Enter The Grahan…a little different trek to Grahan village from Kasol

Once up on a time, there lived a kid. He had a friend called Shanti, his best friend forever. But this story is not about their growing up.

The kid grew up and Shanti was always beside him. They were inseparable. So when the day came for him to move out of his little kingdom in search of knowledge, Shanti followed him. She stayed with him for eight long years and with time, their friendship grew stronger. Or so he thought.
One fine day the kid (or the man, as he preferred to think about him by the time) planned a trip with his friends to the Himalayas, heaven on earth, as Shanti would have called it! But there he fell in love! Now that he gave his heart to the mountains, Shanti, heartbroken, told him that she could have perhaps stayed without him, but not without his heart. So she decided to stay in the mountains where lies his heart, forever, and he came back to his “duties” without his heart and his beloved friend, Shanti.
Since that day,  he has been on and off to the mountains frequently, just to behold his love and for some quiet moment with his friend. Wherever he went, mysteriously, he found Shanti already waiting there for him.
Now it has been months that he met either Shanti or the mountains. Probably his longings were so pure that the universe conspired for a grand reunion. So when he saw the extended weekend coming, he readily arranged a journey to the mountains, which, by that time, perhaps out of love, were all dressed up in dazzling white snow!
It was Friday night when he along with some of his friends, boarded a bus from Chandigarh. His excitation knew no bounds. For the entire night, as he tried to sleep inside the bus, the power and the purity of their love made the sky pouring tear drops as rain.
He thought, when he would get down from the bus at Bhunter, he would see Shanti waiting for him there, as she always did. But this time she was not there. He thought she would be waiting for him in Chalal. Shanti somehoe always knew where is he headed! So instead of waiting at Bhunter for the morning bus, they booked a cab which drove them to Kasol. It was still dark when they reached Kasol but he could not wait longer and started walking towards Chalal. The bridge that runs over Parvati, joining the trail to Chalal to Kasol was under construction and a shaky makeshift bridge was placed instead. In the darkness of the night, they crossed the bridge carefully while Parvati gushed below. It took almost 30-40 minutes for them to reach Kasol. The plan was to stay the whole day at Chalal. He thought he would meet Shanti and behold the majestic Himalayas together. They would have the whole day for them. Gradually the sky lightened up, birds started chirping, azure water plummeted down the slope with blissful and melodious murmur, the distant misty mountains started to unfold unparalleled awe-inspiring beauty, the chillness in the breeze paved the path for a silent dawn, but still somehow he could not spot Shanti.

His stay at Fusion Cafe was nice though. The surrounding was beautiful, the food was good and the winter breeze and the snowy peaks tried their best to please him and so was he. Even though often his mind waded around the many slopes of the gigantic mountains covered with  thickest of clouds, looking for his beloved friend. But all in vein as she was nowhere to be seen.
Next day morning, they decided to trek to Grahan. The trek starts from Kasol. So they came to Kasol, had breakfast and started the trek. Somewhere in his mind, the kid knew he would find Shanti in Grahan.

Parvati river near the bridge crossing

Everybody told them the trek would be an easy one and the four to five hours trail goes straight to Grahan. So they kept walking. After a while, they came across a shepherds’ hut on their right and a dog, whom they wold soon name as “Tensoon”, started to accompany them. But a few hundred meters in to the trail, they encountered a bifurcation. One trail went up the mountain and the other, the more prominent one went down to the river that is coming from Grahan. There was no one to ask about the trail so they kept walking on the left and the most prominent one which brought them over a beautiful makeshift wooden bridge. After crossing that, they encountered an arrow pointing towards someplace. knowing that they were on the right direction, they kept climbing. The trail went up, with reasonable steepness and some more arrows drawn on rocks giving them directions. The river with all its enthusiasm gushed below.

But soon they came across a second bifurcation and this time they could not say which one was more prominent one. After examining the right trail, they became sure that this time also they were to follow the left trail which brought them to a fairy-land. Trees grew from rocks and canopied the trail and rhododendron bloomed all over. They all had some few moments of rest contemplating the beauty of the place.

But the climbing did not seem to have any end. They climbed one mountain thinking to be able to see Grahan from the other side. But already three hours in to the trek, they got no signs of Grahan. Though the arrows made sure that they were on the right trail. But in his mind, the trail seemed a lot more tricky than what he had imagined. They crossed one more mountains in search for the motivational sight of the village. But except for grander mountain views, Grahan was nowhere to be seen. And so was Shanti. But he was not complaining as the higher they hiked, the mountains became more and more grand and gigantic. The white washed cliffs with a background of impeccably blue sky stood in contrast with the dark green forest carrying the murmurous brook in its lap.

Soon they found themselves walking over a narrow trail which run over a rocky top of a mountain. On the both side there were deep cliffs. The cold had also increased significantly by that time. To drive their minds away from the struggling climb, they put on some music which rhymed with the nature. Then came a place with another small brook hurtling down a thick forest of pines and rhododendrons with its murmurous symphony. The place had a blissful silence all around it which was cut only by the splashing water. Suddenly he felt as if it has started raining again. But the clear sky gave no such false signals. Then why would water drop from the trees? Before they realized that, it actually was snow that was melting, they spotted snow covered patches on the ground. At one place even flowing water formed ice cones hanging from rocks. And through all these, they crossed another mountain and behold grander beauty of not-so-far snow capped peaks, but Grahan remained eclipsed by the mountains.

They climbed and climbed. Snow had increased considerably by that time making the trail extremely slippery, sometimes with solid ice and sometimes with sticky slippery mud. But still they continued. After crossing another ridge, they could suddenly see the village. Finally. It was fully covered with snow and completely enclosed by high and white mountains. What a sight to behold was it. They have already trekked for six hours. Tired and cold and hungry they rushed towards the village neglecting the thick cover of snow. the excitement and enthusiasm was boundless. Just before entering the village, they met a villager who informed them that, unfortunately this village was not Grahan but Thunja. Grahan is another hour from there!

In fact from Thunja they could see Grahan far away. Tiny blocks of village huts covered in snow. But it was almost dark and they had no strength in their knees to undertake the snowy slippery steep descent to a stream and then again climbing up to Grahan. So they requested some villagers if they can arrange some place for them to spend the night. But Thunja is an extremely small village with only 10-12 houses. They had no guest houses or cafes or hotels or anything that one can normally find in a tourist place. In fact, the villagers told them that the trail to Grahan is a different one which is not as tough as this one. But it was too late for them to realize that. After some more time of requesting and asking people, Ganesh, an “angelic” person agreed to give them a room for the night in his own house. Happily and readily they moved in. It was a small but completely wooden hut with two floors. Ganesh asked them to leave their backpacks in one of the room in upper floor and to move to a second room which had a tandoor inside it to keep it warm. We all sat around the fireplace, enjoying the heat while darkness covered the white snow outside.

Ganesh was a kind host. He got them water to drink and sat with them to chat. The kid asked him about their lives in village. He asked what do they do to earn money? To which, Ganesh replied selling some medicinal plants. Most of the people in the village does nothing of that sort even. They all has their share of land, where they cultivate crops not for selling but for themselves primarily. There is a small school in Thunja too which has up till class 5.  He also told them about the hardship that they must go through if some elderly person or kid is sick and need to be carried to the nearest hospital which is in Kasol, through that same trail. No matter how dark it is, or how much snow is there on the trail! And they were pretty much taken aback that people actually trek for hours just to behold snow!!

As food, they were carrying some biscuit packs and cakes which they had sitting around the fire while Ganesh and his brothers wend down for some work. The kid and his friends were about to go to the other room when Ganesh appeared again and asked them to come out to have dinner. This was completely surprising to them.  Overwhelmed with kindness and emotions towards these simple and angelic human beings, they had dinner. Plain Daal Chawal never tasted so good, they all thought.  And they ate like they never had food before. Happiness truly lies in the simplest of the things. Content with the hot food and more so by the warmness of the host, the kid decided to go out to experience the chilliness outside. As he came out of the house, shocked, he saw Shanti right there sitting in front of the  hut staring at the moonlight soaked mountains. He sat beside her. They did not spoke a single word but just stared at the high peaks and the snow covered mountains flooded with moonlight. Those were some moments of pure happiness. Absolute silence prevailed the mountains, the muddy ground started to freeze as the cold creeps in to the moonlight and hugged whatever it fell on to. Tensoon slept like a coccoon.

And that night the kid slept with peace!

In the morning they asked Ganesh to take some money after thanking him with all their hearts. After a few minutes of not wanting to ask for it, all he asked for four people’s food and stay for a night was only 500 rupees!

In the morning, walking was a bit easy as the muddy ground was frozen. So it was no more slippery. They decided to go to Grahan and then take the trail that goes to Kasol from Grahan, the trail which they were supposed to take while coming. For freshening up, when they went to the washroom, there was no water as all water has been frozen during the chilly night. So without spending more time in Thunja, they gradually started towards Grahan. On the way they saw the small school also. The trail went right beside it.

