palaces are in various stages of disrepair. However, the few that are still painstakingly maintained by respective families are a living testament to the grandeur of the past.



Our first stop, a regal whitewashed mansion with bright colours accentuating the edges and windows, suitably called the Rajah’s palace. The only opening in its high compound wall, an equally high grill gate was latched from inside. We peered inside. A short distance away, a guard was perched on a stool next to an enormous wooden double door. I put up a smiling face, stepped up to the gate and yelled out in faltering Tamil, “Anna, Veedu pakhre” and hoped that he understood that we wanted to take a look at the mansion. Evidently he had come across several such “curious cutlets” in his days of perching outside that door. He replied almost reflexively, “No. No. Close aaich.”



We moved on to try our luck at the next imposing mansion but were met with the same response till we wandered into Chettinadu Mansion, a heritage hotel. The owner, a genial elderly gentleman was lounging in the one of blue sofas in the grandiose reception hall with a chequered floor and white arches supported by enormous black marble pillars. He saw us as we were climbing up the stairs of the porch and gestured us to come inside. Elated, we stepped in. He was as curious about us, as we were about him and his house. After taking us through the history of Chettinad and Chettinadu Mansion, he gave us a free hand to wander through the open sections of the house.


We were awestruck. Beyond the Reception Hall, also known as “marriage hall”, was a series of successive courtyards connected by doors that lined up straight from the entrance to the back of the house. Each courtyard was surrounded by wide verandas and rooms on all four sides. The first courtyard had bedrooms or private living quarters of the family members spread across two floors. The doors were intricately carved with figures of gods, goddesses and apsaras. The verandah on the upper floor was surrounded by ornate blue and white wrought iron grills. The next courtyard, meant for dining purposes was simpler and the last courtyard had store rooms and kitchen. Next day we visited a few more mansions. What struck us most was that all houses, despite their similar layout, had their own unique architecture and décor. In fact, sometimes the décor and the materials used change from courtyard to courtyard in the same house as a result of continued construction over several years and generations.


Each house in Kanadukathan is a veritable portal into the golden age of Chettiars and their exploits all over the world. We returned with a camera full of memories. Our only lament is that these portals are quickly shutting down and soon Chettinad and its palaces will probably only exist in hearsay.


                                                                       
                                                                             ***



 Author Bio: Ausmita and her husband, Praneet are avid travelers. But with work and life often playing spoilsport with their travel plans, they devised a cunningly simple work around - Weekend Trips. WanderfulWeekendz is a living chronicle of their weekend sojourns. For more weekend sojourns off the beaten track, read and follow their Blog and  Facebook Page.

An unexpected day in Khibber Village






By Neetole Mitra



To be in Khibber is to be vulnerably close to nature. At 14,200 ft, this village is nestled amidst the folds of the Himalayas, on top of a limestone rock, in the surreally beautiful Spiti Valley. The local bus from Kaza purrs into motion at about 4 p.m. and then takes two hours to roll up the edgy and snaky road, first past Ki monastery then Chichum’s exciting ropeway and finally, to Khibber.

It gets really off road here. 

View from the roof of my homestay.

Earlier in the evening, when the bus from Kaza pulled in at Khibber (the second highest motorable village in the world) the driver offered to help find me a place to stay for the night. But before he could proceed to tell me about his friend’s very comfortable homestay, I had jumped down the cluttered stairs with my backpack and shamelessly asked the woman with the egg crates if I could stay with her for the night. Sita, with her meticulously done braid and unforgettable freckles. The woman who pays up in case you run out of change. The one who needs help figuring out how to undo the silent mode on her phone; peering into the small screen through her pink glasses. For her the trust is built. I can stay. From the bus station (which is just at the entrance of the village) I follow my local host Sita on an earthen trail that borders someone’s pea field on the left; balancing a crate of eggs she has purchased from Kaza. In Khibber one doesn’t find these essential items of daily necessity. There are no grocery stores here. What comes, comes from the forest or the fields or off the animals. For the rest, go down to Kaza.



The Potato Momos

I never get used to the breath-taking view over the duration of my stay; neither the breathlessness. Altitude sickness is a bummer here. Someone like me can’t simply trot off for a trek at Khibber. In fact, life is rather unusual here and makes me feel like a real privileged spoilt brat and I’m almost put in my place. Like when I have to cram my neck at a correct angle to catch the elusive BSNL network near that nail by the window. I wait diligently trying again and again. Not angry, just praying. Then there are the frequent power cuts that punctuate Govinda’s films and give me a chance to chat with Norzom (Sita’s eldest unmarried daughter).For dinner, Padma (the third eldest girl), Tanzin (the eldest son) and Sita make momos. Atta was kneaded in the evening and kept aside. The aloo was boiled simultaneously and later mixed with onions, salt and local garlic. Fat round chapattis stuffed with boiled aloo and steamed. Along with the dumpling there’s spicy chutney made of tomatoes, chillies, onions and dhania, stored in a small plastic container, that was passed around from plate to plate. 

