Dalhousie, Mcleodganj, Spiti and Sangla

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This is amongst the longest and the most memorable trips in the Himalayas. Mumbai, Jammu, Dalhousie, Manali, Spiti Valley, Sangla Valley, Chandigarh, Rishikesh, Valley of Flowers / Badrinath, Kedarnath and return to Delhi.

This piece was written in August 2001 and edited in May 2017. Photo links of each place form part of this article so travelogue is complete.

Since we did the Kailash Mansrovar Yatra in 1998 mate Jayant Doshi and me were planning this trip. It eventually happened in July 2001.

Spread over about 23 days our travel schedule was –
1. Mumbai to Jammu/Katra by train.
2. Jammu to Dalhousie by train/taxi. Saw Dalhousie, Chamba Valley and Khajjar.
3. Dalhousie to Mcleodganj by taxi. Saw Kangra Valley and around as well.
4. Mcleodganj to Manali/Rohtang Pass.
5. Next stop was Keylong in Lahaul Valley.
6. From there to Kaza in Spiti Valley.
7. To Kalpa and Sangla.
8. Took a twenty three hour bus drive from Kalpa to Hardwar.
9. Rishikesh to Govindghat the base camp for Valley of Flowers.
10. From there to Badrinath.
11. Last stop was Kedarnath returned to Rishikesh.
12. Took Shatabdi Express from Hardwar to Delhi and train to Mumbai.

Between Jayant and me we spent about Rs 18,000/ per head. Jayant was from London and could not believe that we spent so less. It is not that we compromised in any way. We travelled by taxi and bus and stayed at budget hotels that were amazingly clean.

Dalhousie

We took a train from Jammu to Chakhibank and a taxi from there to Dalhousie. Reached about 4ish. We were lucky to find a hotel in the main market place, big rooms Rs 1000/ for a double room. The place is very green, we just loved it. There was a slight nipp in the air. Dalhousie is 2036 metres above sea level.

We got out for a walk about 5ish. We walked around the market place and then downhill to see Hindi film shooting. Enroute we saw a hotel where Subhash Chandra Bose had spent a few days. My legs were still aching. I could not do the climb up to the market so we had to hire a taxi. I was truly embarrassed at my state – an avid trekker like me was down after one trip to Vaishnudevi.

By about 7 we were back in the market place. We had dinner and started planning for the next day. We decided to go to Chamba Valley and Khajjar, supposed to be the Indian Switzerland. There were a number of private Maruti van at the taxi stand. We haggled with one of them, quite a likeable Pahadi guy.

The next morning we were ready to go by 7.30am. As we got out of the hotel the main market was full of monkeys. We decided to walk down to Subhash Chowk before leaving. It is about a 15-20 minute walk around a hill i.e. very green. We came across a number of monkey’s enroute. The chowk has a statute of Subhash Chandra Bose.

To see pics of Dalhousie Click here

Chamba Valley

We left for Chamba Valley. It is about a two hour drive from Dalhousie. We stopped enroute and got a picture post card view of Bhadrakali Lake and Chamera Dam. Our driver told us that the dam was a favourite for Hindi film shootings. Due to shortage of time we did not go to the dam but were content with an overview.

All through the drive I remembered filmmaker Subhash Ghai who has made Chamba valley very popular through his movies. Chamba is a valley so at a much lower height (996 metres) as compared to Dalhousie. Chamba town was founded by King Sahilvarman.

Our first stop was Shri Chamunda Devi Temple i.e. made in all wood (10th century a.d.). You can drive up to the temple or walk up the steps. There are wooden carvings inside the temple and number of ghantis (bells). From the temple top got an excellent view of a cricket ground and clicked a match in progress.

Our next stop was the Lakshmi Narayan Temple Complex. It is built in Shikhara style,10-11th century a.d. Right to left are the Lakshminarayan, Radhakrishnan and Chandragupta temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Vishnu and Shiva in that order. There are Lakshmi Damodar, Trilokinath and Gaurishankar temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Shiva in that order.

