When I think of my Himachal time, it seems to me that I have not seen and experienced soooo much. When I look at my blog posts, I think it has been a good abundance after all. Why it seems so little to me is perhaps because so many areas of Himachal are still open, as I haven’t travelled there. I don’t mean the lower areas at the foot of the mountains, but the northwest, i.e. Lahaul and the Dhauladar Range. I also did “only” two treks, although there are many more. When I stood in the pic above in the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in Delhi, I had no idea what the journey would be like.
But it is also true that Himachal Pradesh is a very diverse state with very different areas – whether in terms of landscape or culture. And that is exactly what I find exciting and attractive about a trip there. With (German) tour operators, Himachal plays a rather small role compared to other regions of India. At first I thought that one of the reasons was that the mountains look like the Alps. But that’s not really true, the mountains are very varied and different from the Alps. Besides, when you get back to the bottom, you realise that you are in India and not in Europe.
What is sometimes difficult about Himachal are the damages due to weather. In summer, there are heavy monsoons and thus often landslides and broken roads. But in the meantime, people are more advanced in knowing how to build better and repair them faster. This year it was particularly bad, which is why most of the mainly Indian travellers stayed away. However, this also had advantages for me: it was not so crowded and some of the accommodation prices dropped quite low. On the other hand, some routes took quite a long time. Especially at the beginning of the trip, it became clear to me how important flexibility is – when things just don’t work out the way you thought they would. And I have to prepare my travellers well for that.
In principle, you can feel very comfortable in Himachal Pradesh – there is pleasant accommodation in many places, the people are nice and helpful (Sonam had also noticed this, who knows it differently from other parts of India), the landscape is always pretty and sometimes overwhelming, there are interesting encounters and also some good roads. In any case, I am very positive and would like to arrange more frequent trips there.
My goals for this Himachal trip were the following:
The Tirthan Valley is between Banjar and the Great Himalayan National Park, but I now include everything between Jalori Pass and Kullu Valley. There is little tourism here even in better times. Even in India, not many people know about the Great Himalayan National Park – despite its UNESCO World Heritage status. It takes a while to get there – no matter if you travel via Shimla or Kulluvalley. Since it is beautiful there, I definitely recommend going there. Besides day treks, a multi-day one in the Great Himalayan National Park is a very good idea. The flora and fauna are abundant, the mountain views super beautiful, the hamlets impressive and the trails easily walkable.
Especially from Manali further north, mountainous areas beaming at you just make you want to romp around. So I do. But also the forested slopes look as if there could be plenty of great day trips to be found here. I was all the more surprised when I couldn’t find so many – neither by looking at maps nor by asking locals or agencies. It seems to me that there are immense opportunities lying fallow here. Of course, I found a few anyway, but I can imagine that there could be a lot more. Manali has been attracting freaky backpackers for “ages” and, since Srinagar troubles, also travelling Indians. It’s usually packed here – which makes the area a bit unattractive. But the Kullu Valley is big and there are plenty of alternative places to stay and day trips where you don’t meet many other people. Because – mountain walking is not so popular – neither with freaky backpackers nor with comfortable Indians. What also beguiles me here, apart from the variety of plants, is the smell of apples and cedars. The time spent in this area has brought a lot and I will be able to incorporate good ideas into tour plans. And my tourism day at school was also great, of course.
I went back to my reports from that time: Spiti 2004 was completely overshadowed by many migraine attacks – which interestingly stopped when I travelled on to Ladakh. So I didn’t have the best memories, but the assumption was that it was actually quite good there. I didn’t have any migraines this time. Spiti has changed a lot as far as accommodation is concerned: everywhere you see homestay signs to entice you. But Spiti was also quite poor in tourists – one part maybe the weather problems, one part maybe that it was relatively late and therefore cold, one part no idea. There are not supposed to be that many westerners here either – it is most likely a Mecca for motorbike travellers and for comfortable car drivers. Spiti comes up with many “highest” superlatives – some of which are not proven. But it still seems charming somehow. For me, it is a good complement to Ladakh and Zanskar – similar yet different. And strangely enough, in a different state. I find travelling there very rewarding – but it’s also clear that it’s a lengthy journey. That’s perhaps why it always remains a bit emptier than Ladakh. And it’s not that big – you can get through the most important places in a few days, the homestay trek is a good addition. The drive in both directions (i.e. Manali and Kinnaur) is an absolute highlight, incredible mountain scenery! And then there are treks towards Changthang or Parvati Valley near Kullu or towards Shimla.
For some reason, I’m not so keen on travelling alone at the moment. Except for the Manali-Spiti-Chandigarh stretch, I always had company or met people – many thanks to: Soenke + Shoko, Eva, Niraj, Mr. + Mrs. Sharma with Rishi, Natasha + Sanil, Ritesh, Sonam Tsering, Amay Tenpa, Vanathi, Lara Tsering, Lobsang Stobdan, Mokshika, Siddharth + Jas with Meher and Sylvie! But I also enjoyed the various chats along the way. I was amazed at how many people I met from South India who enjoy mountains, nature and activities and who were enthusiastic about the area despite the unfamiliar cold. In general, I found the contrast to Georgia and Kyrgyzstan before enormous – how easy it was to get into conversation, how openly I was met, how actively people cared.
India is sometimes exhausting and annoying, but it remains my favourite country elsewhere and in the end, despite travel fatigue, I was sad to leave again. I still have to discover the other parts of Himachal Pradesh, maybe give Kinnaur another chance and see more areas and meet others again. But for now, I hope to convince some people of the attractiveness of Himachal Pradesh!