My Himalayan Odyssey Part 10 – Manali Magic

From the darkly beautiful Jalori...

From the darkly beautiful Jalori…

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... to mellow Manali.

… to mellow Manali.

If the trip in and out of Jalori had been fraught with a sense of danger, the drive to Manali was like a breath of fresh air. It is really no surprise that so many travelers list Manali amongst their favourite places to go to. It is a lot like a perfect Mojito – clean, clear, green and cool, with a touch of something sweet. We first had to drive down a bit, cross a valley and then drive up to Manali along beautiful mountain roads that presented one with jaw dropping views at every single turn!

With apologies to Robert Frost - the road not taken all that often.

With apologies to Robert Frost – the road not taken all that often.

The drive to Manali was really special because on the way we saw (and yes this is based on what a local told us… but maybe he was just having a good laugh at the expense of these silly tourist types… I don’t know) the River Tirthan in its infancy… a gurgling, energetic stream tumbling over rocks and boulders on its way to becoming a bigger river. Of course in the land of Sutlej and Beas, the Tirthan is considered a small river.

The locals told us that this stream goes on to become the River Thirtan. Not sure whether he was pulling our collective, ignorant touristy legs... but I like to believe that he was right.

The locals told us that this stream goes on to become the River Thirtan. Not sure whether he was pulling our collective, ignorant touristy legs… but I like to believe that he was right.

From Jalori to Manali - The Thirtan or so the guy says (5)

From Jalori to Manali - The Thirtan or so the guy says (6)

From Jalori to Manali - The Thirtan or so the guy says (1)

I just love the way we see things in comparison to other things. I remember this trip to Vienna and we were being taken around by my husband’s Viennese colleagues contact – Hans. Suresh and I along with two other friends (all of us based in Dubai at that point of time) were walking around with Hans and just taking in the sights and sounds of this historic city. We were so impressed with the palaces and opera houses. And then we saw another beautiful old building and asked Hans, “Tell us about that building.” Hans looks across at the building we were pointing at and just waves his hand and dismisses it saying, “Oh that! It is nothing. It is a new building. Not much story there.” The four of us look at the building and ask Hans, “New! When was it built?” Hans shrugs and says, “Oh about 100 years ago.” It took us a while to make Hans understand why the four of us burst out laughing. In Dubai, if a building is 20 years old, it is considered OLD. Of course in India, the land of Mahabalipuram, Hampi, Ajanta and Elora, even old can be broken up further in to old, really old, ancient and Baba Aadam ke zamane ka (from the time of Baba Aadam (who may or may not be the Adam of Biblical fame)).

Anyway older than all these buildings and maybe Baba Aadam himself are the rivers that flow through this beautiful land. River Tirthan flows through the Tirthan Valley and originates from a spring called the Tirth. (According to the Britannica, Tirtha in Hinduism refers to a holy river, mountain, or other place made sacred through association with a deity or saint. The word tirtha means literally “river ford” and, by extension, a sacred spot. Courtesy http://global.britannica.com). This river is very popular with anglers for its excellent fishing, especially the trout.

Along the way we had to stop for a barf break courtesy my daughter who had feasted on cheesy Cheetos in the back seat, not realising that Cheetos, moving car and a winding mountain road don’t mix well. We were all snapped out of our dreamy admiration of the vista when Sakshi bawled “STOP THE CAR! I am feeling pukey.” We would have made army commandos the world over proud with the speed with which we stopped the car, leapt out, got the kids out from the back seat and made her puke outside the car. The motivation was high – no one wanted to spend hours in a car scented by barf.

Winding mountain roads and cheesy Cheetos don't mix well.

Winding mountain roads and cheesy Cheetos don’t mix well.

While Sakshi recovered from her motion sickness, we sat around and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

While Sakshi recovered from her motion sickness, we sat around and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

As one drives on one gets to see the confluence of the Rivers Tirthan, Sainj and the Beas. We were amazed by how different the waters of the three rivers were! At the Sangam (point where the rivers meet) you can actually see one river that is muddy, another that is almost green and the third that is blue.

From this point we started following the River Beas and drove through the 3 kilometer long Aut Tunnel also called the Kullu Manali Tunnel on the Kullu Manali highway.

Crossing the tunnel we soon reached the outskirts of Manali and enjoyed one of the highlights of the trip… Bella… River Banks. (In fact I found out later that this restaurant was also featured by Rocky and Mayur on Highway On My Plate). A Beas riverside restaurant, Bella boasts of the best trout ever, but the highlight for the kids (and the grownups too I must say), was that the restaurant had roped off a small section along the river bank, where one could place one’s plastic tables and chairs and lunch on freshly caught and hot off the stove food, while the ice cold water lapped at your feet.

Fresh Trout at Bella... River Bank

Fresh Trout at Bella… River Bank

River Beas in the background...