Compared to Thunja, Grahan was bigger and felt more commercialized. They had guest houses and fancy food menus. The name of the village perhaps came from its eclipsed position amidst all the high mountains all around it. Grahan is famous as the first campsite for the popular Sar-pass trek. They went to a guest house run by a lady whom they called aunty. While they had breakfast, they came to know that aunty lived there alone. Her husband is a school teacher in Kasol and two of her sons are studying in a school in Jari, a place 9 km from Kasol. When asked, whether she felt lonely by living all by herself, she replied with a laugh that no one in the village would feel lonely as all of them stayed as a family. Neighbors had morning tea together. If someone is building a house, everybody lends a helping hand in cutting woods or building. the kid wondered how strong was their community feeling and how weak it was for people in the cities! Such hardship they all have to go through everyday, but still at the end of the day they would laugh and smile. And with all the luxury in the world, city people still rant about their frustrating lives!!

After breakfast, they started walking down the trail that they were supposed to take the day before. This trail seemed a lot easier than the previous one. After a steep descent, the trail came closer to the Grahan nullah, the water stream coming from above Grahan. They did not miss the chance to take a dip in the freezing cold water.

The trail afterwards was mostly plane with some ascending and some descending at some places. But at all places it was a straight trail to Kasol. But compared to the other trail to Thunja, this one was littered with plastic wraps and empty food packs at places. In a way they were happy about choosing the wrong trail.

After crossing another two bridges, ascending some more, and mostly descending, they came in front of the shepherd’s hut that they crossed the day before. Then they realized the mistake. Nobody told them to take this tiny trail which left the main trail and went up. Anyways they were not complaining about it. The kid was more than happy about the unfolding of the previous days events. What could have really gone bad (had they not got any place to stay at night), turned out to be an impeccably perfect trekking experience for him. He saw great mountains, met Shanti, met some beautiful souls living with peace deep within the mountains and fell in love witeverything around that place.. What more could he have asked for!

They came back to Kasol and after a fulfilling Israeli meal to they drove to Kullu to get the bus back to the plains . Shanti accompanied him the whole way. Now was to say goodbye  until next time.

40 kullu bus stand (1 of 1)

 

Details of the trek

  1. Elevations: Bhunter-1089m. kasol and Chalal-1600m, Grahan-2300m, Thunja-2500m.
  2. Itinerary:
    Day one (leisure day): Bhuntar to Kasol (1 hour. cab 200 Rs per head, or bus)Stay in Kasol or Chalal, or roam around nearby places. this day can be omitted in case of need or adjusted in between if you want to chill at Grahan for one day.
    Day two: Kasol to thunja (4-5 hours). One can go to Grahan via Thunja.
    Day three: Grahan to Kasol and back to Kullu (Kasol to Kullu cab 1400 Rs. kasol to Bhuntar cab 900 Rs.).
  3. The trail to Grahan: from the main square of Kasol, standing in front of Moon Dance Cafe, take the road that goes right. You will soon encounter a bridge. Do not cross that, instead, continue on the trail that goes along with the stream on its left. Alternatively, from the market, there are two road-heads in front of the Taxi drivers union office. The left one goes towards Manikaran. Do not take that. Take the right one, cross the same bridge and take the trail now on your left. After a few hundred meters, on your right side, you will see a Shepherd’s hut and a small trail going right beside it. That is the trail to Grahan. In case you want to take the trail less traveled, keep left, always. This will take you to Thunja.
  4. While coming back, buses can be boarded from Bhunter although for online booking, they can not be booked from there. One can call HRTC Manali office and arrange for the bus to stop at Bhuntar in case of need.
  5. Other short and easy treks around kasol: Kheerganga, Tosh, Malana, Rasol.
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Of Making Fun, Friends and Fire…Tales from Kedarkantha Trek in December

The possibility of this trek was hovering around for months as I discussed this trek with one of my oldest buddies from school. It just had to happen and the excitement was boundless for many a reason. This was my first trek in Uttarakhand Himalayas and that too with school friends. To top it up, nothing is cooler than any Himalayan trek in December! Literally!

Not having an option to trek independently, we booked our seats in a guided trek organization (about which I wish to write a separate blog discussing the pros and cons of guided trek organizers).

Day 1: Dehradun to Sankri

After reaching Dehradun on 15th December at 10 pm, we hurriedly took shelter in a Hotel near to the railway station as this was our pick up point next day. We started at around 8am in the morning and thus begun the journey with making new friends. We stopped at Kempty falls to break our fast with an amazing balcony view.

view from the balcony of breakfast point near kempty falls
view from the balcony of breakfast point near kempty falls

Sankri is almost 200km and the sleepiness and the beautiful mountains kept on playing a tug of war in side our minds. We did not really realize when we left the Yamuna valley and were moving along the beautiful Tons river.

Tons river on the way
Tons river on the way

Once again we stopped for lunch at Purola and reached Sankri just before sunset. Sankri is a small village on the outskirts of Govind Pashu Vihar National park and Wildlife Sanctuary. We could spot only two prominent hotels and some more dhabas and shops selling basic necessities. No mobile networks operate here except for BSNL. We were given accommodation in one of the hotels and soon were served tea and snacks followed by briefing on the trek by our trek leaders. Soon we were served delicious food, most unlikely of the kind that one supposed to get in a trek. By the taste of the food, we could not say whether we were on a trek or a luxurious vacation. And this continued till the end of our trek.

While we were savoring the delicious food, a very disturbing forest fire distant in the mountains was continuously spreading its hot breath. and just like this day, every next day while we enjoyed our exceptionally good food, or walked beneath dense forest, or tried hard to summit, somewhere there were always some horrible forest fire spreading its wings.

sunset at sankri
sunset at sankri
moonlit night at Sankri
moonlit night at Sankri
a distant forest fire seen from Sankri
a distant forest fire seen from Sankri

Day 2: Sankri (6400ft) to juda ka Talab (9100ft) – 4km

Next day, after tea-snacks and a multi-course breakfast (this makes eating in less quantity really difficult, but somehow we managed not to eat more as it would not be good for the steep climb), we started our trek by entering to the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary. After a few meters walk over a paved path, we started climbing the mountains. Soon we came across a small bridge. Right after crossing this, the trail bifurcates. The left one leads to Juda ka Talab while the right one was coming from Hargaon. So we kept left. That time we did not have any idea that this steep climbing will have no end till we summit.

Inside Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary
Inside Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary
setting off for the trek at Sankri
setting off for the trek at Sankri
bifurcation on the road
bifurcation on the road

Gradually we all adjusted ourselves with the initial steepness. The trail offers breathtaking vies of Swargarohini group of peaks. After taking rests in two of the places, we reached Juda ka talab camp site before lunch. This was not at all a tough trek and we were not tired also. This made me wonder whether we can reach the base-camp, which is the next camp site at a place called Lahusu, on the same day. Along with us there was a group of exuberant engineering students from Gujarat. They were sort of the life line of the whole group. As soon as we reached the semi frozen lake, they started exploring the possibility of walking over it and so they mannaged in no time. I was still a bit dubious about the safety. But, now I know that I should not have been. The most unbelievable sight to witness was the night sky at Juda ka Talab. After Dinner it was time for some fun and everyone were playing some games inside our dining tents. When we came out of the tent, we were chilled to our bones not only by the cool breeze but more so by the innumerable stars, shooting stars and the milky way right above our head.

pine trees along the trail
pine trees along the trail
one of the resting places: we had maggi and tea
one of the resting places: we had maggi and tea
smoke coming out of a forest fire as seen from the trail
smoke coming out of a forest fire as seen from the trail
swargarohini massif as seen from the trail
swargarohini massif as seen from the trail
swargarohini peaks as seen from the trail to Juda ka talab
swargarohini peaks as seen from the trail to Juda ka talab
trail to Juda ka Talab
trail to Juda ka Talab
Semi frozen Juda ka talab
Semi frozen Juda ka talab
Juda ka talab camp site at night
Juda ka talab camp site at night
night sky at Juda ka talaab
night sky at Juda ka talaab

Day 3: Juda ka Talab (9100 ft) to Base camp at Lahusu (11250 ft) – 4 km

After reaching Juda ka Talab, we were told that the next days trek would be much more light and it was rightly so. Reaching base camp was merely two hours of trek and I was fully convinced that this place can very well be reached in a single day from Sankri. In fact, there is another base known as Base camp II, almost in a kilometer’s distance which can also be reached in a single day. The problem with the base camp II is scarcity of water. There is no water source nearby and only one dhaba was operating there with 60 lt of water only. Base camp location was truly magnificent. But the disturbing smokes coming out of many forest fires were constantly there.

this was a day of relaxing. Everyone was Sun-bathing after having lunch and we went for a short acclimatization walk. We could see the Kedarkantha peak from base camp and it did not seemed to be an easy hike. The purpose of the walk was to getting us acclimatize for the long hike to the summit.

