It’s been a while since I shared my Dubai travel story. I’ve been travelling at least once in every 2-3 months, but unable to share the stories on the blog. Life has been quite occupied for the past few months. Having said that, I’m not going anywhere without sharing my stories here. I’ve a couple of them lined up for you. So, stay glued.
I went on a 14 days backpacking trip to North of India in the month of December in 2017. I wasn’t completely aware of what I was getting into, but it turned out to be quite an adventure. From feeling the snow for the first time to being stuck on a rock in the pitch black night while trekking to Kheer Ganga, this is going to be fun. Let’s get to it.
Destination: North India (Amritsar, Dharamshala, Manali, Kasol, Kheer Ganga, Chandigarh)
Time Spent: 14 Days 13 Nights
Date: December 2017
Type: Almost Solo + Almost Leisure
Total Cost: INR 14,000
Chapter 1 – The setup
Irish Friend in Thailand • Speculations
I’d just finished working on a Dubai-based project and was eyeing for my next travel. David – an Irish friend of mine (whom I became friends with while exploring Thailand) had planned to visit India in the month of December. While we were in Thailand, we’d vaguely discussed the possibility of exploring North of India, together. Fortunately, we were able to figure out a period when we could get together to travel.
Both being first-timers to North India, we didn’t have much idea about what we were looking at. We didn’t want to plan an itinerary, but wanted to check the route in order to optimise our travel. With the help of the internet and friends, we decided Amritsar as a starting point and roughly figured the nearby locations.
And hey, I also bought a basic DSLR a week before commencing my travel. I’m in the process of developing photography as a skill. Instagram is the best place to keep a track of my photo journey.
What went in my bag you might ask?
This being a backpacking trip, I carried a 45 litres Wildcraft rucksack and a laptop bag (Yes, I carried my work along).
Stuff like phone charger, spectacles, glares, deodorant, hand gloves, wallet that I needed quick access to, went in my laptop bag. I also put my DSLR camera in the same bag. I avoid carrying a separate camera bag when I’m already carrying my laptop bag. This makes things simpler for me.
All the other regular items like clothes, undies, soap, oil, etc. went into the rucksack. I obviously like to travel light. So, I avoid carrying more than 2 jeans, 3-4 shorts, 1 jacket and 5-6 t-shirts or shirts on a trip like this.
Remember, folding is the key when you’re packing your bags for travel.
Chapter 2 – Amritsar
Rough Beginnings • Reunion • The Golden Temple
I made a reservation for 2 with Backpackers Nest hostel in Golden Temple area and took a flight from Mumbai to Amritsar. This was a connecting flight from Delhi and Delhi was where I was supposed to re-unite with David.
There was a layover of 4 hours at Delhi. I’d been waiting for David to contact me once he lands in Delhi. 4 hours passed by and the boarding to the Amritsar flight had already begun, but David wasn’t to be seen. I boarded the flight without David and only when I asked the cabin crew to look into David’s booking, I was made aware of the fact that David hadn’t even checked in. He missed the flight.
I landed in Amritsar around 4 am and received a message from David saying there was heavy snowfall in Frankfurt due to which his flight was delayed. I took the local rickshaw to the hostel and David met me there in the afternoon.
I use Google Trips to get an understanding of the place I’m visiting. This gives me a fair idea about the place and help plan my travel.
Amritsar is a very touristy city in the state of Punjab and has limited places to look around. As soon as I made it to the hostel, I made friends with this fellow traveller from Kerala – Arun.
It’s said that The Golden Temple has very contrasting views during the daylight and dark of the night. Hence, I and Arun took a walk to The Golden Temple early in the morning and then again in the evening (We were joined by David this time). It’s true what’s been said about The Golden Temple. Such a peaceful and welcoming place it is.
We looked around the Partition Museum, Jalianwala Bagh and the local market. It isn’t time consuming at all since it’s all in the same area. We also wanted to visit the Wagah Border, but were running short of time and hence we decided against it.
Chapter 3 – Dharamshala
McLeod Ganj • Freezing Nights • Long Walks • Farewell
Me and David spent only a night in Amritsar and got on a local bus to Dharamkot from Amritsar Bus Stand in the morning. Arun parted ways to Rajasthan. Now, we decided to get on a connecting bus to Dharamshala, because we didn’t wanted to wait for a direct bus. Yes, there are direct buses to Dharamshala from Amritsar.
