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I was returning to Parvati Valley in 2018 after a year long hiatus; chiefly because of the crowds that I’d seen around Kheerganga on an earlier trip. I must have thought of Kalga though when a trip was planned with friends. When we boarded our HRTC Himsuta Volvo from Delhi to Bhuntar, there was no decided place in our mind for where to go. And yet, since it was early morning in Kasol – and someone threw the name Grahan at us; we decided to give the 3 hour long hike/trek to Grahan Village a go!

The beginning of the trek to Grahan as you cross the scrabble of construction in Kasol.

Our plan was flexible and the course of action depended on the time of our arrival in Kasol from Bhuntar. It was also complicated that the time of reaching of all 4 of us travelling from different parts of the country to reach Bhuntar could have been different. Luckily, our buses reached Bhuntar at the same time and we met at a small dhaba and had chai. The weather was chilly with the cloud cover and rain and we almost froze! After a hearty breakfast of aloo paranthas and more chai at the local dhaba, we boarded the next bus to Kasol and thus began another journey to Parvati valley.

On the way we met this lady going to Grahan with her kid; what a colourful umbrella!!

We got down near the bridge in Kasol; it was only 9 am and it was important to finish the morning duties since we had an 8 km hike coming up. Its not a nice idea to hike 4 hours with an unpleasant stomach. There was a new public loo in Kasol that came to the rescue. We decided to hike to the hidden village of ‘Grahan’ which is at a distance of around 8 kms from Kasol. The trek starts from close to the bridge in Kasol, and we just asked a few locals and they guided us on the right path. I was concerned about losing the way and reaching Thunja village but thankfully that did not happen!

Iris flowers line the entire trail from Kasol to Grahan… One can see them blooming during May.

The weather was beautiful and the start of the hike was easy. There were a few shops at the start of the trek to Grahan, and some locals also said that they are also going to Grahan for some work. The Grahan Nallah flowed to our left; and with a spring in our step, we happily walked along the glittering waters of the Grahan nallah. It was enjoyable to be amidst the jungle, with the birdsongs and the gentle whispering of pines. A signboard to our left indicated path to Thunja village but the locals advised us to just continue straight.

Clicked through the old wooden houses of Grahan village! Surreal landscape. Its funny how human beings are more receptive to nature after the mobile network has died down. A view from the open air sitting area of our homestay, ‘Howling Owl’.

Leaving behind the sweltering heat of the plains, the mountain air felt magical to both the body and heart. We stopped for a bit to sit by the river and noticed that dark clouds were already gathering and it was better to reach early lest it began raining. We were accompanied by a group of locals who were planning to set up a dhaba on the way as the YHAI treks (to Sar Pass) were to start in a couple of days. I thanked our stars as I wanted the village to be quiet and peaceful. Call me selfish, but I wanted Grahan village to myself and sharing it with a larger group of trekkers did not seem to be very appealing.

Like other trails in Parvati Valley, the trekking trail to Grahan is also littered with plastic. A small attempt on our part to keep it clean.

We chatted with the locals for a while and patted ourselves on our backs when they complemented us on our speed. Until this point, till the first bridge appears, the walk is pretty chilled out. We were lucky to have the locals with us who asked us to not take any of the bridges; especially one close to the start of the hike as it is a shortcut and a really difficult path. The trail (or road) finally ends and we can spot a slender bridge to cross Grahan nallah and reach the other side. One of the locals also owned a homestay in Grahan and we took the name, discussed the rates and said that we will surely head to his home!

Read : Nature’s delights, from a secret village in Parvati Valley

Grahan Nallah gives company during the first 2-3 kms of the trekking trail, it flows to the left.

We had roughly covered around 3 kms in one hour and till here the hike is by the side of Grahan Nallah. After crossing the makeshift bridge across the stream, the trail goes deep in the forest to directly reach Grahan Village. In the jungle, there are signboards and arrows that appear every 10 minutes indicating the path to Grahan village so that hikers and trekkers don’t get lost.

Traditional wood and stone houses in Grahan village, and signboards in Hebrew. I was pleased to observe that in the absence of alcohol, only the peace loving people make it to Grahan.

Now the ascent had began and the path had become narrow as well. After another hour of walking, we came across a mid-way point dhaba. It had began drizzling and we were hungry as well; and since it was lunch time we decided to break our trek here and eat. Given the whimsical weather in the mountains, it generally rains on the hike so these dhabas can act as a rain shelter if you travel unplanned like us and aren’t carrying your rain coats.

Scene from the village temple in Grahan. On this trip I was experimenting with my newly bought 35mm prime lens from Nikon.

We ate dal rice that turned out to be surprisingly tasty and after the rain stopped we resumed our trek to Grahan. After 30 odd minutes, there was a signboard that indicated the way to Grahan was another 1.5 kms. We were in a fix, both the paths led to Grahan village and we weren’t sure which one to take. With no one else around, we spoke amongst ourselves and decided to climb the left side trail. It was a really uphill trek at this point and after around 45 minutes, there was a tiny dhaba selling chai and biscuits.

An old lady in Grahan poses … look at those bangles on her hand! Wow!

He said that Grahan was hardly 30 minutes from that point and that we had indeed taken the right path at the confusing place where the paths bifurcated. The weather was still quite cold due to the drop in temperature after the drizzle and we shivered whenever a breeze blew. The clock went past 3 in the afternoon and we finally spotted the first houses of Grahan.

A typical scene in Grahan village; it really has an enviable setup with the snow clad mountains in the far distance…

The last 2 kms of the hike are pretty steep and a real test of endurance. But one can’t complain because the higher you go, the mountain vistas keep getting better. The glistering white snow clad peaks (courtesy of the snowfall the previous night) with a background of blue and stormy skies stood in contrast with the dark green fores. The sweet symphony of the cascading waters of the Grahan nullah that feels like music from faraway makes up for the tiring hike.

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While returning from remote Jhaltola, we had taken a short break at the unbelievable Patal Bhuvaneshwar caves. I was on a hitched ride with a couple and at the start of the day could never have imagined making it to Jageshwar! They were going to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary via a different entry point and dropped me on the main road. It was only a big stroke of luck that day for me to reach Jageshwar Dham!

Welcome to Jageshwar!!

The murky weather had worsened and even though it was only around 3 in the afternoon, the clouds had closed in and it looked very dark and stormy. Since the forest road to Binsar was in the middle of nowhere, there was no habitation around and as I was looking left and right wondering where to go, the skies began pouring down! I was stuck on a downward sloping turn and going down was the easier way.

Stormy rain clouds as I stood at the dhaba not knowing my destination for the day!

