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Kullu Valley is one of India's best travel offers

Explore Kullu Valley- The Authentic Way (And Take a Small Literary Detour)!

Here’s an unfortunate fact for you During your next visit to India, Kullu Valley might be your greatest miss. You may head back home after passing through it without even knowing you’ve just missed the best traveling experience India can offer.

Now, there’re two reasons why you’re going to cross paths with Kullu Valley (if you’re planning a trip to India between April – October)

One being that Kullu is the main gateway to Ladakh and to Spiti Lahol.

The second is that you’ve been advised to stop by Manali, Kullu Valley’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

So, there’s that. Now please – do yourself this favor and give this amazing area the chance it deserves.

 Instead of starting off with the obvious ’10 top travel destination in Kullu Valley’, let’s kick it with a really fresh twist, like a really imaginative reference to a great piece of Russian literature!

Nicolai Gogol

Nicolai Gogol

Didn’t see that one coming, did you?  

Gogol’s Praise of the Mundane

In his masterpiece Dead Souls, the Great Russian novelist Nikolai V. Gogol  describes one of the most memorable moments ever written in modern literature, in our opinion at least.

It starts with the moment of a traveler’s homecoming after a long and tedious journey on the roads.

… At last espies a familiar roof and lights in the windows, and then he enters the familiar rooms, hears the joyous cries of the servants running out to meet him, the happy excitement of the children and his wife’s comforting, quiet speeches, interrupted by ardent embraces… and so on.

Home sweet home, huh?

But then Gogol takes a twist in the tale.

He starts by telling us how fortunate and great is the writer who can pass by all the mundane and trivial, all the raw and everyday-like, only to extract and depict

       “… The characters who manifest man’s lofty dignity, the writer who out of the maelstrom of images that spin past him every day has selected but a few rare exceptions… has never descended from his heights to his wretched and paltry fellowmen and, without even touching the ground, is completely absorbed in his remote and exalted images.

Here comes Gogol’s great moment of self-realization, of total exposure. The whole reason why we’re suddenly discussing Russian literature in a post about travels in India.

Check out the following:

… And different is the destiny of the writer who dares summon forth all that is constantly before our eyes, yet that which indifferent eyes do not see: all the terrible, shocking mire of trivia which enmesh our lives, the full depth of the cold, fragmented, humdrum characters… the writer who has dared with a bold stroke of his remorseless chisel to display them in full and vivid relief to the eyes of all men!

Wow, Gogol was not kidding around here…

What Gogol basically says here is – give mundane a chance. Just forget for a second about romantic images of great expectations, about a once in a lifetime experience, about escaping the everyday and other such promotional slogans. God is in the details. And so is India.

Connecting the dots already?

So let’s get back to it. India it is.

Soaking yourself in the mud of life is the only way to write, to live and (in our case) to… Travel.

The same way Gogol didn’t want to compromise on his literature, you shouldn’t compromise on the authenticity of your travelling either.

So let us just say that if Gogol had to plan a trip to Kullu Valley, he would have probably told you that it all boils down to one of these two options…

Which Option Do You Prefer?

1. Travel safely to the ‘Top 5 Highlights’ destinations. This way, you won’t miss on anything in the books or on what your travel agent has told you. All those places will be staged for you, wrapped up in a shiny cellophane paper and be handed over to you as a nice souvenir. Looking up towards the starts (touristy highlights) can be done from everywhere; it doesn’t matter where you are.

Or…

2. Play wild with your choices as a traveler and mingle with the mundane. Come down to Ground Level. Dig in and engage with locals, see how they live: in their houses, their fields, their schools, their shops and markets, their temples, their restaurants. Only this way you’ll realize the ‘little things’, the subtle things that make a place what it is. This and nothing but this can expose you to their story, even if it does turn out to be “an exalted image“.

So, which one is it?

Faces of Kullu Valley

Engage with the locals and not with ‘travel agents’…

For a Well Rewording ‘Ground Level Exploration’ In Kullu Valley, What You’ll Need Is a Good Base Camp

Digging in Kullu valley is an outstanding opportunity for you so observe a very special kind of belief system which includes shamanic rites, black magic traditions and all sorts of esoteric religious practices. Surprisingly, it has all been integrated with the orthodox Hindu religious practices.

The spectacular Kullu temple architecture as a backdrop for the religious scene makes the experience even more enticing.

You’ll get to see how people survive in the remotest regions on earth – farming their lands and managing to maintain a self-sustained economy under the roughest conditions you can possibly think of.

There are also the nomads (not ‘Nomads’ as in the titles for traveling websites or blogs) who roam the upper parts of the region and herding their cattle along the alpine meadows.

Nomads on the upper parts of Kullu valley

Nomads on the way to the Chandrkhani Pass

To get it all in full scale, you’ll have to spend some time in the valley and not only to cross path with it. We recommend a stay of at least 7 days to get a glimpse of what’s happening. But for that you’ll need a good base camp.

Now, sorry to let you down, but Manali just won’t do the work. It has completely lost the Kullu vibe.

You’ll need a place which right at the center of the valley; A place that managed to keep the special atmosphere of the valley yet can still provide solid tourist services.

Don’t worry, we’ve got something for you!

So stay tuned because we are about to tell you soon ( very soon ) where your Kullu experience must begin…

Over to You

Are you a Galaxy traveler who’s after the top destinations or you preferring Ground level explorations?

Pangaun Monastery Kullu

The Beauty Which Guidebooks Often Miss – Pangaun Monastery

Here’s a question for you:

If I would tell you about a place to visit which is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet or any other guide book, would you consider it not worthy?

I met a guy few days ago who answered YES.

This post is for those who would answer NO. 

It might be easy to say ‘no’ right now when you’re sitting in front of the computer but when you’re out there, on the road it’s getting tougher. 

Why? Because we all want to play it safe.

Your holiday clock is ticking and what has been verified by the major guidebooks is probably worthwhile visiting, while the rest is presumably a waste of time (that you don’t have).    

Apart from that, the guide books give you some sense of security. They all provide detailed information on where to sleep, what to eat and where, how to reach there, and how to go back. It is fundamental and reassuring.