The living room of the home.

There probably wasn’t a better way to spend my time at Khibber than with a family of five. The day is short lived here and one is limited indoors after sunset. A valley so exposed to nature can be isolating for a solo traveller, but with Sita’s family I experienced home. With a TV playing out in the corner, a toddler romping about on a plastic cycle, siblings running about, Sita chatting with Rinzin chachi and me over occasional sips of chhang – I almost didn’t notice the whooshing of wind and the impenetrable darkness outside. 



                                                          *****


Author Bio: Neetole Mitra is a travel storyteller at Living Unplanned. She roams the streets of India in search of humour and to celebrate trivial events no one else cares about. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter



                                                                  *****

                                Send in your travel stories to blog@indiauntravelled.com

Garli - A place less travelled



By Priya Goswami

Once called the Switzerland of India for its beauty and wealth, Garli is now a notified heritage village tucked in the Kangra valley. A treasure of architectural marvels-Kangra, Colonial, Portugese, Rajput and Islamic, it is a beautiful mix of all these influences.

The lanes of Garli
This village was set by the Soods, an enterprising merchant community, in the early 19th century. Way ahead of their times in planning, they built their own houses and brought their own craftsmen and servicemen with them, including the cobblers, barbers, carpenters, etc. They also established the schools, hospitals, sarais, roads and the waterworks making Garli the epicenter of Punjab’s economics and politics by the 1920s. It is said that the location of village was also carefully chosen to receive good astral influence as the three shakti temples are also locatenearby-Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi and Brajeshwari (Kangra). 

Market of Garli
Garli is believed to have enough European influence and is also credited to its proximity to the summer capital (Shimla) of the British Raj back then. It was in the late 1950s that the village was completely abandoned, and when visited today, one can still see many buildings and mansions lying in distressed state. Some are as old as 200-300 years but speak of the village’s wealth back in those days. And this is evident in the grandeur of these structures made of exquisite wood, expensive balconies and intricate wall work. Garli has a small market for grocery, bakery, bangles, shoes and tailor shops. The village has a small taal as well.

The Abandoned House
Local Attractions

For Heritage enthusiasts-

The buildings and mansions all have a story. You can stop anytime and enjoy the architecture of these grand houses such as Bishnu Niwas, Bhagwan Niwas, the ‘Hidden House’, the ‘Mystery House’, and so on.
The Chateau Garli - A restored building

Hub of Temples-
Apart from the three shakti peeth- Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi, Brajeshwari (Kangra), one can also explore heritage temples within a radius of 50-60 kms like the Dada Siba Temple and Masroor Rock cut Temple. The Dada Siba is also called the temple of Radhe Karishna and is revered for its mural paintings all across, which have been restored and delicately coloured. The rock cut masroor temple is the only monolithic rock structure in northern India and said that to have been made by the Pandavas in just one night during their "incognito"exile. 

For Nature Lovers
Just 20 mins away from the Garli main market is the Chamba Pattan Bridge over Beas where most of the people tread to enjoy the sunset. Another nature lover's delight is the wetlands of pong lake, an hour and a half drive from Garli,  is a seasonal habitat and stopover for migratory birds that enter India from Central Asia. It is also one of the 25 international wetland sites declared in India by the Ramsar Convention. Needless to say, it’s a photographer’s dream destination as well.
Pong Dam Wetlands

Food & Stay
If you like to discover the local flavours, you cannot miss the malai barf sold by Mr. Satpal Sharma. His forefathers have been selling this since 1890. On a leaf plate for mere Rs. 30/, it is made of milk, khoya, cheeni, and badam. Other local delights included Mandra (kidney beans in gravy of kaju & kishmish), Chana Daal with amchoor, Mhani (black chana, jaggerry & amchoor), Maa ki dal, Mittha (made with urad dal).


Famous Malai Barf of Garli
The Chateau Garli-a 95 year old heritage boutique hotel in Garli has all the modern amenities you can ask for. 
 Naurang Yatri Niwas-also known as Naurang Sarai and  The Judge’s Court-a 300 year old heritage property built in a country manor style in Pragpur are a few options for one to stay.


A Local Bakery Shop




Author Bio: Priya is a  professional baby and portrait photographer who left her full time corporate job as a marketing and brand professional with an MNC to follow her passion. When not clicking, she loves to travel and explore places. You can follow her on  Facebook  or visit her website: http://priyagoswami.com/






                                                                          ***






               Share your travel experiences with us. Write to us at blog@indiauntravelled.com