Himachal Pradesh was my backyard when I was growing up in Chandigarh. A chill in the air would make us run to the rooftop to see if it has snowed in Shimla. And if we need to pack ourselves in woolens. When I reached university, we did enough driving trips to Kasauli and around including trekking trips at timber trail. Since it was a stone’s throw away distance, I never ventured beyond Shimla. It remained a state more or less unexplored. Even though I grew up in the foothills of the Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas that dominate the state.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to explore either Himachal or Uttarakhand. As luck would have it, I found the perfect company in fellow traveler and writer Alka Kaushik. We were off to explore the Kinnaur & Lahaul and Spiti districts of the state. I hardly knew anything about these districts except that they are followers of Buddhism primarily.
I was keen on exploring the ancient temples both for their Pahadi architecture and the uninterrupted traditional practices that they continue to follow. We discovered much more than I had set out to explore – will sit down and write about all of that. To begin with, here are some of the first impressions of this lovely hill state.
Happy & Prosperous Himachal
Himachal Pradesh is a happier state in India. Rich in nature and with a fairly small population, everyone has enough for their needs. In the days that we spent in the state going around Kinnaur, Spiti & Lahaul – we found people happy and smiling. No one cribbed and no one was begging. People we met at tea stalls and in other public places invited us home, sometimes to their villages located many kilometers away.
They wanted us to see their villages when we told them we are out to explore the state. Literacy levels are definitely high.
In many places, we were told that this state has now left Kerala behind. I came back and checked, well as per the 2011 census Kerala is still up there followed by many North Eastern states. But yes the state has made great progress in literacy in the last decade and you can see that when you interact with people.
Since the state is reasonably prosperous, the migration out of Himachal is very low. In fact one evening I tried thinking about the number of Himachali people I have met outside the state. And I could mostly remember my fellow students at Panjab University Chandigarh. We met many big and small entrepreneurs who had studied in Chandigarh or Delhi but had come back to the state after finishing their education.
How many states in India can boast of low migration because there is enough to employ the citizens within the state? To add to this the society is primarily agrarian.
Telecommunications was extremely good till Kinnaur and in Spiti, only BSNL worked. Landlines are totally extinct and people seem to have forgotten that they existed ever.
Throughout the trip, we found the minimal use of plastic bags. Everywhere we found cloth bags that can decompose easily even if they are thrown as such. In small villages like Nako, youth clubs take ownership of keeping their villages plastic free and clean. I saw a volunteer pick up the garbage and put it in dustbins as he took me around for the village walk. The eco-consciousness of Himachali’s added a layer of joy to this travel as you feel hopeful – if they can do it, so can the rest of India.
We found no large and ultra-luxury hotel chains in this region. While the whole place was geared up quite well to host tourists with homestays and small guesthouses. We stayed in some of the best hotels served by Banjara Camps. And most survived on electricity provided by the state electricity boards. Most did not use generators and the ones who did use generators, used it very judiciously. All water heating was using solar heaters and a lot of lighting was using solar lanterns.
The government seems to be working
I know it sounds oxymoronic, but in the state, there are government efforts that are hard to ignore. In the smallest village with a population of even 100, we found a primary school. In slightly larger villages there are high schools, though I wondered if they had enough children in the village to attend school. Most remote villages like Tabo and Dhankar, we saw helipads. We were told that in the case of an emergency, people are evacuated for a nominal fee.
Going by the standards of government services in the rest of the country, this was a pleasant discovery. Outside each village, a board announces the name of the village, its population, and other vital statistics like the height at which it is located. Where else in the country do we see this?
Almost every home has a solar heater provided at subsidized rates by the government. Bringing down the need for electricity drastically in the cold environment.
Look at the issues that Government advertisements talk about…
Read my First Impressions of the following countries:
Learning from the Locals
I observed and learned a few things from Himachali. Everyone wore layers of clothes, including a layer of warm clothing like a coat. Or wrapped around the shawl even when the sun was shining brightly. They always cover their head with a cap or a scarf. No, there is no cultural or religious significance (that shows in their choice of colors or style and you will read in my subsequent posts). This is to protect the sensitive parts of the body from temperature changes.
