The day was overcast and gray with splatters of raindrops now and then on the windscreen. I drove about 20 kms from Dharamshala to reach Kangra town and headed up towards the Kangra fort which is also known as Nagarkot or Kotkangra. The Kangra fort was built by the royal family of Kangra – the Katoch dynasty and was founded by Susharma Chand Katoch. The fort dates back to 1009 A.D. and is probably the oldest dated fort in the Himalayas. It sits atop a hillside with steep drops down to the Banganga river valley, making it a formidable fort; difficult to climb and conquer. The high ramparts and walls cover a circuit of about 4 kilometers.
The history of the fort catalogues that it bore the ravages of conquests by Jahangir (1619 A.D.) – Raja Sansar Chand-II (1786 A.D.)- Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1809 A.D.)- British government (1846 A.D.) and finally the earthquake of April 1905, which lead to a lot of damage to this fort.
I entered through the main gate or the Ranjit Singh Gate. A long, narrow and slopping stepped passage leads to the top of the fort through the Ahani and the Amiri Darwaza- both attributed to Nawab Saif Ali Khan – the first Mughal governor of Kangra.
The passage turns sharply and we found ourselves entering through the Jehangiri Darwaza, out on a pathway, flanked on one side by a garden with lovely sit-outs. The rampart on the other side overlooked the fascinating valley below – view of the gushing streams of Banganga and Manjuli rivers topped by tall, imposing Dhauladhar range.
I walked atop a wooden plank pathway to cross over to the Darsini darwaza, which is flanked by (now defaced) statues of river goddesses Yamuna and Ganga. The door-way lead us to a wide open courtyard where broken bits of stone architecture was arranged and numbered for easy identification.
In the southern side of the courtyard, I could see some carved shrines – these were of Lakshmi -Narayana Sitala and Ambika devi – the family goddess of Katoch dynasty. In between these shrines, a small stepped passage leads up to the main palace.
There are beautiful green spaces, spaced out intermittently to enable the palace residents to enjoy the gorgeous view all around. I could see ruins of chambers and even more steps lead us to the very top of the fort where a group of picnickers was laying out their picnic lunch.
A sudden burst of raindrops made mel dash away to dry and sheltered area. I stayed put till the rain eased a bit and then headed down the fort over wet stones, which had turned slippery and difficult to tread.
I was very much impressed by the overall architecture and the expanse of this gorgeous piece of Indian history and architecture. There is a small museum at the entrance gate of the fort, set amidst a vast stretch of garden, overlooking the valley below. A small shop opposite to the main gate is the guide office for the fort from where one can rent out an audio guide, which catalogs in detail the numbered areas of the fort and tells its history in great detail.
Its heartening to see that the ASI cares for and looks after this piece of history which is tucked away so remotely in Kangra. I just wish it could be on the tourism map to enable more people to be aware of and enjoy this beautiful part of Indian history and architecture.
Masroor Monolithic Rock cut temples, dating back to the 8th century is a little known world heritage site. The day was heavily overcast when I set off for Masroor, about 40 kms from Kangra on the Nagrota Suriyan Link road. The road to the temples is in pretty good condition ; espied several green signboards (ASI) marking the route to Masroor.
A gorgeous vista of hewn rocks met my eyes, leaving me awed with its magnificence. I was once again amazed at the fascinating nugget of history and architecture tucked away in Himachal Pradesh.
Though not such a big place, the entire structure is huge and towering; constructed alongside a rectangular pool of water and surrounded by the majestic Dhauladhar trees. The temples stood out tall and straight, in one line; I could make out Buddha and Ganesha faces cut in the rock face here and there.
The temples (15 in all) are carved out of monolithic rocks by the artisans by hand in the Indo-Aryan style. The entire structure is constructed on top of a 2500 feet high hillock. All the temples are in continuity and built around a central shrine, which dominates the center and has three stone images of Ram, Laxman and Sita. These deities were decorated with colored cloths and we could make out that people come out here to pay their reverence as in any local temple.
The shikhars of some of the temples remain standing and are a supreme display of the craftsmen of the 7th -8th century who overcame the limitations of the existing rock structures to shape and carve their creations.
These richly carved cave temples are the only rock shrines of their kind in North of India. Another example of rock cut temples in India are the Ajanta-Ellora caves. The earthquake of 1905 devastated some of the beauty of this gorgeous piece of architecture, leading to the ASI removing several of the carved panels to the Shimla museum for preservation and display.
The place had an air of neglect; the signboards were rusting, paint was peeling, writing was fading – difficult to read and make out what was written there. The ticket counter was also bereft; one soul came out of nowhere to issue the tickets. There was a small chai shop next to the pool of water; other than there is nothing else around here.
