I felt nothing.
As I booked my train ticket to Chandigarh, stuffed all the winter wear I owned into a bag, covered the furniture in my apartment with old bed sheets and settled into my berth as the train pulled out of Bandra Terminus, on what would be a 28 hour journey to Chandigarh. Not a shred of excitement
Was this really happening? Was I on my way to the enchanting state of Himachal Pradesh for two whole months? No way!
It was only 3 days later, when the daylight streamed into my window at Northmoon Guesthouse in Fagu at 5 am, did it hit me. I was really here – in a place I hadn’t even considered visiting this year. I sauntered out to my balcony and let the frosty air make my cheeks blush. I gazed at the acres of apple orchards that lay in front of me, and then, all at once, the joy bubbled to the surface.
SHIMLA AND FAGU
Not much had happened until then. I disembarked at Chandigarh and spent one day and one night in a quiet little AirBnb. I needed to get the sound of the train-on-tracks out of my ears… as well as the feeling that I was moving forward, even when I was not – the after-effects of a long journey. And then, I made another 8-hour voyage past Shimla to Fagu, 20 kms away, as I didn’t want to stay right in the heart of the action.
After catching up on work and having a good night’s sleep, I headed to Shimla the next morning, my first hill-station in North India. I could hardly see any hills to be honest; from a distance, most of them were covered in buildings that appeared to be growing on top of each other. A few hours of café-hopping on Mall Road happened, before I had decided that I’d seen enough – it wasn’t too different from other cities. The rest of my days were spent amidst nature in Fagu.
Another 9-5 was spent on the road on the way to the gorgeous hamlet of Jibhi, past the sleepy hills of Shoja. The road led me through Jalori Pass, a place that made my heart thump wildly – the sight of the green pine trees for as far as I could see, the 45 degree inclines and dips in the road, and the drop into the endless valley just inches away from my feet at all times had my emotions swing from thrill to fear, like a pendulum, at every turn.
My home here? OffBeat Footprints Ecostay, which can be reached after a half an hour hike down the hill and is perched beside a gushing stream. Living here was a test of my paltry physical stamina and my hikes around the property as well as swims in the ice cold rock pool in the stream were peppered with tucking in to fresh fruit off the trees and plenty of chai, before retreating to my little room, the walls of which, still smelt faintly and pleasantly of mud.
Onward to Manali, where I saw my first glimpse of snow-capped mountains in the distance! I made Old Manali my home for a couple of days and visited some of the best cafes and restaurants in Manali while I was here. I found it to look a lot like Arambol in Goa, the only difference being that the solitary road running through it sloped steeply uphill instead of leading to the beach. The hippie-pants, leather bags, hookahs and knick-knacks on sale looked uncannily like those on a Goa postcard!
It was time for a little luxury after all that strenuous travel and that’s when I settled in at Shivadya Resort and Spa, beautiful and serene, in Karjan, 20 kms from Manali. I relished some of the finest food I had in almost 2 weeks, marveled at some of the biggest flowers I’ve ever seen and played with the owner’s dog, a hefty Labrador whenever I could.
My 2 days of luxury whizzed by and before long, I was walking through apple orchards on my way to my new home for 2 months – a self-serviced house in Naggar. It took me a while to settle in and feel like I belonged, but one fine day, I suddenly found myself sliding into routine. My home was almost all windows – and every time I drew back a curtain, it had a surprise for me on the other side! I could monkeys swing from the branches from my kitchen and the fog roll over the hills from my bedroom.
Every evening, as I made a cup of tea, I’d hear the landlord’s family pick cucumbers, chilies, apples and lettuce from the fields surrounding my house, and they would leave some in a bowl for me, on the divan in the balcony. Sultan, their gorgeous, big, black dog who growled menacingly at me for the first few days, now came running for a cuddle and back rub – and whenever I made my way to or from the main road, a 10 minute walk away, I’d see his black tail appear, bobbing in the tall grass – my silent, watchful companion. How I miss him!
The purpose of my home in Naggar was manifold – it was cheaper than staying in Manali, I could cook my own meals and was in charge of what I ate (cost effective and healthy for someone on the road for 2 months), it served as a quiet space to work when I was back from an adventure, and I could stash all my luggage here, and carry only a couple of garments for a few days on the road.
“Have you been to Spiti?”
If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that! *eye roll*
After a week of settling in to Naggar, I packed up my winter wear and was on my way to Spiti, via the Manali Route. What started off as being one of the most scenic landscapes I ever set eyes on, turned out to be a nightmare (or what is part of the adventure for many). We rode on rocks, boulders and through streams for 130 kms, a painstaking spell that lasted close to 10 hours. What was the weather like, you ask? It was hot (I carried so much useless winter-wear), and there wasn’t a restaurant, toilet, or even a tiny shop during the entire journey.