But there’s a price for that.

It is the lack of being exposed the authentic layers each place you’ll be visiting. Whether you like it or not, travelling with highly authoritative guidebooks can get you to read them not as suggestions but as imperatives. And you are not alone here. Everybody’s travelling with guidebooks even if they have a local guide with them who knows the places much better than any book.

So here’s a suggestion which is not mentioned in the guidebooks. It has been left deep down under the radar of guide books and at the shadow of the major tourist attractions surrounding it. 

It is called Pangaun Monestary. It is a Buddhist Monastery (Gompa) in the Indian Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

Inside the Pangaun Monastery

Oil lamps at the front hall inside the Pangaun monastery. Photo by Elad Greenberg

Here’s Why you should visit Pangaun Monastery

Pangaun monastery is one of the lesser-known Buddhist monasteries in the Indian Himalayas. Here you won’t find endless lines of tourists for the 6 a.m. Puja like at the Tikshey monastery in Ladakh. With no flashes from cameras and no TV teams from some geographical channel, the Pungau monastery is isolated in its peacefulness.

This monastery is probably one of the most awe-inspiring beauties I’ve seen. It hangs on a steep cliff above the Beas River between vast areas of apple orchards. Out at the monastery’s main courtyard, you’ll find spectacular views over the Beas River and Kullu Valley.

Add to this the kindness and the hospitality of the nuns and monks and you’ll get a must-see location, simply because it will warm your heart.

A Little Background About The Pangaun Gompa and the Nyingma sect

This peaceful Gompa (Monastery) belongs to the Nyingma sects; that is, one of the four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Nyingma school, is the oldest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded in Tibet during 742-797 CE. The tantric masters Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava were the first to introduce Buddhism in Tibet.  According to Tibetan Buddhist mythology, that changed when Padmasambhava challenged the local gods of Tibet and converted them to Buddhism. The gods agreed to become dharmapalas (Dharma protectors). From then on, Buddhism has been the principal religion of the Tibetan people.

Padmasambhava is said to have had twenty-five disciples, and from them a vast and complex system of transmission lineages developed.

 

Splendid views from the Pangaun Monestary

Splendid views of Kullu valley

The Chinese invasion of Tibet and the 1959 uprising caused the heads of the major Nyingmapa lineages to leave Tibet. Monastic traditions re-established in India while Lama Thubten E-vam Dorjey Drag has been settled in Himachal Pradesh.

Until recent time the Nyingma was the only school of Tibetan Buddhism that never aspired to political power in Tibet. Although the Nyingma School never had a head, in exile a series of high lama have been appointed to the position for administration purposes.

The Alternative way of the Pangaun Gompa

Unlike most monasteries, with the Pangaun both nuns and monks study in the monastery. They all live in small units (condos) above and below the monastery, cooking their own food, and maintain separation between their duties to the community and their own personal lives, at least to some degree. The fact that the nuns and the monks are living outside of the monastery creates a special atmosphere reminiscent of a small Tibetan village.

Most of the Lamas originally belong to Kinnaur district, and they all need to pay tuition for studying in the Gompa. This is rather uncommon for Buddhist monasteries, which are mostly financially supported by donations.

The wheel of Dharama at the main terrace

The wheel of Dharama at the main terrace

 

The Gompa was founded at the mid 60th by the Guru Kinbo Tupden who had come to meditate at the caves above the nowadays Gompa. It didn’t take long for many followers to come close and settle down near their spiritual master.

The religiously tolerant attitude prevalent in Kullu valley was perfect for many Tibetan people to come over and make this place their home. Patlikhul the major town between Manali and Kullu was blasted with Tibetan people back then.

How to reach Pnagaun Monastery?

Either if you’re coming from Manali or from Naggar you first need to get to Patlikul. It is the nearest town to the Pangaun Monastery and located exactly in between Manali and Kullu.

From Patlikul’s bus stand you can grab a taxi for a 6 km drive. It should cost you around 200 Rupees. The taxi will drop you just above the monastery and from there you’ll have to walk in the small allies down to the entrance of the monastery.

 Don’t worry about the way back. You can send the taxi driver back you’ll be returning on a different way.

Much better way…

A Special Bonus For Those Who Will Be Visiting This Unique Gompa

Behind the Gompa there’s a small trail that will drop you off at the Manali- Kullu Road. It’s a carousal gate at the back of the main building. If you can’t find it just ask one of the Lamas they’ll show you the direction to this backdoor. The Lamas use it when they go to Patlikul, to bring food and other supplies to the monastery.

The 1.5 km fantastic trail is a real candy. It’s a nice and easy walk downhill passing through apple orchids. It’s the kind of walk that will make you feel like you’ve just been dropped into the story Alice in Wonderland.

Within 30 minutes you’ll hit the Manali – Kulu main road, from where you can grab any bus that passes through – they’re all go to Patlikul. The 10 minutes ride will cost you 5 Rupees.    

 Now over to you

Have you been ever visited a place which hasn’t been covered by guidebooks and asked yourself: how the hell did they all miss it?

North India in June

Who else wants to get the most out of North India?

Here’s a short story:

A traveler walks in the great desert of the Sinai Peninsula. He’s almost spent. He doesn’t know where he is and where to go. Fortunately, he sees an old Bedouin standing under an Acacia tree.
Man, please tell me where I am and how far is to the nearest town!?” The traveler asks. Bedoin under a tree
“You should go there…” the Bedouin replays while pointing his finger towards the mountains.
“And how long it takes to get there?”
No reply for that question. The traveler asks again. All he gets in return is silence.
He’s exhausted. “Just tell me how long?” he screams at the Bedouin guy. But the Bedouin remains quiet as the desert itself.
Disappointed, feeling his fate is doomed the traveler starts walking and leaves.
“You are 3 hours away!!” He hears the Bedouin shouts.
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
“I had to see your ‘mood’, your natural walking pace in order to tell you the right information…”
The Bedouin replied.
The main point here is that each of us has our own way of traveling and our desires and moods change while we’re on the road. That’s why in this post we go for three possible moods you may have while traveling in North India this June.
[list style=’arrow’]
[list_item]  Mood #1- Getting socialized – looking for company? List of places where you can get friends in less than 5 minutes

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[list_item] Mood #2- Stay away from the Mob – would you like to read a book without getting nagged

[/list_item]
[list_item]  Mood #3- getting cultural – want to find out about events and festivals in north India where you can engage with local culture?

