Next morning, we woke up just after sunrise to a very cold morning. A shepherd had brought his flock of sheep and goats downhill and was sitting outside dhaba waiting for a cup of tea. He had a few dogs with him, each one wearing a thick metal collar meant to protect it from attacks from leopards which live in forest. I have heard that these dogs are fiercely independent and not very friendly towards strangers. I had even experienced it first hand during my visit to Spiti. But these two were friendly and after we fed them some biscuits, wouldn’t leave our side. They did go off barking towards a heavily wooded area nearby to scare away some monkeys (I guess).
I walked on further before breakfast was ready and spotted a few birds and some pikas. Latter are sluggish in mornings and very active during day. After breakfast, we fed a few crows again and then started walking towards Tungnath Temple. A stone and cement track is what most pilgrims visiting temple usually take. There are a few

Mountain crows

Mountain crows

shortcuts, but owing to whatever I know about such “time savers” we preferred the longer route.
It was fairly easy but we flat footed city dwellers were out of breath in no time while Pammi walked on happily.
The view from the route was fairly interesting with number of trees all around. There were a few shops and grounds which are occupied only during summer season and lay vacant during winters. Trees in the area were covered with lichen and some kind of cotton thing.
After hiking for about 50-60 minutes, we found some snow lying here and there. But most of it was hard as ice. We could see Chandra Shila and it looked beautiful covered with snow. After a while, we probably crossed the tree line and from that point onwards, the vegetation was limited to small bushes, grass and a few wild flowers. It was sunny but a chilly wind was blowing.

Sunrise view of Himalayan mountains from campsite

Sunrise view of Himalayan mountains from campsite

After a hike of about 2 hours and 3-4 rest stops, we finally managed to reach temple area. There was a small dhaba where we had something to eat, don’t remember what. Or may be we ate after coming back.

The mountain from that point onwards was covered in ice and snow apart from the places where it was cleared by people and it was melting too. Water was every where and stone path was very slippery. We walked up carefully to reach the temple. A few workers were preparing for some religious ceremony of opening the temple for visitors, 1 or 2 days later. Tungnath Temple is the highest Shiva Temple in the world at 3860 metres.

View from trekking route

View from trekking route

But our destination was Chandra Shila, peak of the mountain at about 4000 meters. The small path was covered in water from snow melts every where and was a bit difficult to walk upon. Last stretch which was a climb of about 80-100 meters was steep and completely covered in 2-4 inches of hard snow. I followed Pammi’s lead as he hiked up but struggled to keep up. But after a while managed to reach the top. There was a small temple on top of the peak where a family was doing some kind of prayer ceremony. Another very small temple kind of place was built on other end. Didn’t expect that there. But considering the annoyingly prevalent religiosity of people, I should have expected that. As is the norm with all almost all religious people, the plastic bags and sweet boxes were chucked away casually down the hill after their apparently holy religious deed was done. When I asked the purpose, the guy answered that it was for the jungle goddess. Goddess which loves plastic bags and plastic lined cardboard boxes.

Chandra Shila

Chandra Shila

I walked a bit further and rested taking in the views. Chandra Shila is one of the highest peaks in the region and views were really great. Saw a few crows flying at even this altitude and a few pikas on ground. A very strong breeze was blowing at the peak which made even standing there a bit difficult.

After enjoying the views for 20-25 minutes, it was time to go back same way we had climbed up. But on the way, I slipped, landed on my ass and started sliding downwards. On the way, I crashed in to Pammi and he joined me in the impromptu snow slide ride. We managed to stop after a few meters. Nothing was hurt though except for a light snow burn and uncomfortable wet feeling.

On top of Chandra Shila

On top of Chandra Shila

Walk down the mountain was uneventful, except for the fact that we took a shortcut. It wasn’t all that bad since we were going down and reached our campsite in about 80-90 minutes. After a hot cup of tea and snacks and resting our limbs, we went on another walk up the road and came back just before dark. While we were in dhaba, an interesting incident happened. There were two foreigner hippy backpackers, by their attire and looks eating something. They were staying in one of other places up the road. After they paid the bill and left, one of them came back searching for his half full water bottle. He claimed that he had left it there. Dhaba owner, just gave him a funny look and handed him a new water bottle. Few minutes later, that man was back again apologising that he had found his original bottle and gave the new bottle back.
I wonder what would have happened in any other place.
Whenever I am in a place like this, away from city lights, I spend some time star gazing. But the night was cloudy with strong breeze. So I just crawled in to the tent to sleep. We had a longer trek to do next day.