Finally, the Lord had mercy on us weary travelers and we reached Tenzin Camps. It wasn’t our intention to stop here, but we were so exhausted and every bone in our bodies hurt that we just needed to lie down. We had no network that entire day; and the next morning, we rode on to Kaza, where again, we had no range, no means to connect to our clients, and no opportunity to work. The scenery though! I have no words!
The craggy rocks, the shades of brown sand against cornflower blue skies, the little pockets of civilization, one in every 50-80 kms, comprising of 15-20 houses and a little patch of field – it was all spellbinding! But I didn’t enjoy it – because being a digital nomad, this wasn’t a holiday – I needed to work! I spent yet another day hunting for network like a lunatic before deciding I had had enough – and we exited without having seen a single sight or enjoying the scenery as much as I’d have liked. Oh well!
KASOL, TOSH AND PULGA
It took me 5 days to reach home to Naggar! I didn’t want to go through the torturous Spiti-Manali route again, and so I headed out in the opposite direction – via Shimla. I crossed Tabo, Nako and finally arrived at Spillow, where, Alleluia – I found network! I spent 2 days here, catching up on work and then headed on towards Ramnagar (a little before Shimla), where I spent another night as we still had over 200 kms to travel to reach home, and it was turning dark. The next morning, I left for Naggar, via Jalori Pass and Jibhi – a journey of another 15 hours. That was a week of wasted time, and I was so annoyed about it!
After recuperating for another few days, I headed off to Kasol and spent a day at the Himalayan Village, a luxury resort that’s designed to look like an ancient village. Kasol, Tosh, Pulga, Kalga, Barshaini and another few villages make up the Parvati Valley and I wanted to explore at least a couple of them! So I made my way to Tosh, a hamlet on the extreme end of Parvati Valley – where I spent a couple of days, and then to the village of Pulga, which was my favourite spot in the valley. Stunning views, a cozy home stay and great food made it quite memorable. On my way back to Naggar, I spent another night in Kasol on my way out. Do check out my blog posts on these little villages. I can’t stuff too many pictures in here, and they are extraordinary!
BIR AND PALAMPUR
Another week at Naggar – and then off to Bir – Asia’s highest Paragliding spot! Bir was beautiful, even more so in the monsoons! Maroon robe-clad monks turning off dusty roads into their monasteries, prayer flags tied to trees fluttering in the wind and SO MUCH greenery! While I did not enjoy the food at Bir, the place exuded serenity – the perks of travelling to a tourist hub in the off-season!
After a couple of days, I set off for McLeodganj and stopped at a beautiful heritage villa, Jyoti Niwas in Palampur. If I ever missed home during the trip, living at this house put an end to that! I felt right at home, right away – the garden bursting with flowers, the home-cooked meals by the caretaker, the way the villa was maintained – it was all so homely! I relished every moment of the solitude and didn’t want to leave!
But leave we did! And it was on to McLeod Ganj next!
McLeod Ganj treated me to an overdose of misty, gloomy views as it rained the entire time. While it was nice to get a feel of Dharamkot and McLeod Ganj in general, the narrow roads and plenty of traffic wasn’t fun to navigate through. I made the most of my rainy days by trying out some of the best restaurants in McLeod Ganj and walking through the main market several times, curiously following monks to see which café they were headed into and admiring Buddhist-trinkets on sale at the lines of stalls in the market.
From here, I headed back home to Naggar (of course). I knew my time in Himachal would end soon, and took the opportunity to do one last review at a resort nearby – Tall Trees Resort, located in between where I lived and Manali.
Lastly, I headed back to my favourite spot – Tirthan Valley, to check out a darling happy little home stay called Sunshine Himalayan Cottage – which was a fitting end to a fabulous trip! Yet another mud-and-wood structure, this one was so breezy and cheerful that I couldn’t get enough of it! I loved sitting in my balcony and looking down into the river, up at the waterfalls far away, and admiring the stars at night. And the food – you should definitely check out the pictures in my post about it!
The next day, I headed back home to Naggar for the last time, packed up and left – leaving my heart, Sultan the dog and the Himachali family I had grown so attached to, behind, with promises to return. It was a sombre drive back to Chandigarh, where I spent one last night before hopping on the morning flight back to Mumbai.
Himachal Pradesh taught me so much – and was incredibly inspiring in terms of beauty, simplicity and the hardship of the people who live there. I know this blog post is insanely long already, so I’ll end my blog post in the same manner that I ended my trip – abruptly.
I can’t wait to go back! 😀