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To help keep our costs down, we set off with a backpack with a few essentials for the trip. My carefully selected items included a sleeping bag, an electric kettle, a power bank for charging electronics, a few warm clothes, some packets of Maggi noodles and, of course, coffee sachets (I can't go without my coffee!)
As you can see, we were trying to travel really light, so that we didn't have to carry too much while hiking and camping.
In order to get the best deals possible, we really didn't book anything except for our transport into Himachal. We planned to book other things, like accommodation and activities, once we were in Himachal, in order to give us more opportunity to bargain and save money. In the end this was a really good idea, as prices were significantly cheaper once we were on the ground than they had seemed on the internet.
With our backpacks full and a rough of idea of what we wanted to see and where we wanted to stay, we headed off for our big adventure. We left Mumbai on 17th of March ’18 at 10 pm, bound for Amritsar and with a stopover of four hours in Delhi.
When we landed in Delhi, we were really hungry, so headed out to an eatery just a few minutes away from the airport called Venkatesh, which stayed open very late. After some tasty food, we headed back to the airport where I managed to rest for about two hours, with the help of a sleep mask and some earplugs!
At 5:30 am, we flew on from Delhi to Amritsar, landing pretty early in the morning. We had already pre-booked an Innova car to take us from the airport to Dalhousie, which is about a 4.5 hour drive. The car cost us Rs. 26,000 and we were really glad to have had it already arranged when we landed in the airport!
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Once we arrived in Dalhousie, we easily found a place to stay – the Hotel Shangri La, which was a charming hotel with an incredibly beautiful view over the treetops and across the mountains. The price was really good, at just Rs. 850 per room!
One of the best things in Dalhousie is the food, and we took every opportunity to enjoy it! Here, we had lots of tasty and cheap street food including Momos, Maggi and Bread Omelette. Our meal of choice in the morning became Bread Omelette and chai, which is a simple and tasty meal that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
During our day, we also stopped in at the local markets of Gandhi Chowk, Subhash Chowk and the Tibetan Market, looking at all the beautiful items for sale including jewellery, shawls and rugs. We also visited St. Francis Church, a beautiful church that was constructed in the year 1894 by the Army and Civil Officers and civilians. After a great day, we headed back to our Hotel.
After trekking for about 1.5 km, we reached the top of the peak, which was an absolutely gorgeous view. From there, not too far away lies Pholani Devi, a modest but fascinating temple. It is a very unique temple in Himachal and in fact all of India, because there are no images of any particular deity, although it is in honor of the Holy Trinity in Hindu mythology, an incarnation of Kali Mata who saved an entire village. We were especially lucky while we were there as we got to see a beautiful wedding taking place – what a gorgeous backdrop for a wedding!
While we had a great time, we probably didn't plan our itinerary as well as we could have. On reflection, it would have been better to start at Kala Top, then trek Dayan Kund, ending at Khajjiar. Instead, we had to return to Dalhousie and then go back again past Khajjiar the next day, as we had to visit Dharamkhot. Nonetheless, it was a great place to visit and we were so glad we did the trek!
From Dharamkot, we continued on about 15 minutes to spend the day exploring McLeod Ganj, which is sometimes known as 'Little Tibet' because it has so many residents of Tibetan heritage and the fact that it is the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Because of this, there are many beautiful Buddhist temples to explore. We visited a couple, including the Tsuglagkhan temple complex which was very beautiful. There's also lots of great shopping and delicious food – you can choose from Punjabi food or traditional Tibetan dishes such as Momos and Thukpa. Whatever you choose, it is bound to be delicious! It was also a great place to shop for beautiful winter clothing that was handmade by local people. We were very impressed by the range and price of clothing such as sweaters, gloves and socks.
For the rest of the day, Neelam and I hired a bike to do some exploring of nearby Dharamshala and Mcleod Ganj. Some of our favourite sights included the beautiful St. John's Church and Dharamshala Stadium, the home of the Himachal cricket team, that has also hosted several big international matches. We then visited Naddi, a beautiful village which sits at more than 2,000km above sea level and therefore has absolutely stunning views. Not too far away is Dal Lake, which is considered a sacred spot and has a pretty shrine on its banks.
We also stopped in at a tea garden where we learned more about the production of tea. Unfortunately it was an off season so we couldn’t see the production taking place, but it was great to look around and to buy some fresh food, even though it was raining when arrived – It was such a delight to ride a bike amidst the clouds, stopping occasionally for a cup of tea and to enjoy the scenic beauty of Dharmashala. While it continued to rain in Mcleoad Ganj, Neelam and I managed to do a little bit of shopping - some rigorous but good natured bargaining helped us to get some great deals! After that, we headed back to Paul's House just in time to eat dinner at the restaurant Trek n Dine.
During the trip, we had planned for a trek to Triund – one of the things we were excited about, but due to bad weather, lightning and rain, we couldn’t do it.
Once we arrived in Amritsar, we had enough time to visit a few mores places before our flight home. We visited the Golden Temple, a gorgeous square shaped temple that was built in the 16th Century and is considered one of the most sacred sites for the Sikh faith. We also visited Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden that covers approximately 6.5 acres and was the site of the tragic Jallianawala Bagh massacre by British forces in the early 1900s. Today, there is a beautiful and peaceful memorial located in the garden.
I also tried to make the most of the time I had to try the different Punjabi food on offer, as Amritsar is considered one of the best 'foodie' destinations in India. Some of the famous places we tried include Kesar the Dhaba, Brava da Dhaba, Makkhan and Brothers.
One of the last stops was at the Wagah Border, which separates India from Pakistan. Here, every day there is the bringing down of the flags ceremony in the evening, along with a parade by the security forces of both of the countries. It was a very interesting and patriotic display that I am glad I saw, although I did get quite sunburned and hoarse from all the cheering out in the sun during the parade!
After our time exploring Amritsar, it was off to bed before catching our early flight back to Mumbai the next morning. I left Amritsar very full, but very happy!
All in all, Himachal was a great place to visit and explore, especially if you like the outdoors. The province is incredibly beautiful, and there are so many great hikes and trails to try to see more of it. Plus, the province has a rich cultural heritage with people of many different faiths and background, making it a fascinating blend. I was certainly very glad to have made it to visit and explore Himachal and a bit of Punjab.