A meandering solo drive around Himachal


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Really ? Do we need another travelogue on Kinnaur & Spiti here ? There are already, maybe 2872 travelogues out there on BCMTouring ! So much so that Yogesh is seriously thinking of specifying a qualification for membership - you ought to have done at least 5 Spiti trips before being allowed in as a member (ha ha) ! So why one more log ?

Well, the state is so beautiful that even the 2873rd travelogue won't be too tiring. And this member loves to hear the sound of his own voice; or at least the sight of his written word ! Plus there is no penalty to adding to the weight of the Travelogues Section. And maybe, there is a hidden snippet or two yet to be told. So, off we go.

A few compromises though. We'll let Sangha Tenzing be in peace. If he had known that camera toting travellers would make a beeline to Gue, he probably would have let the scorpions wreak havoc on the village (the reason it is said he became a mummy). And the tall claim that NH5 is the most treacherous road in the world is complete balderdash ; so no photos of the "infamous" board. I'll also try not to post the same photos of the usual Kinnaur & Spiti vistas - BCMT servers are already groaning with them)

Solo drive, as all my trips are. From Bangalore to Himachal and back. The car - Hyundai Xcent AT. 90,000 kms on the odometer and the heart of a Hercules. This trip was 8000 kms door to door over 30 days of roaming around between mid Sep and mid Oct, 2018. Yes, this was during the time the heavens opened up, washed away the bus, etc etc.


A map of the operational end of the trip, disregarding the dash from Bangalore to Chandigarh and back.


No teasers. After all, what is there to tease about Himachal !


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Some 3000 kms from home, the odyssey really starts (love saying this , almost dismissively). Straightforward dash from Bangalore to Chandigarh via Pune, Ahmedabad, Jaipur & Panipat about which there is nothing to write home about. On the way, I stopped at Kurukshetra though.

People rarely go to Kurukshetra. I wonder why. It was on the way where I was going and I stopped by.

I was fully prepared to find a congested chaotic small town with nothing indicating the Mahabharata. Completely wrong. Its a planned town, very neat and they have immaculately maintained the Brahma Sarovar. This is where the final fight took place as the legend says. Duryodhana was lounging / hiding in this lake when the Pandavas found him, Bhima challenged him to a battle and killed him ending the war. They have also marked symbolically a spot, with a bronze sculpture, to signify the site of the Gitopadesh. Very nice, very clean and although its all modern and we don't even know if the Mahabharata is a fable or history, who cares. Its all in the mind, isn't it.


(the Brahma Sarovar, it's believed)


(peaceful now, but imagine when Bhima and Duryodhana were fighting to the end)


(the site of the Gitopadesh ?)
I have ambivalent feelings towards the Mahabharata War. So, who "won" ? And what did victory even mean ?

No, this is neither the space nor the time for such musing. This is a "pleasure" trip. Not a metaphysical one. So let it all be. Kurukshetra was nice.​


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The Road to McLeodganj

Set off from Chandigarh early in the morning on the road to Dharamsala and McLeodganj. Past Anandpur Sahib , the seat of an impressive Gurudwara, but also the place from where the Akalis passed the Anandpur Sahib resolution in 1973. Past the Bhakra Nangal dam - any person of my vintage would have had it drummed into his or her head of what a fantastic development the dam was, in Social Studies in school ! And then the hills began - these are tiny hills and just an appetiser for things to come. Onwards to Kangra , where I stopped to see the fort.

The Kangra fort is an old one built by the Hindu rulers long ago. It's an impressive citadel and as a defensive position must have been formidable in those days. And yet it was repeatedly overrun, first by Mahmud of Ghazni ( it looks like he had little else to do in life but make repeated forays into India !), then by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, then by Jahangir and then by Ranjit Singh. Just goes to show that no fortress is impregnable, however mighty it might be.


(after all its the second wettest place in the country)


(the river, far below)


(sections of the fort)


(the sort of mountain roads I have come thousands of kms to drive on !)

Finally it was laid low by a massive earthquake early in the 20th century, after which it was abandoned. But a full 100 years later it is still an impressive sight.