The rain understood my precarious situation and slowed down enough to reveal a restaurant on the next slope! I rolled down my suitcase and ran towards the structure in the hope of a steaming cup of chai. At the restaurant, when I asked the locals about where would be a good idea to try and reach in the limited daylight that I had; the unanimous answer was ‘Jageshwar’ for the Jageshwar Dham Temples. They said that I was only 20 odd kilometres away and with luck it was possible for me to easily reach Jageshwar.

Fascinating carvings on one of the temples in Jageshwar Dham.

But first, the rain had to stop. Or did it?

As we were on a bend; all vehicles would slow when they passed. And when a truck actually stopped at the restaurant itself to drop someone; I ran toward it joined by the waiter and the truck driver obliged. He was headed someplace (I can’t remember) and dropped me to the bifurcation place of Artola. It was around 4; the rain had stopped as well and I had only 4 odd kms to cover. There were a few tea shops in Artola where I had another chai while breathing the fresh air and within no time a sumo appeared.

Click to view slideshow.

It had a lot of empty seats and I quickly climbed in! The greenery had another shade of colour with the rain and it had began drizzling again. The sumo guy asked me where I wanted to get down and I told him to drop me close to one of the guest houses. In some confusion, I got out near the ASI Museum in Jageshwar and in the rain even the 100m distance to the guest house/hotels seemed long!

Nagara style of architecture; notice the canopy on the top of the temple spire.

I entered the first hotel to the right and asked the young owner to give me a cheap room. He said normally the prices are over 1000 Rupees during the season but because there were no tourists I could have the room for 250 Rupees! I was mighty pleased; it was a huge room with a door on the other side that opened to an endless view of Deodhar trees! It was quite cold and with the incessant drizzle I could only walk around Jageshwar Dham Temples and have a glimpse from the outside.

Carpet of flowers in Jageshwar Archaeological Museum compound. Photography is not allowed inside.

I roamed around town to realise that Jageshwar is a very small hamlet and serves the primary function of being a settlement around a popular religious place. The tiny hamlet of Jageshwar is completely dominated by the Jageshwar Temple Complex. There were many shops selling colourful beads and religious paraphernalia, and a tiny internet café too! Nothing mattered except the incredible number of temples though; the locals told me that there were 124 temples in total that comprised the Jageshwar Temple Complex.

Click to view slideshow. About Jageshwar Dham Temple Complex

The closest big town near Jageshwar Temple or Jageshwar Dham is Almora which is at a distance of 32 kms. Jageshwar Dham is believed to be the 8th Jyotirling among the twelve sacred Jyotirlings in Hindu mythology. The Jageshwar temples are built in the Nagara style of architecture and among the 124 temples, 108 are dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Nagara style of architecture is distinctly characterized by a tall curved spire with a crown on top of it.

Exquisite carvings in Jageshwar… The light wasn’t great that day and I clicked this on the phone.

Jageshwar Dham and Vriddh Jageshwar temple are considered among the most sacred temples in the entire Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. The landscape of Jageshwar is pleasing; the temple complex is nestled in an idyllic green valley full of deodhar trees. The deodhar trees were a distinct feature of Jageshwar; in the rest of Kumaon only pine monoculture is observed. In the temple complex; there is also a huge deodhar tree which is worshipped by locals. There is a small water pond with old stone steps in the same complex; I’m guessing thats where the water for the ceremonies is taken from.

Deodhar Forest behind Jageshwar Temple Complex.

A small stream flows behind the temple complex in Jageshwar and the locals said that it is called Jataganga river. There are logs of wood littered near the stream that look like an eyesore and the reason is that funeral pyres are burnt in Jageshwar because it is supposed to be a holy place to die. The oldest temples of Jageshwar Dham date from the 8th Century AD (built by Katyuri Kings) and the recent ones are believed to have been constructed in the 18th Century (Chand Rajas).

Dundeshwar Temple near Jageshwar.

The evening aarti in Jageshwar Temple Complex is not to be missed! I was lucky to be inadvertently walking around at the same time and heard the chants of the evening aarti. It was a really divine experience when I went to the temple and became a part of the ceremony.

‘Maha Shivratri Mela’ is the most important festival in Jageshwar when Shiva devotees visit Jageshwar in large numbers. The ’Jageshwar Monsoon Festival’ held in July-August is also quite popular and locals from far and wide come and attend it.

Notice the fine carvings in stone; Jageshwar Dham Temples are truly a legend.

Important Temples in Jageshwar Dham

The main temple at Jageshwar Dham is dedicated to ‘Bal Jageshwar’, or the child form of Lord Shiva. The Mrityunjaya temple is the oldest in the Jageshwar Dham complex. There is an ancient temple at Vriddh Jageshwar, which is at a distance of 3 kms from Jageshwar Dham. A few important temples in the complex are Surya temple, Dandeshwar temple, Chandika temple, Nau Durga temple, Kuber temple, Nava-grah temple.

Click to view slideshow.

Mahamrityunjay Mahadev: The Mahamrityunjay Mahadev temple is where Lord Shiva is worshipped as the saviour from death.

Entrance to the main temple in Jageshwar.

Kuber Temple is located in a separate complex in Jageshwar and is hardly 5 minutes walk from the main temple complex. Exquisite temples and in a lovely scenic setting.

Places to Visit in and Around Jageshwar

Dandeshwar Temple

Dandeshwar temple is on the same Artola – Jageshwar road and is located 1 km away from Jageshwar. When I was leaving from Jageshwar; I walked to Dandeshwar since it was a pleasurable walk and only a short distance.

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It was the summer of 2015 and I was in Kumaon’s Lake region where Bhimtal, Sattal, Naukuchiatal lake are located. These pretty lakes all lie in close distance of each other and make for a welcome change from Nainital’s crowds. I’d arrived in Bhimtal after taking a ride from Almora and over the course of the next few days ended up walking to Sattal and Naukuchiatal. As a full time traveller and professional travel blogger, I was slow travelling around Kumaon with no fixed plans.

Stunning light at Bhimtal Lake. Distance between Bhimtal, Sattal & Naukuchiatal

Bhimtal is located at a distance of 22 kms away from Nainital. The distance between Naukuchiatal and Bhimtal is only 4 kms. Sattal is at a walkable distance of approx. 3 kms from Bhimtal. After enjoying the fruits of Kumaon in Ramgarh, I was still recovering from the overdose of apricots!

Fields in Sattal; locals pose outside a wedding ceremony!!

I was first trying to find a cheap homestay that would enable me to stay and work; and also let me walk around these lakes at my own pace. After all Bhimtal, Sattal & Naukuchiatal lakes are not places with a list of attractions. I was just hoping to find solitude walking on the serene and enchanting trails in the midst of nature. The weather was quite hot in June as compared to the other higher altitude hill stations of Kumaon.

Another gorgeous frame at Bhimtal; the reflection in the clear water is spectacular indeed!

