You may call me highly ignorant on reading this – that I heard of Mcleodganj & Dalhousie only in past few years. In college days or fresher days at work – I never heard about these famous places. It would have been nice though ..when they were yet to be so commercialised and so damn crowded. My last memories of being in Himachal were at Manali and Rohtang pass in 2009. I did all the touristy stuff that time, and it wasn’t as bad. I experienced the snow, and I don’t have much attraction towards it, so I don’t call it exotic either.
So this trip was the brain child of our very dear girls’ group. We had been talking about it for almost 6 months, and finally 2 of us booked the tickets to go in the month of January 2015. After a lot of hot conversations and excitement for all that we were going to do on this trip – most girls backed out, making some excuse or another. The 2 of us with tickets were the only ones left. It didn’t sound so fun anymore. Luckily for me my parents were visiting that side, and I decided to not let go off my tickets to waste – and made the trip anyway.
Me and my husband, we flew to Chandigarh directly from Bangalore – in separate flights (ofcourse due to different bookings – and what are the odds! the ticket was cheaper a month before than it was 3 months before – hubby’s gain). I did not make any changes to the original itinerary I had. Chandigarh – Mcleodganj – Andretta – Dalhousie – Chandigarh.
Landing in Chandigarh right on time, we headed straight towards bus station to catch a bus to Dharamshala. Chandigarh bus station for Himachal, Uttarakhand & Punjab buses is in Sector 46. I guess ones towards Delhi are in Sector 14. We had to hire a shared auto rickshaw from Airport (Sector 68) to sector 46, costed about 150/-. At the bus stop, there are couple of buses scheduled everyday for Dharamshala, the last one being at about 2:30 p.m., for which the guys at the counter will start selling tickets only by 1 p.m. Ticket costs 240/- per head. The Chandigarh bus station was fairly clean, and fairly safe, and helpful crowd. We ate lunch at the bus station restaurant, closing our eyes towards the unclean premises of that particular eatery, and it was 100/- for 2. Mind it, we ate a lot as we both had left in the middle of the night from our home in Bangalore.
Our bus started right on time, and we were on our way to Dharamshala. It was a regular local bus, we had packed ourselves in warm coats, the glass windows didn’t save much cold wind from entering but we managed somehow. The bus ran on schedule, even though there was lot of winter rain all the way, and fog later. It took breaks on these local dhabas, which served tea (sugar syrups) and samosas and bread pakoras, thankfully so.
I had lost touch with those awesome bread pakoras in adolescence due to the calorie scare, but yea they tasted heaven, and I didn’t care if they used healthy ingredients. The pakoras were being cascaded onto a iron rod like kababs and pushed into the furnace like mud-made ‘bhatti’ for baking. The aroma was just irresistible. I ate those everytime, and dosed off on my Avomine dosage for motion sickness. We were the last ones to be dropped in Dharamshala’s last stop – at the bus station. It was 8:00 p.m. It felt like we were thrown out from a warm enclosure into a cold steely world, we were shivering like hell..brrrrrrr! it was below zero degree. With all our senses kinda numb, without thinking a lot, we called upon the only taxi we saw at the bus stop and requested him to take us to Mcleodganj, where we had our stay booked. He thankfully did not try to take advantage of the situation and agreed to drop us at a regular nominal rate of 250/- for a 20 kms ride. He rode well, he rode fast, and dropped us in front of our hotel (after ofcourse we had made him speak with hotel manager for directions).
We had made a cash-less booking at the Annex hotel via booking.com. The Manager was quite cordial and helpful at all times, on the phone too. He had kept us a nice room as requested, except he kept the balcony door open that made all the cold wind into the room making it super chilly when we entered. I literally begged him to provide us a heater, thankfully he didn’t charge us extra over it, even though he had warned us, since he realised we used it only that night because of his little mistake. With doors closed, the room wasn’t so chilly later.
