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Kiran Thomman » Lonely Planet

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A trip to the Scotland of India - Dharamshala

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

After I went to Boracay I always planned on writing about it but kept putting it off. Didn’t want the same to happen to the wonderful time we had in Dharamshala and Manali. I should have written when the memory of the trip to Boracay was still fresh as very few even know that the place exists. But its been two years now and nothing ever came out of it. Will probably do  that someday after I can recollect the details. It still would be worth writing as I never saw  a single Indian in Boracay while I was there and chances of the island being retained as we saw it is highly unlikely. The 10km long and 1Km wide island is getting over populated with tourists and resorts and would probably loose its charm in another 2 years according to an article I read. Ironically the same seems to be the fate of Triun and Illaka in Dharamshala where we just went. The HP government is planning to build a road to make Triun and Illaka more accessible to tourists. Currently its only accessible to trekkers by foot across the narrow rocky winding path. If they do that we are going to loose that place for good. Dharamshala was quite a surprise actually. To me it was just a stop over and an alternate to the tiring journey from Delhi to Manali.

Dharamshala houses the Tibetan government in exile along with the Dalai Lama’s residence. Thats being the main attraction of the place. Most Indians go there primarily to experience some Tibetan culture and food. As in every part of India it has more than its share of temples and making that the second reason for people to go there. I expected the place to be something like Munnar. My Club Mahindra membership entitles me to 7 days holiday every year. So I thought I might as well give in  to Suman’s wish to visit Manali. Also I hope to visit all the Mahindra resorts before my membership expires. So my second reasoning was that since I was already making the trip I might as well visit the Dharamshala resort too.

We flew into Delhi at 10:30 on the daily 7:30 AM flight from Cochin. This gave us enough time to shop a bit in Delhi before we took the 10:30PM train out to arrive in Pathankot. The club sent a car to fetch us to Dharamshala. Which reminds me to warn you to always have the hotel pick you up esp if you are with family even if it costs you extra. It is more reassuring to know that the hotel knows of your whereabouts. Reason I say this is because on our last trip we ended up in Philippines in the wee hours and had to catch a cab. Every guy there looked like a thug. Till we reached the hotel we were clueless whether the guy was actually taking us there or elsewhere. Just thought Id let you know.

We were to spent two days in Dharamshala. On arrival at the resort we were totally clueless as to why we were even there. The resort faced a public road with a petrol pump. Kootickal my wife’s place near Mundakkayam in Kottayam district is far better than the Dharamshala I saw. On arrival I quickly dismissed the entire holiday package on offer ie. the pilgrimage tours, treks etc. We really didn’t know what we would do the next two days. We were planning on trekking in Manali so when they offered a trek we never took it seriously. But they insisted that we would have a life time experience if we went on the trek. They added that what I would see in Triund and Illaka would surpass anything I see in Manali. According to the manager a malayalee Manali would just be an enlarged version of Ooty and Kodai but with snow. They requested us to view some pictures on their computer of what we would see. The moment I saw the pictures I was hooked. I couldn’t believe you could actually see something so scenic in India. I made a wager with them that if I could shoot the very same pictures on my camera I was ready to do it. And with it I committed myself and unsuspecting Suman to a 22-30 Km trek over two days. The trek to Triund is 9Kms we went 1 Km by road and the rest we trekked. Triund to Illaka is another 7Kms everywhere I searched on google they downplayed it as 5Kms. Anyhow its roughly 24Kms.

We carried nothing with us except for my camera,water and an umbrella each. Two guides carried our tent, sleeping bags, food and a stove. The trial was a steep climb from 4780 ft we would climb to 9325ft in 9Kms to reach Triund. It was a rocky trail throughout. At times each step would be more than on a stairway.  A couple of wolf like harmless stray dogs joined us all the way to Triund. What unfolded was too beautiful to describe. I wished camera’s had 360 degree capture. I still feel the photographs don’t do justice to the place. It is impossible to capture that beauty except with your own eyes. It was a green carpet of wild grass with the trees rising over it. Adding to it there were rocks strewn all over the place dotting the entire landscape as if it was thrown up by a volcanic eruption or something. One hour on the trek and we had to use our Umbrella’s as it started drizzling and getting a bit misty. Making the entire landscape even more green and intoxicatingly beautiful. Most times the path was narrow enough for just one or at the most two people. We met mostly foreigners as this was never on the Indian’s iternary. Amongst a packed resort we were the only two and the very few ever who opted for the trek. Sadly we Indian’s are missing out on the best that the land has. There were two petti kada’s stocked up on over priced junk food and Marlboro’s primarily for the foreign tourists. The only means of getting the goods there was by foot or by donkeys. After 5 Kms or more Suman was fit enough to tear me with her bare hands. But by 2:30PM we reached Triund. Triund was spectacular by itself. Apart from two or 3 small shabby buildings one of them being an excuse for a government guest house it was a huge green pasture on top of a mountain overlooking the entire path we had come up. Rocks were strewn all over the green. Again one of indescribable beauty with the entire Dharamshala on one side in a 180 degree view and on the backdrop you have greener mountains at close range and glacier covered mountains at a distance.

Lunch was boiled maggi noodles and veggies. After lunch and a short nap we went about setting up our tent on the edge of the cliff with a 4500 ft drop. At 7 45 PM the place was as lit up as 5:30 or 6:PM here in Cochin. The dozens of tourists who we met on the trail had vanished into various parts of the mountain leaving myself, Suman our guides and the caretakers the sole inhabitants on top of the Triund. It started to pour a little more than a drizzle and with it came bursts of thunder. We had Chappathi’s and dal for dinner. We had to turn in early to start off to Illaka the next day morning. The tent was just enough for Suman and me. With the weather our giudes wanted to know whether we still wanted to sleep in the tent or in the cabin. But Suman of all people wanted the tent. We ended up sleeping in the tent that was weather proof. We were not used to sleeping bags so it was a broken sleep with all the thunder and drizzling outside.  Also there were the horses I forgot to mention galloping every now and then throughout the night. The dogs went crazy too. But then we slept till 5AM the next day oblivious also to the two bears that we spotted on the adjacent mountain the next day.

The next day we got up but had to put off our plans to leave at 6 as it was raining and we could leave only by 8 am. Then we started of to Illaka hoping to reach the glacier point there. If the trek to Triun was spectacular the journey to Illaka was a double portion. The rocky path wound up over green valleys like Iv never seen before. I had almost drained out my camera batteries by then so I planned to shoot only on the return trip as I didn’t want to risk not shooting the glaciers. But to my misfortune I missed those great shots as it was very misty on the return trip and the photos I have of Illaka still don’t do justice to the place. Anyway on top of Illaka there is just one more petti kada. We had been trekking for over two hours by then only to find that the glaciers had receded further which meant another hours trek to reach there. Since our journey back of 12 to 15Kms downhill lay before us we decided we were not upto it. So we started our trek downhill and we reached back by about 6PM so that day we had trekked for over 8 hours. If you have the same impression like I did about an easy trek down. Let me tell you if its going to be a steep climb downwards for that long expect to be as dead as we were by the time we got there. Next we headed to Manali by car. Manali was different and quite entertaining. The whole trip was because Suman wanted us  to do all that she can before we got tied down with kids. So we did everything we possibly could. Skiing, para gliding, tobogganing, and even white water rafting on a grade 3 rapid. Out of all the adventure sports  white water rafting was the best thing we did in Manali. If you do head to Dharamshala do check out at least the Triun. I’m winding up for now. I Plan to write up on Manali too but in case I don’t let me tell you I enjoyed the trek to Triund and Illaka more than  anything else we did those eleven days. It was out of the world!