[/list_item]
[/list]

(We are a bit more flexible than the Bedouin guy who didn’t wanted to say a thing until he could see the guy walking for real)
Let’s start

Want to get socialized? Mood #1

In this list you’ll find some of the most popular destinations in Northern India. Everybody who’s traveling in North India at this time of year will presumably be visiting at least one of them. Chances are that they’ll visit all. Here you can find all types of tourist: backpackers, volunteers, high budget or even local tourists; you name it. If you want to get social, these are perfect places to hang out.

1) Manali, Kullu Valley Himachal Pradesh. 

Old Manali

Old Manali

It’s 17 hrs by bus from Delhi. Or a 1 hour flight from Delhi to Bhuntar (A local airport in Kullu Valley) plus approximately 2.5 hrs from Bhuntar by car and you are in Manali. The peaceful mountain town has become a delta for all types of travelers and it can get quite packed on its peck season. Travelers use Manali as a base for round trips, like to Spiti valley and Ladakh. And Some simply chill out in the super tourist friendly town.

2) Parvati Valley , Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
15 hrs. by bus from Delhi, or a one hour flight to Bunthar airport and you’ll reach the entrance to Pravati valley. Parvati Valley is a well-established travel hangout. Several small towns along the valley have been transformed into hippie resorts. It is loaded with hip Israeli backspaces and is known as an ‘Israeli colony’. You’ll find cheap accommodations, international food and a nonstop reggae soundtrack, plus crowds of dreadlocked and taffeta-skirted travelers. The attractions of the valley are peaceful scenery, the hot springs at Manikaran and plentiful wild charas (marijuana), with all the risks that entails.

3) Dharamsala, Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh.

Dharmsala. Foreigners feel at home.

Dharmsala. Foreigners feel at home. Image by oded Keet

15 hrs. by road from Delhi will get you the nearest to his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. For those of who do not know, it is the places where the central Tibetan administration is located. When we say Dhramsala we actually refer to three places:
• Macleod Ganj – A small town where the exiled Tibetan government is located.
• Bhagsu / Bhagsunath – A small village located 10 minutes walk from Macleod Ganj
• Dharamkot – another tiny village located 5 minutes walk from Macleod Ganj hosting the Sikhara Dhamma Vipassana meditation center.
Dharamsala, like Manali, is another of North India’s Mega Tourist destinations.
Dharamsala attracts loads of tourists from all over the world. The social scene is highly developed. Many tourists usually stay for longer periods to take some of the endless courses available. We’ll cover more in the Cultural mood section below. That’s why Dharamsala is a perfect place to hang out and socialize.

4) Leh, Ladakh

Leh, Ladakh

Leh, Ladakh

2 days from Manali by Bus (one of the most beautiful rides in the world). 1.5 hrs. flight from Delhi.
Way up north, surrounded by snowy peaks mountains, on the Tibetan plateau lays the famous capital of the kingdom of Ladakh. The city attracts travelers with a high sense of exploration. Trekkers, jeep safari groupies, expeditions groups, motor bikers, and cyclists are all coming to Leh this time of year and bring a lively vibe.

We’ll get back to Leh later when the mood of being cultural will fall upon you.
In the meanwhile, let’s give the loners some great places to hide.

Feeling like you want to be left alone?  Mood #2 

We selected some places where you will be able to read quietly on a guesthouse porch. You will be able to practice Yoga without being nagged from all around. Tranquility is sound and promised -You are saved from the mob!
Still, rest assured we didn’t let you get lost in hard core India. While choosing these places we kept a few important rules:
• They should be relatively close to the main travelers’ routes.
• They must be touristic friendly i.e. accommodations, food, internet
• You won’t be the only foreigner around

1) Kasar Devi, Unttarkahand – If it was good enough for Bob Dylan it’s good for you too.

5 hrs from Rishikesh to Almora and another 20 minutes with the local taxis and you’ll get to the peaceful village of Kasar Devi. It is the place whereSwami Vivekananda, one of India’s greatest modern philosophers used to meditate. The scenery from this tiny mountain village was inspirational for both him and Bob Dylan.
2) Jibhi, Banjar valley , Himachal Pradesh – Go now before it gets crowded

With a 5 hrs bus from Manali to Banjar town, and another local ride, you’ll get to Jibhi. It is a small pastoral village in Banjar valley. Endless hidden places within the gigantic Himalyan Oak forests around it make Jibhi a perfect place to stay close to both nature and yourself. Here is a great article for further details about Jibhi and banjar Valley.

3) Riwalsar Lake , Mandi area Himachal Pradesh – Om Mani Padme
Om Mandi is 10 hrs by bus from Delhi and 4 hrs from Shimla.

Riwalsar lake is a small Buddhist oriented village with a super easy-going vibe. With a lake in the center of the village and a complex of Gompas (Buddhist monasteries) around it, you will definitely find the place so relaxing that you might not even want to go back to the noisy traveler scene.
4) If you feel like moving Kinnaur –Spiti circuit can work great for you. 2 weeks within magnificent scenery starting from lush green mountains into the high altitude desert of Spiti. Kinnaur-Spiti circuit is a perfect round trip to hop on to from Manali if you feel you just had enough.
There are some great treks in the area. We have just launch a a full guide for one of the best treks in the region. Subscribe to our news letter and get it for free.

 

Feeling cultural? Mood 3# 

Here’s a review of some destinations in North India which are an integral part of Indian culture and religion(s). We assume that if you are in a mood of being cultural, you would like to know about events and festival that are going on this June.
Rishikesh and Haridwar, Uttarkhand  6 hrs by bus from Delhi.

People are bathing in the Ganges in Haridwar

Pilgrims are bathing in the holy Ganges River.

