If you are an intrepid trekker and want to test your nerves in the highly inhospitable terrain and tough climatic conditions of Himachal Pradesh’s Tirthan and Parvati valleys, then a 1,171 sq km Great Himalayan National Park (GNHP) is your calling.
By paying a daily permit fee of Rs 100 per person, you can trek and also stay in inspection huts, some of them of British-era, dotted across the national park that is now a Unesco World Heritage site. For foreigners, the daily fee is Rs 500 per person.
Park authorities say the best time to trek in the park is from April to June and from October to November.
“The park offers moderate to strenuous trekking routes and it is more fit for professionals,” park Director Ajit Thakur told IANS.
He said that every year 1,500-1,600 trekkers, 10 per cent of whom are foreigners mainly from Europe and the US, come for trekking.
The GHNP, which is totally untouched by road network, has four valleys — Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati.
The boundaries of the park are connected to the Pin Valley National Park, the Rupi-Bhawa Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary.
More than two dozen trekking routes in the park have been identified and local youths have been trained to assist the trekkers, he said.
Park officials said the treks of the Sainj and Tirthan valleys are quite popular among mountaineers.
It is advisable to hire local porters and guides trained by park authorities, as they are familiar with the local topography and climatic conditions.
Park authorities have fixed rates for the guides. They charge Rs 2,500 per person per day which includes food, porter service and providing camping logistics.
There are 14 inspection huts inside the park where trekkers can camp.
Thakur said for those who don’t want to trudge arduous treks, the eco-zone areas adjacent to the park are the best options.
The eco zone provides a combination of natural and cultural experiences.
The trails in the eco-zone go through villages and offer an opportunity to interact with the villagers and observe their daily activities. The eco-zone contains 160 villages and hamlets.
No permit is required to go into the eco zone, where, on an average, 50,000 tourists come every year.
More than 50 travel agents are based in Sai Ropa, some 65 km from Mandi town, for conducting activities in mountaineering, backpacking, skiing, trekking and rafting.
There is an online booking facility for staying at the park-managed forest rest houses at Sai Ropa and Ropa. These are connected by road.
The trekking period days range from three to 15, depending upon the trek chosen.
Some trekking routes, like crossing the Jiwa Nala-Parvati river and the Pin-Parvati pass, demand excellent physical health and stamina, serious trekking experience and snow walking.
The Jiwa Nala-Parvati river valley 110-km trek is a seven-day hike, crossing the passes at Kandi Galu (3,627 m) and Phangchi Galu (4,636 m).
Likewise, the Pin Parvati pass (5,319 m) trek via Pulga is 90 km long and requires eight days.
The climate is temperate during summer. In winters, there is HIGHER possibility of snow stormsr. Snowfall occurs throughout the park which contains 49 glaciers of varying sizes.
The trek provides the opportunity to spot a wide range of western Himalayan biodiversity.
The park, notified in the year 1999, is home to 203 bird species, including the western tragopan, the Himalayan monal, the koklas, the white-crested kalij and the cheer pheasant.
The famous mammals in the park are the leopard, the Himalayan black bear, the brown bear, the rhesus macaque and various herbivores like the goral – a small antelope, the blue sheep, the musk deer and the Himalayan tahr – a wild goat that lives on the steepest cliffs. These are commonly seen at higher slopes.
The starting point for any trekking route to the park is Kullu town, some 500 km from New Delhi and is accessible by road and air. (IANS)
Enormous mountains, Spotless cold dessert valley, Intriguing culture, loving warmth, beauty sprouting from every quarter, experience a journey of a lifetime with a trip to Spiti valley. Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley – the middle land between India and Tibet. A place that was cut off from the outer world for 30 years has got to be special. The breath-taking views and the untouched natural beauty will make your visit lifetime memorable experience. A visit to Spiti valley is like time travel, you travel and shift to a time and a world unknown. It’s a place where Tibet and India blend beautifully. This protected civilisation had recently been transformed into one of the most relaxing and peaceful tourist destinations of India.
But why Spiti?
Centres of the Buddhist pilgrimage – Monasteries
Spiti is home to many significant centres of the Buddhist pilgrimage. The fascinating part of Spiti is its Gompas and their unique location. Located high up in the mountains these monasteries are away from the civilisation, thus planting a new level of excitement for the tourists. Apart from the many village monasteries, there are 5 major monasteries in Spiti- Kye Monastery, Tangyud Monastery, Dhankar Monastery, Tabo Monastery and Kungri Monastery.
An 800-year-old monastery located in Dhankar village, 25 Km East of Kza, Himachal Pradesh. Buddhist scriptures and paintings embellish the walls of this monastery. The presiding deity of this monastery is the ‘Dhyaan Buddha’ who is also known as ‘Vairocana’.
