I remember once he said to me, "It will be only once or twice in your lifetime, that you will find yourself in the middle of great adventures. So let's live it to the fullest." Those words came back to me while I was climbing the rugged road to Bhagsu Naag Waterfall amidst the very heavy, lashing rainfall and they did something to me.
We did our bookings 20 days before the trip and those were the longest 50 days (hope you get the idea here). Finally after long, impatient days, the D-day arrived and I came home with all the excitement - ready for an outburst. I still remember the nerve-wrecking, heart-pumping journey to our bus with long red-lines on Google map and never-ending traffic pauses. It brought our hearts in our mouth when the clock was about to hit 19:20 and our auto-rickshaw stopped right in front of the bus all set to leave. Just like you stop a plane which is about to leave the country with your girlfriend inside (imagine your car sliding on the runway and making a screech sound). Thankfully, we reached on time and took a deep breath!
Price: 2400 for two, for one side journey
The journey was very smooth; our bus by Himachal Holiday Tours had an on-time guarantee which relived us from all worries. It stopped twice- once for petrol refilling, another for food. The food stoppage - The Haveli, was decent but alas! Very less women washrooms! 4 loos for a place where at least 40 women arrive every 10-15 minutes. Anyway, this is a plight everywhere! So, we had costly food as the place was really expensive but nice, crafty with good seating and eating options! Tip: Have light food, preferably dal and chapatti and eat well. Have lots of salad- fill your stomach with something that is easy to digest.
Price: 500 for two people
We reached early around 5:30 am and it was raining since the time we entered Punjab. We did check the weather all throughout the 20 days. Everyday without fail. And we knew what we were heading into. So this was predictable. If you are a weather lover, nature admirer like me, you'd love the raindrops and fresh earthen smell of the trees and the fields on your journey (in case you meet the same natural phenomenon ever like we did). If you are an explorer and an avid one like my partner, you'd pray for the rain to stop in the beginning, but will eventually fall in love with how the weather is changing every second.
The McLeodganj bus stand has a lot of Taxi drivers standing to take you to the hotels even at odd hours. We met one local driver who told us that there was a storm last night and there is no power in the Dhramshala district. We crossed our fingers. But the view of Dhramshala down the mountains made us forget everything. It was like a river with colourful, shining coins in the dark. We reached our hotel in 10-15 minutes and he woke the manager up for us.
Taxi Price: 100 rupees
@5 Degrees Celsius - It was chilly, very chilly and the moment we stepped inside the hotel, the intensity of the drizzle changed to harsh, heavy rainfall. We were glad to get in a check-in so early and the room was both cosy and comfortable. I opened all the almira drawers for goodies and blankets and then ran towards the balcony door. In one word - the glimpse of Dhramshala in the dark, moonlit wee hours was - splendid. We decided to sleep for a few hours and then head to the first spot of our unplanned itinerary. I woke up around 7:30, workaholic habit. Slid the curtains to see the view and I was ...spellbound! A huge set of mountains right outside our hotel. I wish - everyone, at least once in their lifetime, sees what we saw back then! Partly snow-clad mountains, clouds floating in from far and the bright sun all hidden -make the view more resplendent.
Balcony Room Price: ~2000 per night for two people
We switched the TV on and shifted a few channels when I went to the balcony to see the view once again. It felt as if it was the best decision I've ever made - apart from many others :P. In a span of a minute or two clouds from both the directions engulfed us in the most amazing, never-imagined way. I was scared and astonished when I saw the lightning shadow from behind the layers of clouds I was in and was literally 'thunderstruck' in the real sense! I tried to capture the moment on film but I was too busy enjoying the hug of the clouds. Then, it started to rain and the clouds began to fade. On second thoughts, I wondered what if the lightning that I saw behind the clouds could have been on me :P It scared me to my wits! :P
The rain that began at that time did not stop for the entire day. We packed our-self in our warm clothes and raincoats and realized we forgot our umbrellas at home. This made us buy 2 umbrellas for ourselves which now serve as a memento of our journey.