Swargarohini peak from the trail to base camp
Swargarohini peak from the trail to base camp
kedarkantha peak from base camp
kedarkantha peak from base camp
approaching base camp
approaching base camp
panoramic view of the mountains from Base camp
panoramic view of the mountains from Base camp
smoke coming from forest fire
smoke coming from forest fire
view from base camp
view from base camp

Day 4: Base camp (11250 ft) to Kedarkantha summit (12500 ft) to Basecamp to Hargaon camp (8900 ft)-6km (but it seemed more than that)

This was the most important day of all and we were to start the trek sharp at 3 am. We got up at around 2-2.30 am but the morning rituals were the toughest in sub zero temperature. Some how we all managed and started the hike to the summit in a single file formation. The leaders and the guide were great in constantly encouraging us. Without their help this day could have very well resulted in utter disaster. We took 15 min break once we reached the base camp II but resting was even more impossible than to walk constantly over the steep slopes as the sub zero temperature was cutting down to our bones. We kept on walking or doing some kind of exercise to keep ourselves warm. We were again horrified by forest fires but the soothing dawn sky stole our minds from that. With a great team work and constant unimaginable support from the leaders and guide, we finally climbed to the summit.

Forest fire as seen from the trail to the summit
Forest fire as seen from the trail to the summit
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks while the trek to summit
Swargarohini peaks while the trek to summit
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
near to the summit
near to the summit
panoramic view surrounding the summit
panoramic view surrounding the summit
cairns on the summit
cairns on the summit

The view from the summit was breathtaking. We were introduced to the major peaks seen from the summit by the trek leaders and were given 30 mins of time to roam around. There was a shrine on the summit. Surprisingly we got BSNL network up there!!! We clicked photos, Sat silently, ate some refreshments which we took while starting the hikes, sat silently again to appreciate the Almighty Himalayas and finally started the trek back to basecamp. By the time we reached base camp, next batch was already there and after the lunch we all took a quick nap inside the dining tent before setting off for the Hargaon camp, which again took only two hours or so.

Finally we reached the summit
Finally we reached the summit
bandarpunch as seen from summit
bandarpunch as seen from summit
Swargarohini as seen from summit
Swargarohini as seen from summit
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks
the shrine on the summit
the shrine on the summit
layers of misty mountains as seen from the summit
layers of misty mountains as seen from the summit

After reaching Hargaon camp, we were informed of our complete independence. No acclimatization walk today, no rules and regulations, no nothing. So three of us decided to visit Juda ka Talab once more. From Hargaon camp site, Juda ka talab, according to our guide would take 30 mins or so for us. But we covered that in just about 15 mins. That time it was around 3 pm and the lake was again frozen. One of us being one of the perky college students, gave us courage to explore the frozen lake, and this time we did so. we walked over the frozen lake, sat on it, danced on it and cracked the ice a bit too. It was so much fun that i would have definitely regretted had i not done it. All thanks to the younger people for reminding us of our younger days. That moment was of wisdom and I learnt that I am never too old for stupid and innocent childishness.

Hargaon camp
Hargaon camp
Camp site location at Hargaon
Camp site location at Hargaon

The return journey from Juda ka talab to hargaon took only 7-8 mins. After reaching the camp site, we had delicious food as usual, and that night everyone started sharing some stories of their lives, had many giggles, made great fun and finally everybody slept in the dining tent only.

Day 5: Hargaon (8900 ft) to Sankri (6400 ft) – 6km

This was a steep descent and a tiring one, not for the lungs, but for our legs. We reached Sankri through some agricultural fields, villages overlooking “gorge-ous” valleys. While coming down, we posed for a final group photo with a backdrop of a cute village house.

on the way to Sankri from Hargaon
on the way to Sankri from Hargaon

all the team members
all the team members
view from the trail to Sankri
view from the trail to Sankri

The trail finally converged with the trail that we took 4 days ago right before the bridge. Finally we reached Sankri before lunch time. We were given accommodation in the same hotel but except for three of us, rest all left for rafting in Rishikesh.

Since we had lot of free times to explore, we decided to visit the village of Taluka which is also the starting point of Har ki Dun trek. We walked over the trail beside the river for 10 mins and decided up on our next trek. While coming back we witnessed the most horrible of all forest fires that we came across in these 5 days. The mere site of it was disturbing and horrifying to the core.

Through out the trek, we had no snow but all the places we camped had sub zero temperature!!! Soon we came from the trek, we had news of the season’s first snowfall on the mountains.

at taluka village
at taluka village
a horrible forest fire
a horrible forest fire

Day 6: Sankri to Dehradun (a 10 hours drive completed in 6 hours.)

My opinions about the trek:
1. One should not attempt this trek without a guide. Although there is proper trail in most of the times, having a guide serves good only specially when you are exploring the route for the first time.
2. The distance to base camp II can be covered in a single day, and Juda ka talab can be explored while coming down from Hargaon. but keeping in mind the steepness of the ascent, reaching the basecamp II in a single day could be tough if you are not properly acclimatized.
3. Base camp II has scarce water. So one has to be careful while choosing a campsite.
4. the trail seemed a lot cleaner than any other treks I have done. So please let us maintain it that way.

The Bewitching Beas Kund…finally the complete story

the Utopian fairy-land of Bhakar Thatch
the Utopian fairy-land of Bhakar Thatch

Its been quite a few days since we came back from this trek (I did not put any adjective for this trek as I am sure none would convey what I am feeling) and ever since I have been thinking what exactly can I write about this trek. While in a trek, I have felt speechless before, but not this hopelessly, I have felt exhausted before, but not this painstakingly, I have loved reaching the summits, but not this purely, I have cried after witnessing great beauties, but not this joyfully!

Well, yes, that was Beas Kund trek for me in a nut-shell. I am still in a trance of whatever we went through during the three days of pure magic. And it is frustrating that there are so much to say, rather so much I want to say, but the best I can do is tearing up my eyes every time I try to overcome my speechlessness and get goosebumps!

I thought the images would convey what I am trying to say. But, alas! As if The mighty Himalayas are conquerable through a pair of lenses. So no help from that side either. And out of this frustrating hopelessness I am still having butterflies in my stomach as I write.

Day One: Manali to Solang valley (13 km) to Dhundi(7-8km) to Bakar Thatch (7km)

It’s been one year since we attempted this trek in may 2015 (for the other story, please refer to https://esotericperceptions.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/going-up-the-course-of-bustling-beas/) and now we were unable to suppress the excitation plummeting inside our heart as we were determined to complete it by any means. After reaching Manali bus stand, we quickly freshened up in the pay and use toilets just beside the bus stand and decided to head for Old Manali. Old manali is always alluring compared to the overcrowded new Manali and one of the main reason being amazing food in the cafes. Unfortunately, so early in the morning, none of the cafes were open and we decided to try a small dhaba right on the bank of raging Beas. We had coffee, egg-toast, paranthas sitting on the river rocks and dipping our feet in the icy chilly water. We could not comprehend if the starting of the day was so blissful, what else were we awaited for. After the breakfast, we shopped for food that we would need in next three days. We got plenty of chocolates, three packs of bread, cheese-spreads and some glucose tablets. And we thought that would be enough for four people and two days. Well, this story will continue further.

Meanwhile we came back to Manali to get a cab to Solang valley. We got one for 800 rupees which dropped us in front of a shortcut leading to the valley and the long awaited trek started. We were not allowed past the security check in Solang but were told to follow the jungle trail instead of the road and so did we willingly. This trail starts right behind the security in-charge’s cabin and gets elevated from the road quickly. Sometimes you can sea the road down below running parallel to the trail. Compared to the tar road, this trail provided with the immense joy of walking over a trail surrounded by pine trees and wild flowers and fruits, above all avoiding the sunlight.

1-solang-to-dhundi-shortcut

2-view-from-solang-to-dhundi-shortcut

4-the-road-to-dhundi-as-seen-from-the-shortcut

5-view-from-the-shortcut

The shortcut, at one point came down to the tar road again. Walking over the road also seemed peaceful as there was almost no honking of cars and one gets to behold the distant villages and gigantic mountains cut by the gurgling Beas.

beautiful view from the road to Dhundi
beautiful view from the road to Dhundi
the shortcut ends
the shortcut ends
At this point the initial stretch of the shortcut ends
At this point the initial stretch of the shortcut ends
The Beas river as seen from the road to Dhundi
The Beas river as seen from the road to Dhundi

After a few more kilometers of walk through an avalanche effected area and another shortcut, and then some more walk over the tar road, we came in front of a Tunnel recently made near Dhundi. Crossing that you will approach the construction area. We saw a bridge which was not there previous year dominating the landscape. the trail started beyond the bridge. We had our little lunch there sitting on the right bank of the river. We did not cross the bridge but started walking on the trail going upward from the bridge. Soon we had to cross a wooden makeshift bridge over the river to get to the other side. The gurgling water raging beneath and the swinging bridge surely would give you some chills down your spine!

avalanche affected area near Dhundi
avalanche affected area near Dhundi
the tunnel before Dhundi
the tunnel before Dhundi
After crossing the Tunnel
After crossing the Tunnel
At Dhundi, after crossing the wooden bridge
At Dhundi, after crossing the wooden bridge

The initial stretch of this trail was right out of some fantasy books. Velvety green grassy slopes bedecked with various flowers, numerous small water streams running playfully down and distant gigantic mountains made the whole place look like Tolkien’s Shire. After a short walk along the river, the trail suddenly took a right turn and we were in front of another large waterfall which we had to cross. This was the one which had a broken ice bridge last time. But now, we had to cross this just by hopping over boulders. But surprisingly this seemed easier than last time. after crossing the stream, the trail suddenly goes upward, but only shortly as it again came down to the river bed. The most fun part of this trek was its wavy pattern. It goes up only to come down and then goes up even higher!