And finding a cheap homestay wasn’t proving to be any easier; I’d somehow reached Sattal but unlike Himachal Pradesh’s well oiled tourism infrastructure of homestays primed for backpackers; Uttarakhand (Kumaon) had no cheap options for homestays unless I could get lucky and find one! I searched and searched throughout the course of the day; and finally found a homestay near Bhimtal for Rs. 400!

A pretty looking wooden cabin somewhere in Bhimtal or Sattal.

On hitched ride with tourists to Sattal; it seemed that most tourists visited one or two of these lakes for a boat ride. My experience in the region suggested that the real pleasure of Bhimtal, Sattal & Naukuchiatal lies in spending a day or two in a cosy colonial homestay located close to the lake.

Check : Attending a Kumaoni Wedding in Kumaon

Fruits of Kumaon; clicked at Bhowali junction.

There are many lakes in Nainital district, and Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal are the most popular ones with tourists and are easily accessible. It is possible to explore all three lakes in one day; and due to the proximity from Delhi there are many tourists who do weekend trips in this region.

Bhimtal is the most easily accessible of the three lakes and does not lie on the main highway. For this reason, it is difficult to reach Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal by buses. It may be possible to reach the lakes by shared taxis from Bhowali. Bhowali is a sort of junction point with bus and shared taxi connections to other parts of Kumaon.

This was a trip when there was no rush of reaching anywhere and I was content being on the road… Bhimtal Lake (Tal means lake)

Bhimtal Lake is a glorious sight and is surrounded by green hills that makes the location even more beautiful. Bhimtal is at a distance of around 22 kms from Nainital and lies at a pleasant altitude of 1350m. On my time spent wandering around Bhimtal, I noticed that boating in Bhimtal is one of the biggest attractions of a trip to Kumaon.

I’d walked all the way from Sattal to Bhimtal with my bags; having found no place to stay at Sattal. I came for a stroll to the lakeside in the evening; in the centre of Bhimtal is a small island with an overgrowing of trees. There were lots of tourists and kids enjoying the boat rides and picnic sort of atmosphere; ducks floated in the lake making it look quite dreamy!

Ducks floating in Bhimtal; tourists enjoy boating.

The island houses an aquarium, which has a collection of different species of fishes and can be accessed by a boat ride. I was tired by my exploits of the day and was content to just sit and not attempt doing anything extravagant. Adjacent to the aquarium is the 17th century Bhimkeshwar Mahadev Temple; decided to Lord Bhima. Also, the name Bhimtal is based on this temple itself.

Check : Lessons of Life at Pangong in Winter

The island also has an aquarium and the Bhimkeshwar Mahadev Temple.

I ate food at one of the restaurants around the lake and it wasn’t anything to write about. The moon shined brightly as I head back to my homestay and the sweet lull of the breeze put me to sleep. I woke up early next morning and asked the homestay owner if he could suggest me some walks around Bhimtal. And off I went :

After a nice stroll in the jungle, I reached the Butterfly Research Centre and stood there for some time trying to find where to enter it from. A pack of dogs started barking and sensing that I could get into trouble I just started walking away from that place. I went hurriedly on the winding road around Bhimtal and was pleased to notice some colourful birds sitting on the Jacaranda trees that were in full bloom in the month of June.

What a fascinating place must that be!

According to popular local folklore, Bhimtal lake was originally called Bhimsarovar. During the Pandavas (12 year exile) they could not find a water body to quench their thirst. The legend states that Lord Bhima then hit the ground with his mace from which an underground source of water came out and formed a lake.

There were some upcoming beautiful looking cafés in the vicinity of Bhimtal, but I did not go to any of them. I spotted a gorgeous homestay in one corner of the lake but it was still under construction and the owner invited me to come whenever I liked after it was done! (I haven’t gone back to Bhimtal in 3 years!)

Unbelievably reflections in the still waters of Bhimtal lake in Kumaon Uttarakhand. Sattal Lake

Sattal (also spelt Sat Tal) literally translates to 7 lakes and gets its name from the seven lakes that it comprises of. I had absolutely no idea about the seven lakes of Sattal until I heard it from a local! As you might guess, I quickly expressed my desire to see all the seven lakes!! Names of the seven lakes are said to be : Nal-Damyanti Tal, Hanuman Tal, Garud Tal, Sita Tal, Ram Tal, Laxman Tal and Purna Tal.

The cute looking post office of Sattal.

I have no recollection of which of the lakes I saw; but I did walk along the whole periphery and had reached a lake with many boats and tourists. The colourful boats at Sattal make for a lovely way to experience the serene waters of the lake...

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Kasol was teeming with tourists and we were glad to have arrived in Barshaini in a bus. The clouds had laid down their welcome on a platter and it duly began raining; and for good reason too – we were inadvertently hiking to Kalga village! The original idea was to trek to Kheerganga but ominous dark clouds and subsequent rains had caused a change in plans and we were walking with the mist into Kalga village, tucked in a hidden corner of Parvati Valley.

Walking to Kalga village in Parvati Valley. Traditional stone and wood structures welcomed us.

After around 20 minutes of walking, we could see a few houses in the distance surrounded by greenery. A few locals who had passed us told that we had perhaps taken a wrong turn and were going by the opposite direction to Kalga village. A slender path was in front of us; shaded by tall trees and with dark clouds hovering it felt as if we were heading to a mysterious land. There was a signboard for a wood and stone cottage to the left, we continued walking and reached a place called Rama House in Kalga.

Here’s what I wrote about Responsible Travel with regards to Kalga (and all pristine villages, for that matter), in 2016.

Rama House – Another homestay in Kalga.

The solitary house had a chilled and happy vibe and a few hippies lounged on hammocks enjoying the pristine offerings of nature. I was immensely happy with this accidental discovery and had immediately fallen in love with Kalga! We wanted to ask for a chai but figured it was better to find accommodation first. We reached a wooden homestay and restaurant and were astounded to notice how much space every homestay in Kalga commanded! There were vast open fields in front of us and the Parvati river meandered in the valley below.

View from the homestay in Kalga; traditionally built old houses surrounded by a pine forest.

We were quickly shown rooms in the homestay and were quoted a very reasonable price of Rs. 200. There was no attached bathroom and that led to us asking if there was a homestay in Kalga that had attached bathrooms as well? He pointed the way ahead; we told him we ‘d come back if that turned out to be too expensive. In the restaurant cum café, hippie graffiti and posters claimed all the walls. There was a tandoor also kept in the middle and even though it was May, the weather was still very chilly in Kalga. Night temperatures were surely going below 10 degrees C.

This was the place offering the 200 Rupee homestay. Wooden rooms with wide open spaces and a restaurant.