Located at a summit of a hill at height of 4,166 metres, it is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. It is the largest monastery of Spiti valley.
It is located in a Comic village in Spiti valley. This was constructed around the earlier 14th century and belongs to the sect of Sa-Kya-Pa. Tibetan scriptures having 87 volumes called ‘Tang-r-Gyud’ are available in this Gompa.
The post office is shut for almost half a year during snow. Monks in the area receive their postcards from this post office while the farmers maintain their savings account there.
You can reach the post office in two ways- first, hiring a taxi. The other is boarding a bus, but this bus runs twice a week, so check the schedule before you go.
Serene Beauties- The lakes of Spiti
Adding embellishments to the crown of Spiti, these high-altitude lakes would provide you with an experience like never before. You have to trek your way to the lakes due to their high altitude. Chandrataal, Suraj Tal and Dhankar are the main lakes of Spiti but Chandratal is the shining star of Spiti.
Camping at Chandrataal under the star-studded sky might turn out to be one of the best experiences of your life. Chandrataal is loved by the tourists. The colours of the lake are best seen when the sun has risen. The valley that leads to the lake is full of flowers and peace. Just one sight at the lake will take away all the tiredness you gathered from the trekking.
The Surajtaallake is also a beautiful lake, not many people know of it. It’s the third highest lake in the country. It is a sacred water body and merges with Chandratal down the hill.
Drown in the culture with the Homestays in Spiti
Some Spitian families in the higher and remote villages like Komic, Langza, Kibber, Demul, Lhalung, Dhankar and Hikkim open up their hearts and homes to the travellers.
One can get to know so much about their culture just by living with a Spitian family. Homestays also let you understand the basic aspects of the life of a Spitian like the living conditions in a remote area, what do they eat, what do they do during the house arrest they have to face during the harsh winters. The houses are roomy and spacious with the balconies providing the view of the mighty Himalayas.
Sounds scary? Well, it isn’t. In 1975, an earthquake in the Northern region opened a tomb containing the mummified body of a monk named Sangha Tenzin. The mummy was found inside a tomb at Ghuen village in the cold and remote Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.
Though the mummy is 500 years old, it is well preserved with skin and the hair on the head intact. The surprising part is that the mummification of the monk’s body is completely natural and no chemicals were used He died with a rope tied around his neck and his legs, which is an esoteric practice recorded in a few Buddhist documentaries. It’s due to the rope that he was in the same position even after his death.
The mummy is on display in temple Gue, which is about 20 miles from where he was excavated, in the stae of Himachal Pradesh in India, bordering Tibet. The mummy rests in a concrete box, unlike the artificial mummification where several layers of glass are used to preserve the mummy. This is a natural wonder which everyone would love to see.
Along with these, Spiti valley provides you with a chance for the journey to the highest motorable village-Komic at 15,027 feet. Moreover, the trip would also provide you peace at the quaint villages of Spiti. They are refreshing and a lot more peaceful as compared to the noise and pollution we have to face in the cities. The view and location of each village is a sight to behold.
How to reach the Spiti valley?
There are two ways to reach this beautiful place, one via the Shimla route and the other via Manali route having two passes Kumuzum La and Rohtang.
Manali route is preferred more by the tourists as for starters, The Manali route is shorter (201 km) as compared to the Shimla route (450 Km).
Moreover, Spiti is more accessible from the Manali route as there are daily buses while from the Shimla route the buses run not so frequently and buying passes can be hectic as well.
If you are fascinated by travelling through high passes then the Manali route is the one for you. But the altitude escalates quickly in the Manali route and thus, you’d have less time to get settled and can suffer from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). The Shimla route gains altitude gradually giving you time to acclimatize.
However, both the routes are equally tiring as there are unpaved roads and roadblocks ahead.
For the Manali route:
it is advisable to take a break at Kullu, spend a day
then follow the road ahead.
As it is very difficult to get a seat on the bus to from Manali, it is advisable to board a shared cab to Kaza, though expensive but comfortable.
For the Shimla route,
it is advisable to board a bus from ReckongPeo to Kaza.
An early morning bus should be preferred. Make sure you stand in line early in the morning to avoid the hustle in the evening.
Spiti valley is more about the journey, it’s truly exciting.
Some tips for your visit to be hassle free
There is no network connectivity in the Spiti valley, only BSNL postpaid cards work here. Sometimes Airtel too. It’s beneficial to download the map of Spiti valley beforehand.
As Kaza is the headquarters of Spiti, it’s the only place that has fuel stations, cyber café and mobile networks. And it’s the only place you’ll find ATM. It is advisable to carry enough cash from Manali and keep this ATM as the last option. Also, the fuel station is only open till 5 PM.
Foreign tourists need to register with ITBP prior to their visit.