The valley was absolutely stunning, with the river cutting it right in the middle and the giant slopes of Dhauladhar and pirpanjal right next to it. After another river crossing, the trail goes straight up to the meadows of Bakar thatch. From the river bed, you can notice a small bulging hill full of pine trees right in the middle of the landscape with Dhauladhars on one side and on the other, the Pir Panjals. bakar thatch lies just behind that hill which again looked like Lothlorien from Tolkien’s world.

after the first river crossing, Bakar thatch lies beyond the small bulging hill in the middle
after the first river crossing, Bakar thatch lies beyond the small bulging hill in the middle
the valley brfore the first river crossing
the valley brfore the first river crossing

Bakar thatch was out-of-this-worldly stunning with various flowers as if colors were plummeting from the high slopes of the seven sisters hills. Bright orange, red, yellow and white flowers decorated the pebbled trail like a fairy land. Cool breeze kept on playing with the swinging flowers welcoming you to this Utopia created by the elixir that flows down the numerous streams.

the trail to bakar thatch
the trail to bakar thatch
Bakar thatch camping ground
Bakar thatch camping ground
Hanuman tibba towering over other peaks of Dhaoladhar as seen from Bakar Thatch
Hanuman tibba towering over other peaks of Dhaoladhar as seen from Bakar Thatch
Looking down from Bakar thatch
Looking down from Bakar thatch
while crossing one of the numerous streams filled with glorious flowers
while crossing one of the numerous streams filled with glorious flowers
crossing another stream before reaching Bakar thatch
crossing another stream before reaching Bakar thatch

Except for us and an Israeli group, 10-15 tents were put for a trekking agency coming from Delhi. Due to lack of space, we pitched our tent a little far from the main camping ground. The night was one of the nights that will remain etched in mind forever. We sat with the Israelis and talked and sung and jumped as the music from the Ukulele and the flute created a sublime rhythm with the gurgling sound coming from a nearby waterfall. The lullaby mesmerized everyone as we kept looking at one of the clearest skies we had ever seen.

Day two: Bakar thatch to Beas Kund and back to Bakar thatch

Next day, after a light breakfast, we started for the long-awaited Beas Kund trek. We left all our extra belongings inside the tent only and took only camera, water and ponchos. The trail looked challenging but we all were supremely high on adrenaline and set of for the kund with high spirit. The initial bubbling energy soon proved not to be sufficient as the slopes got steeper and we almost started fighting for a good breath. The slope was almost 60-70 degree at places and full of boulders, small and large. On top of that, various bushes and thorns made it harder to reach the top of the ridge. But as we kept climbing, the view got more and more stunning.

We thought, if we cross the ridge, we will get to see the kund, but what we got to see actually made us hopelessly frustrated. After almost 30 min of hopping through boulders and cutting through thorny bush, we came just to the starting of an unending boulder sea. And when I say boulders, I mean only boulders, and nothing else. Some small, some bigger that any human, some stable, others loose, falling and sliding. It was a terrifying site and we were to cross that. But we must keep going. The Kund was calling. As we were about to enter the boulders, we saw some huge boulders some distance away sliding down which produced a scary sound as if some bones were being crushed. We climbed up and down in that boulder field lacking any proper trail. We just could see a waterfall beyond and thought that to be the source of Beas Kund and kept going that side. Yes, it was crazy, it might have been stupid as well, as I see it now but it was thrilling, and extra-ordinary and utterly exhausting. Our legs as well as hands soon started to give up but we kept them pushing. At one point I was almost on the verge of quitting, and thought of telling others to go on and i would wait for them there. But then the more I stay in this boulder field, more is the probability of being crushed by plummeting boulders. So I pushed myself for the final stretch and then came that moment. After crossing the final ridge of boulders, we came to a trail which went down to a vast and absolutely plain piece of land cut by many water streams and surrounded by great great mountains all around. This was something beyond my apprehensive mind. Not understanding how I got in to this pure heaven, I broke down.

The colorful Bakar Thatch as we climbed up from it
The colorful Bakar Thatch as we climbed up from it
starting of the boulder field
starting of the boulder field
start of the Boulder sea
start of the Boulder sea
end of the boulder sea and the first glimpse of the amazing plain
end of the boulder sea and the first glimpse of the amazing plain
the trail after crossing the boulder field
the trail after crossing the boulder field
the plain land surrounded by high mountains
the plain land surrounded by high mountains
in front of Beas Kund
in front of Beas Kund

But still no sign of the Beas Kund. we saw two shepherds shaving wool from there sheep and asked for direction. The big water fall, unfortunately was not the source of the Kund, neither were the other prominent waterfalls around it. In middle of all this grand structures, the smallest waterfall down a rocky surface was IT. We crossed multiple small streams and started climbing up a gentle slope. As we approached the Kund, our joy knew no limits. Completely physically broken, exhausted, out of breath and hungry I just sat there for a moment gazing into the weird green water. It was sort of a trance that we might have went in until the activity of others, the cheers, the laughter brought us back. To describe the landscape opposite to the kund is beyond my ability and I would not even dare to give it a try. Most hopeless is that even the images are not sufficient to describe even a quarter of what we witnessed. What was that? A dream? I would like to believe that as nothing real can be so bizarrely surreal.

water coming from the big waterfall
water coming from the big waterfall
the big waterfalls
the big waterfalls
Dhauladhar range in front of Beas Kund
Dhauladhar range in front of Beas Kund
The Utopian land opposite to Beas Kund
The Utopian land opposite to Beas Kund
Beas Kund....finally after one year and a shrine in front of it
Beas Kund….finally after one year and a shrine in front of it
Beas Kund
Beas Kund

After spending some quality time sitting in front of the kund, we had some food and started the return journey. This time, we got to know that there is a safer trail through the boulder field and so tried to follow it. But suddenly it became too much cloudy and we got lost inside the boulder field. We kept on crawling and sliding up and down the boulders but finally reached a place which gave us a chilliest chill down our spine. It was one of the places where we saw boulder sliding while going up. We screamed for help. The thick cloud made it impossible to navigate the right direction and luckily we heard the other group answering. We followed there voices for almost two ours in that sea of boulders and finally found a trail which made the whole journey down to Bakar thatch comparatively easier. By the time we reached Bakar thatch, It started drizzling. By that time the cloud had dispersed.

end of boulder field
end of boulder field

Day three: Back to Manali

next day, around 9 am, we started for Dhundi. While coming down, we got to know that “The Hell Race” was organizing a 30 km and 60 km marathon up to Bakar thatch!!! Crazy, right. and men and women across the globe including Indian Army were participating. By the time we came almost half way down, we saw one woman going up and by the time we came to Dhundi, she went up and came down to Dhundi. Wow and how!!??

We also hitch-hiked on the back of one of the open gypsy cars plying on the road for this same reason and the ride was most welcome and amazing.

From Solang we got another cab to Manali for 500/-. We again came to Old Manali and visited the Cafe 1947. It was an amazing cafe with amazing food. A sip of beed and and a spoonful of trout: that was exactly what we needed at that moment. After cherishing the food sitting on the bank of Beas, we looked back to the past days events and raised a toast in the name of the Beas which flowed beside us, in its own playful mind.

Kasol-Kheerganga Trek in Parvati Valley

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The Parvati river valley is an ethereally beautiful treasure trove hidden between steep-sided mountains which runs eastwards from the town of Bhuntar, the place where Parvati pours into Beas. The valley is well reputed for its natural and cultivated growth of Cannabis which plays a major part in attracting travelers from all around the globe.  With beauties unparalleled to any other river valleys, this place is a host to some of the most welcoming and trippy villages in Himachal.

Day One: Kasol to Barshini (17km by car, via Manikaran)  to Kheerganga (14km trek)
Our journey started from Kasol, one of such villages. The plan was to do the Kheerganga trek. I was planning it for the last 3 years and never end up doing it. So, this time when we were talking about Kasol, I just could not hide my excitation as I knew we were going to the Hot spring of Kheerganga. We left Chandigarh in the evening and by dawn next day, we were in Kasol. Reaching Kasol so early in the morning did not seem to be a good idea as after the night-long parties every single person clearly seemed to be deep in sleep and least bothered about providing rooms.We could not spot even a single sober person who seemed interested in providing us accommodation. Luckily we got a room in one of the hostels and quickly retired to bed. Accommodation was pretty cheap compared to other hill stations keeping in mind the rush of tourists in this peak season. After a short nap followed by some “hash-tagged” breakfast, we started for Barshaini, the last road head. The construction of the Parvati river dam dominates the view there. Also the beautiful confluence of Parvati and Tosh can be seen.