Near Chandra shila

Near Chandra shila

Tungnath Temple

Tungnath Temple

Found this Pika on top

Found this Pika on top

Pammi just moments before I crashed into him

One Pika I found near campsite

One Pika I found near campsite

Next morning, we were supposed to leave at 4:30 am, but managed to do so by 6 am. We had a Tata Sumo driven by a driver named Rana and our guide was Pammi.

Rudraprayag, where Alaknanda & Mandakini combine to form Ganga

Rudraprayag, where Alaknanda & Mandakini combine to form Ganga

There are two ways to do this trek. One is to start hiking from Deoaria Taal towards Chopata till Chandrashila and the other is it’s opposite. We took the second option and drove directly towards Chopata. On the way, witnessed the destruction caused by floods last year. Workers were working almost all along the route to repair the damage but it was huge. Some villages were completely wiped out and vehicles, houses and even bridges were lying toppled over like toys. People are getting too greedy, destroying eco-system and constructed houses and shops wherever they wish without caring about stability of mountains and greenery. A lot of the destruction could have been avoided if the construction was planned properly.

A destroyed village on the way

A destroyed village on the way

After Ukhimath, the area was less populated, greener and cool. We could hear a lot of bird calls but were able to spot only 2-3 of them. Unlike the places which saw significant damage due to floods previous year, this area was spared any such thing. The roads were more or less OK but had a few bumpy stretches every now and then. We reached Chopata a few hours before sunrise and stopped at a two-storied dhaba kind of place run by a family. Pammi’s older brother was already there resting after finishing up a trek with some other trekkers who were relaxing nearby. Upper floor had kitchen and eating area and the lower floors had a couple of rooms with beds for guests. 3 foreigners were staying there already and had just finished Deoria Taal to Chandrashila trek. We had a late lunch and went on a walk down the road. Tungnath Temple was just on top of the mountains we were at but not visible. Entrance to the visitor’s route was half a km from our place and had a few shops. There were a few other dhabas and shops which were still not open for the season. We were lucky to have visited just 2-3 days the temple opened for visitors. Otherwise the place would have been swamped with pilgrims.

Near Chopata

Near Chopata

Here we saw a number of mountain crows which are fully black and bigger than what we have in plains. They seemed to be much less shy and came as close as 2-3 feet of people. I fed them some biscuits and in no time, a group of 8-9 were sitting around cawing for more.

We walked for a couple of kilometers beyond the entrance area down the road. A very strong wind was blowing at the  time and it was getting colder every minute. Almost all trees in the area lean towards a certain direction due to these wins.  Views of the valleys and forests were pretty nice even in low light. A lot of mountains at some distance were

A shepherd and his puppy

A shepherd and his puppy

covered with snow. After we reached back, we huddled around the fire. Even in Rishikesh it was near about 40 degrees, but Chopata was cold. By this time, Pammi and Rana had set up tents and dinner was ready. It was simple meal of daal, chawal etc. After dinner, we took out stuff we needed for next day and went to sleep.

I was supposed to write this travelogue last year, but due to work, laziness and website not working, I couldn’t. Now a year later, I don’t remember all the details. So this one will be according to best of my memory and what can I remember from the photos.

