India
Himachal Pradesh

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Top 10 Travel Destinations Himachal Pradesh

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  • Day55

    Himachal Pradesh

    January 28, 2019 in India ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    We contracted with the driver who took us to the Wagah Border Closing to also drive us up into the foothills of the Himalayas. It was t hour trip from Amritsar to Dharamshala. McLeod Gang is a town just above where the Dalai Lama resides. The whole area is filled with Tibetan monks, nuns, and refugees from the Chinese religious purges. I picked the area because I wanted to get a glimpse of the Himalayas. I'd also heard there were some good walks and some seasonal birding.

    Our first day in the area we walked through McLeod Gang and visited the central temple. Signs along the entrance road depict those lost in the Chinese purges. One of those disappeared is described as the world's youngest political prisoner. In the early 1990s the Dalai Lama chose a successor in a young Tibetan boy. Within days the Chinese government had swept him off along with his whole family. Only the Chinese government knows of his whereabouts. The Chinese also chose a puppet Lama to take his place. The temple itself is a pretty simple place. A central temple with dormitories and buildings set on a knob at the end of a ridgeline. They are concrete structures without a lot of charm. There are bulletin boards with details about the Dalai Lama's next set of teachings. Bring water and warm clothes because the teachings last a while and it is pretty cold up there in the mornings.

    We stayed at a pension run by the Norbulinka Institute which is based on a local Tibetan temple grounds. It is dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture and offers workshops in Tibetan art forms. Nancy spent two full days of embroidery working one on one with a nun from a monastery in the neighborhood. I took trips into town and spent a couple of days walking and birding. I also visited a Royal Enfield dealership where I was given hot chai and told about the latest models. The smaller 350cc bikes cost around $2k with a 500cc models going for around 3. We also spent day riding a small old British train up the Kangra valley. The views of the snowy mountains were great.

    The relaxed Tibetan culture represented a nice break from the nonstop business and intensity of India. Everyone up there is pretty chill. The food was a nice break too. We found Mothuk, their vegetable dumpling soup, to be the perfect way to warm ourselves up in the chilly climes.

    On one of my outings I met a driver named Hari. As soon as I got into his cab he handed me a postcard and said the he'd been in a Netflix movie filmed by a couple of Swedish documentarians. 'When Hari got Married' is a really good film about traditional culture shifts. We watched it the night before he drove us some six hours down out of the mountains. It felt like we knew him before we got in the car.
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  • Day270

    Vipassana Meditation

    May 26, 2018 in India

    A 10 day Vipassana meditation course is an individual experience for everyone, thus this post is written from Silke’s perspective. Hauke didn’t finish the course anyway because of too much pain from sitting cross-legged, meditation wasn’t possible anymore, so he quit on day 8.

    I had never done something similar before and these ten days were not holiday at all.
    No other activities were allowed, no talking, no phones, no reading, no writing, no music, no exercising, nothing. It was not allowed to walk out of the course boundaries. Men and women are separated during the whole time of the course (the longest time for us since we left for this trip, and the longest time we spent in one place). Basically everything that brings joy was prohibited. Sounds almost like being in jail, right? But as the Vipassana center of Dharamkot is located in the middle of a pine forest it feels not. It’s an absolutely calm and peaceful place, completely fenced off from busy McLeod Ganj, perfect to calm down your mind and learn a meditation technique.

    And what made it even more perfect were the great volunteers and assistant teachers. There was nothing I had to take care of. They prepared the meals, organized a laundry service and made sure that we students could solely focus on the meditation.

    Most of the meditation were group sittings in a large hall and a part of it in our rooms and the ten hours of daily meditation were quite challenging, both physically and mentally.

    Try to sit cross-legged just for one hour with a straight back without moving or stretching any parts of your body and you know what I mean. When I looked at the strong Indian women around me who were sitting there like little Buddhas, like rocks, it felt like ‘this is not fair’, but they’re used to it and us westerners are not. This is the physical aspect.

    Mentally it was demanding too, of course, as learning a meditation technique is hard mental work. Especially during the first days it was really hard for me to calm down all my thoughts. Quite often I found myself in a situation where my mind just kept on wandering away, sometimes for minutes before I realized it. Then I had to remember myself to focus on the meditation again.