Everyone walks at a slow rhythmic pace like a horse. In fact, when people saw me climbing at a speed and then stopping to catch my breath, I was repeatedly told – walk like a horse – short rhythmic steps at a steady pace – irrespective of the incline you are on. After hearing it a few times, I sat back and observed how the Himachalis walk. Yes, they all took small steps and yes there was a rhythm that their feet followed. No wonder they walk so much without getting tired or exhausting themselves.
Is that not how we need to move too in life – slow & steady, enjoying the rhythm of our pace and steps?
Ancient Temples in Himachal Pradesh
One of my main motives for traveling through the state was to explore the ancient Pahadi temples both for their architecture and their relevance in the lives of the local Himachali people. I ended up discovering so many temples with different types of architecture related to well-known and not-so-well-known mythological tales. Temples had the unique Pahadi style yet some of the iconographic features were so common. And related to other styles that you can never set them apart.
A perfect example of having one’s own identity while being a part of a family.
I saw a lovely confluence and Hinduism and Buddhism in all temples in the state. They exist as one faith there.
Read my First Impressions of
No fear of Death
On those most treacherous roads on the earth, Death could have been a moment away. At lots of sharp turns, river crossings, hiking paths, and stone driveways – death was never too far, but it did not scare me at all. For what could have been a better death than merging with the mighty Himalayas or letting one of the torrential rivers take you along or maybe letting glaciers hide you for centuries to come?
But no, I had to live to tell you these stories, so I am back but it was one place where I was not scared of death, not for a moment. I was scared of many other things but not death, it must have been an impact of the Himalayas I guess.
The World must be Small Place
In the Spiti Valley, we were more or less alone all the time. Villages were far apart and when we did reach the villages, population-wise they were smaller than the societies we live in. In Chandratal, the remotest part of Lahaul & Spiti I met an ex-colleague from Infosys who was a part of a biking group. After ages, I ended up getting some corporate gossip about common people we knew. The World must be a very small place.
Rajma Chawal is the staple diet. You will get it in all places – by the roadside, at the college canteen, at guesthouses, and at home. Interestingly they call Rajma – daal. I enjoyed this simple North Indian dish after a long time.
Sparrows and Crows are found at all altitudes. We did not see too many birds throughout our 1200+ km route. But sparrows and crows were in abundance no matter what the altitude was, no matter whether it was a valley or a peak, or even a riverside.
Video of Drive to Chandratal, Spiti Valley
Watch my video in HD mode, and get a feel for the glaciers, terrain, landscapes, treacherous roads, and Chandratal, the blue lake.
Kinnaur, Lahaul & Spiti are best seen and experienced in their unique landscape that changes with each twist and turns off-road and river. I will take you through each of them as I write this series on this unique region of India. Dominated by ancient temples and monasteries as much as by rivers that feed the plains of India.
Recommend you to read the following places to visit in the state on my Travel Blog.
Apple out to prosperity – Story of Himachal Apple.
Nako – Sacred Lake & Ancient Monastery
Chandratal – Blue Lake of Lahaul-Spiti Valley
Rampur Bushahr and its Padam Palace
Very true. Small steps are helpful if you are climbing and little zig zag also. I was guided by a guide in Uttarakhand how to climb better and get less tired.
I learnt it the hard way Tushar, after huffing and puffing many times.
Such a beautiful state with such lovely people! Himachal Pradesh is a favourite. And Chandra Taal must be what heaven looks like 🙂
Your post brought back so many memories from Himachal. I found myself smiling while reading it. Thank you for sharing such warm words. Look forward to reading more from your Himachal Odyssey.
And guess what, I never explore this part of Himachal all my childhood, growing up in Chandigarh & around. Need to do another trip to explore Chamba and its ancient temples.