Early morning view of river Ganga from Laksham Jhula

Early morning view of river Ganga from Laksham Jhula

I had last visited Rishikesh around 16-17 years back and didn’t remember much of it or places nearby except Lakshman Jhoola and beach near river Ganga. So visiting the place again was almost like visiting it for the first time. To reach there, we took a bus from Delhi and reached Rishikesh at sunrise. We had booked a room in Shiv Shakti Guesthouse near Lakshman Jhula and hired an auto to take us there. It dropped us on other side of the river and we walked across the bridge. The whole thing shook whenever a two-wheeler drove across it just like I remembered. The town was still asleep except a few temple bells ringing. Reaching the hotel, we changed and had a short nap. We woke up hungry and asked owner of the place Nitin for some suggestions. He advised us to check out a few cafes on the street. Unlike restaurants in Delhi and most other cities, eating joints in such places are very relaxed and slow. Guests just relax in their seats, enjoying the view, reading a book, listening to music and their orders take a long time to be ready.Some places don’t have chairs and tables, just some cushions on the floor. With a nice view like river Ganga flowing by, it’s a pretty good way of spending some time relaxing which we did.

 There were many interesting people in such places from all over the world. One of them told us his life story about his life since he discovered India. He worked 4-5 months in Italy and spent rest of his time in India living off his savings.

The day outside was sunny and getting hot. We strolled through the market which is just like most other markets in a touristy place with shops selling silly touristy clothes, knick-knacks, signboards of massages, cooking classes, yoga and so on. In Rishikesh though, Yog and meditation classes outnumber everything else by a fair margin. We kept on walking till we reached Ram Jhula area. The ghat there (river bank) is fairly crowded all day long due to temples nearby. 2 restaurants with a man dressed like a cartoonish pandit sitting on a high chair are popular with vegetarian people.

Welcoming committee

Welcoming committee

We walked to the beach and spent some time there. Saw a lot of rafting boats floating by and people practising kayaking. Kids were making sand castles jumping in water. The river looked placid but the current was very strong. Rishikesh is the place where Ganga enters Indian plains for the first time. It felt nice to stay in the water with the hot sun just above our heads. We walked along the beach for a while and reached the streets just beyond the main road we had walked upon earlier. The area had a a number of small houses, ashrams kind of places and lots of greenery. After reaching back to our hotel for rest and washing up, we considered our options. We liked Rishikesh, but wanted something cooler for a while. Asked Nitin about it and he suggested that we do the 4-5 days Chopata Chandrashila trek. It seemed interesting and he made the arrangements for it for next morning. 

This being done, we walked across Lakshman Jhula to explore other half of the city. On the way, we saw a young white guy playing bagpipes. He lived on the money people gave away and selling some kind of herbal tea. I bought a pack and used it for a while. The herbs were from northern Europe and supposedly helpful with sleep. I’m not much of a connoisseur but it was good.

We found a dhaba kind of place and had dinner before walking back to get ready for next day.

The bagpiper

The bagpiper

This was the last day of our trip and we started the drive back home at about 7 am. After a quick breakfast, we

A little bird making a nest

A little bird making a nest

started the drive back along the same road we had arrived. I tried to catch up on sleep, but the road was too bumpy. On the way, we stopped at Bhuira to visit the jam factory there. It’s is a small village 6-7 km from Rajgarh known for it’s fruit orchards and the jam factory mentioned. Wifey had visited the place during a school trip and  likes their products. Our fridge almost always has a few jams, chutneys and a few other items from this pace. I too wanted to visit the place to see if it could be a travel option for  tour itineraries.

In hindsight, it’d have been better if we had visited while we were staying in Rajgarh as we could have utilised the day better. Anyhow, we visited on a Sunday when the plant is closed but the lady on phone said that we were welcome to visit and pick up some stuff. Some construction workers were busy laying down new road when reached the factory. We were met by caretaker Ramkali who had answered our phone call. She was of great help answering our queries and showing us around. Day being Sunday, no other staff was there except the gardener. The plant was closed for some upgrades and renovation anyway. So even if we had visited on a weekday, we couldn’t have seen the process. But we got a fairly good idea of how things work from Ramkali.

premises

Factory premises

I had gone there without any idea about what to expect but it was pretty nice. The plant is constructed in the village and the area is very green and full of trees of various types. It’s not huge, just a hall where fruits are washed, processed and packed, cold storage unit an office in addition to a beautiful garden and a house. There are 30-35 women working in the plant who are all from nearby villages. According to Ramkali, working in the plant has helped them raise their standard of living and empowered them. A lot better than the “empowerment” Rahul Gandhi keeps talking about. All the products, jams, pickles, preserves etc. are made by hand in hall. There are a few machines for  steaming, cooking the fruits. The plant is eco-friendly as the water used to wash the fruits is recycled and used in the garden. Instead of fertilizer, they use compost. This stuff was in the factory garden, don’t know if the orchards they source fruits from follow the same practice or not.