At 8:30 p.m. the hilly towns behave like its midnight. We checked into our hotel, and with no further delay headed out looking for food. We were told the snow has melted away just a few days back, and the town was just getting back in action, so all stores and cafes were closing down earlier than usual i.e. by 8 p.m. We prayed for luck and looked for a restaurant that was still serving. Just a few meters away, we found Indique Kitchen and they were more than happy to serve us hot and yummy indian food. I gobbled up on kadai paneer, tandoori rotis and jeera rice to my heart’s content – all ready for a tight sleep. Annex hotel is well equipped, with cozy electric bed warmers and a Wi-Fi that works flawlessly. Cable connection on the TV, Geyser in the bath. Perfect for the next 2 nights of stay.
Morning was pleasant, with the sun shining and the glowing valley visible from the balcony. The chill was gone.
We got ready and headed to the market for some breakfast. Surprisingly all those famous cafes I had heard about (Chocolate Log, German Bakery etc.) were either on winter vacation or closed for good. The hotel had this little hand drawn map of the area.
We found the Peace cafe, a quiet humble little space that served the most amazing glass full of tea, we sipped it away gazing outside at the sleepy town. We ordered some butter toast and tibetan bread to go with it (total cost 90/-), taste & comfort – priceless.
There is a small Tibet Bakery around that corner, sort of hanging on the porch with a little display unit, and a friendly guy sitting behind it. You must try the Yak cheesecake from here, I had never tasted something as amazing before!
After breakfast, I roamed around the market for a bit, shops were still closed. I bought some leg warmers from the few that were open. Then we thought of hiring a bike to check out Dharamshala and near by areas. From the hotel you can see the road below, that takes you to the Dalai Lama Temple Complex. On the same road there are shops that provide bikes for hire. But hire rates here are much higher than what you are used to paying in Goa, Kochi, Pondy etc. We paid a 800/- for a Avenger for a single day. But it was a nice bike. We planned to ride to Palampur and Andretta that day.
The drive from Mcleodganj to Dharamshala was quick, and we were soon at the foot-hills. While you drive ahead, just turn and look behind you, and you will be spell-bound. The grand Himalayas finally so visible, while being so near them in Mcleodganj, you don’t quite get to see them in entirety really.
We drove for about 2 hours, and crossed Palampur town. All the scenic beauty is on the way and if you don’t have your own vehicle or taxi for hire, there is no point in coming to these towns. Since we had to reach back to Mcleod before sun down, we headed straight towards Andretta. I was quite dreamy-eyed about what I could see in Andretta. After another half hour of driving, asking for directions, my bubble did burst. Andretta is a small village we all know, why is it famous? there are some mesmerising images of Andretta online, where is that view? The answer is all the same – nothing else but hype. Apparently, there is a hill behind Andretta, that you need to trek up on foot(no road to drive) and may be then you will actually see the scenics those online images showcased. From down inside the village this is what you will see.
Which is probably the same view as from many other villages of Himachal in the plains. The most famous part of Andretta is the pottery place, where you can go and experiment and make pots. Since I’ve always done such artsy activities with my mom as a child, and later in the design school, I probably won’t understand the charm people build around doing things by using your hands, because I’ve always done/created many things using my hands! why do I need to be in Andretta (or Auroville for that matter..) to do that shit 😛 or may be it is just being in a exotic location while you do that stuff is what the charm is really about. It has a certain awe added when you say “yea..I was making pots on this wheel..with the himalayas in the background..under the warm sun” as opposed to “I just did some pottery stuff in that workshop/at school/at home”. Mean jokes apart, I did meet the old man at Andretta Pottery, and he is a humble knowledgeable old man – eager to answer my every question. I bought some mementoes and we headed back to Mcleod. In Andretta, there is also a Sobha Singh art gallery, with signs all the way to make you think it is something important, probably you can miss. I gave it a miss.
After driving all day, we reached back in Mcleod by about 6 in the evening. It was time to get some grub and we were famished since we missed lunch while driving. We again went to Indique Kitchen and savoured on some butter chicken.[prices are high here, but you wouldn’t mind it with large portions they serve – total cost about 800/- for 2 people]
By the second morning, the sun had completely warmed the entire town. It was pleasant, and we were a layer lighter on clothes. We had breakfast at the hotel’s terrace.