River Beas in the background…

This was such a lovely beginning to our stay in Manali. The girls still talk about the fun they had.

This was such a lovely beginning to our stay in Manali. The girls still talk about the fun they had.

The kids had a blast running and hopping along the river bank, picking smooth pebbles and enjoying the glacial cold water. We however could only sit with our feet in the water for this long. 5 minutes later we were moving table, chair and trout to less wetter parts of the riverside.

To be honest, the food was just so-so. However the ambience more than made up for it. They could have served me burnt toast and I would have considered the meal the best ever because the meal was accompanied by a cool mountain breeze, a gurgling ice cold Beas, beautiful mountains in the background, a sunflower garden nearby and so much greenery that my desert-living, greenery parched eyes, heart, mind and soul were soothed and calmed.

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I do have to point out at this stage that keeping in mind the accident that occurred earlier this year when those students were swept away by the waters of the River Beas, we were lucky but we were also in an area that was and still is designated safe by the locals.

The rather fragile wooden barricade let us know how far we could walk along the river bank without any danger to ourselves.

The rather fragile wooden barricade let us know how far we could walk along the river bank without any danger to ourselves.

We hung around in the restaurant for a while and then moved on. The road ahead branched towards Manali to the left and to the right the road led to Manikaran, a pilgrimage centre for Hindus and Sikhs, which I did not get the chance to visit during this trip. A popular Hindu legend is that Manu recreated human life in Manikaran after the catastrophic floods that destroyed all life. In fact this is just one of the legends that make this place so magical; there are so many more captivating stories related to this beautiful holy spot.

However we were on a schedule and we took the road to the left and drove into Manali – the land of Manu, ancient Deodar trees, apple orchards, momos, traditional Kullu shawls, jackets and caps, magic and our destination for the night, Mayflower Hotel.

My Himalayan Odyssey Part 9 – Goodbye Jalori

I seem to be making a habit out of apologizing for my tardiness! But please blame IE. I am no longer able to open WordPress on Internet Explorer. AAArrrghhh! HATE Chrome cause of all those pop-ups, but am now back on it. If any of you have any advice on how to get Wordpress functioning on IE please do let me know. But remember I am a non-techie who slips into a coma when faced with words and phrases like ftp and plugins. So do be kind and gentle when dishing out the advice.

Well, with that non-apology out of the way, let me continue…

Waking up in the tent to utter silence was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I think I had half expected to be washed off the mountainside by the rains. But here we were. Safe and sound. The adorable mouse had departed for its home and all the chattering and buzzing bugs had cloaked themselves in the anonymity of day light.

Opening the flap of the tent I nearly tripped over Yugi who had also decided that it was time to wake up these lazy adults. This was followed by a run to the two port-a-loos closest to us – everyone wanted to get there first. Not surprisingly the girls won the race on the strength of their whining power alone.

The air was cold. The loo door was cold. The water was COLD. The loo seats were cold. Brrr…

Good Morning Jalori

Good Morning Jalori

All of us had a quick cup of tea and an aloo paratha each. We were scared to have more than that as we had a drive of 4 to 5 hours to look forward to.

Packing our bags (a matter of minutes) we said our byes to Thakur who promised us that the next time he will definitely organize the chicken for dinner. Sakshi looked at him like he was off his head. She wouldn’t return to Jalori for all the chicken curries in the world and anyone who knows Sakshi knows that she LOVES chicken… in any form.

We then had to walk / climb / scramble up to the point where the XYLO was. Surya walked with Sakshi as she and I struggled for air as we climbed up. Reaching up, it was decided that the bags will be loaded in to the car and Surya will take the car and drive out to a safer part of the road and the rest of us will walk the half kilometer or so to that point. This will keep the weight off the car and allow Surya to maneuver the car safely.

Walking the 500 meters was alright. In between we had a few cows deciding that they wanted to walk in the middle of the road and we sidled along the side. Thakur and Surya had warned us to keep taking small sips of water as we walked because at these heights you don’t really feel thirsty and can become dehydrated despite the cold.

Keeping hydrated.

Keeping hydrated.

Walking those 500 meters we realized that the decision to scrap our original plan for the morning had been good cause the paths were so slushy and walking in the rain with three little kids was no joke.

Walking towards the car.

Walking towards the car.

The original plan had been to trek across to Sirolsar Lake (4km or so from Jalori Pass), which according to Thakur was about an hour’s easy trek away through forests of oak, blue pine, fir, Deodar and spruce. But the previous night’s rain had resulted in a heavy mist which Thakur predicted would not clear for the next few hours, which meant that we would not be able to see the lake even if we stepped in to it.