Rishikesh is a small town on the Ganges River bank. It is known as the world’s yoga capital. You can find Yoga courses and trainings from beginner to advanced levels in every corner of town. Rishikesh and haridwar are two of India’s most significant pilgrim destinations. It is the place where the Holi Ganges River hits the mighty Indo-Gangetic plains.
On Tuesday the 18th of June, there will be the Ganga Dussehara festival In Haridwar, a neighboring town. If you want your sins to wash away, you should plan to pay a visit to Haridwar. You’d better get ready with loads of space on your camera memory card.

Ladakh_june

 

Let’s go up to Ladakh now, and see what they can offer us in when we get into the culture section..

Here we are back to Leh and the surrounding area with two major festivals that you won’t want to miss.

  •  Hemmis Festival (18th- 19th June) A half hour drive from Leh is the famous Hemmis Buddhist Gompa ( Monastery). It is a two day festival which commemorates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. There’s traditional music, colorful masked dances, and a fair full of striking handicrafts.
  •  The Sindhu Darshan festival ( 1st – 3rd June ). It is a 20 minute ride from Leh on the bank of the Indus River. This festival is a celebration of the River Sindhu or Indus. More than anything else, the Indus River represents the ancient Hindu civilization and gave India its name. The festival aims to project the Sindhu as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony, and peaceful co-existence in India.
  • Beside the Festivals we’ve mentioned , discovering the beautiful Buddhist Gompas in Leh and around it sure will leave a magical impact on you :
  1. Check out the 6:00 a.m daily puja ( prayer) in Thiksey
  2. Treat yourself with a sunset climb up to Shanti Stupa (relics monument).
  3. Cross , Khardung La, the highest motor pass in the world to visit the impressive Diskit Gompa in the Nubra Valley.

In the Himachal area there is lot of cool stuff waiting for you….

In Manali: The Manali Summer Sundowners – Sounds United Project music festival features live concerts of blended genres and styles every Friday and Saturday throughout June.
• In Dharamsala: The Dharamsala Film Festival ( 11th -13th June)

Buddhist lama in Macloed Gang.

Buddhist lama in Macloed Gang.
Image Oded Keet

Beside the annual film festival there are loads of curses that you can do In Dharmasla. The most famous Vipassana course ( see the link above), but also Yoga, Tibetan Language Classes, 10 days Introduction to Buddhism/meditation, Reiki, Cooking classes and much more. Also there’s a lot of volunteering stuff that you can do. Two popular ones would be Lha Charitable and Mountain cleaners
In Shimla: The annual Music summer festival has been held since the 1960s. Food fairs and local handicrafts are on sale, too. The event will begin in June 1st until the 9th.

Feel free to leave a comment below!

 

Nubra Valley_oasis

Nubra Valley Ladakh: Moon Hills on Earth

Is Nubra Valley, Ladakh part of your travel plan?

1) Need few good reasons to go? 2)  Best time to visit Nubra 3) How to reach Nubra Valley? 4) Enjoy Nubra’s pastoral villages 5) Get directions 

 

Why Nubra Valley?

The beautiful Nubra Valley and Shyok river

The beautiful Nubra Valley and Shyok river

You have made it so far and have arrived to Leh so why not going a little bit farther to Nubra valley, Ladakh’s northern extension. Nubra Valley is known as the ‘Valley of Flowers’ of Ladakh, and is one of the greenest valleys in this region. The barren harsh mountains dotted with tiny green oasis villages merges together with the great Shyok and Nubra rivers. It really  is the most outstanding scenery that you can see from every spot in the valley. Nubra valley’s ancient history is also part of the Silk Road and adds to the landscape fantasy and a romantic atmosphere.

If you have a good enough imagination you can envisage the wagons and caravans of the enthusiastic traders and missionaries riding along the deep rivers banks heading towards Panamik village, to make their final preparations at the last station before crossing the terrifying massive mountains.

Lastly, although you have probably seen by now quite a few Buddhist monasteries on your travels in India the Diskit Gompa is not just another one and is a must see if you are in this area. Its dramatic location above the confluence of the Shyok river and Nubra river with the monk’s warm hospitality makes the visit a truly unique experience.

When is the best time to visit Nubra valley?

It is the highest motorable road in the world

Signpost marking Khardung-La

Basically, the time to visit Nubra valley is the same as in other parts of Ladakh district that is mid May to mid October (see Manali to Ladakh). However, since the road to Nubra valley is via the highest motor pass in the world, Khardung La (5,600 m) than the pass may be closed during most of May. You can find out in Leh whether the pass is open or not. As long as you’ll be getting there later towards June/July chances are that the pass will be open more frequently as the weather gets better. In Nubra valley itself, the weather is quite similar to Leh at this time of the year. The temperature from July to September can reach at daytime up to 25 degree celsius while during the night they may decrease to 7 degree celsius. So July to September is perfect time to visit Nubra Valley.

How to reach Nubra Valley, Ladakh?

Local buses are departing every morning from Leh and they can drop you off almost in every village in Nubra. You can also use a taxi (jeeps) which leave Leh when they get full. If you can group up with some other travelers than you can hire a private jeep either from any  local travel agencies or right at the bus station.

The way to Nubra Valley Ladakh  is approximately six hours and it depends on which transportation method you use. For the photo lovers, there is a stop on Khardung La to take some pictures in the highest motor pass in the world. So get ready it is cold up there and some of you may feel a bit dizzy because of the high altitude. After Khardung La the road descends gradually to Nubra and within 3 hours approximately you will arrive to Khalsar, the main junction in the valley. From there one road turns west towards Hundar via Diskit and the other road goes north to Panamik via Sumur along the Nubra River.

Note that before going to Nubra you will need an Inner line Permit valid for seven days. Permits can be obtained by any travel agency in Leh and costs something like 150-200 rupees.