    During the first three days, the meditation was all about focussing on the breath, a simple observation of the air flow in the area around the nostrils, nothings else. But it can be so difficult! And so frustrating, if you realize that you can not even control your mind for a minute to do this simple job!

    At the end of the third day, we were taught the actual Vipassana meditation technique, which is about an objective observation of sensations throughout the whole body, simply put. If you can not even focus on your breath, how can you do that, for an hour or longer!? “Work continuously, diligently, persistently, objectively!”, to repeat S.N. Goenka ‘refrain’, or “work hard!”.

    I went through many ups and downs during this course, some sittings felt quite successful, some frustrating and I did not know how I was going to make it to the end of the course. But it is very important, and this is a crucial aspect of this technique, to see the things as they are, without craving, without aversion. It is what it is, some session are good, some are not, it doesn’t matter.

    However, somehow I did get through it, which made me realize that I’m much stronger than I think I am. After the long time in silence it was finally a relief to talk again, to get to know the people I’d been sitting in the hall and sleeping in the same room with for 10 days, to share our experiences. Thus, a long night was followed by an even more intense chatting during last meal the next morning :)

    What I learned as well is that happiness comes from within. I thought I already knew this, but I came to truly and deeply experience this at the course. I realised that despite what was going on at anytime, I could choose to be happy if I wanted to.

    Be happy,
    with much Metta,
    Silke
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  • Day312

    Bye bye, Himachal!

    July 7, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    And there it was, finally: Rain! What a weird feeling to cycle through the rain again, but we actually enjoyed it that the rainy season eventually had caught us - although some showers from overtaking trucks were a bit too much of the wet element.

    We found a nice family running a guesthouse in a quiet, hilly area near Chail. When they proudly showed us the surroundings of their home, we could feel that they care a lot about the environment and their health.
    They produce their own organic food in some small fields and in a greenhouse, like
    peas, pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, pepper, onions, chilies, potatoes, beetroot, apple, apricot - two cows give fresh milk every day... And with these fresh ingredients they prepared some of the most delicious meals we had in India, thus we had to extend our stay there :)

    There were two birthdays in the big family, so we also got to know other members - we’re so happy about this authentic familial experience towards the end of our journey, thanks a lot Param!

    And then we absolutely wanted to pitch our tent one last time, and there was only one night left before our train to Delhi would leave from Kalka. Actually, we’ve developed quite a sense to make out possible camping areas on our maps during the last months - but this time we were wrong: Aiming at a hilly area near Solan, still marked as a forest on the maps, we were surprised how fast this village must have been exploded and eaten up the greens. It was so crowded, difficult to cross, so much construction going on, but we didn’t give up. Just before dawn we found a spot in the curve of a steep serpentine, apparently only used by pedestrians, and we were so glad! Even the view was quite nice from there though.

    The roads became busier next day, the traffic gradually increased and soon, we found ourselves back in dusty, bustling India again: Bye bye Himachal Pradesh...

    In the evening we reached the train station in Kalka which is equipped with a parcel office and, surprisingly, a dorm room. While the helpful guys in the office took care of our bikes we could even find some sleep till the departure of our train in the morning - we’re coming to like the Indian railway system more and more :)
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  • Day272

    Where the Dalai Lama lives

    May 28, 2018 in India

    We didn’t get the chance to see the Dalai Lama in person (which became quite difficult since his popularity has reached incredible dimensions), but he's omnipresent in McLeod Ganj anyway. Photos of him and his sayings, his texts, his books are everywhere, in any shape or size, in his temple, in the countless restaurants, cafés, shops, guesthouses and hotels.

    Most of the people living here are Tibetan refugees who worship their spiritual leader. They benefit from the booming tourism, enjoy the peace and freedom of this place, always smiling. But when they tell their moving stories about their escape from Tibet, we can feel that they miss their country, their home.

    While Silke was finishing her Vipassana, Hauke helped out at a local environmental project, supporting Tibetan women in a paper recycling factory, all handicraft, and definitely a great experience with the cheerful women.