If not for the pouring rain and chilling winds, I would have probably spent some more time here to revel in this gorgeous chapter of history. Thanks to the stinging rains, I couldn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked to.
Flights between Delhi and Kullu resumed from September 15, 2013 onward as Air India started it’s flight operations on the Delhi-Kullu sector. Resumption of flights on the Delhi-Kullu sector is a welcome relief for tourists, hoteliers and other stake holders in the tourism sector of Manali valley.
Air India flights were earlier discontinued from July 1 onward due to bad weather and fog which affected the safe landing of the aircraft at the Kullu airport.
Inaugural flight from New Delhi came with 31 passengers on board in a 48 seater plane. Due to the pecular situation of the airport only 22 passengers can fly back from Kullu airport.
Local hoteliers and travel agents have expressed joy over the resumption of the flight to Kullu and demanded that more private airlines be asked to operate flights on the sector so that the competition brings down air fares in the sector.
Delhi – Kullu flight will be operated 6 days a week and there will be no flight on Tuesday of the week. The flight will leave at 6 am from Delhi and reach Manali at 7.20 am. Return flight from Kulu will leave at 7.40 am and reach Delhi at 9 am.
Apart from Kullu, Dharamshala airport is connected with regular flights from New Delhi while state capital Shimla is yet to see resumption of flights.
In a move which would eventually have an adverse affect on the tourism in Himachal Pradesh, the only serving airlines in Himachal Pradesh, Kingfisher has stopped it’s operations on Delhi – Shimla and Delhi – Kullu sector without any notice.
While the national carrier Air India had already suspended it”s operations to Himachal Pradesh since July, Kingfisher, as per sources have already given notices to it’s ground handling staff that there services would not be required since airlines had stopped it’s flights to Shimla and Kullu airport.
Despite Himachal getting a record number of tourists every year, air routes to Himachal Pradesh remain allegedly non profit for the airlines due to the absence of landing facility for bigger aircrafts anywhere in the state. Only Dornier planes with limited seat facility have been flying into Himachal Pradesh due to which the fares remained high for the tourists through out the year. Tourists have preferred to travel by road and rail while visiting Himachal Pradesh.
Due to absence of proper aviation and even rail network in Himachal Pradesh neighbouring Chandigarh has now become a major hub for tourists traveling to Himachal Pradesh. Over 30 flights arrive into Chandigarh daily from all over India. Tourists prefer to travel to fly into Chandigarh and then travel to Himachal Pradesh by road. Srinagar airport also have over 20 regular flights arriving daily making it easier for tourists to fly into Kashmir.
Absence of air connectivity to two most popular destinations of Shimla and Manali will be death knell to tourism in these two sector. With holiday season just starting for Diwali and New Year season, people in travel sector are a worried lot.
Recently a friend from Himachal Pradesh wrote on Facebook- Is there any Himachali who lives outside and doesn’t miss Himachal Pradesh? I wrote back saying there are non-Himachali’s who also miss Himachal Pradesh, I like the state that much. It has been almost a year since my last visit and plans are to go back in October.
Here are 5 off beat places that I have loved to explore in Himachal.
I have to admit that when I go the hills I want to escape the crowds and these days Manali has become so popular that it is almost always crowded. Next time you wish to go in that area stay 3 kilometers away at Prini or 6 kilometers away at Jagat Sukh. I stayed with a family we know at Jagat Sukh but there are home stays around as well. Prini has a few bigger hotels I clearly remember seeing Holiday Inn there. Both Rrini and Jagat Sukh are as scenic as Manali but minus the crowds.
Bharmour, Hardsar and Beyond
If you are heading to Chamba my advice head a little further and go to Bharmour. It is a sleepy little place with an ancient temple compound called Chaurasi Temple Compound. We walked further up to Hadsar in December and then the next day partly on the route to the Mani Mahesh Lake. As it was December I saw a frozen water fall on the way!
Shringi Vatika is a delightful little place on the old Manali Shimla highway near Banjar. It is run by Mr. Manohar Lal and his family. They rent out a few rooms out of their own home and there is a small restaurant attached. There is a beautiful stream that flows through their compound and the lady of the house cooks exceedingly well. Try Sidu and Meetha Rajma when you are there and if you are more adventurous her Nettle Plant Soup as well.