Total journey ticket from Amritsar to Dharamshala cost us around INR 300 and took around 7 hours to reach Dharamshala. I didn’t really find it tiring because of the beautiful views on the way.
We reached Dharamshala Bus Stand around 7 pm and it was pitch black by then. It usually gets dark by 6:30 pm during winter in the North of India. We took a cab to the hostel as soon as we got out of the bus. You can also get on a local bus from Dharamshala Bus Stand to McLeod Ganj provided you arrive before 6:30 pm. Majority of the state transport and local buses stop operating after 6:30 pm in Himachal Pradesh.
We were staying at Hotel Backpackers Inn in McLeod Ganj. It was an amazing hostel with a beautiful view. However, it got freezing cold during the night here. The blankets somehow weren’t providing enough warmth. Fortunately, the staff was quite helpful and they tried to compensate the cold with extra pair of blankets.
Pro Tip: If visiting a cold place, always check if the hostel/hostel provides nylon blankets to keep you warm in the bed.
The next day, we got ready early in the morning, even before dawn to explore Dharamshala. This was the day of long walks. We checked out The Tibet Museum on our way to Namgyal Monastery. Damn, this place had real peaceful vibes.
We then decided to walk the long walk (about 2 hours) to the Dharamshala Cricket Stadium and also checked out other sites like War Memorial on our way. If you’re a cricket fan, you already know how beautiful this cricket stadium of Dharamshala is. What better place to watch the game in the lap of mountains and trees. We didn’t get to watch the game here, got a free entry to the stadium though.
Next, we took the surreal road to the tea plantation. And lord, I got a feeling that I was walking in one of the sets of Game of Thrones. We decided to get a cab to our way back to the hotel. McLeod Ganj is an uphill place, so naturally it was a lot easier walking down, but the same can’t be said for getting there.
Had some great Tibetan food at a local restaurant and went back to bed. The next day was another long walk day. This time to the Dal Lake and St. John in the Wilderness Church.
I decided to visit Manali, but David wanted to stay. He was exhausted with the commute and didn’t wanted to spend his entire vacation hopping places in buses. So, we bid each other a farewell and I was on my way to Manali.
Chapter 4 – Manali
Amazing Hostel • More Friends • The Adventure Valley
In order to save a day, I took an overnight semi-sleeper bus to Manali from Dharamshala. This bus was supposed to depart at 11 pm from Dharamshala Bus Stand, but was running late by 3 hours. That left me and a bunch of dudes from Orissa waiting at the bus stand in freezing cold. Thanks to the local dogs, they kept me good company.
I got on the bus and straight away went to sleep. Next morning, I woke up to a flurry of people vomiting in the polythene bags provided by the bus conductor. And soon, I was in Manali.
I’d never seen snow until this point in my life. And fortunately, it’d snowed in Manali just a day ago. I took a cab to Backpacker Panda Manali and was greeted with a nice welcome kit at the hostel. Now, all hostels have their merits and demerits, but this was by far the best hostel during the whole of my North India trip.
The best part about Backpacker Panda Manali was its common area. It had a nice fireplace to keep the room warm, selection of board games, guitar and to top it all, a pet rabbit of the size of a puppy. Most of the travellers staying here hung out during evening and the party went on till the night. We were also joined by the hostel staff and they were as good as they get.
I made a lot of new friends here. A Filmmaker from South Africa – Josh, a Yoga teacher from Peru – Sofia, an Entrepreneur from Delhi – Ujjwal, 2 friends from Hyderabad – Charan & Sharan and a couple from West Bengal (Guy) & Singapore (Girl). Sorry, don’t remember their names, were unusual ones.
I’d already done some local site-seeing on my first day in Manali and went to Solang Valley the next morning with my newly-made friends. This was obviously a very touristy outing, but I enjoyed it a lot owing to the company I had. And oh, Josh got lost into the woods while filming. He wasn’t carrying a local sim and his phone battery had died. So, neither could we contact him nor could he get in touch with us.