We spent the day visiting Dalai Lama temple and the Bhagsu Naag falls, and some shopping. The waterfall in this season is almost dry, and the feeble stream allows you to trek within the river rocks. As we prepared to leave the town for Dalhousie, we hurried for a lunch at Snow Leopard – it is a good place to hang out, it is very famous for its variety of coffee preps, and tibetan food. We went there every time we could, since most other well-known restaurants were on vacation – this place was thankfully serving.
By afternoon we left Dharamshala to head towards Dalhousie. According to google, most places are only 3-4 hours away. In reality, in the hilly regions, you need to be slightly more realistic. First of all there is only 1 direct bus from Dharamshala bus station to Dalhousie, that starts as early as 8:30 – 9 a.m, because it takes almost a day to cross that distance. From Mcleodganj you can take shared jeeps to Dharamshala bus station for about 40/- per head. On reaching bus station around 2 pm, we discovered about missing the only bus to Dalhousie, and had to take another route to reach there i.e. via Pathankot. Now to reach Pathankot too you won’t get a direct bus. You either take bus to Chakki (50 kms from Dalhousie) or Mandi, even though Chakki is on a junction where the route turns towards Dalhousie, you can’t be guaranteed to find a bus there. In short, it is a bad idea mostly to rely on local transport in Himachal, or people’s advise for that matter – they are never sure, even if they are, 90% of times they are giving the wrong information. We somehow changed a few buses and reached Pathankot by 7 pm. Even at that time, the only option left for us to reach Dalhousie from there (now 68kms from here) was to hire a taxi. We managed to find one for 1800/- and drove off.
We reached Dalhousie at 12 am (about 5 hrs). With an advance booking made at Hotel Mohan Palace, we checked in. I think it is a trait in hotels that side, even if they see customers shivering they have to do a customary argument about providing a heater. Other than that, I noticed snow on the roads, and it seemed we chose a good time to catch it before it melted away.
Dalhousie was snow clad, and most of the town remained closed through out the 2 days we were there. No cafes, no restaurants, no shops. We had plans to hire taxi to visit Khajjiar, also known as Switzerland of India – but the route and the place itself was blocked by snow. No taxis were going there. Other tourists spots didn’t sound as interesting either, with no local transport options, the place was already a turn off. We just used the day to trek up on Khajjiar Road with no known aim whatsoever.
Somewhere near the peak we got this view, and I guess it was enough for the day. We spent remaining evening cherishing snow peaked view from our room and ordered room service.
While walking around the town earlier, I don’t like to generalise, but I noticed only Delhi-iets and mostly north indians were the ones loitering the place [I’m a north indian myself]. Every time throwing a food wrapper they just finished anywhere they like, throwing water bottles wherever they pleased. Many many punjabi men (as they kept speaking in punjabi) were always loud, disrespectful to people around them, yelling, playing super loud music in their cars, drinking in public and basically making a nuisance. They were totally disgusting as they kept throwing all junk and left overs out of their cars and spreading food while they ate – I mean how can grown-men be so ill-behaved?? whoever you guys are – Shame on you, you are a shame for your community, shame for this country.
The next day from previous experience we checked out soon from hotel and headed towards Dalhousie bus station down the hill, as early as 8:30 am in order to find a way to reach back Chandigarh, via Pathankot. Turns out even then we were late, and we missed a bus by 10 mins. We looked around, and luckily found another couple wishing to reach Pathankot. Normally taxi charges are about 2100-2500/-, we found one at 1800/- to share among 4 of us. We got dropped at Pathankot bus station at 1 pm. We booked the next bus at 2:30 pm from there to Chandigarh.
Overall conclusion from this trip was : Himachal is indeed very beautiful, scenic and picturesque – however it was heartbreaking how the tourists are being callous towards their responsibilities. Very disappointed.