14 September 2017

Trip to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh [lots of photos]

View from Naddi

Recently on my trip to India, from Chicago, I had an opportunity to spend longer than anticipated time. I traveled to the northern plains of Punjab, to a city called Nabha. The time during June-July-August timeframe is not the best time to be visiting this part of the country. In fact the whole of North India is going crazy through the summer heat, and then as the monsoons start to come in, the weather gets sticky and even worse. During my stay in the mid-july, the heat was not so bad as it was with the humidity factor. I digressed. 
Since we stayed longer, it was a good opportunity to plan a trip to the mountains. in the neighborhood, there were couple of good options to get some respite from the heat.

Either plan couple of days trip to Shimla-Kufri and further up region. second is to go towards Kangra-Dharamshala and up to mcleodganj. There was another option to head towards manali-leh but that is a trip which we planned and postponed for next trip. I want to do the leh trip properly and hence want to fully prepare and plan for it.

The family voted for the Dharamshala trip and since there are 4-5 devi temples on that way, it sounded like an awesome pilgrimage trip for the entire family.  We had done the exact same trip some 27 years ago, so we all were looking forward to the trip.

While i blog about our entire 4 day experience of this trip, you can scroll down to the summary section, for direct access to summary details on staying, expenses, planning etc. If you want to keep reading my commentary and how we spent time there, pls continue reading.

Pre-trip planning

Most of the pre-trip planning included packing, getting a good car on rental. My preference was for a Toyota Innova with captain seats, which makes it much more roomier and comfortable experience. Also the 3rd row gets much more comfortable. We were going to be 4 adults and 1 kid, so this configuration would work very well.
The other important thing for pre-trip planning was getting enough drinking water bottles for the journey. Potable water is a key item, and probably the only 'must' take item on my list anywhere during a travel.
With clothes and everything else packed, we were excited for the start of the trip.

Trip day 1

The plan for this day was to leave by 7 am. Our driver arrived just in time however he had not brought the car roof rack for luggage. It was going to be impossible to fit all the luggage in the car, without it so we let him go back and lost atleast 30 mins in overall. As the luggage was loaded, we were ready to roll by 8:15 am.
Our journey was going to be taking us through punjab and then straight into HP. the route was going to be via fatehgarh sahib- nangal-una and then into the 'devi' temples.

Since we started a little late, I was already feeling hungry. Part of travelling in Punjab is good quality food on the highways. I was expecting the same on the way. We made our first stop after crossing kiratpur sahib at the zamindara dhaba on the road. even though the family had taken breakfast from home, i still got a tandoori parantha, with butter here. The food is amazingly fresh and tastes amazing. The cardamom tea on top was just something. We spent around 40 mins here, finishing our breakfast, and topping off with cardamom tea.

Our next stop was going to be Chintapurani devi. Overall the length of this whole journey is around 300 kms one side, upto Mcleodganj. So, you comfortably reach Chintapurani devi temple in around 5 hrs. The roads are pretty good within the punjab region. once you enter HP, the roads are good but small towns coming across tend to slow you down. I was quite impressed by the overall road quality through out the trip, and especially in the mountains.

Arriving at Chintapurani temple

On this day, there was a long queue at the temple. we were travelling during 'sawaan' and were arriving just a day before the major day at the temple. so, it was fairly crowded, but everyone was talking about 'tomorrow' and its potential craze with devotees. it took us around 1 hr to be in the queue to get to the inner sanctum. The crowd was going crazy around the inner sanctum and it was a complete pushing, shoving, pressing of people going on. I was literally squished and it was hard to keep umika from getting squished too. THis is one thing about the temples and devotion in general which i have never understood. How do people get so desperate? what is the purpose of going to the temple if there too the same business has to be carried out? sorry, I digressed for a bit.

The temples inner sanctum was small, but beautiful. the weather was much nicer now, in comparison to punjab. soon after the 'darshan' [ the glimpse of the deity], everyone calms down and settles down to their own business. its amazing to see that. There are tonnes of people who come here for blessings, some wishing for things and some thanking for getting what they wanted. I came to click pictures, go to the cold weather of mcleodganj and have a family trip after may be 10 years. My mother told me that the rush of people which we witnessed here, will not be seen at all other devis as chintapurani devi's saavan is most popular one. I felt better as we headed back to our car, scouting for lunch and respite from the crowds.

At chintapurani temple, there is ample parking spaces which are dedicated, and charge a fee of around Rs 100. the walk from there to the temple is about 10 mins through a filled up market with restaurants, all the articles for sales, toys, kitchen items and what not. Its a pretty busy market. Near the temple, most of the shops sell Prasad. you can leave your shoes with the shopkeeper from where you buy your Prasad. that's their business model.

Travel from chintapurani to Jwala ji temple

The distance from chintapurani temple to jwalaji temple is not much. its approx 34 kms and taxes about 40-45 mins of driving by road. the road is busy but good. and the traffic dropped significantly on this route. Mom was right, and it felt like there were very many few people travelling on this route.
At the temple of jawalji, the parking was available in good numbers. it was crowded at all. infact it felt the very opposite. the walk from the parking to the temple is a good 10-15 mins walk, although it is a completely covered area so there is no worry of rains etc. secondly, it has market on both the side so there is interesting stuff to see, observe all the way.
The jwalaji temple is built beautifully and very open area. there were only a few people around so it gave a good opportunity to observe things closely. The temple is named after the 'jwala' or 'streak of fire' which have come out of stone and continue to be lit for years. In the inner sanctum, you can see that in at least 6 different portions. It's just amazing. You may believe the detailed stories behind, but you can't keep yourself from being fascinated by all of this.