We had lunch in the main market, saw a local museum and left for Khajjar. It is about an hour’s drive. Khajjar is very beautiful, is a green top surrounded by trees. It reminded Jayant of Switzerland. It has meadows all around. Found people relaxing, playing cricket, having horse ride, running around.

I loved the place. Felt out of this world and did not want to leave. HP Tourism runs a resort there. We took a horse ride and saw some apple orchards.

We left Khajjar at about 5.30ish. It was about to get dark. All through the drive to Dalhousie we could hear wild animals roaring.

We reached by 7.30ish, were tired, had dinner and went to bed. The next morning we took the same taxi to Mcleodganj a 2-3 three drive.

The next time round would like to spend atleast 3 days in Dalhousie/Khajjar.

To see pics of Chamba Valley Click here

Mcleodganj

The drive from Dalhousie to Mcleodganj was picturesque to say the least. We saw practice of terrace farming enroute. Mcleodganj is at a height of 1770 metres. It is on a hill whose base is Dharamshala. Basically when Dalai Lama came to India they must have asked for an exclusive area where the Tibetans could settle down. I think the Govt of India gave them the area above it which is known as Mcleodganj. There is a Tibetan Govt in exile here, a school of Tibetan studies, a Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.

We saw a number of foreigners. We met a number of Israelis here; in fact the menu had a number of Israeli dishes. One of the students told us that the Israelis whom we see are mostly students who came to India for a holiday after completing their mandatory military training.

The town has a number of hotels to suit every budget. We were lucky to find a hotel about 5 minutes from the main market run by one Mr. Sharma. It was a small hotel with clean rooms that also gave us a great view of the hills below. Cost was Rs 750/ for a double room.

After checking in we began discovering the market place. Jayant saw a continental food restaurant that we decided to check out. Menu was also in Israeli. We were amongst the few Indians there. After lunch we went sightseeing. It started drizzling.

The first place we saw was the Tibet Museum. It is a memorial dedicated to the 1.2 million Tibetans who died as a result of Chinese occupation. The museum has pictures that show the Chinese assault into Tibet.

There is a main hall in the Dalai Temple Complex. Monks sit here and chant slokhas. There is a huge murthi of Lord Buddha inside the hall. Just below that is Dalai Lama’s seat. In the complex is also a modern day Gurukul for Buddhist monks. We saw Dalai Lama’s home from outside.

Next to Lord Buddha murthi are a collection of texts called Kagyur, translations of the actual teachings of Buddha. These 100 volumes translated from Sanskrit are the authentic teachings of Buddha himself and contain the whole collection of sutras and tantras.

Another cupboard has a collection of texts called Tangyur, translation of the commentaries of Buddha by late Indian Masters. The 225 volumes translated mostly from Sanskrit, contains work on Buddhist philosophy, grammar, logic, poetry, art, astronomy, medicine etc.

Outside the main hall is a Mana Prayer Wheel. It is filled with thousands of Avalokiteshwara mantras “Om Mani Padme Hum”. By turning this wheel once one earns merit equal to the reciting of the mantras filled inside the wheel to be turned clockwise. May all beings find Peace and Happiness.

As we walked around the market place we saw a Tibetan school and Tibetan women weaving carpets inside a cooperative.

At about 4ish we walked to Bhagsunath Temple i.e. about 2 kms away. It is a Shiv temple. There is a fresh water spring as well. Another 1km trek from there takes you a waterfall. It is an enjoyable and easy trek.

We also visited the Dal Lake i.e. 2kms from Mcleodganj. It is a nice walk but the lake per say was not impressive. It is surrounded by Deodar forests.

To see pics of Mcleodganj Click here

Kangra Valley

We hired a taxi from Mcleodganj to visit Kangra Valley. The valley rolls down the southern edge of the magnificent Dhauladhar – the White ranges. Dharamshala is the main town in Kangra. There is a lower and upper Dharamshala. The latter is known as Mcleodganj. We left at about 7.30am and were back by 5ish.