Barshaini

construction site near Pulga

confluence of Parvati and Tosh near Barshini

The trek starts with a bridge crossing the Parvati river and follows a moderate steep trail through local wheat fields, villages cafes up to the spiritual place of Rudra-Nag. The initial steepness is a bit breath-taking but offers spectacular views of the Valley.

confluence of Parvati and Tosh near Barshini

firstst cafe after crossing the firsh bridge

first few steps on the trail

a distant waterfall seen from the trail

view from the trail going up

after some time, we came across a bifurcation on the trail. One went a little downhill and the other was a steep uphill. A small kid from some nearby local shop told us to take the lower trail but by seeing others taking the steep one, we followed. This trail took us to the village of Nakthan through some beautiful wheat-fields. Nakthan is a popular resting place for trekkers and offers good refreshments at various cafes.

bifurcation: take the upper trail

through the wheat fields

after the wheat fields

towards Nakthan

before nakthan

Nakthan cafes

Nakthan village

Nakthan

after nakthan

The month being June, the trail was extraordinarily green as it was raining almost everyday and the combination of blue sky, green mountains and distant white peaks was nothing but completely unearthly. There are many cafes along the way where one can sit and enjoy this majestic beauty. The trail is also decorated with many small springs. We did not know whether the water was drinkable but we did not care. We could not resist the taste of the cold crisp water and drank it to our fullest. All along the way, the river Parvati flows down the trail with a dangerously beautiful gurgling sound that seemed like a mountain lullaby. it was scary at times and yet so soothing.

cafe after nakthan

parvati river after nakthan 2

before rudrana

After a while, we reached the holy and spiritual place of Rudranag. A gorgeous water spring was coming through rocks with an apparent serpentine looks and hence the name. This place has a little bit clearing around it and some level ground to take a few moments rest before entering the deep pine forest after another river crossing.

 before rudranag

Rudranag

view from Rudranag

after a few steps, we came across a wooden bridge (while coming down the work of converting this wooden bridge into an iron one had already started), that took us on the other side of a raging Parvati cutting a deep gorge through ages old rocks. This place sure looked so ancient as if any time some prehistoric animal would come out of the forest. Lush green growth, big ferns, the muddy waterfall, the shaky bridge…ahh! a sight I would relish forever.

from the wooden bridge

the wooden bridge before rudranag

Crossing the wooden bridge was a thrilling experience. To cross a tremendousflow of raging white water all you have is a shaky bridge made up of wooden planks. Once we crossed the wooden bridge, the surroundings changed immediately. It was no longer going through wheat fields and villages, rather it was a thick pine forest and the trail followed a steep upwardly path. Through a couple of more water stream crossing and cafes, some tricky part on the trail, we finally got to the meadow of Kheerganga. The trail was so long and we all were so tired because of sleeplessness, that we literally felt each moments of this trek. And it seemed unending. Finally when we reached Kheerganga and get to behold the majestic huge mountains, our joy knew no bounds.

tricky trail

kheerganga

It was a tiring day, a really long trekking and that too a pretty steep one, but reaching there as usual we forgot the pain. the view was one of its kind. Huge mountains, waterfalls so high, as if coming from sky, the welcoming cafes and the river singing the mountain lullaby…never before I had witnessed such a place. to be very frank, it was a bit crowded at this time of the year and that is why I could not stop imagining how pristine this would look in off season times! Worth a try. And to add to all these, one of the cafes had hammocks hanging from a wooden beam, out in the open and just in front that huge mountain was standing like a sentinel guarding the sacred meadow.

cafes at kheerganga

a baba's hut at kheerganga

kheer ganga

kheerganga view

kheerganga view

kheerganga view

waterfalls from mountains kheerganga

view from kheerganga

We stayed there in a temporary wooden makeshift dorm for 150 per head per night. Tents were also available. Compared to the accommodation, the food although was not so cheap and that is quite understandable. But we ate like we never had food.

Day two: Back to Kasol via same route
Next morning, surprisingly all our body aches were gone and we decided to go to the hot-spring. That was yet another refreshing experience. The water was really really hot but once you give time some time, it is surprisingly bearable. And after a certain point, It is really fun! We stayed there for quite some time, came down, had breakfast and set off for the descending. While coming down, it rained heavily. Half wet, we took shelter in a cafe at Nakthan and again ate like mad people. We started coming down only after it stopped raining.

towards barshaini

trail ends, coming down

end trail, coming back

It was almost dark when we came to Barshaini. we took a cab for 1000 Rs from the drivers’ association office. We were told by the locals that they charge reasonably although that seemed a bit over the top. The cab dropped us down to Kasol in 45 mins to 1 hr. Quickly we visited the market and did some shopping. After another round of crazy dinner, we set off for the planes only to come back here again.

Hatu Peak…a day hike from Narkanda

Its hard not to find any mythological connection to any Himalayan region you go. And for Hatu too, so it goes. According to the local legends, the Pandavas of Mahabharata spent a part of their incognito exile on this hill top. And to add to that the deity of the Hatu temple is Mandodari, Ravana’s wife from Ramayana. But why mandodari’s temple at a place where Pandavas spent time remained elusive to my mind.

the breathtaking view from Hatu top
the breathtaking view from Hatu top

Hatu peak, standing 3400m above sea level boasts the highest summit of Shimla-narkanda region. For quite some time I was ignoring the call of this place just because it has a motorable road leading all the way to the top. A motorable road not just takes away the virginity of the place or the thrill, but also irritates you to the core by frequent honking cars and polluting smoke. But I heard so much about the view that this peak offered that finally decided to give it a go. Plus it was a day hike which means no extra leaves from work which was impossible.

So, I and some of my crazy itchy-feet friends boarded a bus from Chandigarh to Shimla. At shilma we changed for Narkanda. That bus dropped us at Narkanda at 3 am in the morning and the whole place looked totally desolated as if some zombie town. Except for some stray dogs barking at us, not even a single life form was to be seen anywhere. There was a temple just off the road and surrounding that a market place and some hotels which gave no sign of being operative recently. While some of us took shelter inside an ATM counter to save ourselves from the chilly cold wind outside, rest started searching for a place to spent a few hours. Luckily just behind the temple, we found a signboard of “prem guest house” bearing phone number too. As we settled there for a short but tight nap, we kept on shivering and the snow patches outside our room perhaps smirked.

When we woke up it was sunny outside and to get rid of the cold as soon as we came out to the balcony the glorious higher Himalayan peaks left us awestruck. By that time the place had come to life erasing the stillness of the night. After a light good breakfast at a local dhaba, we set off for the trek through the road that goes to Thanedar. This road itself is beautiful enough with less traffic, a dense pine, fir and spruce growth and distant Himalayan peaks playing hide and seek through the trees.

distant Himalayan peaks as seen through the pine trees

pine fir spruce growth along Thanedar road
pine fir spruce growth along Thanedar road
the road to hatu peak trek start point : surrounded by green and blue
the road to hatu peak trek start point : surrounded by green and blue

After 1km of downhill walk, we came across an opening from where three roads were going to different directions. The right one goes to Thanedar, left one most probably goes to some village and the middle one which goes visibly uphill along a ridge is the trail to be followed to Hatu top.

6km from Hatu peak
6km from Hatu peak
starting of hatu peak trek
starting of hatu peak trek

From this place Hatu top is 6km away. As soon as we set off from that point the outstandingly long pines almost hid the sky from us but provocatively kept on opening just a bit for the white-washed peaks beyond the valley below.

canopied sky of hatu peak trail
canopied sky of hatu peak trail
hatu peak trekking through forest road
hatu peak trekking through forest road
Hide and seek with snow capped mountain peaks in Hatu peak trek
Hide and seek with snow capped mountain peaks in Hatu peak trek
pine trees along the hatu trek
pine trees along the hatu trek

As we came across the 5km milestone, we were greeted by a place with heavenly serenity all around it. It offered a astounding view of the valley bellow on the right and on the left, standing tall, was the Hatu peak. We could see the temple up above but it seemed so far away that we failed to understand how it was only 5 km! And we kept on walking past the 4km and 3km milestone trying to grab in all the beauty that this trail had to offer. Sometimes we looked into the canopied sky, sometimes to the valley and sometimes to the vast emptiness lying before the vast greatness of the Himalayan peaks.

5km milestone along Hatu peak trail
5km milestone along Hatu peak trail
Hatu peak and Hatu temple on top of it, as seen from 5km milestone area
Hatu peak and Hatu temple on top of it, as seen from 5km milestone area

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drama of amazing colors in hatu peak trail
drama of amazing colors in hatu peak trail
amazing spring colors of hatu trail
amazing spring colors of hatu trail
the valley below, from hatu trail
the valley below, from hatu trail
4km from hatu top
4km from hatu top
amazing colors of hatu peak trail: view from somewhere around 4km milestone
amazing colors of hatu peak trail: view from somewhere around 4km milestone

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view of the valley from hatu peak trek
view of the valley from hatu peak trek

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Himalayan snow capped peaks as seen from Hatu trail
Himalayan snow capped peaks as seen from Hatu trail
relaxing with a great view to behold, in hatu peak trek
relaxing with a great view to behold, in hatu peak trek

After a while we came across another opening with a “Gujjar Kotha” or mud hut on our left selling some basic refreshments like maggi, cold drinks, water and biscuits. This place was beatified by the presence of a small water body overlooking the high peaks beyond the valley below. This also marked the starting point of icy and snowy slopes that would remain for the rest of the trek. And because of that this place was full of cars and bikes as beyond this point, the road, due to snow, was no more motorable. We did not spend more than few minutes there as it was too much crowded with honking cars playing high beat soundtrack and plenty irresponsible tourists throwing away plastic packets everywhere. I wonder how serene this place would look had there been no such disturbances!

just before reaching the mud hut, at hatu trail
just before reaching the mud hut, at hatu trail
mud hut or gujjar kotha in hatu peak trek
mud hut or gujjar kotha in hatu peak trek

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a small water body or pond adjacent to the mud hut at hatu trail
a small water body or pond adjacent to the mud hut at hatu trail

As we crossed the mud hut and the 3km milestone, after a short walk, we came across a shortcut and could not resist the temptation of trying it. It was a steep climb and we loved the absence of the cars. Once we came up to the road again, the snowy patches started.