We asked for thali to make up for not having eaten anything since morning. We had boarded a Delhi – Manali Volvo and got down in Bhuntar. After quickly meeting up with the owner of Heaven in Parvati Valley : The Himalayan Village, Kasol, we caught another bus for Barshaini – which is the last stop in Parvati Valley. The thali comprised of rajma, local vegetable, chapati and rice and it tasted so delicious because everything was freshly made.

The smoking den for the hippies in Kalga; it also doubles up as a restaurant when its cold and raining outside.

While we were eating, some foreigners who were staying in the same homestay started playing hula hoops. A few tables had been laid out in the open space and a stream flowed next to us. The sound of gurgling water was like happy music to my ears. We were surrounded by apple trees and the white flowers had just began to bloom. A local rolled a joint in a beedi and it all felt so peaceful.

Solar powered energy has been instrumental inn lighting up homes in far flung areas in the mountains in the absence of electricity earlier.

We said our goodbye’s to the homestay owner and walked to find a homestay in Kalga village which has an attached bathroom. The valley opened up as we strolled ahead, 2 cute kids came and said hello to us. Men and women worked in the fields and were sowing potatoes / peas. A sizeable structure was to our left and one of the locals confirmed that it was indeed a homestay.

These cute kids had said hello to us upon reaching Kalga on that drizzling day.

It seemed like an artsy place and was located in the midst of an apple orchard. There was an end of the world feel to this ‘hidden’ homestay in Kalga that had no signboard and only people who were exploring would reach here! Isn’t that so nice though? We got speaking to the owner and worked out a reasonable 600 Rupee cost for the room which also had a kitchen, a bukhari and an ‘attached bathroom!’

Every room had a sitting space outside and it was a surreal feel to even breathe the air in Kalga. The freshness of nature was intoxicating. We were surrounded by lush greenery and I spotted fresh chamomile growing in the garden! During that brief conversation, the homestay owner had warmed up to us and he might have realised we are not the typical ‘alcohol drinking, noise making’ people from the plains. And when the mention of chamomile came up, he offered to make a special ayurvedic tea for us.

Check : Nature’s delights, from a secret village in Parvati Valley

The homestay in construction (presumably) and a lovely place to sit and laze around as well. Kalga is full of these magical delights.

A stiff breeze blew through the apple trees, pushing us higher on the spiritual level and making us happier (if that was possible!). The homestay owner was a person who had shifted to Kalga village with his parents and was content living a calm life here. He grows his own herbs that comprise the concoction of Ayurvedic tea and appeared very knowledgeable about food. The tea turned out to be delicious and provided much needed warmth as the weather in Kalga had turned colder after the sun set.

Clicked at the artistic homestay where I stayed in Kalga. Very lucky to find this place.

Another realisation quickly dawned on me that the reason why Kalga village has this otherworldly charm is because there is no road that connects to it. 

When in Himachal : Wear the Kinnauri hat!

There was no to-do list in Kalga, and hence there were no traditional travellers to be seen. The homestay owner’s family supports education of a few girls in the village and they had come to study for some time. It was heartening to see how simple life really was in this magical village lost in time. There were no deadlines for getting work done and the constant clutter and noise of the city didn’t exist in Kalga. There was an epic valley view where you could look into oblivion whenever you needed to disappear in your own..

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‘There is no bus on the Chamba – Bhaderwah road after Langera. How will you go after that?’; remarked the HRTC guy on the phone. Even the daily bus from Pathankot to Langera had come as a pleasant surprise, and had made me feel confident about travelling on this hitherto forbidden route! While I knew it was easier and convenient to go from Delhi to Jammu to Bhaderwah, I wanted to go via the offbeat and adventurous Chamba-Bhaderwah road and then come back via Jammu, hence completing the circuit.

This cool looking vehicle is often used as public transport in some North Indian towns – clicked in Pathankot.

If I have to describe my travel style in one phrase, I would say I am a slow traveller who likes covering the entire region around a place. A similar attempt was made on our trip to Bhaderwah. The only problem was, the border of Jammu and Himachal doesn’t have a public transport facility as it has been infamous for terrorist activities until very recently.

This HRTC bus came to the rescue… Although the entire ride we were on our feet.. There was no chance of a seat.

From Delhi, we took a train to Pathankot and thus began our thrilling journey to try and reach Bhaderwah via this deserted road! According to some locals and old accounts, the forested area was a popular hide out for the terrorists escaping from Doda – Kishtwar area.

Ravi river flows – this was clicked close to the dam/tunnel place where we had alighted from the bus.

The road was opened for outsiders only in 2012-2013, after ITBP carried out an operation to wipe out terrorism from this region. The Chamba-Bhaderwah state highway is the shortest road connecting Chamba to Jammu via Bhaderwah; otherwise one needs to go to Pathankot and then to Jammu. Having known this, I was also quite sure that it would be one of the prettiest roads in Himachal Pradesh, with quaint villages hidden away from the touristy trail.

That is a rare signboard to get clicked with!

According to old accounts; this road has been in existence for some years but the road used to get blocked by snow every winter. After that the militants started their activities in this region full of jungles and greenery & the entire region became too dangerous for anyone to live in. This was the area after the state border of J & K after Khundi Maral. And thus, life in this region was abandoned and subsequently, the road fell into disuse until it was repoened.

A very calming factor is when locals are also waiting for the same bus as you; and in Himachal you are almost certain in case something goes wrong – the locals will find a way to help!

As it was a long weekend, we had booked out train from Delhi to Pathankot, with a hope that all will be well and we will find some HRTC bus. The train which was supposed to reach at 6 in the morning had been running late and finally reached Pathankot station at 8 am. I was quite certain that we had already missed the only bus for the day to Langera and by the time we reached Pathankot bus stand it was close to 9 am.

First look at the 1930s rest house at Bandal on the Chamba-Bhaderwah Road.

There was a huge crowd at Pathankot Bus stand in the HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) Section. Mani Mahesh Kailash Yatra was going on and that meant all the buses were heading to Chamba and Bharmour and were bursting with yatris. I knew that we had to get on a bus as soon as possible as we had a long day ahead of us before we could reach someplace. The drivers were asking everyone to not board the bus because there was no space to even stand; sitting space was another matter altogether. Distance from Pathankot to Langera was only 171 kms and we’d need lots of luck to make it anywhere with this late start!

Check : Encounters at the end of the world in Himachal Pradesh

This tree was on the other side of the PWD Rest House in Bandal; girth of the deodhar tree was 34 feet. Woah!

We jumped inside a packed bus with hardly any place to step inside; kept mum so that the conductor doesn’t throw us out and stood for 3 hours hanging to the back door (quite literally). I’d known from previous journeys that I didn’t really need to go to Chamba and that the diversion for the Chamba – Bhaderwah road is at the lake/dam much before reaching Chamba town and alighted there (I think near Bathri.)