We looked for him for a couple of hours and eventually had to inform the local police of his missing. We received a call from Josh when we reached back Manali. Fortunately, he’d got in touch with the same police man and he helped him out with placing a call to us. Solang Valley truly turned out to be an Adventure Valley.
Chapter 5 – Kasol
New Travel Mates • Shut Down
The next day, I was set to travel to Kasol and was accompanied by Josh and Sofia. We took a connecting bus to Kasol via Bhuntar. We reached Bhuntar by 7 pm and as a result couldn’t get a local bus to Kasol from there (Remember, the 6:30 pm rule?). Hence, we’d to take a private cab to Kasol which cost us INR 900 after a lot of bargaining.
Oh, by the way, we gave a lift to a random hitchhiker on our way. And guess what, he decided to stay with us at Kasol 😛
We reached Kasol by 9:30 pm and to our surprise, a lot of the hostels in Kasol were temporarily shut down by the High Court due to some licensing issues. So, we’d to look for some decent hotel to spend the night. And we stumbled upon Hotel Blue Diamond.
This hotel looked a little shady, but turned out to be a decent one. Since it was an off season and we only wanted to spend a night, we were able to get a room for 4 at about INR 1,200.
As planned earlier, we checked out from the hotel the next morning and went out for breakfast. Now, there wasn’t much to see around Kasol since most of the hotels and cafes were shut down. Sofia had to get back to Delhi due to upset stomach, the hitchhiker parted ways as well. Me and Josh decided to head to Tosh – a small village 1:30 hours away from Kasol.
Chapter 6 – Kheer Ganga
Go with the Flow • Keep Walking or Die • Heaven on Earth
We were waiting for the bus at the bus stand in Kasol when we met this 3 dudes from Delhi. They were no strangers to Kasol, they’d been here a couple of times. As we started to converse with them, we discovered that they were headed towards Kheer Ganga trek. Since we didn’t really have a plan, we decided to just join them on their trek.
So, we got on a bus to Barsheni (Small village near Kheer Ganga trek). This was also the last stop for those who wanted to trek to Kheer Ganga. Now, we’d reached this place around 4 pm, which means no fucking way we could start our trek to Kheer Ganga.
We climbed the mountain for about 40 minutes and reached the tiny village of Kalga. This was where we were supposed to spend the night. The place where we stayed for the night was a wooden cottage. We were 5 dudes and had to pay only INR 500 for 2 rooms for 1 night. That’s a meagre amount of INR 100 per person. The cottage had all the basic facilities and a common toilet.
Raj – owner of this facility was a one man show. He took care of the facility, did the cleaning, cooked food, cut wood for bonfire and also sold weed & hash.
We’d ample amount of Old Monk, soft drink to mix it up, nice smelling joints, delicious food as prepared by Raj and a bottle of local alcohol. We were chilling by the bonfire and this 1 dude amongst those 3 turned out to be a Musician. Of course, he carried his guitar and we jammed from our hearts.
We were also kept good company by the mountain dogs. I grew very fond of this one dog in particular. He was a huge brown furry dog and resembled a bear. Naturally, I named him ‘Bhalu’ (Hindi for a bear). The whole time he stayed by my feet and comforted me with his warmth. That night, was a lovely one indeed.
The next morning at 11:30 am, we were on our feet for the trek to Kheer Ganga. The route was already breathtaking and only got more beautiful as we marched forward. We found snow on our way pretty early, which isn’t how it’s supposed to be. But, since we had a second-timer with us, we trusted him with the route,
We realised we took the wrong route after we were about 3 hours into our journey. The trek to Kheer Ganga is ideally done through 2 mountains. One of which is barely covered with any snow and the later is heavily covered with snow. There’s a bridge that connects the 2 mountains.
Anyway, we continued walking. It was 6 pm already and we were far from our destination. We couldn’t stop now, so we just kept walking. As time passed 6:30 pm, it got darker and we had no option but to keep walking in the dark.
At a certain point, we seemed to have lost our way and found it too risky to proceed. There were about 15-20 more travellers trekking their way to Kheer Ganga. None of them seemed to gather the courage to move forward. This was a narrow cliff we were walking through and just had enough space for a single person to pass by. We picked our spots and collectively decided to not move forward and spend the rest of the night where we were.