    Otherwise, we recharged our cycling batteries with delicious food, even some Italian, and prepared ourselves for the upcoming weeks. After all, we still had grand plans for the last weeks of our journey...
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  • Day289

    Record-breaking Spiti

    June 14, 2018 in India

    Isn’t it on the dice that the spectacular location of the Spiti Valley could make some good advertisement to attract tourists?
    Of course it is and that’s what the tourism department of Himachal Pradesh does (and the local population chuckles about): They claim to have the highest bridge in Asia, the highest village in the world, the highest city in the world, the highest post office in the world, the highest rooftop café in the world and so on...

    It works, the tourists are coming, but most of it isn’t the truth and altitude indications on the signposts are always doubtful. We trust our GPS, our maps and enjoy our time, record yes or no :)
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  • Day257

    Leaving the heat below

    May 13, 2018 in India

    Cycling on nice side roads with little traffic through the countryside was beautiful - from time to time we could even see snow-covered mountains in the distance. That’s where we wanted to go to escape the heat, it was our strong motivation, at this time temperatures had already reached 45 degrees in Delhi. In the end, we were a bit surprised how fast we had climbed up to Dharamsala, respectively McLeod Ganj. Was it really our fitness level or just the heat lighting a fire under us?

    And people are somehow different since we are in Himachal, more friendly, more relaxed, more up for good conversations, not just staring at us like they did in the plains. Thus, we really enjoyed our first time camping in India, with visitors of course, but they were nice, curious and wanted to ride our bikes.

    Did we already mention that we can’t get enough of mangos, melons and bananas? Not a single day passes without buying a kilo of mangos, till our panniers burst, yummy :)
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  • Day275

    Oh no, Manali

    May 31, 2018 in India

    We enjoyed lots of downhill, green tea plantations, little traffic and went down to Mandi where the heat overwhelmed us again. There was no other option, but from here on it would go only up, up, up.

    We chose a side road, slept in a temple for the first time and found the road flooded by the Beas river the next morning. A guy on the other side of the valley shouted that we should wait... The water level is controlled by a hydro power plant and after an hour we could continue.

    The further we went towards Manali, the more touristy it became, some whole villages seem to live from either whitewater rafting or paragliding.
    The booking counters along the road are all licensed and numbered, ranging to numbers higher than 1000(!). How can they live from that? We could count the rafting boats on the river on the fingers of one hand that day...

    Manali turned out to be our (negative) climax then: In fact, every Indian tourist we met till we got there, told us they would go there - and how beautiful it is... We were shocked when we found ourselves within a massive traffic jam in and around the dusty, dirty city. It was so overcrowded, noisy and just getting on our nerves that staying there was no option - after about an hour we probably had overtaken all cars again which had overtaken us earlier that day. Let’s scram!

    We should be lucky to find a lovely and peaceful place with a great host and great cook later that day and decided to take a rest day there :)
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  • Day278

    Happy coincidence

    June 3, 2018 in India

    After Manali was out of sight, we patiently went from one accommodation to another but they were all booked, or the prices were off the roof. So we’re lucky to find the homestay of Barnet‘s family, booked out as well, but they offered us to pitch our tent in their beautiful apple and cherry orchard.

    Sometimes when we arrive somewhere, we have this feeling that an accommodation is going to be really nice and comfortable, like in this case, and it’s mostly because of the people. While still pitching our tent we already asked if we could stay longer.

    Barnet, his family and Sujeed the cook know every tree in Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti, are full-blooded nature lovers and have probably climbed any peak in this region. Consequently, we had great conversations and they really raised our appetite to cycle through Lahaul and Spiti, our upcoming adventure :) On top of that, they run a rooftop café with a 360 degrees view of the surrounding mountains and amazing food. Thus, we left well prepared and well fed for the first hurdle on our way to Spiti, the Rohtang Pass, let’s go!
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  • Day282

    A true dirt road

    June 7, 2018 in India

    Behind the pass, most people turn left to go to Leh in Ladakh on a paved road. We turned right to continue to Spiti - and the adventure began immediately. Some oncoming motorbikers warned us of the rising water levels. A few kilometers later we found ourselves within the icy waters of the first waterfall we had to cross, many more with knee-deep water followed and it somehow raised our fun factor to see how much more cars and even motorbikes were struggling than us.