Ramkali

Ramkali

We bought a bunch of jars at some discount and went on our way to reach Solan at about noon. Met rest of family and started driving towards Delhi. On the way, we first stopped in Ambala . There is one famous Mohan Bakery, a few minutes drive from the college where we stopped to pick some really good Swiss Rolls . Next stop for snacks was Sharma Chaat where we had Gol Gappas with 7 different flavours like guava, jasmine, heeng etc and some chaat.

In evening, we made another stop at Murthal, where we had some paranthas for dinner. I had heard a lot about the place, but never been there. Early on, there were only 1-2 dhabas, but now they are lined up by the dozens. I had an onion parantha served with copious amounts of fresh butter. 2 paranthas are usually enough to fill up a normal person. After meal, they got us some orange and cola flavoured toffees, the same kind we used to buy for 10-20 paisa apiece a very long time back. It’s hard to find them these days, but a shop in the premises was selling them and we bought some of those.

Some stuff we bought

Some stuff we bought

Rest of the journey was uneventful. Passed the same mess I had mentioned in 1st part of this series to reach back home at about 11 pm. The temperature at night in Delhi was higher than the day temperature of every place we stayed in Himachal. After being on road for 13+ hours,  it hardly mattered.

Last photo of the trip

Last photo of the trip

Next morning, we started the drive at 9 am towards Haripur Dhar. The area ahead is sparsely populated with a few small villages here and there. The roads are not in a great condition. Few patches are good, some with a few potholes and in some stretches, there is just a dust track. The ride was smooth and bumpy accordingly. Along the way we kept speculating the location of Habban valley. On the map, it was marked about half way on our route with a small river marking the spot. We came across two such possible spots, but it looked nothing like Habban valley with peach and apple orchards the HPTDC people promised us. We asked some locals who were waiting for a bus and they informed that Habban valley is near Rajgarh but on a very route leading somewhere else.

A waterfall we came across

A waterfall we came across

They also pronounced it slightly differently. I never like this thing of writing words of one language in to another script, specially Hindi in to English.

The villagers were mostly farmers who had just harvested their crop of garlic. Apparently this area is a big producer of garlic and the smell was in the air almost everywhere. The markets in every village were overflowing with garlic being sold at Rs 25-30 per kg, less than one-fourth of price in cities.

Along the way, a grey wild cat crossed our path. It was an interesting looking animal with different fur and facial structure from ordinary house cats. It stared at us for while vanishing in to the bushes near the road. The road near Haripur Dhar was very new for a stretch of 9-10 kilometers. The driver informed us that this was the first time that a proper road was laid there. An obvious exaggeration, but understandable. Another driver had claimed that all cherries in the world are infested by some kind of worm which one can see by peeling away different layers carefully.

Haripur Dhar Temple

Haripur Dhar Temple

We reached the town at 12:30 pm. The temple is 10-12 minutes drive from there on a hill overlooking the town and nearby area. One side of the ridge is in Shimla and the other in Sirmaur district. Whatever information I could find about the place on internet indicated that there was one PWD guesthouse and one hotel in town and another guesthouse in temple premises. I had called PWD guesthouse previous day, but the relevant staff was gone for the day and they asked me to call next morning. We had decided to either stay in Haripur Dhar or go back towards Rajgarh to spend the night. There were some hotels on the way which could be used if there was no accommodation available in the town.
The temple had a huge parking area and a few dhabas and small shops selling temple offerings of coconuts, puffed rice etc. One of the dhabas offered rooms for night stay. There was a small guesthouse just outside temple area which seemed interesting due to it’s location.