View from the garden at Bandal PWD Rest House. I also love the valley view and houses amidst fields on the other side.

We crossed the road adjacent to the lake on Ravi River on foot as that was suggested to be the short cut. There were no vehicles plying on that route and we felt like we have the lake to ourselves. We walked across the bridge to reach the other side and quickly made it across while the vehicles have to cross a tunnel to reach here! The sun was quite hot here and we tried to walk in the shade. As soon as we were out on the main road, our hunt for hitch-hicking began.

Check : Hitchhiking in a truck : Stories from Nakee La

The most popular place in Bandal village… or Bhandal!

We got lucky when a shared taxi passed through and it dropped us approx. 10 kms; we paid 20 rupees each. It was an interesting conversation with the local ladies from Chamba in the taxi; they told me about a Rajasthani guy who was setting up a Rajasthani food shop selling Dal-baati-choorma (traditional Rajasthani food) during the summer season and how everyone in Chamba went crazy about it!

The coolest drinking den ever!! Haha, don’t you love that?

We walked for some time and then a car stopped to give us a ride. I spotted a signboard that denoted that we were inside Churah valley now as this area of Himachal Pradesh is called. A Himachali couple was driving to someplace and while the wife wasn’t keen, the husband decided that we can be given a ride. After around 4-5 kms, the wife had her final say and the husband had to drop us near some shops. We understood his predicament and thanked him profusely for trying!

The bridge leading to the FRH in Bhandal village.

We walked into one town after this, (maybe Manjir) and there was a pick-up leaving; I ran and asked him to stop. He asked us to hop in and dropped us to a bridge from where the road bifurcated to some other place. On the way we passed the sizeable town of Salooni with a pretty PWD rest house in the middle of the town. The Salooni PWD Rest House is said to have been built in 1908.

Also read : Top Experiences and Places to Visit in Barot Valley

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After a lucky ride to get to Pfutsero in Phek district (what? where’s that!) of Nagaland, and sleeping soundly in the tourist home, we were roaming around town. I’d spotted a nice green valley and we were all keen on just walking around and knowing more about life in rural Nagaland. Then someone threw the name Tsupheme at us. He also took us inside a home and gave us a huge mug of sticky rice beer (or zutho) to drink. What he didn’t tell us though was about the beauty of cherry blossoms that was to unfold throughout the course of the day!!

First glimpse of cherry blossoms on the hike to glory peak in Pfutsero.

The walking trail to Tsupheme passed through Pfutsero town and was all of 6-7 kms. The gentleman also told us his name and suggested that there may be a possibility for us to stay at a local’s home in Tsupheme. We started walking at around 11 am after having had breakfast in a chai dhaba. Village kids played in their usual carefree manner; the landscapes were vivid as we passed the grassy meadow to our left. After about an hour of walking, we came across the first cherry blossoms. Pink and white flowers, on a big tree standing tall on the left side of the road.

Read : A Backpacking Guide to Meghalaya

A closer look at the pink and white ‘sakura’ flowers.

Not one vehicle had passed us on this road and for a minute all four of us wondered if we were not on a wild goose chase! I was accompanied by Jita, Johann and Devesh on this memorable trip. And suddenly it did not matter any more; what lay next on the road was the stuff of dreams!

Just as the road took a left turn; this wild cherry blossom sight in full bloom made me go crazy with happiness!

There were cherry blossoms galore. As the road took a turn, I counted three trees laden with cherry blossoms. Against the backdrop of the blue skies, the pink white flowers looked very pretty! The light wasn’t perfect for photography and after spending 10 odd minutes gawking at the beauty surrounding us, we resumed our walk to Tsupheme again.

“The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. In their country, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.”   ~ Homaro Cantu

Its raining cherry blossoms! Hehe.

Cherry blossoms are widely associated with Japan and there they are known as sakura flowers. Hanami (meaning flower watching) is actually a tradition in Japan and the custom is more than a thousand years old. Families go to picnics during the sakura blossom season in Japan. The cherry blossom season in Japan typically happens during March-April. It is also a significant reminder of the impermanence of things because the cherry blossom season is very short and lasts only for around 2 weeks.

Check : Food Heaven : Cafés & Restaurants in Auroville

Notice the change in colour with the differing sunlight. The green leaves with the cherry blossoms of Nagaland change the monotony of the photograph.

On this lonely stretch in Nagaland, it was the first week of December and we had the cherry blossoms to ourselves. A stiff breeze welcomed us when the sunshine gave way to some shade on the road. Tsupheme village was another 2 kilometres away and an even more prettier view awaited us. The next part of our path was lined up with cherry trees; and they were laden with cherry blossoms. If the earlier sight was pretty, then I was in heaven with these cherry blossoms.

Always better with a human element in the photograph : Beneath the cherry blossoms.

It was nothing like I had ever seen before. I’d seen cherry blossoms earlier in Himachal Pradesh but this was on a different level altogether! Cherry blossoms in Nagaland were totally unexpected and this walk to an unknown village had turned out to be one of the best memories of my north east trips. I clicked pictures of the cherry blossoms with my iPhone for some time, and then realised that it was worth taking the trouble of taking out the dslr from the backpack.

Read : A Mixed Experience – Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh

Although I’ve penned down an entire post on the cherry blossoms sighting in Nagaland, I’m not sure it does justice to what I felt that day.

Some of us posed with the cherry blossoms; once we tried taking a selfie. It was such a happy feel and even though clicking all these pictures meant we were getting really late to reach the village but who cared… After all, the pleasure of a journey lies in on the way moments; chance discoveries – and what better discovery than finding cherry blossoms on the way to an obscure, unknown village in Nagaland!

Haha, trying to pose for a candid picture with the cherry blossoms! People talk about offbeat; and we had found the epitome of offbeat! 

We sat and chilled under the cherry trees like they would do in Japan; on the other side there were lush green fields and a house in the midst of it. The light wasn’t perfect to click that shot and as it is, my mind was preoccupied with the cherry blossoms. I took some close-up photographs of the cherry flowers. I tried to smell them and see if there was any aroma from these beautiful flowers, but there was none.

The perfect blue background against the pink beauties in the subject.

Pablo Neruda’s lines crossed my mind once or twice :

I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

I was being asked to hurry up and when I did not stop my newfound obsession of clicking cherry blossom pictures; everyone else moved ahead. I wondered if there was a female model there in that setting, would the pictures have a classy quality to it? But there was no possibility of the same and by that time it was necessary that I pack my backpack and start off again if I wanted to catch-up with the others.

When I sat beneath the true and looked up; this was what I saw! I think more than 100 pictures were clicked that day in less than an hour.