Nice places to visit in Nubra Valley

The Diskit Gompa monastry in Nubra valley Ladakh

The Diskit Gompa monastry

Diskit Monastery, the oldest Gompa in Nubra Valley ladahk built in the 14th century is a huge structure with units built one above the other in pyramidal style and can be viewed as a chaotic architecture piece. Perhaps that is exactly what makes it so beautiful. Diskit Gompa in Nubra Valley Ladakh belongs to the Gelug-Pa sect (those who wear the yellow turbans. The Dalai Lama belongs to this sect) which is one of the major sects among the 4 sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is divided to various sections and you can get explanations from the lovely monks who live there. While exploring this huge monastery you will be exposed to the breath taking views over the confluence of Shyok and Nubra rivers. Get ready to lose a lot of space on your cameras memory card.  Below the Monastery with its face to the north is the impressive 32 meters statue of Maitrya Buddha which was recently inaugurated by the Dalai Lama himself.

For those of you who got inspired by the Diskit Gompa and wish to return the day after in the nearby Diskit village you can find few cozy guesthouses and hotels.

Enjoy the pastoral Nubra’s villages

Diskit Gompa

Diskit Gompa

Heading to the other side of the valley alongside the Nubra River there are the peaceful and pastoral villages of Sumur, Tigar and Panamik. This time of the year the village trees turn to yellowish red and it makes you feel like you’re travelling in a fairytale. Unfortunately the famous and old granaries in Panamik which once served the traders back in time when the Silk Road was active now belong to the Indian army. The Important heritage of this legendary route has now become a victim of neglect.

So if you are getting to Leh and you have a few 2-3 extra days, Nubra Valley can be a good option and remember to get a permit first.

Nubra Valley Ladakh

Nubra Valley Ladakh

Nubra Valley,  Map

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What do you think? Are you going to include Nubra valley next time you’re in Ladakh?

Please write a comment below and if you have been in Nubra we will be happy to get some suggestions and tips

 

 

 

Darjeeling India

A Trip to Darjeeling India Brings Back the Bygone Era

The Hill Station of Darjeeling India

Darjeeling is a beautiful hill station in West Bengal set on a mountain surrounded by tea plantations and views of the Himalayas. It was once one of the main hill stations of the British and they left their imprint on much around Darjeeling and my visit there evoked images of this bygone era.

Darjeeling India

A view of the hill station that was once favoured by the British

My trip there was a memorable one from the time the plane landed in Bagdogra to when I left in a jeep to the hills of Sikkim. The 4 hour jeep ride from Bagdogra airport up the beautifully steep and sloping hills created lots of anticipation and I was definitely not disappointed on my arrival to Darjeeling. My 4 days there was spent strolling around, trekking and exploring, site seeing and just soaking up the friendly atmosphere. What stood out for me most about Darjeeling was the British imprint on the place from the Raj era and the sites and hotels that were built and still maintained lovingly and for me some of the best of Darjeeling.

Altitude: 2134m

Season: March – mid June, October – December

Nearest Airport: Bagdogra

There’s much to see and do in Darjeeling but here is my pick of some of the best spots of this bygone era:

The Mayfair Hotel

It was once the exotic summerhouse of Maharaja of Nazargunj and this beautifully maintained hotel is definitely a wonderful place to stay in Darjeeling. This old mansion sits

The Mayfair Hotel in Darjeeling

The Mayfair Hotel in Darjeeling

on a hilltop overlooking stunningly beautiful mountain views, manicured gardens and old interiors that are in keeping with the age of the building. Staying here takes you back in time. There is an old library full of books, a snooker table and walls lined with hundred year old pictures of Darjeeling. The room I stayed in was very comfy and even had a fire place, typically English fabrics, wooden floors and antique furniture. What I loved most about my stay was the freshly picked Darjeeling tea that was served at breakfast, the old English style cutlery and crockery and the beautiful view as I ate. It was definitely a great way to start my days in this wonderful hill station.

Train ride on the Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling India

Taking a short stop in the middle of its journey. It is a great time to get out and take in the views and breathe the fresh air

When I think of Darjeeling I think of tea and the Himalayan steam train that was built by the British. So I knew that I must have a ride on the train even if I wasn’t intending to arrive anywhere in particular. The train drove slowly through the hills of Darjeeling blowing out steam and I loved that it’s slow pace let me take in all the amazing views and low lying clouds. The train ride definitely suited the slower lifestyle up in the hills and the holiday atmosphere.

Afternoon Tea at the Elgin Hotel

Tea, cakes and sandwiches

Enjoy afternoon tea at the Elgin Hotel in Darjeeling. Image Elgin Hotel

If you are looking to have a tasty and authentic afternoon tea in Darjeeling a visit to the Elgin Hotel is a must.  The hotel setting is perfect and the whole experience takes you back to the colonial history of Darjeeling. The afternoon tea I had was set in the lobby area and I indulged in a lovely selection of infused, herbal and leaf teas as well as an array of local Darjeeling tea which I thoroughly enjoyed. A mix of both English sandwiches, cakes and light Indian snacks was a great accompaniment to the tea and atmosphere and definitely a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

The Lloyd Botanical Gardens

I loved my visit to the Botanical Gardens. It definitely isn’t the most well maintained garden that I have visited but as I walked around it really felt old world and reminded me of my childhood playing in my grandma’s garden. So it was really a nostalgic experience for me.  It still has a glass house, old statues and benches, rock garden and even a stone building in Elizabethan style.

Gardens in Darjeeling

The old British Lloyd Botanical Gardens in Darjeeling

Mall Road and St Andrews Church

This is the main pedestrian road in Darjeeling and it is lined with lovely souvenirs stores, places to eat local Indian food, tea places and lots of old British buildings which makes for a great mix. There are some great views that you can see from the square and some short walks that I took plus lots of fresh mountain air. At the end of the Mall Road there is a church called St Andrews. It is an Anglican Church and one of the main British style buildings of Darjeeling.

St Andrews Church

St Andrews Church in Darjeeling is located at the end of Mall Street

So if you are looking to sip some tea, ride an old toy train, breath some fresh mountain air, enjoy some stunning views and this is just to begin with then a trip to Darjeeling India in West Bengal is a must

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Kullu Valley

How to Explore the Valleys of North India

Snow covered peaks, quaint villages resting on slopes, forests and lakes – and no, it’s not Switzerland… but a trip to the spectacular landscape of the Himalayas will be one of the first picks for everyone that is travelling to India.