Best time to visit Spiti valley
The best time to visit is during June-September when there are no frozen paths and it’s all beautiful and lovely.
Spiti is harsh during winters as the temperature drops to -30-degree Celcius. The roads start clearing up during May-June and according to the residents there, July-August is the best time to visit the beauty.
“A world within a world” is how Rudyard Kipling quoted Spiti valley.
It’s unlike all the travel destinations. Spiti is about happiness, beauty and peace. It’s about that retreat away from technology that you read in online posts, It’s an experience with raw life without the modern ease of access. It’s about quietness you can’t get in your city. So, in this year of long weekends, take some time for yourself, pack your bags, and go for a date with nature. I can assure you,you will not be disappointed!
I miss mountains. I miss hikes and fresh air and the thrill (and chill) of high places. So when I realised I had a long weekend ahead of me at the beginning of March I decided to do something about it.
Bali is only a 40-minute flight away from Surabaya so I resolved to do a sunrise trek among Bali’s volcanoes in order to sooth my soul.
Gunung Batur is 1717m, one of the several volcanic cones in what seems like a giant dish with water in its bottom. It was formed in an eruption in 1917 and has been active as recently as 1994. There are lots of tours there so once I’d arrived at my lovely hotel in Ubud (The Saren Indah, highly recommended for a relaxing break), I asked them to sign me up (I’m getting lazy in my travel habits out here), and then relaxed for the rest of the day, in preparation for my efforts.
The pick-up was 2 am. I’d indulged in lovely Balinese cuisine and a glass of wine before going to bed early, managing about four hours of sleep before my alarm went off. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my hiking gear and grabbed my new, lightweight rucksack. The car arrived and in I climbed, the first of three pickups around Ubud. Then we drove for about an hour in dozy silence, up towards the start of our trek at Toya Bungkah. But first, we stopped off at a little place that provided us with banana pancakes and coffee, and our ‘second breakfast’ for the summit (ultimately banana sandwiches and a boiled egg). Then we drove a further 15 minutes to meet our guide.
As I said, there are lots of tours, so it was no surprise to draw up to a huge car park filled with tired looking hikers gripping bottles of water and flashlights. We were organised into groups of four, given a flashlight if we didn’t have one (I’d remembered my head torch, naturally!) and sent on our way.
Our guide was, appropriately enough, named Dante, as in Dante’s Peak. The irony did not escape our group. He set a cracking pace, which was fine to begin with, but the route quickly became steep and is, by alternates, rocky or sandy. I was quickly reminded that I am not as young or fit as I was. Two months of battling an ear infection had stopped my gym visits early in January, so I quickly got out of breath compared to my younger, fitter companions. Additionally, although the ear infection was no longer rife, the aftermath of slight deafness continued, and I found myself feeling a bit dizzy the higher we climbed, which was a concern when I repeatedly stumbled. Dante, however, kept us going and made frequent rest stops.
Each rest gave us a wonderful nighttime view across Bali. The silhouette of Gunung Abang opposite us on the other side of the lake dominated the landscape, matched only by banks of cloud that regularly lit up with orange lightning. The sky was clear and the stars were out in abundance, lighting our way.
At one point we had a long rest while our guides prayed at a shrine before the steepest ascent to the summit. Bali is a Hindu country, although Balinese Hinduism is a unique blend of beliefs. They believe that spirits are everywhere and good spirits dwell in mountains and bring prosperity to people. Sadly, some groups were ignorant of local customs and failed to wait quietly while their guide prayed. It always disappoints me when people ignore local customs, as it takes very little to learn about and appreciate other people’s cultures and beliefs.
Mt. Batur is always busy, but especially so at weekends when groups of students are able to complete the walk. One thing that kept me moving against all the odds was the desire to get way from the shouting, music playing hordes and breath in the space and silence of the volcano. I’d positioned myself at the front of our group, knowing the slowest should set the pace, but I could feel the youngsters stepping on my heels behind me, perhaps not as used to walking in groups as I am. Still, I slogged on, determined to outpace them. It was more easily said than done, I can tell you.
We arrived at the summit in good time; it was still dark and clear when we arrived at the already crowded lookout. The sunrise wasn’t far behind us. The sky quickly took on a lighter glow behind Abang and the cloud-banks surrounding it. As the light increased, so did the cloud as heat and cold met. So the sunrise wasn’t a spectacular as I could have hoped. But never mind. I was high up (1717m); I was cold (such a nice feeling after constant heat and humidity – I even got to wear my favourite Rab feather down jacket and enjoy a hot chocolate from the food station near the top!); I had space around me, even though the top was crowded with snap happy student groups. I was happy to be there.