Thanks for these nice point wise covering as well as hope its just Introduction and more inside terrain, landscape, people culture life religion faith and socio economic education life style etc – KINNAR KAILASH, AJNATA OF HIMALAYAS – TABO Monastery, Ki Kibber Chandertal Kunzum La or pass – Rest Chamba has many more to show & see as 84TEMPLE Chamba Rumal etc many more thinsg to explore in professional way and Justice can be done By A Goyal jee only for the potential explorer Researcher, traveler, drifter meditation adventure seeker or self explorer to step inside to find out who he is
Thank you Dr Thakur. Yes, this is just an introduction post, will write about all the places I saw during this long road trip. Hope to visit Chamba next year may be and explore its miniature paintings and Chamba Rumal of course along with the ancient temples.
अच्छा लगा जानकर कि हिमाचल सरकार इन दूरगामी इलाकों में भी अपनी योजनाएँ पहुँचा पा रही है। ऐसा ही अनुभव मुझे सिक्किम सरकार के प्रति भी हुआ था जब मैं उत्तरी सिक्किम के गाँवों से गुजरा था।
Looks like small hill states have the best living index in India. Hope they remain that way and inspire others to be like them. All in all, you come back happy from these places.
Anuradhaji your travelogue is excellent to browse.why you are not compiling to a book so that larger section of people can go throug it
Thank you Nand Ji. Hopefully one day, will write a travel book too. Till then check out my book ‘The Mouse Charmers’ – http://www.anuradhagoyal.com/the-mouse-charmers/
Such a wonderful story. Scared of a lot of stuff except death. That’s an achievement in itself as most people are scared of death.
It always happens that we do not explore our own backyard. For years, I didn’t know anything about Delhi. It was only after first few years of job that I started going around Delhi. 🙂
Thanks Gaurav. Through my city walks, I am trying to promote backyard travel…lets see how far I can go.
Thanks for sharing. Can you pease confirm what was your mode of transport and names of the hotels. I am planning to travel here.
Dharmendra Ji, I used a an Innova for this whole trip, hired from Shimla. You can contact Sh Mangat Ram at 9816169021 for the taxi. I used hotels provided by Banjara Camps throughout the trip. Please refer to their website – banjaracamps.com. Hope this helps.
Great write up Anuradha ji. Loved the way you have summed up multiple aspects to start with of Himachal. Cannot agree more on Rajma Chawal, I hope you got a chance to eat at Annapurna Dhabha just as you enter Kinnaur Dwar after crossing the diversion to Jeori – Sarahan. Great taste and served with equal love 🙂
Dheeraj, I did eat Rajma Chawal at Jeori at a Dhaba – not sure if it was Annapurna though.
Hmm.. It comes just after you enter the kinnaur dwar. Looking forward to the next part. PS: Need a help from you. I am also looking for that slide in box plugin to suggest posts to users once they scroll like you have. Can you please suggest its name?
Great blog! Must say, Himachal is moving towards becoming an ideal state.
Yes it is Payaswini.
For a few months I have been searching for a perfect travel blog to read. Yours is indeed the best. Coming from a middle class South indian family,even traveling cheap was a luxury. But your posts takes me to places without spending a dime. Hopefully in the near future I will go to all the places in India.
Thank you so much Sir, for all your kind words. This is the perfect encouragement that a travel writer needs. Happy travelling.
Just read this post on account of International Happiness Day. It made me really happy – the people and the place are beautiful indeed.
Dear Divya & Vikas, and your happiness made me happy. Keep spreading happiness.
Thank you sir for such a informative blog. I have a query, We planned to go Himachal Pradesh from Delhi 22nd may to 30th may Delhi . Delhi to Delhi. And we will cover simla, manali and kalpa. By 30th may at 12.00 noon we have to go back to the hotel. Because our train from Delhi at 1.00pm
Can you please help us for scheduling the trip.
Debdip, I would suggest you do Shimla, Kinnaur and Kalpa – Manali will be a stretch as it is in different direction.