Our first stop was Jwalamukhi temple 56 kms from Dharamshala. It is the famous temple of goddess Jawalamukhi or the Flaming Goddess. It is built over some natural jets of combustible gas believed to be the manifestation of Devi Bhagwati Jawalamukhi. Mughal Akbar tried to quench the flames but failed, became a devotee thereafter. The interior of the temple consist of a square pit about three feet deep with a pathway all around. In the middle the rock is slightly hollowed out on applying the light the gas burns into flames. There is no idol of any kind. The flaming fissure is considered as the fiery mouth of the goddess whose headless body is said to be in the Bajreshwari Temple Kangra.

The temple building is modern. Many people esp. women take a vow that if anything they ardently wish is obtained they will go on yatra to the temple.

Pandit Rajmani Tugnait of the Himalayan Academy wrote about the importance of Jwalamukhi. Cannot remember the book where he wrote.

Next we went to Kangra Fort. It has a murthi of one of the Jain Tirthankaras. Kangra was the ancient capital of the powerful hill state – fort of Nagarkot. It stands witness to the ravages of conquerors from Mahmud of Ghazni to Mughal Jahangir. There is a Adhinath Temple opposite the fort.

We went to Bajreshwari Temple Kangra. Known for its legendary wealth it was robbed in 1009 by Mahmud of Ghazni. Destroyed by the earthquake of 1905 it was rebuilt in 1920.

Next was Chamunda Devi Temple, the slayer of Chand and Mund. It is 15 kms from Dharamshala. The goddess is said to grant boons requested to her. The picture you see is a cave like scoop where a stone Lingam under a boulder represents Nandi Keshwar (Shiva).

Lastly we went to the Chinmaya Tapovan Trust i.e. about 9kms from Dharamshala. It was founded in 1978 by Swami Chinamayaji. It is a large complex with number of classrooms and meditation centres. There is a 9 meter high image of Lord Hanuman, a Rama Temple, a meditation hall and a school. We also saw para gliding facilities at Biling in Kangra. See the Kangra Art Museum as well.

You can also see the following places. 35 kms from Dharamshala is Palampur famous for its tea gardens. 16kms from Palampur is Baijnath the chief temple of Shiva Vaidyanatha (Lord of Physicians). According to tradition this is the shrine where Lord Ravana supplicated Shiva for the boon of immortality. 13 kms from Palampur is Andretta where the famous artist Sobha Singh created most of his famous works – Heer Ranja and a host of religious paintings.

It was a hectic day. By about 4ish Jayant got unwell and started vomiting. I too had a splitting headache.

This piece has inputs from the Himachal Tourism booklet.

We had a good night's sleep. The next day we hired a taxi to visit Kangra Valley. Left at about 7.30am and were back by 5ish. Had a bath and then caught the 7pm overnight bus to Manali.

To see pics of Mcleodganj Click here

Manali and Rohtang

We took a night bus from Mcleodganj to Manali. Comfortable journey. We reached Manali at about 5 or 6am. We had only 3-4 hours till we got a taxi to Rohtang Pass so just decided to walk around after leaving our bags at the Himachal Tourism hotel.

After a steep climb we came to the Hadimba Mata temple. Most of you must be aware that Hadimba was the wife of Bhima one the five Pandava brothers in Mahabharata. This temple is dedicated to her. The DHOONGRI TEMPLE dedicated to goddess Hadimba. It has four-tiered Pagoda shaped roof and the doorway is carved with legendary figures and symbols. This temple located amidst wooden forest of deodar is about 2.5 kms from the tourist office. It is a pleasant experience to stroll in the temple complex which was built in 1533 A.D. We saw a number of locals who, as part of their morning walk, came to pay their respects to Hadimba.

Close by is a temple dedicated to Ghatotkach, the son of Bhima and Hadimba. It is not a temple but a photo of Ghatotkach is hung on a tree and worshipped. In May Dhoongri Fair is organized around the Hadimba Temple.