3km from hatu top
3km from hatu top
the short cut of hatu trek
the short cut of hatu trek
snow covered hatu peak trail
snow covered hatu peak trail

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The snowy trail was fun to walk on. There were no cars, only walking people having fun on the snow. it was not much difficult but a pair of good trekking shoe and walking poles were of great help as at some places, it was too slippery. last two kilometers were full snow only. Finally we came across a steep staircase leading to the back of the temple directly. One can follow the road also but we took the stairs. As soon as we got up to the top, everyone of us lay down onto the benches and just breathed in the cold crisp and pure air and the breathtaking panoramic view. The temple looked to be under renovation but we did not even bother to check it out. Our temple was in front of us, with all its glory and heavenly presence, the view was just too vast to take in. By that time, we were all dead hungry and actually thought as there is a temple up there there would be something to eat also. But to much of our disappointment, we got nothing. But when we were interrogating some of the people, one good “human” being offered us a pack of biscuits and 7 of us shared that as a “prasad” or offering of the Hatu temple. Once again, contempt by whatever little we got to eat and more by the omnipresent vastness before us, we, 7 tiny creature of this tiny planet sat there silently looking through that vastness just to fathom how insignificantly tiny are we.

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as you go up, the snow increases
as you go up the hatu peak trail, the snow increases
for hatu top, take the right turn, if you go straight, you will find some other temple
for hatu top, take the right turn, if you go straight, you will find some other temple

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the superb view from hatu top
the superb view from hatu top
snow capped peaks as seen from hatu top
snow capped peaks as seen from hatu top
 hatu trmple
hatu temple

Coming down was a bit tricky as the trail was really slippery. and to add to that we got lost!

well, not really, but we took a trail while coming down which goes to another temple inside a forest. the path was so full of snow that we wondered for quite a few times whether we took a wrong turn or not. But while going up, as we did not see any other road bifurcating at any point we kept on walking. When we saw the temple that we did not see while coming up, we knew that we were lost. we came back through the same road but it took quite some time negotiating through that snow covered narrow trail. But we managed to come down to the mud hut just before sunset. rest of the path was plain and easy but it was already dark. So dark that could not even see the road properly. Starry sky peeking from the perforated canopy and an awesome view of the sunset was our additional gain from this walk in the dark.

this is the path you would end up to if you take the wrong turn
this is the path you would end up to if you go straight from the sign board area, about 1.5 km away from hatu top
the other temple at the end of the other road
the other temple at the end of the other road
Drama of evening lights after the sunset, seen while coming down from hatu
Drama of evening lights after the sunset, seen while coming down from hatu

After all these, the final 1km uphill walk to Narkanda was a bit tiring. After reaching narkanda, we ate to our fullest and after a few hours wait at the bus stop, got a direct bus for Chandigarh.

“Laal paharer deshe”… a jungle lore from the red-soiled hills of Bankura

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A long vacation away from the mountains and friends was enough hardship for me only to be compensated by home made food. Apart from that, nothing was exciting when I decided to go for a trip to the jungles of south Bengal. These jungles once were deadly infamous as the main hub of Maoists’ operation. Merely 5 years ago people would think of you as a gone case had you been planning a trip that time. Although in recent times, their activities have been curbed down to a great extent but a few still believe of their existence deep in the wild.

There are more than one forest ranges in south Bengal, Sutan forest being one of them. this forest is essentially connected to a larger and wilder landscape of Dalma which extends towards Jharkhand. The whole region is also known as the elephant corridor.

Jhilimili is a famous tourist spot situated in Bankura near the border of Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore dist. At a distant of 78 km from Bankura town, the drive to Jhilimili offers a pleasant journey through picturesque landscape.

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The time being just post-puja days, villagers from many villages clad in traditional tribal attire were performing some ritual dance on the roads, sometimes as a part of their celebration and sometimes to get some donations. On reaching Jhilimili, we came across a rain water filled lake surrounded by dense forest and lower hills. the road itself goes through a hilly terrain and offers a magnificent view of the valley below.

The road that leads to Jhilimili, at one place, bifurcates to Sutan forest. But one can take a more adventurous jungle trail from Jhilimili to Sutan as well. This road is chilling in every sense with no human habitat nearby, no mobile network and a dangerously beautiful forest wrapped all around you. We saw the remains of the buildings set by the military which was destroyed by bomb blasts by Maoists attacks. There was an old forest rest house as well. I wondered if it still was operational. The thought of spending a night there came to my mind with indescribable spine-chilling horror but what an out-of-this-worldly adventure that would have been. The watch tower just in front of the rest house also has gone through the rage of the Maoists.

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After spending quite enough of spine-chilling time deep into the forest, we headed for Mukutmanipur, famous for its second biggest earth dam of India situated at the confluence of Kangshabati and Kumari. The landscape is beautiful here. Vast waterscpapes surrounded by an undulating hilly terrain attracts quite a few tourists through out the year.

The whole trip turned out to be quite an amazing one. We travel distant lands but often ignore the ones in front of our doorstep. There are many such spine-chilling forest experiences around this place which is often considered less attractive but actually is not experienced properly. These places offer not less to see, but definitely more to experience. The heat, the smell of raw red soil and green dense forest, the chirping of numerous birds and if you are lucky (or unlucky!) enough, you can also catch a glance of the elephants crossing the roads that goes through the forests.

Going up the course of bustling Beas…attempting the Beas Kund trek

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For the first time I am not feeling handicapped due to my inadequate English vocabulary because any amount of words would fall short to describe the beauty of this trek. I was searching for an easy trek option which could be done in weekends and came across a few(hopefully I will right blogs about them also shortly), and narrowed down to the famous Beas Kund trek: a trek to the source of the Beas river. Ironically the trek is way too much secluded (and thus peaceful, and breathtakingly beautiful) even when the nearest township Manali is irritatingly overcrowded.

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Day One: Chandigarh to manali by bus (around 300 km overnight journey) 

Nothing much to mention here except for the poor conditioned Him-Gaurav bus and the wonderful starry night sky that opens up as soon as you enter the holy land of Himachal. I tried hard to not to look up the starlit sky and the similar mountains to decipher where one ends and the other starts and decided to sleep. But the uncomfortable bus and the breathtaking view outside was conspiring against me. I kept myself reminding that morning itself we have a trek to start and I should sleep. Finally I managed to get some.

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Day Two: Manali to Solang (almost 14 km by Cab) to Dhundi (almost 8 km by cab) to Bhaker Thatch (almost 3-4 km, but the distance seemed a bit more)

We reached Manali at around 7 am. May be early morning is the only time during this peak season of influx of tourist when this hill town sleeps. Weather was pleasant being it mid June. We decided to get a room for one hour to freshen up. Peak season in mountains is extremely costly and a room for only one hour costed us 500 INR. But keeping in mind that these are the only few months when the mountain people earn some good money, it did not matter much. One can also avail the option of trying the pay-n-use toilets and bathrooms situated at the both end of the mall road (one beside the Taxi Drivers’ Union and the other near Ram Chawk). Once we were ready we came out to break our fast with Bread-omelet and Gobi paratha. 

Next we headed for the taxi drivers union to fix how to get to Solang. There is one bus at around 8 am for Solang but as we did not have that choice any more cab was the only option (well, not really, one can walk through the paved path through Palchan. and if you have a guide he will take you through some nice short-cuts). We talked to the drivers if they can arrange for the permit to drive upto Dhundi, a place 8 km from Solang. Driving in the road between Solang and Dhundi is strictly prohibited as the construction of the Famed 9(almost) km Rohtang tunnel is being carried out by BRO. Dhundi falls in the southern end of the tunnel. Luckily one of the drivers (I have the name and the phone number) managed to get through Solang up to Dhundi and we arived at the starting point of our trek. one can also try and if lucky can get a lift by the trucks that travells in this part for the construction. It was time to say goodbye to the civilization.

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The trail is pretty much clear in most of the parts and is one of its kind. It starts with the raging Beas at its left. But soon a makeshift wooden log will take you to the other side of the river. From there it was an amazing walk through a flower bedecked valley. We were carrying our own tents, sleeping bags and food, and that’s why even the simple trail, at times, was feeling tiring.

