Wednesday, July 29, 2015
I have roamed all across Himachal as its one of my favourite places to chill and go away from the cacophony of city life. I have been with the Firang's at Kasol, spend nights with the villagers of chitkul and also seeped in the beauty of the Sangla valley. But nowhere and I mean nowhere, I have been so content as a person mingling with nature as my stay at Tirthan Valley. It combines all things that Himchal has to offer : a wild flowing river, raging waterfalls, Virgin Locations and absolutely no additional crowd.Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words, so I will try to talk through the photos that I captured during my stay at Tirthan Valley
The Heart and Soul Of the Valley - The Tirthan River
Visit a Trout Farm(Carry your own Rod) and catch your own Trout
People At The Farm Will Help You Clean Up Your Catch
Tirthan valley is actually home to India's most recent National Park - The GHNP (Great Himalayan National Park). The park was open to Public in 1984 and the whole expanse covered by the park is a massive 1170 Sq Hm odd.I did not get a chance to really visit this National Park as my trip was more leisurely and laidback , but would urge people to visit the variety of Flora and Fauna available for this region!GHNP is also noted to be one of the places to spot the spotted himalayan leopard - a real rarity.
At the Entrance Of GHNP
The best part about Tirthan is that there are no designated tourist spots. The whole valley is a spot in itself. A trek here and you see a new view of the river, a trek there and you see a new view of the valley.
The Valley From A Vantage Point
Finding my own corner near the River
Delhi – Ambala (188 KM) – Chandigarh – Roopnagar (282 KM) – Kiratpur – Bilaspur (371 KM) – Mandi (440 KM) – Pandoh – Aut (481 KM) – Larji – Gushaini – Tirthan (511 KM)
To give some more tips on how to reach there : Post Mandi there is a tunnel that goes towards Manali. Before the tunnel take the right turn on the road and you will reach Tirthan!
Stay options are limited at Tirthan Valley. We stayed at Trishla Guest House and also stayed at the GHNP guest house. Both have minimal stay options, though if you can do some Jugaad, then one can also get the VIP rooms at the GHNP guest house.
At Trishla Guest House
Food options are not very great when you compare with Kasol, Vashisht etc. There is no continental fares and you have to be happy with the regular Pahadi Daal Chawal.
I am a huge fan of Himchal's beauty and I keep going back again and again. Now that I have found the Tirthan Valley, I have found one more hiding place for myself. Here I am at one of the numerous waterfalls that I found in and around the valley!
Saturday, November 1, 2014
It’s an uncommon feeling when you wake up to a breath of fresh air gushing through your face after tiring overnight journey in the bus from Delhi to Kullu Valley. But that is the moment when you leave all the fuss behind and enter a different world altogether, heavy monsoon here will not jam the traffic and sweating will not stain your office wears.
To enter the Tirthan Valley one deboards the Manali bound bus at the beginning of Aut tunnel (which itself is a 3km long masterpiece carved underneath a huge mountain ), 20 kms before Kullu town. From here a local taxi or a local bus will take you along the gushing Tirthan river to Great Himalayan National Park’s guest house at Sai Ropa, and then to beautiful village Gushaini where you start to feel the wilderness in your feet and thrill in your nerves. Here on, you might want to worry about the world that you left behind, you might want to miss the pizzas that fattened your tummy, you might want to search for mobile networks, but it’s not for long before you forget all this. Sooner you find yourself in the orchards of trees loaded with apples, apricots, almonds, persimmons(Japani Phal), streams of fresh water along your way, and fields lush with the cereals and vegetables that have touched sky high prices in the city where you belong. So be assured that for next few days you are going to be the richest man, as well as a free bird.
A four hour long walk along a narrow trail passing through the entry gate of Great Himalayan National Park takes you to a lonely hut on the right bank of Tirthan at Rolla(2100m). Sing Pahari songs and enjoy your meals with bonfire. Tirthan is your music for the evening and lullaby for the night.
Sunrays steer through the window panes to wake you up for another beautiful day. Today it was going to be a tough climb that takes us from 2100m to 3100m in 5-6 hours. Since we were the first group to make this journey this monsoon, the undisturbed grasses had grown quite tall to hinder our way. Since there was least danger of being lost on the only trail, we left the campsite before the support staff was ready to move on. Though we thought our pack was good enough to fight through the tall grasses, we were proved wrong within a few minutes of walk. It became difficult to find the trail hidden under thick bushes and climb at the same time. We took our first break to wait for our support staff and then resume with their help. That moment when we felt that we could choose a better place.
The cliff came out to be longer and steeper than our imagination, and with half of the group being to hills for the first time, it was harsh. As we approached the top, the breaks became so long and frequent that breaks between the walk were turning into walk between the breaks. But the best was yet to come. The flurry of clouds that surrounded us after walking for more than 4 hours assured that we had almost made it to the top. A few heavy steps and we could see the Shilt hut hidden in the thick sheet of mist, sheer beauty!