By about 9.30am we got a taxi for Rohtang. It is a 51km from Manali and took over two hours. Tourists must go well prepared to Rohtang. The weather is uncertain. Rain, snow and hailstorm in a matter of minutes. All along the route you will find shops that rent warm clothing and shoes. Important you have the right shoes or else your feet could get cold or you could slip in the rain.

We spent over an hour at Rohtang. At about 2ish we got a bus to our next destination Lahaul Valley. Rohtang is the gateway to Lahaul and Spiti Valleys. Keylong is Lahaul Valley is enroute to Leh. Himachal after Lahaul is a different place all together, the people the terrain and the hills. Most Indians stop at Rohtang. I would urge them to move forward and visit Spiti Valley i.e. about a 12 hour bus drive from Manali.

From my 2016 trip see pics of -
1. Hadimba Temple
2. Solang Valley 1 hour away
3. Manikaran 3 hours away

Lahaul Valley

We took a bus from Rohtang around 2ish and reached Keylong, the main town of Lahaul Valley, about 4.30ish. The bus was packed. We had to stand for a while before we sat down and admired the scenery enroute.

The bus drops you at a point from where you have to walk down to the Keylong market. We found a clean and good hotel, Rs 150/ for a double room. What I like about Himachal is availability of clean and decent hotel rooms at very reasonable prices. After relaxing for a while we decided to explore the town.

We first covered the main market and then walked down to the Chandrabaga river. Here we met two local girls who, to our surprise spoke very good English. We walked into the Buddhist Philosophic Sanskrit School and found students studying diligently.

In the main market there is a statue of freedom fighter Ras Behari Bose who took shelter in Keylong while fleeing from the British.

The next morning we trekked a few kms uphill to the famous Shashur Monastery. We got a wonderful view of the valley during the trek. It took nearly the whole morning. In the monastery we saw a number of Buddhist monks studying there. It was founded in the 17th century a.d. and belongs to red hat sect. The paintings are representing the history of 84 Buddha's. We were back by lunch. After that we went to sleep. In the evening went for a walk to the market.

We met a number of Lahauli women who were listening to a talk by a lady doctor as part of a medical camp. We were very impressed with their levels of education, ability to understand and communicate.

There is not much to do in Keylong. There are some exciting treks that one can undertake from Keylong but these take three to seven days. We did not have the time.

The next morning we got up at 4.30am because there is a 5.30am bus that would take us to Spiti Valley. There is no direct bus. We were dropped to a particular point where we spent about an hour at a tea stall before the Manali Spiti Valley bus came. It was chilly and enjoyable.

While we were waiting for the bus to come at Keylong I saw four Ladaki women belonging to four different generations. It was a treat to watch them, see their picture.

You might like to also visit -

Trilokinath means the Shiva. A temple is situated in the village which is about 4 km short of Udaipur on the left bank of Chenab river. Devotees from far off places come to pay their respects at this unique temple. This Shiva temple was given a look of Buddhist shrine by Guru Padmasambhava by installing the 6 armed image of Avalokiteshvar. It is now sacred both to Hindus and Buddhists alike and attracts many pilgrims from both these communities. In August, a big festival named Pauri is held for three days when people including the sadhus and followers of various religious sects gather to receive the

blessings of Lord Trilokinath.

There is a Guru Ghantal Monastery that you can see. This is on the right bank of Chandra river about 4 km above Tandi and is believed to be the oldest Gompa of Lahaul having wooden structure with pyramidal roofs, wood carving and preserving the idols of Padmasambhava & Brajeshwari Devi. On the full moon night in mid-June a festival called "GHANTAL" is celebrated by Lamas & Thakurs together.

In hindsight we could have skipped Keylong and spent time at Chandratal Lake / Spiti.

To see pics of Lahal Valley Click here


4 generations of Lahauli women at the bus stand

Spiti Valley

We got the bus for Spiti at about 7 am and reached Kaza in Spiti by about 4.30 pm. It is a long but wow drive. If you have hired a taxi then make it a point to stop enroute.