Once the day had well and truly begun and we’d been at the top for nearly an hour, we turned around and made our way back. The steep top was quickly managed, as it was mostly sand and, therefore, quick to descend using the ‘dig your heels in and slide’ method. We stopped briefly at the crater, active in 1994, and gazed at the still blackened landscape below it. We felt steam rising from fissures in the ground and dodged tourist savvy monkeys, greedy for anything they could get their hands on.
About half way down we diverted from the original route and took what could pass for a road to the bottom. It was certainly accessible to traffic as we dodged motorbikes laden with passengers and goods. It was also a good deal easier to walk after the rocky slog we had endured on the way up.
Dante discovered I was an English teacher, and, while teaching me some Indonesian phrases such as ‘kaki ku kaku’ meaning ‘my legs are stiff’, he grilled me in English grammar and the finer definitions between maybe and probably (amongst other things)!
Soon enough we were back at the car park fulfilling the ‘two hours up two hours down’ prophecy everyone had warned me about. Reunited with our driver we were quickly on our way, although the drive home seemed to take forever and I was desperate to get back and take a shower after my exertions. I had sensibly booked a massage for later that afternoon and, I have to say, it helped work out the stiffness really well. Of course, I was still rather sore for a good couple of days afterwards, but it was definitely worth every step. I had got my mountains fix, with added stars and lightning clouds and a tiny bit of sunrise, to make everything well in my world.
It seldom happens that a place initiates a new phase in someone’s life. It tends to inspire the person in a way that was previously unknown. A trek to Chandrashila summit raises questions in a person which can never be answered but only contemplated.
This trek takes you to the world’s highest Shiva temple situated in Tungnath which is one of the Panch Kedar temples, at a height of 12074 ft. The summit of Tungnath is Chandrashila Peak at an altitude of 13000 ft. above the sea level. This is an all season trek known for breath-taking landscapes and dense forests surrounded with excellent views of the peaks.
The trek begins from Deoriatal, amid nicely stretched greenery, which reminds us how vast and overpowering Mother Nature could be. The trail winds through five different varieties of forests; Oaks, Maple and Rhododendrons are the prominent variants that one would not miss to spot. The trek is full of sudden, uphill trails covered with wooded trees, and then within a blink of the eye, there is a moss-covered downhill trail through enveloping tunnels.
This stupendous sight is followed by the trails that weave through clearings in the jungles in Rohini Bugyal. There are tall trees on the way which lay fallen on the ground with wild mushrooms growing on them. If one manages to see the entire scene from a distance, it would appear as if these beautiful elements of nature have been deliberately placed in order to create an awe-inspiring moment.
If there’s a bird watchers’ trail, then it has to be Deoriatal. The Himalayan woodpecker and Verditer Flycatcther can be easily spotted here. It has more birds to show in one day than the entire Goechala trek. There is a waterfall on the way, which invites trekkers to bathe in it after the exhausting 12 hour trek to the village of Chopta.
The last stretch of the trek is from Chopta to Tungnath, and then to Chandrashila. It seems short when cited in terms of distance, i.e. 3 .5 kms, but the trail ascends sharply via a series of 11 scissor bends. The walk is made pleasant due to the magnificent view despite the continuous steep climb.
This trail passes through a section of Bhoj trees before the Tungnath temple, on a concrete and stone laden path. The entire route is surrounded by the Himalayan range of mountains. Every time one stops to catch a breath, the view doesn’t fail to amaze.
Wide, lush, green meadows stretch for as far as the eyes can see, with the clouds continuously rolling in and relaying with sunshine. There comes a point where the excitement to reach the destination demands rest and makes one stop and think about where they are standing, with just a few souls scattered at a distance. If any elderly local passes by you nonchalantly, don’t be intimidated. They’re very friendly.
The trek from Tungnath to Chandrashila is an ascent of 600 feet and is even steeper than the previous one. It might just be of 1 km but the climb tends to be very hectic. A part of the trail presents a view from a cliff which looks over layers of mountains in the distance thinly veiled by clouds.
The trek is, literally, a walk through clouds and an extremely exhilarating experience. The steepness is scary but the thrill to reach the top with nothing to climb beyond it, keeps one motivated. Nothing can beat the view at the top of the summit, as it looks over parts of the Himalayan mountain range including Nanda Devi.
The altitude gain could hamper the breathing but it’s all forgiven, for the feeling of accomplishment cannot match anything.
To be able to spend some time at the tip on the Chandrashila summit can prove to be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. The mountains and the sun carry on in their usual ways, as if indifferent to anybody else’s presence. It is this moment when one gets to have that conversation with one’s self; the question of one’s minisculity in front of this gigantic world amid the colossal mountains layered one up on another.
But then again, maybe that’s what mountains do to you. All that remains in our hands is how we wish to mould this experience and come back to the same peak again with more humility in ourselves because that’s all we can ever be… a little bit humbler, every single time.