We were welcomed by a thunder storm followed by heavy rain. That should easily be the coldest moment of the trek. Inder unfolded his portable kitchen which literally had more stuff than my kitchen back home. At 3100m now, he prepared adrak chai (Ginger Tea), and served homemade “patode” with it, beat it! As it kept raining, the boys enjoyed playing cards sitting near the stove and along with it, travel tales of our guide. Hearing to his interesting wild anecdotes, it sounded to be the world’s best job, and I am full of envy for that. Time passed quicker than we could realize and it was time for well deserved dinner. About how it tasted, I should let you know that our cook had earlier served at a star rated hotel in Amritsar, before the mountains called him back for rest of his life. After it stopped raining, tents were tied down after clearing a thick layer of thorny bushes and we were all set to spend our night under the clear sky, brightest stars and moonlight.
When we woke up to the shrilling chirp of a strange bird this morning, it seemed to be alarming us of another strenuous day ahead. We got ready to leave in time and today’s destination was Rakhundi Top(3600m).
The first hour of the journey was comfortable with little variation in the altitude. It seemed to be pretty much like yesterday’s journey before the Monals started to maneuver in the sky. The monals filled a new energy in us and excitement doubled up to get a closer look. We started to look out for monals on each and every branch of the trees in this bird country. They did not disappoint us and it was a dream come true to be able to see so many monals for the first time.
As we crossed Chhordwari, ascent became very steep and here too the problem was the thick bushes multiplied to the steep ascent across the gorge of the naala that we were about to follow till the top. As we moved towards higher reaches, the view of the mountains around us became more prominent and attractive, every hill offering a complete trek in itself. But along the trail we found a new friend that would force us to look at the ground below our feet and forget the beauty around, call it Himalayan Pit Viper. We proceeded further with caution and finally made it to Rakhundi top. The inexplicable view at the top was breathtaking, with so many clouds around that they seemed to be completely filling the valley. As we offered prayers at the temple atop, Inder got busy collecting rare alpine herbs found only above a certain altitude. After spending the best time here, we were willinglessly forced to descend to be able to make it back to Rolla in time before it starts to rain. But rains rushed down sooner than expected and we ended up Day 3 walking in rain for almost all of the day. And there couldn’t be a better way to end the rainy day with a bath in the Tirthan.
On the last day of a memorable trek, excitement is still far from subsiding. Add to that a mother leopard’s morning walk leaving behind it’s footprints along our way back home. One thing became clear that all wasn’t over yet. As we reached the entry gate of the GHNP, a young group of Yoga enthusiasts camping over there was vary of a baby leopard’s cry in the jungle last night, lose your breath! Hopes were alive to be able to see a leopard but they never got fulfilled. Soon we ended up in Gushaini as the trucks blew their horns to wake up a pack of boys lost in a four day long dream.
Like a dessert after a wonderful meal, we decided to walk along the paved road rather than board our taxi. The road laiden with apple orchards and lush green maize fields lead us to the Sai Ropa waterfall. What a wonder hidden in the unending folds of the Himalayas! As you try to unzip your cameras, the waves of water in the air wetting you head to toe warn you to keep them shut. A beauty, camera shy. A bath here relieves you of all the pains and bruises that occurred after a few tough days.
A perfect end to the Independence week, with wild animals and wild spirit!
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Great Himalayan National Park
We had booked our trek in GHNP via Sunshine Himalayan Adventures that is run by Ankit Sood & his brother Panki Sood. Ankit is from Kullu itself & is an Eco-Tourism expert & holds camping & treks to Great Himalayan National Park.
The GHNP is another great wonder to discuss. It is possibly the newest wildlife park in India, and was built in 1984. The very expanse of the park is mind numbing at 1171 km square!!! The altitude of the park varies from 1500m to 6000m, which is saying something!! It is possibly one of the most unexplored national park of India, and is HUGE beyond any comparison!! You can read more details on the park here… GHNP Wiki
The Park, that is nominated to be a World Heritage Site (a huge honour), connects to 3 distinct valleys in Kullu…Gushaini, Parvati & Sainj!! Such is the large expanse of GHNP.