Enroute to Kaza is the wow Chandratal Lake. Do visit the lake. It is wow.

To see pics of Chandratal Lake Click here

A couple of hours ahead of Tabo is a lake, whose name I forget, that we missed seeing. Check the Incredible Spiti site link at end of article - you might know which one.

From Kaza we went to Tabo where we spent a day and then headed to Kalpa.

To read Spiti Valley - A Hidden Paradise in Himachal Pradesh Click here

To see pics of Spiti Valley Click here

Kalpa Sangla Valley

We left Tabo at about 10am, got a bus with great difficulty and reached Kalpa (2960 metres) about 3ish. It was a great drive, very scenic. Just before Kalpa is the district headquarters Recong Peo. It is like any other town. A 20 minute drive from there took us to Kalpa. It is a very quiet and scenic place like a suburb of the district headquarters. We saw a number of hotels/guest houses including some where foreigners were preferred.

We eventually settled for Blue Lotus close to the bus stand. We got a well furnished room with running hot water for all of Rs 150/. The room opened out into a huge balcony from where we got a great view of the Kinner Kailash. The parikrama to Kailash takes about 7-8 days. From Kalpa you can go to Sangla, Chitkul and Raksham all on the old Indo Tibet road.

The first thing we did was to have good bath followed by some hot chai. The next morning we hired a Bolero and took off for Sangla. The terrain is quite difficult but drive through beautiful forests. Enroute our driver (an ex CRPF jawan) showed us the Sutlej river. He said that thanks to Chinese sponsored floods, bridges in Kinnar got washed away forcing locals to cross the Sutlej river (flows in from China, source Mansrovar) through hanging ropes as you will see in the picture section.

Sangla Valley is 2680 mtrs, 2 hours drive from Kalpa. If you thought Pahelgam in Kashmir Valley was beautiful forget it, Sangla is better any day. If you go further down Sangla you reach the old Indo Tibet road and reach Chitkul/Raksham.

Baya river flows by Sangla. We crossed the river and went for a walk deep into the forests. Loved it. Must have walked for about six kms. Saw a mini-power plant meets the electricity requirements of Sangla Valley. When we were thirsty a local lady was nice enough to give us river water. Ironically Jayant and I had a stomach upset on reaching Kalpa. May be our urban stomachs were not used to pure clean water.

On our return we went Nag Devata Mandir. There was a huge procession of people with a palanquin i.e. what attracted us to the temple. The entrance to the temple has intricate woodwork. After an easy climb we reached Kamru Fort, palace of the former Maharaja of Rampur. It is a couple of kms away from main Sangla town. It gave us a breathtaking view of Sangla.

All in all Sangla is a must visit. A friend Dr Kulkarni who went to Chitkul/Raksham says that those places are out of this world. Wish had known before. After all one does not go this far often. Kalpa is 210 kms odd from Shimla and app a seven hour drive. I realized the need to research more before planning a holiday so that one covers all the interesting places in one shot. In this holiday we could have cut down on Badrinath/Kedarnath and seen more of Himachal Pradesh.

We left Sangla around 4ish to reach Kalpa by 6ish. Relaxed and went to bed. Our bus to Chandigarh was at 3pm so we had the morning to ourselves. We decided to go walking in and around Kalpa. There is a kacha (rough) motorable road. We saw a number of apple orchards, met villagers, saw snow clad mountains and were back by lunch.

We caught the 4pm bus, reached Simla at 1am and Chandigarh at about 6.30am. From here we caught another bus for Hardwar from where we took an auto to Rishikesh. We reached the hotel by about 3pm an exhausting 24 hour journey.

The drive from Kalpa to Simla is tough and prone to landslides. Enroute is the Shatrujeet Bridge one of the many made by the Indian Army i.e. the lifeline of Kinnaur.

To see pics of Kalpa and Sangla Click here

Ahead of Sangla are Raksham and Chitkul. To see pics of Raksham & Chitkul Click here

Himachal Pradesh is a great place to visit - lovely people, very scenic and affordable.