It was as if a goldmine had been unearthed that day; within 10 minutes of resuming my walk; there were more cherry trees to our left. The cherry blossoms on these trees were not in the same pink and white colour though; these looked a little bit dull and maybe had blossomed earlier than the ones that we stopped at earlier.

Check : Danish Delight in India – Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

While these cherry blossoms may not be on the same scale as they are in Japan; but then again there are no crowds here and you can have the entire tree to yourself!

Tsupheme village was now within touching distance and I dare not bother with my dslr; it would just mean taking more time when we were already running quite behind schedule. In my mind I briefly thought about clicking some more pictures but realised that it was better to look at the cherry blossoms without the lens of a camera to keep the memory vivid forever.

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I was no stranger to Goa; having studied college in Pune and Bombay. On one of those trips, it was a pleasant surprise to come across some old churches around Panjim (Panaji). I was instantly reminded of the Portuguese history of Old Goa and waited for a opportune chance to explore the Churches on a self guided heritage walk.

Churches of Old Goa… all these pictures are clicked by an iPhone as I did not carry my dslr due to the Goan monsoons!

We had alighted in Panjim, returning from South Goa and Gokarna and had caught a local bus for Old Goa at Panjim’s Kadamba Bus Stand. Goa’s public transport is quite efficient and all parts of Goa and important places are connected by frequent buses.

Old Goa (Also called Velha Goa) : An Introduction

Old Goa was the capital of the Bijapur Sultanate before the Portuguese captured it in 1510, defeating the forces of Adil Shah. Old Goa is said to have been one of the richest cities in the world during the 16th and 17th century, before epidemics of cholera and malaria paralysed Goa. Thereafter the capital was shifted to Panaji (Panjim.) Old Goa was also known as ‘Rome of the East’ due to the incidence of prettily designed churches and wide open piazzas. The Portuguese are said to have lovingly called it Goa Dourada, literally meaning ‘Golden Goa.’

Read : St. Francis Church, Kochi & India’s Colonial History

Grand interiors of heritage churches in Old Goa. 

Old Goa has been named as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO World Heritage Site – Churches and Convents of Goa.

More about the UNESCO World Heritage Site Status – Churches and Covenants of Goa are monuments inscribed by UNESCO under the World Heritage List in 1986 as cultural properties which were built by the Portuguese colonial rulers of Goa between the 16th & 18th Century AD.

Another view of St. Cajetan Church from outside.

Old Goa today attracts foreign tourists and domestic tourists alike, and even during the non-touristy month of July we saw a lot of tourists. Once the bus dropped us on the main road, I quickly found the location on google maps and began walking. Another reason why it is easily possible to walk to the Churches of Old Goa (or Velha Goa, as it was called earlier) is the fact that most of the Churches and important heritage sites are located very close to each other. This is how the walk unfolded :

Heritage Walk : Churches of Old Goa

The Churches of Old Goa and other historical sights are all located a short distance of each other and thus one can easily cover it on foot. Although I did not undertake a heritage walk with a travel company, an approximate idea of of total distance covered is around 3 kms. The typical Heritage Walk encompassing the Churches of Old Goa would begin at Basilica of Bom Jesus and end at Holy Hill. The Churches in Old Goa were mostly designed by Portuguese or Italian architects and the architecture style ranges from Baroque to Renaissance.

Check : India’s French Colony : Pondicherry, A Photo Story

Stunning frame : Thats Sé Cathedral with that cute tree! Basilica of Bom Jesus

At the inception, the ancient looking red building of Basilica of Bom Jesus was out first stop. It was a humid monsoon day and I was having a difficult time with the heat. I figured it would be must easier inside the church!

Basilica of Bom Jesus (Literally translated to Cathedral of the Good Jesus) was built between 1594 and 1605 as a resting place for the remains of the patron saint of Goa, Francis Xavier. He was one of the original seven founders of the Jesuit order. The body of the respected saint lies in a silver casket to the right of the altar, and his corpse is surprisingly well preserved. Every 10 years the body of St. Francis Xavier is brought out for public viewing.

Click to view slideshow.

Basilica of Bom Jesus was the first church in South Asia to be granted the status of Minor Basilica, in 1946. This grand Baroque structure is a mix of Corinthian, Doric and other styles of architecture prevalent then in the European world. The tomb was built by Florentine sculptor Giovanni Foggini and took 10 years to build. The gilded altar inside Basilica of Bom Jesus is extravagantly decorated in gold, and depicts the infant Jesus under the protection of St Ignatius Loyola. There were many places and sections of the church to explore once inside.

Front view of Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa : Surely the most popular tourist attraction!

Tomb of Francis Xavier – The marble tomb has four plaques depicting scenes from Francis Xavier’s life. The elaborate wooden pulpit has figures of Jesus and other evangelists beautifully carved on it.

Noticeable in many places inside and outside the Basilica of Bom Jesus; the Jesuit motto ‘IHS‘ has the full form Iaeus Hominum Salvator which means, ‘Jesus the saviour’, in Greek.

Among all the churches of Old Goa, Basilica of Bom Jesus had the most number of visitors. I’d love to go when there are lesser people!

Click to view slideshow. Who was St. Francis Xavier?

Francis Xavier was born in 1506 in the kingdom of Navarre, now a part of Spain. He studied for priesthood and was ordained two years later in Venice. He was then recruited by St. Ignatius Loyola along with five other priests to make what is known as the Jesuits.

Pretty windows on the Heritage Walk in Old Goa.

When the Portuguese king received reports of corruption and immoral behaviour among the Portuguese in Goa, he asked Ignatius Loyola to send a priest who could influence the moral climate for the better. In 1541 Francis Xavier was sent to work in the diocese of Goa. Despite frequent obstruction from Portuguese officials, he founded numerous churches, and is credited with converting thirty thousand people to Christianity.

Click to view slideshow.

After Francis Xavier left Goa for the last time, he contracted dysentery aboard ship and died off the Chinese coast, where he was buried. On hearing of his death, a group of Christians exhumed his body – which they found to be in a perfect state of preservation. It was first reburied in Malacca, and after that his body was later removed and taken to Old Goa, where it has remained ever since, enshrined in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Every ten years, the St. Francis Xavier’s body is carried in a three-hour ceremony from the Basilica of Bom Jesus to the Sé cathedral.

Church of St. Francis of Assisi

Just after crossing the road, this gorgeous white church is visible. The Church of St. Francis of Assisi is a beautiful building that makes it feel as if its a recently built structure.

The Church was built by the Franciscan friars in 1521, and is one of the most important churches of Old Goa. It is designed in the unique Portuguese Architecture style called Manueline style which uses nautical motifs. The Church of St. Francis of Assisi has a beautifully carved doorway as well.