Prashar Lake is an absolutely gorgeous lake where hardly anyone goes. On the Delhi Manali highway there is a place called Mandi. Prashar Lake is a detour from there. We took a bus to Bagi from Mandi bus station and then trekked all the way up to Prashar Lake. But there is a road route too all the way up to the lake. There are only two places to stay the forest department guest house which one has to book from Mandi or the rooms available behind the temple devoted to Rishi Prashar. We stayed at the Forest Guest House but my elder nephew has stayed with the temple rooms when he went there later. I consider Prashar Lake to be one of the best kept secrets of Himachal.
My husband, my elder nephew and I trekked through Spiti and the experience was fabulous. We did a homestay trek and we crossed through Kaza, Langza, Komik, Demul, Lhalung and Dhankar. Each and every of these places are magical and I am not exaggerating. The trek also remains special because it was the first high altitude trek I completed successfully. Spiti is one of those places where I surely want to go back.
Rail motor car, which has been running on the UNESCO World Heritage Kalka Shimla train track for the past 85 years has been halted for the time being after it’s wheels wore off a few days week.
1927 built Rail motor car, the Shimla Kalka Motor Car is the only one to run out of the four introduced by the British introduced between the year 1927-1930.
A railway official said the wheels had become very old due to wear and tear. Efforts were made to introduce cast iron wheels but none of the Indian manufacturers in India could provide these.
Rail motor car can accommodate a group of 14 passengers in this vintage locomotive that resembled buses used during World War II.
The train departed at 5.10am from the Kalka station and reached Shimla at 09.50am, while the return journey from Shimla began at 4.25pm, reaching Kalka at 9.35pm.
According to the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) which managed the car’s charter bookings, the car remained a strong favourite with foreigners and Indians from metropolitan towns heading for vacations till it ran reguarly few months ago.
The car was fitted with a transparent fiber-glass roof, offering a view of the skies and facilities including digital time-cum-temperature display unit, TV/VCP, music system.
The Indian Railways have now begun a search to bring the rail car back on tracks and have floated a tender for the replacement of wheels and other parts.
Flash Flood hit areas beyond Manali on Friday late night near Dhundi in Solang Valley killing one person and two major bridges were washed off. A large tract of road has been washed off caused by heavy rains on Friday night.
The flash floods that occurred late Friday night at Dhundi, 20 km from Manali near the construction site of Rohtang Tunnel, washed away the bailey bridge constructed by Border Roads Organisation.
Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, Amitabh Awasti said another bailey bridge near Palchan and some foot bridges were washed away in floods which badly damaged large stretches of Manali-Rohtang road near Palchan and Kullu Manali road at two points where traffic had been stopped due to massive soil erosion.
The Kullu-Manali Highway has been opened for light vehicles while heavy vehicles were being diverted via left bank as the road was not safe due to landslides.
People living along Nehru Kund, Palchan and Bhang villages have been asked to move to safer places and relief operations are in full swing.
Update on August 06, 2012
Manali – Rohtang Pass highway has been opened for vehicular traffic on Monday, a spokesman for GREF, responsible for maintaining the road said here today.
“Traffic was restored Sunday evening and all stranded vehicles have been cleared,” an official the 38 Task Force of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) told the media.
State Transport HRTC also restored its bus services to Udaipur, Keylong, Kaza and Killar via Udaipur today.
Rani Nallah, like previous year has remained a major bottleneck when traveling to Rohtang Pass in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. Rani Nallah is situated 6 km before the Rohtang Pass and has become a major irritant for tourists and travelers while reaching the Rohtang Pass due to bad road condition.
The area has become a constant sliding zone for the past few years. The ordeal at the Rani Nallah starts once the snow starts melting during summer season. The melting snow turns this 2 km stretch into nightmare for the motorists. Entire stretch is full of slush and mud.
There is no respite later with the advent of monsoon season. With rains and the constant sliding of the hill side, the road gets fully covered with the slush.
Rani Nallah has become infamous for long traffic snarls with jams at times ending up after 12 long hours. Long que of tourist vehicles has become a daily scene on this stretch.
One reason why the government decided to ban non Himachal registered vehicles to control traffic on this stretch. But this move has invited the ire of the tourists traveling by their own vehicles to Manali.
The move to control traffic was also necessary as the area beyond Rohtang Pass (Lahul and Spiti valley) gets connected by road for only three months (July to September) in a year. This is the time when people from Lahul valley transport their cash crop, potatoes and peas to the markets across the Rohtang Pass to Kullu and earn money for the land locked period of 9 months rest of the year.
Due to heavy rush of tourist vehicles towards Rohtang Pass and the ensuing traffic jams, the farmers were not able to transport their crops in time and have to suffer losses. Hence the government had to ban non Himachal registered vehicles to Rohtang Pass.