As we were getting out of the car, we saw one family with a young woman walking up the stairs. She kept on screaming every 2-3 minutes. Driver said that she had a “saayaa” on her (she was possessed) and coming to the temple of a powerful goddess is bothering the spirit which was troubling here. Later on we saw that family sitting in temple courtyard and a priest claiming some cure. She still kept on screaming every now and then and looked pissed off.

View of Shimla side just off hiking route

View of Shimla side just off hiking route

THis temple was more or less just like Kali Ka Tibba we had visited the previous day but was much filthier. The complex itself was clean but the wooded area nearby was covered in plastic and styrofoam waste. The visitors and shops nearby dump their waste wherever they feel like as long as it’s not inside the temple. The view of surrounding area was good but nothing special. The rant which I wrote in previous post about places of worship holds true for this place too.

We had lunch of rice and daal in one of the dhabas which was served in styrofoam plates. The state govt. needs to ban this nuisance too. It’s as bad as the plastic bags.

For nightstay, we first considered going to PWD guesthouse we saw on the way, but decided to check the guesthouse on top of the hill. The building itself is just a house with 3-4 rooms rented out to guests and a small hut outside divided in to two units. No rooms were available and we took one hut for Rs 500, which was a ripoff made amply clear by wifey. But it was out of town in a peaceful location and apparently starting point of some trekking routes. The caretaker seemed uninterested in his work and knew nothing about this except pointing out random hills in a vague manner.

A shepherd gathering firewood

A shepherd gathering firewood

After resting for a while, we went up the rocky path going up the hill. It was dug up probably a few weeks back and was full of rocks and rubble. After 10-15 minutes, I found a small goat trail up the hill and abandoned the path to climb up. We kept on walking up and met an old shepherd gathering wood. He asked us if we were visiting “kilaa” which was just on other side of the ridge. I had no idea about any kind of kilaa or fort and was intrigued by the possibility of seeing some ruins in such a place. He gave us some general directions and we went on our way. First landmark on the way was a concrete water tank which was still under construction. Tree cover was really thick at this point and there were some places which rarely if ever saw any direct sunlight.

We found a few goats and some cows grazing on other side of ridge presumably owned by the old shepherd . We kept walking on the ridge and came across a stone house under construction. Later on, I found out that it was an office kind of thing for forest department and was called kilaa by the locals. No fort or anything similar there.

Goat herd and Haripur Dhar town in background

Goat herd and Haripur Dhar town in background

The trail ended there with more wooded area up ahead. Wifey at this time was crying bloody murder and demanding that we go back. But I persuaded her to bear with me for a while. Along the way, we some beautiful groves which can be really nice camping sites. The goats had vanished down the hill and there were only a few cows wandering in between the trees. It was a few minutes past 4 pm and we started walking back to our hut.
Walking back I declared that going back the same way we climbed up was against my principles and I almost never do it. hehe. It was not appreciated much by  wifey though. We took a different route which was more or less made by the rain water flowing downhill and comparatively more difficult to walk upon. We reached back to the hut to wash up with ice cold water and have something to eat.
It was a nice walk, not as long or challenging as I like but not too bad either.

Called the driver to take us to the town. Bought some snacks for next day and walked around the town square.

Just a random stack of stones

Just a random stack of stones

Places like this can be covered by foot in 8-10 minutes. I wanted to check out the local meat dishes so I walked in to a small eating joint with just 2 tables. It was owned by an old couple who answered my questions about the place. Menu was daal chawl and mutton chawal. Latter cost Rs 80 and was fairly good. Wifey had her meal in a vaishno vegetarian dhaba nearby. During most of our trip, we were drinking tap water or spring water, whatever the locals were drinking instead of bottled water and never had any problem.

After the meal, we reached back to our hut and packed for next day. Evening weather was cold and the views were nice. When night fell, we were really happy to see thousands of stars up in the sky. Living in cities, it’s impossible to see more than 20-30 stars , but here the stars covered almost every bit of night sky. After wifey went in, I stayed outside trying to take some pictures, but I don’t know much about this kind of photography and didn’t have any suitable equipment either, just an old 18-55 lens and no tripod either.

After  fiddling with different camera settings for a while, I too went off to sleep.