The stunning front view of Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

After clicking many pictures from the outside (there were hardly any people here!), I peeked inside and was stunned. The inside of Church of St. Francis of Assisi features fine decorative frescoes, and paintings on wood showing the life of St Francis of Assisi. There’s a Greek cross (the emblem of all Portuguese ships) on the door.

Click to view slideshow.

At the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, its gilded main altar is the star attraction of the interiors as it depicts crucified Jesus.

Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum was established in 1964 by converting the Convent of St. Francis of Assisi. It is located in adjacent to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and has a 10 or 20 Rupee ticket. Among the interesting displays here in the Archeological Museum is a gallery of portraits of Portuguese viceroys, a bronze statue of Alfonso de Albuquerque. Other exhibits include coins, Christian wooden sculptures, 11th century statues of Lord Vishnu & Surya God among other things.

Click to view slideshow. Sé Cathedral (St Catherine’s Cathedral)

It was proving to be a lovely heritage walk in Old Goa with all the ancient churches close to each other and within no time I was at the magnificent Sé Cathedral.

The Portuguese government commissioned the Sé, or St Catherine’s Cathedral to build a grand church worthy of the mighty Portuguese empire. It took eighty years for this magnificent cathedral to build and it was only consecrated in the year 1640. The scale and detail of the Corinthian style interior is quite stunning.

Check : My Favourite Eateries & Cafés in Goa

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Himachali locals say that I should be given a permanent citizenship in Himachal Pradesh! And when it comes to Lahaul & Spiti, my love knows no bounds. I’ve been guilty of not making individual blog posts on the high altitude villages of Spiti Valley but its never too late to start and I begin with Komic village. This post has taken a long time to pen down, chiefly because it meant rolling back the years and going down memory lane. In the end, it is an amalgamation of three visits to Komic village and Komic Monastery; with the last visit in October 2017 when I spent a night in the ‘highest motorable village in the world.’

Komic is located at an altitude of over 4500m and this road literally feels among the clouds!

On the first trip which goes back to the days when Spiti was pure wilderness and the road was actually the ‘most treacherous road in the world!’; I was in Kungri in Pin Valley and had randomly met three guys from Bombay, Shimla and Germany respectively. We stayed a night in one of the newly opened homestays in Langza and the German guy had got off somewhere to teach english to the kids in a school.

A bird’s eye view of Komic village; surrounded by barley fields. The images are from the time I used to click jpeg and hardly bothered with their usability.

Komic felt like a dream and I was adamant that I wanted to be there next day. The charm of seeing the highest monastery in the world, Tangyud (Tangguid) Monastery was not lost on me and within no time we were standing outside Komic Monastery with the monks. Solar panels were visible on top of the monastery building which also houses the monks quarters’. I remember wondering how the monks lived at such a godforsaken place (at over 4500m) where we were finding even breathing difficult.

Inside Tangyud Monastery – also known as Komic Monastery. On the left and the right are the monks’ living quarters.

After spending some time in the prayer hall (dukhang), we were joined by some lamas who gave us cups of tea. I spotted a kitchen room nearby and a door opened from the side to show more construction work going on. The monks’ residences indicated that Tangyud Monastery housed around 40-50 monks. My inquisitive mind wandered and I asked if this was a newly built monastery; to which the monks said yes. One of them indicated to us to follow him to a nearby building.

The stuffed snow leopard just outside the entrance door to the Tantric room dedicated to Mahakala.

I was speechless. There was a stuffed snow leopard right behind the door and a signboard indicated that women are not allowed inside. The others were happy to click landscapes outside; we were surrounded by snow capped peaks and a few clouds were slowly coming in to say hi.

Lush green barley fields : Spiti valley has some of the highest barley cultivation in the world, in villages easily exceeding altitudes of over 4400m.

A monk ushered us inside the Mahakala room full of tantric masks and fearsome statues; it was very dark without any light and anyway clicking pictures was not allowed. I was overjoyed on being able to see the Tantric inner prayer hall (many monasteries do not allow visits for outsiders) of this ancient Tangyud monastery in Komic that was originally built in the 12th – 14th Century AD.

These days a shiny new signboard hangs indicating the altitude as 4587m. Favourite with bikers and people who like keeping these as their profile pictures.

The other side of the same building was also used as monk’s residences and had been painted in dark red. It stood out in the background of a dark blue sky. There was another small structure to the right of the monks’ residences; a signboard indicated that it was run as a school.

One of the lamas said that we are welcome to stay in the rooms for the night and can pay whatever we wanted. My eyes lit up but we knew we had to go to Demul too and passed this opportunity. I wondered how it would feel to stay at the highest village in the world connected by a motorable road and then realised it would not be very different than staying in Korzok – on the banks of Tso Moriri in Changthang, Ladakh. The wind blew stronger while the sun shined brightly and I felt strangely cold and hot at the same time.

I wonder if this school ever held classes… In the photograph is also one of the 3-4 rooms of the homestay / restaurant near Komic Monastery.

Komic village itself was a tiny village located on a lower elevation (Komic village altitude around 4450m) than the monastery and had 8-10 houses. Green barley fields occupied center-stage and it was a stunning sight to see white washed houses surrounded by clouds floating around towering mountains; and a sprinkling of snow was thought to be a complimentary topping on a dessert. The monks had been really kind to show us around; I asked about homestays in Komic and someone said that it is possible to request for a homestay at one of the homes.

Inside the greenhouse near Komic monastery. I think this was made for the monks, since they live here.

Just after we began our drive for Demul there was another surprise in store! A Tibetan Red fox with that unmistakable red bushy tail had just wandered across the road. It was quick and there was no possibility of even trying to click it with an 18-55 lens. We gasped in delight at the sighting and consistently looked outside the window for the rest of the drive to Demul.

Fast forward to a couple of years later; I was very happy to be breathing happily in the high altitude lands of Kinnaur and Spiti – away from the asthma troubles. The skies had not been kind at all and after cloudy days in Sangla Valley there I was, wishing for blue skies in Spiti valley but it was not to be. After a chilly night in Kaza; we ‘d made it to Langza almost in darkness (at noon) and a 5 minute drizzle brought us to Komic Monastery.

Click to view slideshow.

The weather gods seemed to have changed the monks’ mood too and none of them offered us tea this time around. There were a few tourist vehicles in the huge open air parking and the visitors to the monastery were all clutching their jackets as it was simply too cold as the sun had decided to have an uncharacteristic holiday in the Spitian summer. The temperature in Komic had dropped considerably and must have been in single digits.

The colour coordinated Tangyud Monastery in Komic.