After the darshans, we explored the different parts of the temple and then came out.
Chintapurani temple

Jwalaji temple to Kangra devi temple

It was around 5 pm now. we started from jwala ji, and headed towards kangra devi temple. the approx distance here is 38 kms and takes about 45 mins of driving. the roads are good and travel is pretty comfortable. by the time we arrived at kangra devi temple, and found the parking, the sun had started to go down. We were also tired but decided to complete visiting the 'kangra devi' temple and call it a day. the temple is in the middle of the city, and thronged by stores all around it. There was very little crowd at any of these places, and it was like direct walk-in without any waiting periods.

After this, we were all pretty tired. We decided to head back to the car, and look for a hotel. The driver already had some reiki of the place by talking to other drivers, and shopkeepers and had found out that the best hotel in the town was Hotel Grand Raj So we headed that way, to check it out.

upon arrival, true to its name the hotel looked great.  we looked at the rooms and were fairly satisfied. after booking two rooms, we checked in to freshen up and relax a bit. The hotel has an excellent restaurant on-suite and also a pretty large bar. It has enough parking for its purpose and can easily take in 100 cars. green lawns and a ton of breathing space makes this a great place to stay.

Trip day 2

on Day 2, we got up early but were in relaxed mood. We all sat in our balcony and got tea served there. The mountains were right in front of us from the balcony view, and it was amazing. It seemed it rained last night, so it was damn outside, but beautiful.

View from the balcony in the morning

Umika, my daughter near the reception of grand raj
The second day, we were going up to the chamunda devi temple, which is a short drive away[ approx 40 mins]. we started around 10 am after finishing our breakfast.
The day was beautiful. it was still not cool in the morning but not hot either as it was back in Punjab. I was longing for the 'cold' weather I was seeing on my apps back home.
As we arrived at the temple, and parked, I started taking walk by the bridge and my first grand glimpse of this place was breathtaking.I could see straight for miles, with white puffy clouds engulfing the mountain range and then the river flowing through, with gushing clear water among the huge rocks. A magnificient view.

My first view from chamunda devi temple bridge
We visited the temple, and it was reliving the experience. The last time we had visited this temple was approx 25 years ago when I was probably 8 years old or so. It was a great experience looking at how significantly some of the things had changed, and how much population has taken over the surroundings overall. We stayed at the temple for around 3 hours, looking at different things, playing a bit with the cold water and the gushing stream.

That's me, at the chamunda devi temple
Aghori sadhu- Chamunda devi temple

I was also excited because now we were going to finish our temple touring and head towards mcleodganj. This was much more exciting to me.
From chamunda devi temple, the ride is very beautiful and interesting. The ride to mcleodganj is not long[perhaps an hour] but its an ascent and you gain altitude very quickly. the roads well done, circle through the cantonment area and is very well gaurded. Through the serpant roads, you would also get a view of the HPCA cricket stadium here.

Summary of the trip

Vehicle: Toyota Innova with captain seat, best suitable for our family of 4 adults and i child with a driver.
Total distance: 650 kms up and down.

Itinerary & coverage

Day 1 journey: Nabha- Fatehgarh Sahib-Nangal- Una- ChinataPurani- Kangra- Hotel Grand Raj.
Places Covered: Chintapurani temple, Jwala ji temple, kangra ji temple.

Day 2 Journey: -Chamunda devi temple- dharamshala-Mcleodgang- Halt.
Places Covered: Chamunda devi temple, Dalai lama temple, Namgyal monastery, Markets

Day 3 journey: Mcleodgang- Dharamshala- Baglamukhi temple- halt
Places Covered: Dalai lama temple, naddi, bagsu falls, park

Day 4 journey: Dharamshala- Kangra fort (skipped)- Nabha
Places covered: HPCA cricket stadium at Dharamshala. We were told that we cant get access to it, but on some research found out that gate #2 is always open to visitors and there is no fee to go visit the stadium. Of course you cant go on the field but get a great view of the stadium.

Hotels where we stayed [costs included]:

  1. Hotel Grand Raj, Kangra (1 Night). Priced around Rs 4500/night/room. Fantastic hotel. I will recommend everyone to consider this hotel in this area.
  2. Hotel President Inn, Mcleodganj (1 Night) Priced around Rs 4300/night/room. Good hotel but nothing spectacular in terms of view. One major handicap is that this hotel doesn't have overnight parking place, so the driver had to park in the nearby parking which charges a steep price of Rs300/night. We settled for this as we search around and since it was a busy weekend we were finding only cheap and shady type rooms available. Hotel President Inn is pretty good in its amenities. Rooms are fantastic.
  3. Hotel Pong View, Kangra (1 Night) Price around Rs 2500/night/room. Excellent hotel and right on the way back.Excellent location and beautiful views from the room. Good food and room service. Highly recommend. Walking distance to the main market of Kangra.

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