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Sometimes the trail goes along some small streams, sometimes you need to cross one, well, not exactly one, many small and large rivulets. Many a times, you have to walk over solid ice which covers the streams. One has to be extra careful while crossing these as the ice, while melting can be weak or broken. At one such point, we came across a situation, when needed to cross a raging rivulet. the upper part of the river was under a glacial ice-sheet and the lower part was milky white due to the rushing water. even the boulders were not much stable. Anyway we decided to cross one by one. Suddenly a porter, who was going to the same place as ours to deliver some items with his horses, appeared like an angel. He made the river crossing easier for us. we hopped over the shaky boulders holding his hands and successfully came to the other side of the river.

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After some time we came across the Beas river itself. Luckily the shepherds have made another makeshift wooden log bridge at this point. Walking over a swinging wooden log beneath which the river Beas was gushing through ebulliently. At this point, due to the over-weight rucksacks we all were dead tired. The trail for us was “breath-taking” in every possible way.

We saw some tents a little distance away and mistook it for Baker Thatch. It was a nice camping ground but Baker Thatch was at a distance of almost one hour from this point. We kept walking with our rucksacks which seemed heavier and heavier with each step, took rest often and again kept walking untill we reach the gorgeous meadows of Baker Thatch. We met several people who were coming down after completing the trek and one such person told us that Baker Thatch camping ground is almost full of tents so we can put up our tents a little ahead of Baker Thatch. This place most probably is called Bhoj-patra. It was a good advice, as the place was secluded, away from all kind of hustles, totally heavenly peaceful and much more near to the water stream. It was a heaven that I spent the night in. Never before have I seen such majestic color combination of Green and white. Never before have I seen the lofty and huge icy slopes of the Pir-Panjal range which lead to the mighty peaks of Hanuman Tibba, Shitidhar, Indrasaan, Deo Tibba, Friendship etc.

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We put up our tent and suddenly we realized the blunder that we have done. We forgot to take some food from Manali! Although we had brought some dry food like bread, butter, biscuits and cakes, those were not enough for the coming two days that we were planning to spend in this unearthly beauty away from civilization. Luckily along with us, there were two more tents put up by a Japanese group. They had a guide and a cook. We requested them if they can make something for us too and I could not deny the presence of a divine power when those two mountain people served us Japanese soup, Spaghetti, and hot Rajma-Chawal but did not accept even a single penny when we offered something to pay. Who would have thought that we would get these at this height. Content with  the hot food and more with the worm gestures by those two angelic person, we sat in front of the lofty slopes to take in the vastness of whatever was in front of us: the Mother Nature and the human nature. Perhaps, in a place of such grandeur all you get is of the same “grand” level. The petite human nature that we observe in our day to day lives seemed so futile. With moist eyes, I sat their, incapable of taking in all the greatness that this place has offered, yet just spellbound, too happy to be there and at the same time, weirdly sad for the futile inhuman rat-race down the hills. that was some hours of pure happiness. And yes, if this was to be called happiness, then definitely money can not buy it; quite literally.

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After hours of spending time out in the wilderness, we finally retired to our tents. Other than the heavy rain that woke us all up in sudden terror, we had a sound sleep! the gushing sound of the water bodies around played the sleeping tune in the background.

Day Three: Baker Thatch to manali via same route 

Although our plan was to go to the Beas Kund, (The trail to Beas Kund goes straight up the water body from Baker Thatch after crossing a solid glacial ice cover. This is a steep ascent to the mountain ridge visible from Baker Thatch. After crossing the ridge, The Kund lies beyond) we decided not to trek to the Kund, because of the rain, the heavy rucksacks and lack of food. The Japanese group was moving down today. So we would be alone and we did not have adequate food for next one and a half day. Additionally, due to the rain, it might be risky also and it might rain again. Plus carrying the rucksacks, the kind of heavy they were, it seemed impossible for us to complete the trek. So we decided to move down. But due to the over-weight rucksacks, all of our shoulders were aching heavily. Now the challenge was to carry them down through a wet trail. Suddenly the same porter who helped us cross the river, appeared again with his horse and we came to know that he is the porter for the Japanese group also. We requested him to carry our rucksacks, tents etc and he agreed to do so for 500 bucks. This fellow does this trek thrice a day in order to earn some bread for his family. We agreed and after saying goodbye to the gushing water stream that was coming down the mountain ridge directly from the Beas kund, the glacial lake, and at the same time promising to come back to complete the trek, we started the joyful descent. While coming down, we spent quality times in stopping at places just to breath in all the beauty that we saw in front of our eyes. we were surrounded by lofty green and white monstrous yet unearthly beautiful mountains through out the whole trek. Behind us were the great walls of Hanuman Tibba range and in front of us some other snow capped peaks. On the left and right, the most amazing combination of green and white, the seven hills and the other mountains. Once we reach Dhundi, we gather our bags from the porter and yet another time got lucky to get a lift by trucks which were moving down to Solang.

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From Solang, we planned to board the 3 pm bus for Manali. But when it did not come due to excessive traffic jam near Palchan, we decided to walk. We came down to Palchan. This is the place where the Solang road meats the Rohtang road, and as it was the peak season, the road was jammed for miles after miles. All movement around Manali came to a halt. I wonder, till what time the innocent nature would take this torture of bustling motors! We requested almost all possible vehicle in that line of Jammed traffic, but surprisingly got refused each and every time. The reason still unknown. even local buses travelling from Keylong to Manali refused us as if we will travell without ticket. They did not even ask for a ticket, they simply refused. Finally, near the Palchan bridge which would you to the Old Manali, we got a cab which got us to Manali for 800 bucks. We took a hotel, freshen up, had an amazing dinner with Japanese and Tibetan cuisine and retired to our rooms.

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                      “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion…I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment…my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.”

                                                          …………………Anatoli Boukreev

Triund in winter…a one day solo snow trek

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Much have the mountains to offer than one can absorb in a single visit. Someone once rightly said that it is not about the place that you are revisiting, it is the viewpoint that you are seeing it from. And what more can one hope for when Nature itself conspires to change that viewpoint of yours.

I did this trek once before in October’14. That time it was lush green, the most soothing to the eyes.

the trail to Triund in October

This time I had no prior plans to come here again. I was as usual searching a needle in the haystack of my Ph.D. life and suddenly I came across a post in FB with some pics of this Heaven-beyond-seventh-Heaven-“Triund”… being fully covered with fresh snow. I couldn’t resist it and suddenly decided to venture it out at any cost, be it with the risk of going alone. And so I did. Saturday night I took a bus from Chandigarh to McLeodganj, the little Tibet in Himachal. The bus dropped me there at around 6.30 am in the morning. I started my hunt for a cheap accommodation, as I only needed to leave behind some stuffs and refresh. In January, it’s not such a big deal to get a room in reasonably less price. And when I opened the window of my own little cosy room, I was blown away immediately. Just in front of me, standing was the snow-capped high peaks of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, redefining grandiosity and splendour.

the white sentinel...view from my hotel window
the white sentinel…view from my hotel window

I decided to start the trek as soon as possible as I was planning to get down the same day. After having a light breakfast (which is very important before starting any trek) and a cup of hot tea, I set off for the white beauty. I was carrying only a rain jacket, gaiters, gloves, medicines, water bottle, trekking stick and off course my camera. That’s it. Everything else I left behind in the hotel room. Since it was a snow trek, gaiters and trekking sticks would be of much help.

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The main trail starts from Gulu devi temple, a little ahead of Dharamkot. There is one Hotel near to Gulu devi temple also which I did not know about previously. At around 8.30 am I started ascending. As soon as the trail starts, it provides an amazing view of Mcleodganj and Dharamshala downhill. And in the morning, they were sunbathing. Golden beams of rays were being poured by the Sun through the “light-holes” of clouds. The magic of the view would surely impel any nature lover to freeze in moment for an instant.

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In gulu devi temple itself, small patches of snow were present on the ground. But the initial trail remains free from being snowy, although just for a few turns. Soon the trail started offering you the challenge of crossing extremely slippery, frozen-ice-covered paths. I was thinking how to get down, but soon decided not to ponder upon that obvious risk, rather concentrate on the present. So, deliberately shaking off the faint possibility of an impossible descending, I continued ascending. And suddenly, after one turn, again that huge peak was visible, standing as a gigantic sentinel to watch out this ancient route of Gaddi shepherds.

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By the time I reach magic view café, which marks the middle point of the trail, I got some good companies. We were having tea, maggi, energy drink, and spending some time there relaxing our muscles a bit, when suddenly it started snowing. Yes it felt awesome, the first ever snow fall in my life.

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The shop owner warned us about the more perilous next half of the trail being fully covered by snow. Just in front of the café, the trail was snow covered. After that it was a white sea of glittering snow. Due to heavy snowfall, I was not being able to match the trail as I knew it to be from my early experience. We just followed the footmarks. Time to time, getting up was so difficult that it was heard to block my mind from thinking about that impossible descending. But still I continued. At times, there was no trail as such, no place to keep both the feet side by side. But luckily those tricky parts were covered with a highly pumping heart and without any “incident”.