The beautiful green hills of the Parvatii Valley

The beautiful green hills of the Parvati Valley

Our Journey to North India begins on a flight from Delhi to the Himalayas. It is an unforgettable (and a bit scary…) adventure that lasts an hour and a half. The plane lands safely along the narrow airstrip alongside the River (Beas) in (Bhuntar). Once you enter the Himalayan region, a stunningly beautiful landscape is revealed.  Snow-capped peaks, villages, green lush terraces and deep gushing rivers.

Location: Himachal Pradesh

Altitude: 1220m

Best time: mid May – mid October

Parvati Valley

Bhuntar is the main town of Parvati Valley. Parvati Valley is a beautifully green landscape with steep slopes and scattered villages. Farmers can grow anything here, despite the difficult conditions. This is one of the favourite areas for backpackers and there are lots of guest houses and restaurants that serve Italian, Chinese and Middle Eastern food. There is also a strong party and drugs scene due to the famous cannabis plantations that are grown in the area.

Manikaran

The river running through Manikaran.

Up the road along the river brings us to the village of Kasol. This is the center of the backpacker scene in the valley. There are many signs in Hebrew due to the large Israeli backpacker scene here. It’s not really authentic, but there is good food, shops, internet places and other services for almost everything you need in North India. Just north of Kasol on a bumpy bus drive is Manikaran.  It is one of the important religious centres for Sikhism and there is a big temple on the banks of the river and hot springs. This is an interesting little town and very easy to walk around and soak up the atmosphere and

Manikaran

The holy Sikh temple in Manikaran.

the steams coming from the natural hot springs. There are also options to sleep, eat and shop.  The visit to Parvati cannot be complete without climbing to one of the remote villages of the valley, a matter of four to six hours walk. There you can really get a sense of feeling the pace of life in these idyllic mountains. One of my  favourite places is the tiny helmet of Kiriganga. It’s contains only a few very basic guest houses, but the pick of the visit is to sit inside the hot spring while surrounded with beautiful green mountains.

 

Kullu Valley

best of India- Food in India

Best of India

After leaving the slopes of ‘the valley of the backpackers’ we enter the Kullu Valley.  The area is more ‘upmarket’ and has good restaurants and luxurious hotels for those requiring a rest day. From here the main road crosses the Himalayas and you pass through villages and small colourful market towns. It is worth stopping to admire the hill people along the way and learn about their lifestyle and view the beautiful landscape of the Himalayas.

Kullu festival

Playing music for the deities at the Kullu Valley festival

Kullu is famous for its industry of unique scarves made from angora wool or pashmina. Pashmina scarf are made from the hair of the big and fluffy shepherd mountain goat. If it is not a must, try to avoid buying products made from this wool and help to prevent the cruel hunting of the animal. The kullu men wear unique traditional caps called topi, and the women, meanwhile, wear colourful headscarves and dress fastened with silver pins and chains.

tents at the Kullu festival

Speaking with local Kullu residents at the festival inside one of their tents. Their local deity is celebrated at the festival

Kullu is a great place to celebrate the Indian festivals of Holi and Dussara. The main attraction of Kullu is held every year around October where a 7 day festival is celebrated. All the local deities from the villages of the Himalayas are carried by devotees from the all-around the trans-Himalayan region to Kullu town. It’s a great folk festival full with colours, food and music.

Another great attraction just north of Kullu is rafting on the river. It depends on the season and the condition and the flow of the river. A Trip to Manali town in the top north end of the valley takes about an hour and a half, without unplanned stops (which is often). You can take a picturesque detour from the main road and up to the scenic route to the village of Naggar. There stands an ancient castle with beautiful scenery around it and views of the valley.

How to arrive there

By Road: the distance from Delhi via Mandi is 530km and from Shimla this is 240km. There are luxury comfortable buses to Kullu and Bhuntar.

By Air: The airport at Bhuntar is 10km from Kullu, where taxis and buses are available.

By Rail: The closest narrow gauge railhead is at Jogindernagar, 95km from Kullu.

 

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Himalayas

Hiking Checklist for the Indian Himalayas

This hiking checklist is made for those that have decided not to hire a porter to carry your bags. You will need to think carefully about your supply and equipment that you plan on bringing with you on your trek.  So this check list has been created to  make your life easier when you start to organize your trip into the Indian Himalayas.

Himalayas

See some of the most amazing views on a trek in the Indian Himalayas

Remember, we advice you warmly to “never walk alone” as Liverpool football club fans sing to their team. Always have a guide with you regardless of how many of you are planning to go hiking together.

Make sure that you include all these items from the hiking checklist in your backpacks. Just remember the golden rule do not go above 14kg. Believe me, you will be thanking yourself for this during your trek!

Clothing

  • Walking boots
  • Daypack for camera, water and other personal items (this relevant for those who have hired a porter)
  • Comfy and fitted trekking backpack (one size definitely does not fit all)
  • Warm jacket
  • Rain proof jacket
  • Woolen shirts and thick sweaters
  • A pair of lightweight/heavyweight trousers to wear on the the campsite
  • Long sleeve polyester undergarments
  • Icebreaker bodyfit top
  • Comfortable walking trousers
  • 2 pairs of loose fitting long shorts
  • A few cotton t-shirts
  • A woolen hat for cold mornings and evenings
  • Warm gloves – they can be woolen or gore-tex
  • Flip flops for the campsite
  • A few pairs of socks and thick woolen socks
  • High quality sleeping bag
  • Scarf
  • Good tent

Other Equipment

  • 2 water bottles – don’t waste money on ‘hi-tech’ water bottles
  • Water purification tablets – most of the time the water in the high Himalayan streams are naturally purified so you won’t need any tables but just in case you need to take with you
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • A few large plastic bags to separate clean and dirty clothes and some small plastic bags for rubbish
  • Large and small towel
  • Head torch with spare batteries
  • Candles or lighter to burn toilet paper
  • Walking stick – I prefer to find a wooden stick on the trail
  • Camera with spare batteries and memory card
  • Some reading materials and notebook to document your insights
  • Pen
  • Pocketknife
  • Binoculars – just for fun
  • First aid kit which is a mandatory item

Papers and Valuables

  • Passport and passport photocopy
  • Permits if needed (some treks in India require special permits that you need to issue before the trek – for any questions regarding this please contact us)
  • Wallet
  • Map
  • Music player
  • If you take prescribed medicine don’t forget to bring it with you
  • Waterproof plastic bag for all your papers
  • Cell phone will local sim ((most chances you won’t have reception but sometimes if anything goes wrong you can find the nearest reception location)

Cooking Kit

  • Stove with extra gas container
  • Aluminium plates
  • Cups
  • Knives, forks, spoons
  • Pots (also one for coffee)
  • A few match boxes or 2 – 3 lighters

 Food

  • Rice
  • Vegetables (for the whole trek or until the first village you will come across)
  • 1kg of flour to perpare chapatti (local bread)
  • Salt, pepper and other spices
  • Coffee, tea and sugar
  • Snacks for the road – dried fruits are the best
Himalayas

A fresh water stream in the Himalayas.