This time I aimed at perusing the prayer halls of Komic monastery in a detailed manner but the light had other ideas and there was no possibility of seeing anything inside the monastery. In fact, the weather had worsened so much that the monks huddled inside one of the newly built structures to the left of the monastery building in blue. The tourists had left hurriedly without bothering to check the tantric room of the monastery and for good reason too…

In case it rained heavily, there was a possibility that the slender Langza-Komic-Demul road would close due to a landslide or something and people may get stuck here. In my mind, I began dreaming if it was heaven’s way of fulfilling my wishes! The skies kept getting darker and darker until the clouds could bear it no more. Komic village had disappeared among the clouds and even the green barley fields were nowhere to be seen.

One of those surreal moments.Did I have an eye for photography even when I was just doing it for fun?

I’d not had lunch and the monks were kind enough(thanks!) to serve some potatoes and wheat balls (wheat dumplings) sprinkled with some masala. When it stopped raining, we set off on our way to Demul again and again the same thing repeated. There was a herd of ibex to our left and they were so swift in their retreat that there was no chance of clicking. Someone else saw a Tibetan Red fox too but I didn’t see it. The visit to Demul village turned out to be a disaster as it began drizzling as soon as we reached the village and the poor light meant not even one photograph came out right.

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Keeping the long weekend in mind, we had pre-booked our train from Jammu to Delhi. I was travelling with a friend and hence Patnitop seemed like a convenient option to spend a day. Even though I wondered with the availability of accommodation options, we still took a chance and randomly arrived in Patnitop around 1 in the afternoon. The hitched ride dropped us just outside JKTDC office in Patnitop.

Epic evening light on the meadows of Patnitop.

We decided to try our luck and asked the prices; it came as a big surprise when the managed quoted the cheapest room for Rs. 700 in JKTDC Hotel Maple (the new property). We saw the wooden rooms in JKTDC Hotel Alpine and were satisfied with a 1200 Rupee price after discount. I had faint memories of staying in the JKTDC huts in Patnitop on a previous visit with the family (more than a decade ago!) It was quiet and peaceful and the sun felt nice with the breeze blowing in the greens surrounded by pine and deodhar trees.

JKTDC huts in the background : This is how tranquil and close to nature they are!

We were travelling on a remote road that crossed the border from Himachal Pradesh to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) which meant almost zero availability of public transport. It was the Chamba – Bhaderwah road that is quite famous as well as infamous with regards to terrorism in the region. This road had been built many years ago but traffic had only recently been allowed. Bhaderwah is popularly known as mini Kashmir and I was very keen on making it to this remote land with a fabled past. After having had a glimpse of the unexplored Bhadarweh region solely depending on hitchhiking and walking, we wanted to spend some time relaxing.

Rajmah from this region is popular and the dhaba at Baggar is famous for rajma chawal with anardana chutney! Yummy like none other.

Coming from Himachal rather than going from Jammu, we were aware of the fact that we need to be really lucky to complete this journey in the stipulated time. As luck would have it, we ended up finding rides in the most random vehicles – the most epic of which was covering a 10 km stretch at the back of a pick-up with locals on their way to collect fodder from the forest. It was the bumpiest of the rides amidst the most picturesque landscape.  (I am saving this epic story for some other time).

Not exactly good vibes where dhabas are classified on the basis of religion – street scenes in Batote.

We woke up early one morning in Bhaderwah and a quick decision meant we were in a bus bound to Jammu that would drop us on the highway near Batote. The recently opened Chenani – Nashri tunnel meant that Patnitop wasn’t on the regular Jammu to Srinagar highway anymore and we would have to struggle a little bit to reach here. The struggle was worthwhile though when the bus stopped at Baggar for the famous rajma chawal with anardana chutney liberally topped up with desi ghee! It was priced at only 60 Rupees and we ate like crazy. Earlier, the rajma chawal of Peerah (near Ramban) used to be the regular lunch on this road but Peerah was not on the way this time.

Check : Waltzing to Happiness on a Houseboat in Srinagar

This is the view from the JKTDC Hotel room.

After reaching Batote, we were told that shared autos would ply to Patnitop. I observed proceedings for less than a minute, and understood that the locals wanted me to book an entire taxi auto till Patnitop. The distance from Batote to Patnitop was hardly 12 kms. They quoted some absurd prices and as usual we started walking out of the main town towards the road to Patnitop. Among one of the basic rules for successful hitchhiking is that one needs to go outside the town for better chances of a vehicle stopping.

Click to view slideshow.

An auto came and dropped us 2 kms since he was headed on the same route. After waiting for a few minutes, a tattered old van came along. It screeched to a halt when we stood on the road and asked for a ride. They were pilgrims and were returning from Machail Mata yatra. The car had reasonable space for us to sit and I loved chatting with the kind people about more details of Machail Mata and Kishtwar. Within no time we were dropped in Patnitop and the air had become much cooler than it was in Batote.

The most popular tourist attraction in Patnitop, the meadow where all the quirks can be found! We human beings are mostly cribbing about the imperfections in our respective lives. Amidst these imperfections, there are experiences when life feels just so perfect that you don’t feel like changing a thing. Such lucky experiences do happen once in a while with each one of us and these are the happy times that are etched in our memory forever.  Surreal evening light where we lazed for a major part of our time in Patnitop.

Patnitop is a delightfully beautiful hill station and is peacefully set on an elevated hillock. It remains among the lesser visited hill stations of North India, and is not crowded compared to Manali, Shimla, Nainital or McLeodganj. Even though we had expected a lot of Delhi crowd in Patnitop, it was a pleasant surprise to meet families from Jammu and Punjab taking weekend breaks in this nature’s paradise.

This trail led to the Naag Temple. We walked for a bit in the solitude but decided it would get dark before we could get there.

As soon as we reached Patnitop, the first instinct was to just soak in the blindingly green landscape. This quaint hill station is endowed with meadows surrounded by thick forests of deodar, cedar and pine trees. It was the month of August and the entire valley was painted with varying shades of green. We were told that the landscape is a riot of colors in spring while in winters there is occasional snow. It is important to note that Patnitop is an all weather destination and that the road to Patnitop from Jammu is in excellent condition with good connectivity.

Also check : Do yourself a favour! Go to Landour

Accommodation options are available in plenty in Patnitop and we decided to stay in the JKTDC Hotel as we deserved this basic luxury after hardly spending any money on travel in the first part of our vacation. Our room overlooked a massive forest on one side and the road hidden with deodar trees on the other. The bright sun during the day felt very pleasant.

This is the gorgeously located Youth Hostel in Patnitop.

I immediately caught hold of my camera and off we went for a leisurely walk. First, we went to the meadow where one could see families on day picnics, lazing on the huge grasslands which are in plenty in Patnitop. We continued walking and crossed the Youth Hostel building. It was located in a delightfully green space surrounded by trees. Somewhere along the way, we also crossed a dhaba / café / restaurant located on the right.

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