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The final ascent of half an hour, in summer itself, was tiring due to its steepness. And to add to that, it was covered with thick snow. In this scenario, a stick is of great help. Soft snow help in getting good grip, but to decide, whether there is any ground beneath the soft snow, you need a stick. Otherwise, it can be dangerous. So without a proper trail, we all completed the almost vertical final ascent and then, there it was, Triund, clad in thick fresh snow, impeccably white and completely indescribable. I will not compare the lush greenery with the blinding whiteness, but for me it was the most out of this world view that I have ever withstand, spellbinding, horrifying, pleasing and awe-inspiring at the same time. And behind the ridge, there was that Sentinel just a stone throwing distance away. The Moon peak, as it is called, was standing there with all its grandeur. In front of it my time froze, no matter how much I tried to grasp the horrifying beauty of the snow giant, it seemed too less. A bizarre feeling of “I am” grasped me instantaneously. Where, what, when, how, I didn’t care. Only thing obvious to me was “I am”. I cannot really express this in words. Better to go there and experience.

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After completing 9 km of ascending and a similar descend, my knees started revolting against my mind. I took a cab and came to my Hotel room to take a few hours rest before setting off for my return journey.

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“Chamba kitni door”….Dalhousie to Chamba winter trekking

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Dalhousie, Kalatop and khajjiar, people say they are beautiful. But, I had no idea they could have been breath-taking too, and sometimes quite literally! So, here it goes:  my second travelogue on these breathtakingly serene Himalayan treasure troves. And it starts from the famous hill station; Dalhousie in the state of Himachal Pradesh. At an altitude of 6500 feet above sea level, Dalhousie, named after a British Governor-General Lord Dalhousie was established by the British Empire itself as a summer retreat for its soldiers.

Youth Hostels Association of India, in the meantime, chose this little hill station as the base camp for a wildly amazing winter trekking expedition. The trails through the snow covered forest and many villages would lead you ultimately to the village of Mangla, near the town of Chamba.

 

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The first day of the trek is an amazing walk through partly roads and mostly forest to reach the chilly and windy black forest of Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. The motorable road out of Dalhousie soon took us to a narrow trail leading to a forest covered with snow. The slopes before us went high and green with patches of white scattered through it. The stillness and he silence becomes so thick, even the overwhelming joy of glancing the snow for the first time would not be able to break it.

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This trail is basically a blissful shortcut against the motorable road that leads to the Kalatop-Khajjiar Wildlife sanctuary. From there, its again a little walking through the tar road unless you take up another forest route covered with thick snow.

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And then, after walking in the woods for quite some mesmerized hours, comes the desolated village of Lakharmandi. The snow covered roofs and the locked doors give a feeling that somewhere in the corner a great dragon is hibernating, whose sleep, once its summer again, will be broken up by the heat and the village will be lively again. Till then, it only reminds of the hardship that the villagers must go through each and every year by leaving there own huts in search of warmth. What we, the natives of planes crave for one or two days are literally nightmares for them.

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Yes, the heart grew heavier after thinking about the lives of these villagers. But Mother Nature seized our attention soon. When you would reach the day’s destination, the Forest Rest house in Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary (almost 8000 ft above sea level), every sane person would become inane and awestruck in love of The Himalayas. Just in front of you, a great valley of tinged clouds, blowing over the shorter hills with a backdrop of towering heights of gigantic snow-covered peaks just blew us away and all of our jaws continued to hang in a perpetual awe.

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No words would escape your mouth. The hot soup became chilled in our cups, the evening snacks remained in the platters, uneaten, and we, ignoring the shivering sub-zero temperature, continued to gobble up the unearthly playing of colors as long as we can. And then came the moment which we all were waiting for. The setting Sun poured a generous quantity of pure molten gold on the snow-capped peaks. And thus came the last night of the year. Tomorrow will be a new dawn, a new year. What better way can one ask for to welcome the New Year, a year, which will always remind me of the futility of our daily clashes and the existence of an unearthly ethereal beauty which is way more mysterious and perplexing yet the most simplest object in front of us.

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With the chirping of dozens of birds and a refreshing beam of light from the morning Sun, we started our second day in the woods. Destination: Khajjiar, situated at a height of 6500 ft. From kalatop to Khajjiar is a 12 km trek, of which, first half is continuous descent and the second half is a steep ascent through dense green woods.

After completing the descent and having lunch near a small mountain stream, we started the strenuous climb uphill. After crossing numerous fallen trees, challenging and “breath-taking” turns and twists in the trail, we reached the green meadow of Khajjiar .

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Next destination was to get down to the Mangla village near the town of Chamba, an ancient hill station on the bank of ravi river at a height of almost 3000 ft. the descent is strenuously steep and the longest of all three days, a whirling 14 km straight from the height of 6500 ft. The trail goes through many Himalayan Villages and the villagers, spcially the children are of very sweet nature. They will greet you as if they know you since time immemorable! The fragrant flowers, lime-water and butter-milk which they will offer you just for a few ten rupees are no match for the smiles in their faces and the heart worming greetings; a massive blow of reality check for our urban life where we will always try to avoid strangers.

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This trail also offers a nice view of the Mt. Manimahesh kailash,one of the five abode of Lord Shiva according to Hindu mythology. The peak, in a clear azure sky truly is grand.

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With blistered feet, we all reached the village of Mangla. Chamba is at a stone throwing distant from there. Finally, reaching Chamba, we visited the Lakshmi Naath temple and the famous shops of Chamba Chappals and had yummy street food. But above all, this ancient town is basically to be experienced. Its not at all like any other hill-towns I have been to before. This was, in true sense, original, unadulterated and ancient. Although modernity has begun to sneak into the daily lives of this town’s people, the charm of the colorful Chamba remains true. So finally the trail ended there and so ends three day’s strenuous routine, picturesque landscapes, unforgettable fun and making new friends. Somewhere someday we all will meet once again; with this hope, we all departed, cause the world my friend is round and not so big.

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Beyond Seventh Heaven…a trek to Triund Hill

DSC_0055   An extended Weekend…what else can one be thankful for! And this time it was super-extended. But for Ph.D. students it made no difference, sadly. So, when the vacation was about to end, we decided to make at least some use of it. Didn’t know at that time that it would turn out to be so great. At first we thought that we would go to Tirthan valley, the gateway to Great Himalayan National Park. But after consulting a friend, came to realize that it would be too hectic just for one day. So we changed the plan to Triund…The Heavenly Triund. Due to the crazy extended weekend, hardly any bus tickets were available, but we got ours luckily! From Chandigarh to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj, other than HRTC buses, there are a few private ones also. Details are available in http://www.redbus.in. On reaching Mcleodganj at around 7 in the morning, we quickly got a room to freshen up and started our journey at around 9.15 am. Two trails start from Mcleodganj towards triund. One is via Bhagsu and the other via Dharamkot. The one via Bhagsu is a bit roundabout so we took the one via Dharamkot. And its always advisable to get some food, chocolates and water packed from this place as the shops uphill are a bit costlier. But carrying overloaded backpack is also not advisable. Reaching Dharamkot there are again two ways towards Gulu devi temple. One is motorable. The other one is a bit strenuous shortcut, but absolutely beautiful one. DSC_0017 DSC_0040 DSC_0046 And the place where this shortcut meets the motorable road near Gulu devi temple, is absolutely serene. The thick and green alpine vegetation would surely cast an everlasting imprint in your mind. The peace, the calmness and the purity seem so special, its not only rare, its out-of-this-world. DSC_0048 DSC_0055 DSC_0056 There is another shop (Rest-a-while cafe) in Gulu devi temple to get re-energized. The main track for Triund starts from here, just behind the temple. From here its an amazing up hill walk, of which the first half is moderately easy, but its nothing compared to the last half in terms of difficulty. After completing the first half, you would come across two shops with amazing views down the mountains. Thus the names: Magic view cafe and Best view cafe. All these cafes are loaded with soft drinks, energy drinks, and snacks. There is nothing more pleasant than to have a hot bowl of maggi, a hot cup of strong tea while clouds will float around you and carry away your tiredness. After stretching our legs for a few minutes, we continued our journey. DSC_0060 DSC_0063 DSC_0066 DSC_0081 DSC_0082 DSC_0085 DSC_0093 DSC_0095 DSC_0097 DSC_0101 Just after the monsoon, the surrounding was lush green. The only sound of birds chirping was a treat to the ears. The floating clouds, the cool breeze, the green heights and the apparent sense of reaching a misty mountain top…the feeling was indescribable. Now that the easy part was over up to the mid point, a more strenuous journey begins. The last part is really steep and all the way more beautiful too. before reaching the top, there is one more cafe to stretch your legs for another few minutes. After that the track becomes a bit more harder considering the fact that it has already gained height too. We had to stop and take a few breath every few minutes but finally we managed to get to the top. DSC_0152 DSC_0145 DSC_0132 DSC_0128   DSC_0112 DSC_0107 DSC_0105 DSC_0183 DSC_0186 DSC_0170 DSC_0160 DSC_0181 On reaching the top, it reminded me of Tolkien’s Misty Mountains. The beauty of the place is indescribable for me. It was peaceful. It was ethereal. It was calm. a few hours in that incredibly awe-inspiring place will surely wash off all the wary in our mind an heart. It was larger that life. You have to be there to experience and believe it. we started our descent after spending almost an hour. The descent was quick and easier. if time permits, spending a night there on top in a tent is highly highly advisable. We did not hav that choice. So i can only imagine the feeling. We came back promising deep within myself, that i will come back, again and again. DSC_0198 DSC_0201