So all you need to do now is print our hiking checklist and you are ready to go! If you have any recommendations, suggestion and/or comments on the list please do not hesitate to let us know

 

 

 

 

The Landscape of the Himalayas in India

Know the Landscape of the Himalayas like a Professional Trekker

Some geographical features to be familiar with in the landscape of the HimalayasIt is impossible to trek in the Indian Himalayas without fully understanding the landscape of the Himalayas. Why? Knowing the landscape allows you to have better orientation and deeper knowledge of the surroundings you are in nand this really does matter!

Is clearer understanding of the landscape of the Himalayas going to help you while you are trekking? Not sure, though you might impress your trekking friends by pointing out some amazing geographical features.

On a deeper level you may also recognize some of the philosophical insights the Buddha spoke of like every single thing is under constant change even what may look like the most static objects such as mountains and glaciers. Furthermore, the Buddha suggested that every single object is bound to in an interwoven relationship with the other. You’ll find he was right! Each landscape feature changes the other constantly. All of them are interconnected and none of them has ‘life’ or justification of its own.

So here is a quick overview of some of the geographical features which determine how the landscape of the Himalayas has been shaped and still is being shaped. We’ll make it as simple as possible…

Main Geo-Features in the Himalayan

Landscape of The Himalayas, Illustration

Landscape of the Himalayas by features: 

1)      Cirque

A cirque is a large area which looks like semi-circle. It is created where large amounts of ice accumulate for long periods of time. In the past, it was from this place which the glacier was created and began its’ descent downhill.  Usually there is more than one cirque on each of the Himalayan Mountains. Today, when very few glaciers remain the melting snow fills up this area and we can find some beautiful lakes which are called ‘Tarns’.

2)      Arête

Arête is a steep ‘wall’ created when two glaciers slip downhill from both sides of the mountain. It means that both sides of the ridge there is a cirque.  Arête, the wall, can be recognized by its steep edges which crawl uphill and downhill like a snake.

3)      Horn

The horn is the sharpest peak which is created by 2 (or more) glaciers that slip downhill from a few sides of the mountain. The horn is surrounded by a few cirques where the glaciers once were.

4)      Col

Col is the ridge, the lowest point along the arête.

5)      U shaped valley  ( Or simply ‘U-valley’)

U Valley is carved when the glacier starts to slip downhill. When the glacier melted we can see its impact on the landscape. A huge flat area resembling a plateau surrounded by the arête walls is the U valley. At the top of the U valley we will always find the semi-circle cirques.

6)      Hanging Valley

A hanging valley is carved by a small tributary glacier that joins with a valley carved out by a much larger glacier (or the main glacier). It is a shallow valley and carved by a small glacier and thus the elevation of this valley floor is ‘hanging’ high above the elevation of the valley floor carved out by the main glacier below. The floor of the hanging valley is relatively flat and thus the contour lines on the topographic map are more widely spaced than those contours representing the sides of the valley. The close spacing of the contour lines at the edge of the hanging valley indicates a steep drop-off, which is where the waterfall is located.

7)      Moraine

Moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of glacial debris it could be clay, silt, sand, gravel, cobbles, boulders or any other forms of soil and rock. This debris may have been plucked off a valley floor as a glacier advanced downhill during the years. Moraines may be composed of debris ranging in size from silt-sized glacial flour to large boulders.

There are few types of moraine let’s review two of them:

  • Lateral moraines which occur on the side of the valley and can even be between two glaciers.
  • Terminal moraines occur at the end of the valley.

 

 

 

Shiva in the Himalyas:Lord Shiva on his natural surrounding- The Himalayan ridge

Lord Shiva Feels at Home on the Peak of the Himalayan Ridge

Shiva in the Himalayas: The Kingdom of Lord Shiva

The kingdom of Lord Shiva Photo by Tali Twito

Shiva In The Himalays:

home sweet home

Lord Shiva (or Shiv, Shiv ji  in Hindi ) is one of the most prominent gods in the crowded Indian pantheon. He is one of the most complex characters among Indian Gods and maybe that is what makes him so interesting.  This complexity is well known throughout the long Indian tradition where he started as a peripheral god bythe name of Rudra, living outside of society and gradually he grew into the center of Indian hearts.

What do I mean by saying peripheral? Firstly, when we look at Vedic hymns there were much more significant gods and goddesses and secondly, Shiva at that time was known as a god who have no interest in socializing and  mingling with other gods. All he wanted was to stay as far as he could from the city.  However, even though his status changed he never lost his controversial nature and attitude with regard to fundamental codes of Indian society.

Shiva is deeply associated with the Indian Himalayas, so when you will be travelling in this region you will be aware that you are wondering in Shiva’s domain, Shiva’s castle and home. As most of the Indian Mythologies (especially the Shiva Purans) refer to the Himalayas as “the abode of Shiva”

Lord Shiva feels at home on the Himalayan Ridge which is quiet and peaceful. Shiva can meditate in The Himalayas without being disturbed by human needs and desires. Here he is left alone to achieve Moksha ( we can refer here to the term as an enlightenment but not at all in the way we know it from the Buddhist terminology).