Serolsar Lake - Image courtesy of www.troutvalley.co.in

Serolsar Lake – Image courtesy of http://www.troutvalley.co.in

There is a lovely story about the lake. According to local legend, you will never find any fallen leaves floating on the lake’s surface. The locals state that birds fly down and pick the leaves off the surface ensuring that the lake is always clean. Since we scrapped our Sirolsar plan I cannot say for sure if the lake surface was as clean as my mom-in-law’s kitchen or not. If any of you have had the opportunity to visit Sirolsar Lake do let me know about your experience and if the lake was indeed leaf-free.

Tired troopers - cold, wet and suffering from altitude sickness. But it was still an experience worth having.

Tired troopers – cold, wet and suffering from altitude sickness. But it was still an experience worth having.

Anyways, left with no choice we decided to head out of Jalori and move on to our next stop – Manali.

Beautiful Manali with the tempestuous River Beas. But before we could pay our respects to Beas, we had to greet River Thirtan. More about her in the next post.

Beautiful Manali with the tempestuous River Beas. But before we could pay our respects to Beas, we had to greet River Thirtan. More about her in the next post.

My Himalayan Odyssey – Part 4

It feels like a 3 tons truck is reverse parking on my chest. All I did was to bend down and open the bag which we had flung on the ground. The act of bending down, unzipping the bag, pulling out the thick coat and standing up again had winded me out! And my head was hurting something bad! I had two Panadols and a lot of water. I lay down for a while but nothing was working. Just then my 7-year-old walks in and says that she thinks she is having a heart attack in her head and chest. This is a sad way to go. We hadn’t even seen a single snow-capped peak yet! I need to mention here that I am a Keralite who grew up in Chennai. My daughter is a Dubai kid. Cities whose feet are firmly planted in the sea-shore. Our bodies are not used to anything higher than a small pleasant mountain like those in the Western Ghats and Switzerland. Luckily Reva walked in to our room at this point and being a veteran of these regions quickly recognized what ailed us – altitude sickness. And like a true Indian the solution was a nuska, a simple idea that works wonders – drink glasses of Eno every few hours. Who knew antacid helped treat altitude sickness!? Now here is the thing… if you are headed up to heights that you have not scaled before, and you are an average person in reasonably decent shape then start on a course of Diamox two days before you set out – half to one tablet every 8 hours for 3 days. You will not have to suffer a truck reverse parking on your chest or a heart attack in your head.

After a long day’s drive and the effects of altitude sickness on the two of us, all the seven of us wanted to do was sit back, enjoy a hot meal and sleep. Anyways there was not much to see outside. The fog and the dark had set in. We were so tired and hungry that everything was tasty. I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember what Reva and I, were foolish enough to drink – apple wine – eeeyuck! An apple a day may keep the doc away but it sure has no place in the wine-press. A sip later Reva shifted to beer and I opted for whisky.

The local lore is that the Hatu Temple is dedicated to Mandodari, wife of Ravana, who kidnapped Sita and met his end at Lord Ram’s hands.]

The local lore is that the Hatu Temple is dedicated to Mandodari, wife of Ravana, who kidnapped Sita and met his end at Lord Ram’s hands.]

Surya who had explored these parts about a year ago on a bike decided that we needed to turn in early as we needed an early start the next day. We were going to start by paying our respects to Hatu Devi, the Goddess (at the Hatu Mata Temple) in charge of our safety in these parts. Typically for the Gods and Godesses in these regions her temple was placed not-so-conveniently at the top of Hatu Peak – just a nerve-racking drive up REALLY narrow mountain roads. About 7 kilometers from Narkhanda, Hatu is home to many herbs with healing qualities and apparently the Pandavas have walked on these mountains during their 13 years of exile from their kingdom after losing a game of dice to the Kauravas. We even heard about the Bheem Chulla (stove used by the Pandava Bheem to cook up their meals) – two large stones arranged to resemble an old-fashioned stove. An exile is called an Agyaat Vyaas in Sanskrit – a name that even inspired a modern-day sanctuary that provides everything from yoga and meditation to exploration.

We caught a glimpse of this board as we were driving up. Learn more about it at http://www.agyaatvaas.com/activities.html

We caught a glimpse of this board as we were driving up. Learn more about it at http://www.agyaatvaas.com/activities.html

The next morning we had a delicious aloo parathas for breakfast and then packed our luggage in, bid adieu to Hatu Hotel and got in to the car in our designated seats and took off. A thin curtain of mist still hung around us but it was not too thick and we could see reasonably well enough. Suddenly we came across a fork in the road. One stretch of road continued on as level as a Himalayan road could, while the other which really was nothing more than a cow track wound up to the right at a rather frightening angle. Needless to say the sign board saying Hatu Devi Mandir was pointing to that track. It is a strange thing that I have noticed about myself and I guess I am not unique in this; but when I am faced with options like this, while the sane part of me is silently screaming for me to take the slightly wider, flat road, I find myself saying things that I am not thinking or feeling. Surya asked “Shall we go up?” Reva ventured that it looked dangerous but doable. Suresh was busy clicking pictures and I heard myself say “Yes, let’s go before the fog sets in.”