GHNP is widely known to spot the very rare Himalayan Snow Leopard – a snow white colour leopard that is a rarity & only found in upper Himalayas. You can also spot black bear & brown bear here. While black bear might be a common sight for national parks, a brown bear is still a rarity in the country. Photography enthusiasts come from far & wide & spend days on end in GHNP to spot these animals. In fact Ankit Sood’s team of porters regaled us with many stories of such photography pursuits to which they were personally a party. Like they told us the story of this one photographer from Delhi who spent 15 days in just one area in GHNP to spot the black bear & the brown bear. He spent days on end & was frustrated many times (as the jungle can get very unnerving & lonely after 1 or 2 days) trying to spot the duo. He would still spot the black bear, but missed out on the brown one!! One day, he spotted what he was looking for…and it was the most spectacular sight!! It was a black bear & a brown bear caught in a combat with each other!!! WHOAAAAAA!! How we would kill to click such a moment. But such moments are clicked with hell lot of patience & perseverance, and are rarely a stroke of sheer luck.
Moving on with our own adventure, we met Ankit as soon as we checked out of Raju’s & he came across as a very sweet & fun loving person. He introduced us to his family and took the responsibility to get our permits made for GHNP entrance. He introduced us to his team of porters cum guides cum chefs…in short his team of one man army, Dileep Ji. We will take a moment here and tell you something about Dileep Ji & his team of porters. Dileep Ji is one of the oldest guides at GHNP & has been working there for good 20 years!! He is a local, obviously, and is an indescribable wonder of a man!!
The porters here carry at least 15-20 kgs of your comfort on their back & trek with you to stretches in this forest, where it is difficult for you to even walk. Agreed they are locals, but seeing their agility despite so much of load on their back & their attention to each detail for your comfort, is a truly humbling experience. For this they earn nothing compared to us city breds, who probably cannot put even 1/10th of their effort in our work & still earn miles better & still crib about our lives in big cities. When we see the satisfaction and effort with which these people do their work and not expect anything, it makes us feel really small.
Dileep Ji & a young co-guide with him carried 15 kgs each of our comfort with them, & off we started!!
Before we started, although, Ankit took us to the temple right at the entrance of GHNP trek point, where we clicked some pictures of the gorgeous & intricate wood carvings in the small temple!!
We started our trek to the Great Himalayan National Park!!
This time we also opted for a trekking stick, and discovered its true wonder. Truly, if you have a trekking stick in hand (Dileep ji gave both Hasina & Musafir a sturdy staff which was a rather long bark of a tree in the forest). It was amazing how much force you can put on these natural staffs, while walking & they would not break at all!!! God knows, which tree gave such springy, soft, easy to use & sturdy wood!!
Hasina felt like Gandalf, the wizard, and would tap her staff on ground many times, expecting magic (hehehee!!)…also the surrounding was so decadently Lord of The Rings, that it was hard not imagining yourself as one of the characters in a mega epic fantasy series!! J
The trek to GHNP is actually easy; easy compared to the snow trek we faced in Jalori Pass. It is a much longer trek (11 kms one way; 8 kms to entrance gate & 3 kms ahead of that in Rolla), but since we were not that worried of where to put our feet, we found it easier. Not to forget, the trekking stick helped a lot too.
One thing that we would like to mention here is that our campsite this night was in Rolla, that is level 1 in GHNP and is just 3 kms from GHNP entrance gate. This is considered the easiest trek in GHNP. People who stay here further, hike next day to level 2, that is Shilt; another 11 odd kms from Rolla. This trek is fairly challenging as the jungle gets denser & denser & chances of encountering wild animals is much more. In fact the porters told us that jungle here gets so dense that many times you have to pass from under boughs & barks of trees!!
Level 3 after this, and the toughest trek here, is Tirth. Tirth is the source of the majestic River Tirthan, that flourishes in the whole Kullu valley, and the most spectacular place!! A total of 5-6 days are required to do this trek from Gushaini side only. You can always choose to trek back via Parvati Valley or Sainj.
A little talk with Ankit clarified that the whole GHNP can be done, but is quite challenging & requires 15 days!! He also mentioned that he hardly knows anyone who has done the complete GHNP stretch!!!
Anyways, we were just at level 1, as GHNP was part of our itinerary & we will take you till Rolla with us!!
We will take you through this route via more pictures & less words J J…because sometime pictures just say so much more!!
As we trekked deeper & deeper on our route & into the forest...
we could not help marvel on how we were leaving civilisation behind and getting deep in the throes of the wilderness of GHNP.
…waylaid by gorgeous views
…by little streams gushing in the most picturesque locales.
…by blood red rhododendrons carpeting our walk!!
And Coldplay’s “Paradise” was on our playlist the whole way!!
Around 4.30pm we reached at this beautiful scene that made our jaw drop!!
This is the legendary Hippo Falls…it is called so, because of how the rock in front of the fall is shaped like a Hippo!!
We sat on the huge rock right opposite the falls (with the help of Dileep Ji), the rock was super slippery as it had been drizzling all along!! Dileep ji, the one man army, handed us our packed lunch right there!! Oh what joy it was to sit right opposite a cascading fall, the type we had only seen in movies, in middle of a jungle and munch on sandwiches. Post eating a quiet lunch, we posed for a selfie or two J J J
After all, it was a big moment.