The walk down the road to Mcleodganj chowk will always be one of the most memorable beginnings of our journey. We saw how amazing the clouds strike a chord with the mountains and how the sun peeks from behind the peaks, how the breeze takes the drizzle on its shoulders and shakes the trees tall enough to build a 7 storey, how the raindrops try to drench you from behind but wind pushed you ahead, how the chill freezes your face but the drops melt you down. All in all - this is Mcleodganj. We saw a cafe on our way but restricted ourselves for the best. - Potato Momos and Thukpa by Mama's Kitchen!
Price: 160 for two
Our first destination was the main chowk where we had a little hard luck since many of the shops were closed and the side stalls along the road were still not operational. After visiting a small yet beautiful Tibetian temple in the market, we moved to Bhagsu Mandir and the famous Waterfall. It was pouring cats and dogs by the time we reached Bhagsu.
TIP: Always wear gum boots if it’s raining in hills. ALWAYS.
The whole trench to the waterfall is well made but a little risky if you are a novice in climbing. Though there are barriers by the right to prevent falls but at some points there aren't. So keep a check on what are you stepping on and where are you walking. It is a trail to remember. For me, in that heavy rain, it was an adventure. All drenched and wet, we reached the waterfall where there is a small shelter cum view-point on one side and on the other a small sitting area-cafe which you can reach only after crossing the fall. This is the only cafe here apart from the Shiva Cafe which you can reach after an uphill trek. This 10 minutes trek is both steep and dangerous, especially in the rainy season. Since I was petrified already, I saw the waterfall, kept staring at the flow for a few minutes and decided to walk down to the temple. One of the reasons was also because there was too much crowd and I should mention - Smoking crowd! Unlike me, Ashish was very excited to photograph the gushing water from every possible angle with his camera covered in a temporary polythene hack and an umbrella stuck between his neck and hand. I loved to be by his side while he was passionately twisting and turning to find some great angles.
I would emphasize - A few slips and skids are common in this weather but be careful.
I took a breath when we reached the Bhagsu Temple again. We sat and tried to take the water out of our sports shoes but our efforts were all in vain. Nonetheless, the risks and all what came with the rain made it our once in a lifetime adventure!!
We had to gorge on some food now! It was 4 pm and Mcleodganj is also a place to explore cheap, good Tibetian food. We ate a two course meal with two soups and main dish with rice in Hotel Tibet. I satisfied my love for prawns in my milky prawn soup and Ashish savoured something which tasted like chilli chicken, just a little more subtle in spices. Overall-
Price: 500-600 for two
We took an auto to our hotel in Dhramkot and it didn't take much time. Rains were still on, just a little less hard on us.
Auto Price: 50-60 Rupees
That night we watched television. And I have this strange urge to watch TV especially when I am outside my home. I 'have to' watch television especially when I am in the hills. Somewhere inside me there is a part which wants to be a part of the hills and the fluctuating weather and flickering cable connection, hot tea and the mountain view, lights-out and the rainy storms, chill and the blankets, treks and the clouds and I think it's everything I want to be a part of!
Hotel Dinner- Chicken with tawa rotis
Price: Don't exactly remember but close to 250 rupees I guess.
Day 2 began with better weather and more sunlight. Great! Ashish was very excited and seeing all his excitement I became excited too. There's a strange touch of happiness when he is all pumped up and geared up for the day. His focus mixes with his charm and spreads like an aura the moment he tells you how he remembers which way we have to head to and where we came from, on which spot where we an hour ago and where we have to go in another hours! Secretly, I am in awe with his geographic knowledge.
Ahem, so we came down a different way today. The jungle area of Dhramkot village which links to the market is another road to wisdom. We sat by a cafe - Last Chance- and had tea, omelette and maggi. Staple breakfast in a roadside cafe! Adding - Beautiful view.