    Actually you can’t call the ‘connection’ between Rohtang Pass and Kunzum La Pass (4550m) a road. It’s the only way, only open from June to September, and it’s just a horrible path. The little villages are abandoned most time of the year. Due to the icy crossings, the high altitude and the debris, our effort to move on was enormous, we needed a week to cycle the 100km. Sometimes the road turns into a river, sometimes it felt like bobbing from one rock to another.

    But we actually knew this before and we wanted this challenge, we knew that the area we’re going in is one of the most remote and disaster prone in the world, there is no network, not much food, no infrastructure at all. Shooting stones and landslides are daily fare. We were quite lucky when the ‘path’ became impassable after a massive landslide, just the day after we reached the last village before Kunzum La where many travelers got stuck then.

    After these few days, the beauty of the landscape, the remoteness, the silence, the starry sky, the thrill had already paid out in full. And there was a lot more to come up...impressions will follow :)
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  • Day294

    Pin Valley

    June 19, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    Coming to Kaza, which is the headquarter of Lahaul and Spiti, felt a bit like entering back into civilization, we could choose from menus in the various restaurants, there were hotels, guesthouses and souvenir shops, a fruit and vegetable market. But still, power outages came frequent and there was no mobile network. At least two places have set up a wifi, which worked a little between 2 and 3 am when the town was sleeping. It was the first time after 10 days that we could send and receive messages and unfortunately there was not only good news: Silke’s Grandma had died already a week ago... :(

    To mourn and to make other thoughts come, we decided to leave Kaza again. Therefore we had to get an ‘Inner Line Permit’ for an upcoming stretch of 28km. A typical, nerve-racking Indian bureaucracy act with many pass-photos and lots of paperworks followed. There’s only one road, thus every foreigner has to undergo this useless process. The official reason is that we would get as close as a stone’s throw from the Tibetan border...however, it is what it is.

    We cycled into the Pin Valley which we also call ‘Windy Valley’ since we went in and out due to heavy gusty winds. The winds occasionally pushed us to a standstill but the valley is beautiful and still a bit off the beaten track, overall a worthy detour. It’s a side valley formed by the Pin River which merges with the Spiti River.

    As we entered, there was a transformation from the stone desert to acres of greenery and green mountains. There’s a chain of lovely villages and (not muddy) Mud is the last one and a dead end apart from a few hiking paths.

    People are so hospitable there (they tried hard to enable us watching the Germany match against Mexico, which didn’t work...and we’re quite happy about now) that we decided to stay longer. We enjoyed the peace of this place, went for a nice walk and enjoyed tons of ‘Tibetan pizza’ (which is actually just a sandwich of two simple chapatis with some veggies and cheese in between, fried in a pan, but delicious!).
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You might also know this place by the following names:

State of Himāchal Pradesh, State of Himachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, هيماجل برديش, হিমাচল প্ৰদেশ, Хімачал-Прадэш, Химачал Прадеш, हिमाचल प्रदेश, হিমাচল প্রদেশ, ཧི་མ་ཅལ་མངའ་སྡེ།, Himáčalpradéš, ހިމާޗަލް ޕްރަދޭޝް, Χιμάτσαλ Πραντές, Himaĉal-Pradeŝo, هیماچال پرادش, હિમાચલ પ્રદેશ, הימאצל פרדש, Himačal Pradeš, Himácsal Prades, ヒマーチャル・プラデーシュ州, ჰიმაჩალ-პრადეში, ಹಿಮಾಚಲ ಪ್ರದೇಶ, 히마찰프라데시 주, Himācala Pradeśa, Himačal Pradešas, Himāčala Pradēša, ഹിമാചൽ പ്രദേശ്‌, Himačl Prdeš, ହିମାଚଳ ପ୍ରଦେଶ, ਹਿਮਾਚਲ ਪ੍ਰਦੇਸ਼, ہماچل پردیش, Himachal Pradexe, Химачал-Прадеш, हिमाचलप्रदेशराज्यम्, හිමාචල් ප්‍රදේශ්, இமாச்சலப் பிரதேசம், హిమాచల్ ప్రదేశ్, Ҳимочал Прадеш, รัฐหิมาจัลประเทศ, Himaçhal Pradeş, Хімачал-Прадеш, 喜马偕尔邦