It was time to resume our trek, and we entered inside the GHNP entrance gate finally!!
From here, we were joined by a guy named Aakash Mohindra, an ex XLRI student. He also became part of the group now!! We resumed our trek to 3 kms ahead of the gate, where the route got even denser & with roads completely washed off at places, it had just a rickety wooden bridge for support!!!
Whoa…well you asked for it!! That’s the look Musafir gave to Hasina J
The 3 kms trek however, did not take much time, and we reached our first campsite just before dark.
Within half an hour, we were given hot Maggi to eat!!! While we sat there wondering where that came from & munched it hungrily & happily, we were serenaded again with hot soup half an hour later!! Aakash, who had been there a day or two earlier, laughed seeing our awed looks!! He had experienced this hospitality & told us tales of his stay there, and how he had never been so comfortable in his life!!
We all huddled by the fire, which was so so comforting…and the rest of the porters told us many stories & anecdotes of GHNP. One of them being, how a woman in one of their treks fell down & broke a bone in her leg. The team was then in Shilt, which is again 11kms odd trek from Rolla, where we were currently, and way denser jungle. Obviously a panic ran amongst all people in the group, as the jungle was too dense, it was raining, and the woman could not walk or do anything at all….and the way back to the base was again through 23 kms of dense jungle. But these talented porters left no time in immediately fashioning a stretcher out of whatever was available in the jungle…wood, twine, etc etc & made a stretcher where they tied the lady. Then she was mounted on the back of one of the porters, who trekked her back in no time!!!
This should sure go in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!! That’s the sheer capability & capacity of mountain folks!!
After an hour & so of chatting around the fire, with the fire being the one & only source of light (the moon was not visible due to dense cloud cover), we were astonished to see Dileep Ji & his team preparing a candle light dinner for us!! Candle light dinner in this wilderness!!! We had frankly expected nothing at all!!
Dazed & very awed, we moved to the dining space & saw Dileep Ji had prepared Rajma, Rice, mix vegetable, warm chapatis, salad…all under 1 hour…and and that too after supplying us with Maggi & Soup!!! And that after trekking with almost 15 kgs of weight over 6 hours!!! Needless to say, the food was so delicious, so sinfully good to taste that we ate thrice of our apetite.
The candlelight dinner was rounded off with sinfully delicious bread pudding as dessert, prepared by Dileep Ji too. Trust us on this, we have never had such delicious dessert & food in the best of 5 stars!! And those guys have fancy kitchens & equipment to cook!!
Post polishing off each & every morsel, we sat again by the fire…happily drowsy after a long day; a long but beautiful day!! We chatted for a while, until one of the porters asked us if we wanted Hot Chocolate or Coffee to round off the day!! We were aghast & awed by their relentless attention to our comfort!!
The jungle around us looked dark, deep, quiet…and so so mystical!! We were parked next to a grove with river cascading away & the sheer magic of this setting was maddeningly unnerving & yet so calming!!
It was time to sleep…and we must confess it was our first time sleeping in a tent & in a sleeping bag!!
That’s what we felt like in our zipped up sleeping bags…like two caterpillars, trying to find our mamma…the butterfly!! Hehehehee….
Well the “caterpillars” slept off soon!! It wasn’t the most comfortable sleep, but seriously, in a jungle, this is as good as it can get…well unless you wish to sleep in those pseudo so called “jungles”, that have 5 star resorts!! Too pseudo for our taste!!
Hasina (aka The Drama Queen), woke up at night to drizzling & pitter patter of rain drops…saw an oddly shaped something on our tent and woke up Musafir “S..s..s..snake”….Musafir woke up with a start, saw the shape, & was exasperated. “It is letter W written on our tent, in a zigzag manner, just sleep…will you”!!
After 2 hours, Hasina woke up again, and prodded Musafir awake…
Musafir (clearly irritated): What??!! What now..what??!!
Hasina: Shhh…can you hear that??
Hasina: Someone is saying “My Precious!!” (told you…Drama Queen!! Could hear Gollum here)
Musafir: Sleep!! Just sleep!! S.L.E.E.P!!
Finally it was morning!!
We came out of our tents to rain washed valley and lots of fresh energy!! J
Our porters were already up & served us morning tea right away!! Best tea we have ever had!!
After tea, we were served breakfast like royals.
We were truly FLOORED!!
After breakfast it was for selfies & group pics & time to trek back.
The trek down was just completing the way in rainfall.
We met Ankit downstairs & recounted how we loved the trek!! Post this trek Ankit was supposed to take us to Lake Prashar, another beautiful wonder!! But alas, we could not go, as it was raining there & due to bad weather, Ankit advised us not to go there.