I wasn’t too sure of the others, but the area where I was sitting at was right at the passage of water. I could clearly feel the water passing through my butt-crack and it felt as if the ground below me was sliding down the cliff. Of course, I wasn’t going to be able to hold my ground for much longer. So, I just sat there and hoped for a way out.
Then came an angel with a moustache. The narrow cliff and the frightened faces didn’t seem to bother him a bit. Against the advice of these frightened faces, he decided to go ahead and look for a way. And he found it in style. The way forward was obviously a difficult one, but we’d to just follow the moustached angel. He seemed to know what he was doing and provided enough confidence to be trusted with our lives.
And so, we kept walking forward, one cautious step at a time. 2 more hours in our journey and we made it to the heaven -ous Kheer Ganga by 9 pm. One heck of an adventure this turned out to be. But, the view at the top of this mountain made it up for everything.
There were nice and cozy camps here, covered entirely with snow-white-ish snow. One could spend the night for as low as INR 500 for a room. I also got to taste some of the finest marijuana here. Nope, I didn’t buy any, the folks here were kind enough to share.
The way these folks of the mountain smoked their ‘Chillum’ (a small pipe used for smoking cannabis) is a whole another story in itself. They’d a whole holy process of lighting it up and they accepted it as the ‘Prasad’ (a devotional offering made to a god) of Lord Shiva. They made some weird howls and chanted “Alak Niranjan”, “Nandi ki Sawaari…Baba!” while preparing the ‘Chillum’. Quite a fancy way to smoke up, right?
That night, I’d the sleep of my life. Had that fulfilling feeling from within. As if I’d achieved something truly just for myself. And that feeling will forever live with me 😇
The next morning we took a bath in the holy hot water spring of Kheer Ganga. This was no ordinary water, it contained ‘Malai’ (I’ll leave this one for you to Google) in it. Hence the name – Kheer Ganga.
We had some food and were back on our feet to fetch a warm goodbye to the mountains of Kheer Ganga. The downward journey only took us somewhere near 6 hours. No hassles what so ever 🙂
Chapter 7 – Chandigarh
Friend of a Friend • Charismatic City • Comfort
We spent the night again at Raj’s cottages and left for Bhuntar the next morning. This was farewell to Josh as he was headed to Dharamshala and I to Chandigarh. Over these few days, we’d grown very fond of each other and hence the goodbye felt a little sad. Josh is an absolutely amazing guy to hang out with and he’s still on his Indian adventure.
I reached Chandigarh at about 8 pm and was welcomed by a friend of a friend – Uzair. Uzair is a good friend of one my very close friends – Shubham back here in Mumbai. Staying with Uzair made Chandigarh relatively easy for me to explore. He’d already run me through some common sites and recommended a few other places too.
Sukhna Lake, Rock Garden, Rose Garden and Sector 17 were some of the places that I checked out in Chandigarh. What I liked the most about Chandigarh was its neatly organised and super clean habitation. Without a doubt, it has to be the best city in India I’ve visited till date.
Chandigarh also provided the required comfort and relaxation just before I returned to my routine.
Chapter 8 – The learnings
Reflections and Takeaways
I travelled to Delhi by a state transport bus and took the flight back to Mumbai 3 days after exploring Chandigarh. As every travel does, this one too took me through some memorable experiences.
Here are a few learnings from my backpacking trip to North India.
- Travel isn’t all about planning, it’s about living in the moment and embracing what’s lined up next for us.
- If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’re in for wonderful stories from all around.
- Approach and greet – that’s all you need to do to make new friends.
- Hope is the strongest of all 4 letter words, don’t lose it.
Cut to present day, I’m just back from my weekend getaway to Diveagar beach near Alibaug. Prior to this, I spent about a week in South & North of Goa. These stories are lined up next for you.
Have you also been travelling off lately? Have some stories to share? I’m all ears to it, you can link it down in the comments.
Remember, life is all about the chances that you take and the choices that you make.
I hope you make the choice to take the chances and start travelling if you aren’t already.
See you around 🙂
P. S. I’ve made some of my best shots from the trip available on Unsplash. You can head over to my profile and download the high-res photos and use it in your personal or commercial projects for absolutely free.