Presently no vehicles are allowed to cross this stretch between 8 am to 12 pm daily as the BRO makes this stretch motorable. Entire traffic is closed for vehicular traffic from Manali to Rohtang Pass every Tuesday of the week to carry out repairs on Manali – Rohtang road.
Still if the tourist in you is not satisfied with this argument, here are a few pictures of the Rani Nallah stretch. Would you still like to drive to Rohtang Pass in your own vehicle?
It was a usual Mumbai morning – as always. It was the usual Mumbai traffic jam – as always. It was the usual boring feeling going to office – as always. It was a call from dad – not as always! He proposed a trip to Chandigarh & Narkanda – not as always!! I felt awesome instantly about the idea of a holiday and said YES – as always!!! The D-Day was Friday the 27thMay 2011. It was time to forget all the office work (which is anyway hard to remember!) and take a break from the concrete and robotic Mumbai life… Though our flight to Chandigarh was delayed by an hour, it wasn’t bothering me. I was getting silly pleasure just loitering around the airport and thinking about my colleagues and friends who unlike me, would be banging their heads at the office for the day!!
We landed in Chandigarh on the hottest afternoon I must have experienced in my life. But I was in a holiday trance unfettered by the forces of nature! The feeling of leaving Mumbai behind and the thoughts of visiting a sweet shop ‘Gopals’ had put a permanent smirk on my face! A friend of mine from Ambala, Anshul had highly recommended this place renowned for tasty Chole-bhature, pani-puris and rasmalais and other sweets. Apparently he derived extreme pleasure (to the point of comparing it to moksha) from a particular sweet ‘raskadam’. Unfortunately I wasn’t destined for moksha yet and couldn’t make it there, though I would highly advise anyone visiting Chandigarh to pay homage to ‘Gopals’.
Chandigarh is the first planned urban area in India and it shows! Brought up in the narrow and nonexistent Mumbai roads, the clean and well maintained public places seemed alien. But one thing was common – SHOPPING!! God bless our car driver who took us a local market ‘Shastri bazaar’ which is similar to our Fashion Street or Bandra linking road.
After exploring Chandigarh we headed for Kasuali in the evening. The darkness slowly descended and we couldn’t see much of the stunning landscapes en-route. The weather changed from hot (Mumbai type!) to a little less hot (Lonavala type!) to pleasant (Mahabaleshwar type!) to chilled (Kashmir type!) and finally- super chilled (stuck in the cold storage chamber type, don’t try this though!). Wrapped in a shawl, I was feeling good though as we drove on sharp ghats passing ghostly looking tress. It was one of those moments when the song playing in my headphones perfectly matched the mood: ‘Kitni haseen zindagi hai yeh… Hoton pe jaise kahani hai… Sada yaha kiska theekana hai… Unki rawani me jaana hai.. Baharo me harsu, rang hai bikhera.. Ret ka sehera yeh, ek pal ka mela.. Ek din bikharna yaha.. Dil bhi kahi hai pahado me…thodasa kahi hai kinaro pe… Hmmm hmmm hmmm’
As we were nearing Kasuali, we could see few lights visible from a distance followed by prominent hotel hoardings welcoming tourists warmly. We checked in our hotel ‘Guns and Roses’ with a nice apple juice for welcome served by smiling faces. An old song playing somewhere in the distance ‘‘pyaar se pukaar lo jahaan ho tum…pyaar se pukaar lo jahaan ho tum’ was complimented well by the noisy insects and dimly lit lamps. The hotel suite was nice and cozy with two bedrooms, a sprawling balcony, living room with dining table and a kitchen! The chilly winds of Kasauli compelled us to slip into our warm clothing and the belly was warmed by a tasty butter chicken! Before I realized, I had slipped into a peaceful sleep contended with the day.
Kasauli sunrise….I was greeted by a bright morning the next day, although it was just 6.30 am it seemed more like 9! The early morning view of the mighty mountain tops with the golden blue sky was overwhelming. Kasauli is a cantonment town located in Solan district in Himachal Pradesh. The famous and much loved author Ruskin Bond was born here. This is the official Kasauli Story.You feel a sense of calmness and gratitude in this place.