What the hell!!! Why?

Anyway we got on the road and I am feeling like a colossal fool, like one of those nut cases who jump off planes with parachutes. You know you are doing a dumb thing but you do it anyway. Once we got on that road there was no turning back until we reached the top. Now this is really not a road. It is a path – a mud path if you will, with a thin ribbon of tar in the middle. As usual there is the solid rock of the mountain on one side and unbelievably beautiful, heart stopping scenery plummeting away from us on the other side. One reason for starting out early was to get to the temple and back before other tourists or locals decided to get on this road. But  somebody had beaten us to the top and was on the way back when we were driving up.

On mountain roads people change the rules around a bit. When you face oncoming traffic, the drivers move their car to the ‘wrong’ side of the road so that the driver can see how far he is from the edge. It is a very sensible rule… but very scary for the passengers seated behind the driver. Anyway we did the criss-cross business and the tire’s crunched on the pebbles and stones on the edge and then we continued on wards.

The fog was by now quite intense and we passed the Tani-Jubber Lake and the small hut (often used by Gujjars and sometimes by trekkers who are passing by) abutting it without really seeing them. And then just as suddenly we were at the top. If it weren’t for the sign board we would have had no clue! We parked the car along the side and trudged a few meters to the temple itself. It was COLD! But it was also so energizing. It could also have been euphoria at not having plummeted to the bottom. Either which way we felt on top of the world as we reached the temple.

Walking to Hatu Devi Temple - the kids and the grown-ups had a blast!

Walking to Hatu Devi Temple – the kids and the grown-ups had a blast!

The temple appears out of the fog!

The temple appears out of the fog!

Walking to the Hatu Mata Temple (1)

We are nearly there!

Hatu Devi Mandir

Hatu Devi Mandir

There we saw a sign that said ‘Remove Footwear’. Since no one ever has the balls to break religious rules especially when you are in a land where religious fervor and passion are worn on your sleeves, we removed our shoes and socks and stepped on the wet, tiled floor. Luckily it was so cold that our feet went numb immediately so I did not feel any pain. The temple itself is beautiful – a relatively new structure boasting of amazing woodwork depicting the Gods and Goddesses from Indian mythology. The detailed carving is a feast for the eyes. The priest was a surprisingly young guy in saffron clothes, wind cheater and a mobile. India always does that – surprising you by juxtaposing the old and the new in the most eccentric combinations possible.

Amazingly detailed carving adorned the whole temple!

Amazingly detailed carving adorned the whole temple!

Carvings

A closer look at some of the work!

After offering our respects and walking around the temple and admiring its carvings we decided to walk around a bit as the fog was showing signs of lifting. But first we wanted to pee. But there was a slight problem – no public loos. So we did what any self-respecting traveler or trekker would do. We looked for a private spot and boy! did Reva find one! Seriously it involved taking a few steps along the edge and then looking out into the most amazing scenery as we did the job. Of course we took turns! Some horses grazing on the mountain side further away were our only company! Mind blowing!

What a spot - better than even Richard Branson's Pacific island home's luxe loo.

What a spot – better than even Richard Branson’s Pacific island home’s luxe loo.

And this was the view!

And this was the view!

The constantly changing fog cover just added to the magic.

The constantly changing fog cover just added to the magic.

The rest of the peak also offered spectacular views! The rock faces were so monstrously strong. They looked invincible and like something out of Middle Earth. And then you had the soft, ethereal beauty of the flowers in the mountain. So delicate they looked like lace at times… more Austen than Tolkien. A beautiful contrast.

There is nothing more magical than seeing the fog lifting and unveiling the raw beauty of the Himalayas!

There is nothing more magical than seeing the fog lifting and unveiling the raw beauty of the Himalayas!

We stayed up there for about 20 to 30 minutes and then decided that if we planned to reach our next destination on time we better head out soon. The next leg, according to Surya, was going to be a toughie! I was thinking – “Seriously tougher than the drive up to Hatu! You got be kidding me! Let’s go back to Chandigarh.” But my brain and tongue continued to suffer from, what my dad used to tag all electrical problems as – a loose connection. I joined the three other adults in telling the kids to get in to the car because we now had to head to Jalori Pass. But that’s another post altogether.

Onwards to Jalori Pass from Hatu Peak

Onwards to Jalori Pass from Hatu Peak

[For a very different trip up Hatu Peak check out this site. http://phototravelings.blogspot.ae/2011/03/climbing-falling-stumbling-and-crawling.html#.Uqk6_vQW2a9. In our defense they did not have three kids! Nah! just kidding! I wouldn’t have had the guts to do what they did! Amazing! Crazy too!]