Price: Average 160 for two
Full charged we walked to St. John Church and had great photographic moments.
TIP: Watch your step, there's a graveyard there!! St John Church will leave a rustic, enigmatic impression in your memory. Hidden behind the long deodars, you will not see it until you visit the road yourself.
If you keep on walking, it will take close to an hour to explore everything and have those moments of historical enlightenment. We walked the entire stretch to and fro! And I made a poem for my walk.
Next we took a taxi to Naddi Village which somehow left us empty handed since it was too cloudy to glance at the snow clad hilltops and TRIUND peaks. But one experience of getting inside a cloud again and breathing the fresh dew will be remembered for sure! It started to drizzle again by the time we left for Dal Lake. Dal lake was too foggy when we reached and we couldn't even spot someone 10 metres away from us. However, by god's grace after a few minutes, just for us, the clouds made way and we had our first look of the lake.
The Dal Lake wasn't dull at all! Though the only scenic trip for you would be the way we saw it through the clouds. It isn't as much appealing if you visit it on a regular day, there has to be something to add more grace or to accessorize the lake. We walked around the boundary with our colourful umbrellas and clicked some great shots.
The encircling can be done within 30 minutes, adding minutes of monkey scare. Yes, you may find some here. Looking back, I thank God we stayed there for a while! We didn't explore the ground behind the lake, rather there isn't much to explore there. So we decided to head back to the main market. The trip was a little expensive, but you don't have any other option. Even the autos charge you somewhat the same.
Price: 600 for both places but a private taxi/car
It was almost evening by the time we came back. Last spot was the sunset at Dalai Lama Temple. We decided to walk till the monastery with magnificent views Serene and beautiful place with monks praying in unison, swinging the prayer wheels and ringing the bells!
Cost for Pakodas & chicken - 200 rupees.
It was our last night in Mcleodganj and we wanted to make the best of it. So we pulled the chairs outside, set up a table and said - cheers! 101th reason to buy a balcony room in the hills! We talked about clouds, distant lights, peaks with snow, love and words kept flowing. I even had to knock on the room next door and ask the just-checked-in Spanish ladies to switch their balcony lights off since it was killing the night view for our Milky Way photographs. Rude me :P
Next I remember was Ashish calling my name all-elated and excited while 'rushingly'- if that is a word- wearing his shoes. I saw him, thought of nothing, slid my feet into the shoes partly and rushed behind him. He headed to the terrace and started to set up the camera when I realized what he was doing...it was the sunrise! Slowly the peaks were lit up with the sunlight and I started to wake up with it. The clouds went away to greet the sun and faded on the way. The sky turned clear blue and the chill embraced the warmth with ease. I was adamant to leave early so we ordered a hearty breakfast and got ready slowly, drying our shoes, still wet and slightly burnt with the heater. Thankfully, we had our foot mittens with us. We left the room by 11 and walked uphill the jungle road bidding goodbye to our hotel.
My adventurous better half was in a complete trek mood and mode so we headed to the famous Gallu Devi Temple. Finally we were on a real trek!
I was exhausted mid-way and it looked like the journey would never end but with every step, the view became better and better. We reached the peak in an hour or more and I touched SNOW! My first ever snow encounter!
We went around the temple for better view and talked to the locals regarding the place and the trek to Triund.
TIP: For Triund, make sure you don't make hasty plans and check the weather multiple times in two weeks before you head to the trek as the weather here is quite unpredictable sometimes. We heard the avalanche reports coming from all over North India and the Triund Trek was closed for a week or more.
Last but not the least, we came back to our hotel because it was so heavenly and had a sumptuous meal before heading to our bus.
TIP: Never have anything right before you enter the bus. NEVER. Else you'll end up puking and becoming a victim of mountain sickness.... like us! We had muffins! Just like that....
See you after the journey,