After a hearty breakfast of aloo parathas smeared tangy achaar and bites of juicy melons (highly recommended), we left Kasauli to reach Shimla by noon. Shimla was cold and crowded. May be it had to do with the fact that we had landed up at ‘Mall road’ on a weekend! Roughly that translates into crazy tourists buying everything in sight from chappals to jewellery! I know it gives a different kind of a high shopping on a vacation! I loved Shimla for four particular reasons:
1. Exotic location amidst the mountains and deodar pine forests (although over commercialization is ruining it).
2. Chilly romantic winds. Eating kulfi in the cold climate is super fun!
3. The Alu tikki chaat!!! (2 plates)
4. Shopping 6 shawls and 2 multi colored sweaters.
The next destination was Narkanda via a halt at Kufri, a tiny hill station. The name Kufri was derived from ‘Kufr’ meaning lake in the local language. It is located 13 kms from Shimla and is the highest point in the surrounding region. We rode up on a horseback through thick forest to reach the Mahasu peak. The valley is full of deodars and pine forests and so dense that you can hardly see the rugged brown colour of the mountains. Only shades of green are visible.
We moved on to our final destination – Narkanda, a small town situated at the altitude of 2708 meters on the Hindustan Tibet road in the Himachal Pradesh. Narkanda is a skiing resort in winters and is 65 kms away from Shimla. It connects Shimla to Rampur. The road to Narkanda is full of steep ghats with dangerous twists and turns with bad roads. It was dusk by the time we reached Narkanda and it seemed like I had arrived on the sets of the ‘TWILIGHT’ movie. Too bad the sexy vampire wasn’t around. This place is nothing less than PARADISE. It seemed like a beautiful movie dream sequence and was hoping be for vampires and werewolves to pop up from somewhere.
We stayed at the Tethys resort, a very soothing and beautiful place. Its high location at the edge of the hill gave splendid views of the valley below. The rooms are cozy and the highlight was the huge window which opened into the deep valley.The resort was landscaped in beautiful yellow and purple orchids at the entrance. I clicked tons of pictures of all the beautiful flowers. The roses were so bright and are extraordinarily large in size.
After having a small evening snack of yummy pakoras I put on my sneakers and hopped on to the road for a small walk. It was 15 degrees and breezy, I clutched on to my pink sweater for a bit of warmth.
Coming back to the hotel, I was so damn hungry that I hogged on the yummy chicken and dal…what a combo… I was so tired that I dozed off right after dinner. The room did not have fans, obviously they were not needed! There was pin drop silence with the drone of night insects outside which made it very haunting and creepy. The next morning I woke up early by 6 (it’s a mystery how we manage to wake up early at such places without even an alarm!) and opened the curtains to check the climate and the window had water drops sliding down….it meant rain!! I realized it wasn’t raining when I opened the window and held my hands out and only felt moisture… They were Dewdrops!!!
‘Living Droplets of clear blue sky… Placed gently by natures hand.. Just like a painted dish of mother’s pearls… Caught by the gaze of a camera lens.. Bedded lightly on the fur of dead.. Gleamed, rusted, browns and greys’.
After the dreamy morning experience I headed for an awesome breakfast of bhaturas and alu ki sabji (God bless the person who cooked it). It was so damn tasty that I hogged on, seemed as if I had shifted my lunch timings to 8.30 in the morning!!!! Narkanda is a small town with small a hill where you can do your short treks and that’s what I exactly did… short trek to the Hatu peak!! The place is so beautiful and the air was so fresh that I wished I could just transport this little portion of Narkanda to Mumbai and go for walks everyday in the pine forests!!
A detour around Narkanda goes to Thanedar which is the prime apple belt of Himachal Pradesh. We drove past many apple orchards on our way to another beautiful spot in Thanedar- Tani Jubbar – the small jheel. It is surrounded by tall and short pine trees which reflect in the clear waters to create a beautiful pattern like some painting done by the almighty himself. Did the ritual of clicking loads of pictures till it started drizzling and the valley tuned into heaven!
Lunch was tasty chicken masala at the Himalaya dhaba in the local market area of Narkanda. After reaching the hotel I relaxed with a short nap. It refreshed me and I was getting ready for an evening walk again when the rain gods paid a visit and I was confined within the tall windows in the hotel room. Just when the rains stopped and the sky cleared a little I got to see something for which I have no words to describe… A very blurred view of the snow clad Himalayan peaks. I ran out of the hotel in slippers and shorts and realized it the hard way that the temperature outside was 9 degrees!
My hands and feet actually went numb and I wasn’t sure if I was clicking on the camera! I managed to get a good view – a road of clouds which led straight to the peaks and snow!! It seemed so surreal I didn’t want to blink even once… I went on clicking to get a perfect picture but moments like these can never be captured in images, they are best experienced live… It was the best moment of my trip and something that I will never forget.
The snow-clad Himalayas, the journey came to an end the next day and we left from Narkanda to reach Chandigarh airport and then fly back to dear ol Mumbai! la la la – what a trip it was.