Past Kangra it was a short ride to Dharamsala, but I didn't tarry there. I went right up to the congested McLeodganj which is where the home of the Dalai Lama is. Extremely narrow road and steep inclines, coupled with rain - it was a warm up for the sterner driving tests to follow. Have you wondered why this name for the town - such names are of course seen in a fair number of places in Himachal. The Brits loved Himachal and took every opportunity to run away from the heat of Delhi and head for the cooler climes of this state. Places started to be named after the Brits who were there for a long time. There's a Forsythganj as a neighbouring hamlet as well. Messers McLeod and Forsyth were small time bureaucrats of those days - maybe a Commisssioner or a Deputy. They should have long been forgotten. But two things conspired to make them immortal. The Himachalis do not care to rename back every place as the rest of India is wont to do. And secondly, and more importantly, the Dalai Lama came here. Now Mr McLeod's name will live for posterity !


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Freedom in Exile

That's the title of the autobiography of the Dalai Lama and it is in his abode and temple, and the base of the exiled Tibetan community, that I spent a day.

What a come down from the magnificent Pota La. Tibet is two thirds the size of India. Its that large. From such an extensive domain, the Dalai Lama and his exiled followers are now based in narrow, congested, wet, McLeodganj. The temple, the hostel and his abode is tiny. But presumably the freedom, and the respect he and his followers get is the only saving grace.

The temple is small, but serene as all Buddhist temples are. There were no crowds and so it was peaceful. Just spent a lot of time sitting in the temple and absorbing the atmosphere. At noon, the monks emerged to do their peculiar ritual of discussions marked by loud clapping. They pair in two, one sitting and one standing and they discuss vigorously some issue and the standing monk every few seconds emits a loud clap to punctuate a point. The discussions were all in Tibetan - so I couldn't understand a thing !


(the deity at the Dalai Lama Temple)


(monks engaged in Tibetan style debate)

Went to the small adjacent musuem of course, which is just a lament of how bad things are in Tibet and what they have lost.Very sad to see. The entire Tibetan community here is virulently anti Chinese, unsurprisingly.

This is not the place to debate the politics of Tibet. The original fleers along wth the Dalai Lama in 1959 have become old and many are probably no more. The next generation possibly hasn't seen Tibet at all, although there is still a trickle of escapees fleeing to India from there. How long will they be able to keep the culture alive in a foreign land ?

The Dalai Lama wasn't in town He was in the Netherlands , one of the few countries he is able to visit.


(need anything be said !)

McLeodganj, as a town, is a mess. All hill towns in India are like this. I knew this before, of course. But then I came not to see the town. I came to , for just a day, be with the Tibetan community. Freedom is sweet, but exile is not. So what does freedom in exile taste like ? Bitter sweet ?


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Jump off a cliff

A short way down from Dharamsala on the way to Mandi is Bir. A small town, also with a significant Tibetan settlement, Bir is more known as the mecca for paragliding in the country. Or more accurately, the hamlet up above, Billing, is. Another of those Himachal towns named after a Brit - this one's apparently an obscure Scottish Captain ! You take off from Billing and land (hopefully) at Bir. Of course, I had to.

We took off from Billing and soared like a bird for about 15 minutes. Experts soar for 4-5 hours simply riding the thermals - exactly as you see a hawk do high up in the sky. Yours truly is a novice and anyway was in tandem with an expert. You really feel like flying because there isn't anything between you and the wind and of course there is no engine. You are just dangling from a parachute and looking at the scenery below. Hooray.

(just jump ......)

(..... but only if you have this !)

(Soar like a bird)


(and then hopefully come down to land)

The Tibetan colony in Bir is substantial with several monasteries. It is the headquarters of the Netan Chokling, an incarnate lama like the Dalai and Panchen lamas. The current incarnation was born in Bhutan but came here to assume the office. I went to two of the monasteries - Nyingyang and Tsering Jong. Just missed prayer time at Nyingyang - it would have been very nice to listen and join in the chanting.

(the colourfully decorated prayer room at Nyingyang)

(the deity at Nyingyang)


(the way to relax after some hard prayers !)


Super User
Wonderful start, looking forward to your 2873rd travelogue.
True that there are hundreds of Himachal logs here but another truth is that each travelogue puts up a unique experience of travel and enjoyment, so please continue sharing your unique experience and loads of pics here,


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True that there are hundreds of Himachal logs here but another truth is that each travelogue puts up a unique experience of travel and enjoyment, so please continue sharing your unique experience and loads of pics here,
Thank you. So true. Yes, there is hardly any place on earth that has not been visited and yet every new travelogue quickens the senses of even a seasoned traveller.

Black Pearl vkd

Don't Stop, You are just a step away.
Lovely Start...
though there are more than 2872 logs related to Spiti, the craving increases more and more
waiting for more pictures and details