Shiva meditates in The Himalayas

Home sweet home. Out alone on the Himalayas-Shiva’s Iconography

Shiva in the Himalayas- Don’t disturb him in his peaceful state of mind:

This is the place where he comes to relax but not in the sense of “I had busy day and need to unwind”. The Himalayan mountains are the only place for Shiva where he can meditate so he can achieve the highest of all goals, Moksha. Even the gods are afraid to disturb him while he is meditating. There is a famous story from the Purans, The Indian Mythology that the gods had to arrange Shiva a bride, the daughter of Himalaya – Parvati. Unfortunately for them it was while Shiva was in a deep meditation in the Himalayas. No one dared to go there to persuade him to get married. After long discussion  over who the messenger would be, Kama, the lord of love was chosen.

The main reason Kama was chosen was due to a powerful weapon he possessed.  The magical bow and arrows that when used could make anyone fall in love immediately. So Kama went off to shoot the message of love at Shiva to make him leave the mountains to get married and to start living a ‘regular life’. To make a long story short, Shiva discovered the plan and he opened his third eye and fired a flame of fire at Kama which burned him to ashes.

(Just for the spoiler, eventually Shiva married Paravati and they even had a child together who became one of the most celebrated Indian Gods called Ganesha)

The conclusion from this story is that the Himalayan Ridge is the place where Lord Shiva meditates and it is the place where he rejects those humanly things and focus on higher goals. The Himalaya is the place where Shiva accumulates his Tapas (inner strength which arises out of  asceticism). It can also be considered as an abode of conflict between codes of society to the codes of the Indian renunciation.

Of  course there is much more about the connection of Shiv Ji to the Himalaya, but that is for another post…

So when you have a change to enter the highest ridge in the world with your backpack and getting  ready to hike remember that this is the home of Shiva and he doesn’t like to be disturbed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Varansi_oded

The Story of the Ganga River

The Story of the Ganga

A Story of How The Ganga Descended to Earth is live on Banras

The Story of the Ganga is an integral part of Indian Culture
Photo by Jonathan Benzvi

The story of Ganga

The story of Ganga  and Shiva is one of the most famous rivers in India and the beautiful story that we post here about the Ganga is an integral part of Indian Culture and tradition. Next time you visit the Ganga you will look at it differently.

The source of the Ganga river

The source of Ganga is at Gaumukh in Utarkhand, just a few hours drive from Uttarkashi. This is where the river emerges from the depths of the Gangotri glacier (4300m). The river is known as Bhagirathi after King Bhagirath. It rises in the icy glacier of Gangotri and the gushing, tossing and gurgling Bhagirathi river embarks its long journey downwards where it reunites with ‘Alaknanda’ river and at that point (sangham)it becomes what we all know as the Ganga. The Ganga brings a sturdy supply of water to the dry Indu-Gangatic plains, it brings life to the most populated area in India.

The stories of the Ganga

But not only water brings life, stories bring life too. The Ganga River or the Ganga goddess if you will is full with both them. There are many stories and tales linked to the Ganga, some of which are mentioned in ancient Indian Mythology (Purans). Here is one of them.

A story of how the Ganga descended to earth

King Sagar,according to myths, had 60,000 sons. He defeated all the Asuras (daemons) on earth and wanted to perform a famous Vedic ritual called”Ashwamedha Yagya” (“horse sacrifice) to declare his supremacy and acquisition over the land. Therefore,based on ritual protocol, he had to send a horse to ride all over the territory that he claimed over, and that is exactly what he did. The horse rode across the earth along side with King Segar’s sons.

The King of Heaven, Lord Indra started to get panicked from the power of King Sagar and felt that he had to stop him. Indra couldn’t afford to let King Sagar have an absolute sovereignty over earth.

Indra for those of you who are not familiar with him, was the dominant god in ancient India, the leader of the Devas camp. He was the only god who could overcome Vritra the celestial snack, in an epic battle, for saving the universe. This is just to emphasise how serious he considered the threat of King Sagar who just claimed the earth for himself.

So Indra stole the horse and tied it to the Ashram of Sage Kapil. When the 60,000 sons saw the horse in Kapil’s ashram they got furious and started to attack the Monastery. Sage Kapil at that time was in deep meditation, gaining Tapas (inner strength) and hearing the disturbance he opened his eyes in anger, loaded with the Tapas power he had gained, King Sagar burned the 60,000 sons to ashes immediately, except one- prince Asamanjas.

Anshuman, the grandson of King Sagar,managed to bring the horse back from the Sage’s Ashram and asked for his forgiveness. Sage Kapil promised that the sons be brought back to life only if Ganga is brought from heaven to earth.

Shiva holds the Ganga streams to save the world

Shiva’s sculpture in Rishikesh based on the Story of how A Story of How The Ganga Descended to Earth

Neither Anshuman nor his son Dilip were successful in this task. No one could persuade Ganga to descend to earth from heaven. But Dilip’s son, Bhagirath was determined to get this task done. He started meditating intensely for several years and finally Ganga was convinced and descended to the earth. However, there was one big problem; it wasn’t easy to get the Ganga’s wild water down to earth without destroying it. The waters were too powerful for earth to hold. This is where Lord Shiva came into action although it took a lot of effort for Bhagiratha to convince him with endless prayers:

“Please hold it up in your Jeta (matted locks); otherwise my whole effort is a waste”. He tied his Jeta and kept it. But Shiva wouldn’t release it. He simply kept quiet. Then again Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Shiva, “Please release it.”

Eventually Shiva with his endless compassion was content and released the Ganga from his matted locks into seven different rivers to soften the waters impact.

That is the reason why you can see the Ganga on Shiva’s iconography descending straight into and off his forehead. That is also the reason why Shiva is also known as Ganga Pati (Ganga’s husband)

The water of Ganga touched the ashes of Sagar sons who rose to their eternal rest in heaven.

The Seven Streams of Ganga River

The seven streams of Ganga are Bhagirathi, Janhvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati and Alaknanda which merge into Ganga at a place called Devprayag.

The Healing Power of the Ganga

The rock, on which King Bhagirath is believed to have meditated, is called Bhagirath Shila and is located near the temple of Ganga. Until now it is common to believe that even one drop of the Ganga’s water can heal anyone from any disease like it revived the 60,000 sons of King Sagar.