Back from Keylong, we still had almost half our trip left and were still looking for options to fill our days.
After visiting almost every adventure tour organizer on Mall Road, Manali, and hearing their outrageous trek package quotations, we had almost given up on the possibility of a trek. The major reason for interesting trail routes not being available was the same as the reason that prevented us from getting to Leh via road – excessive snowfall.
So anyway, just by a stroke of luck, as we were wandering from one guesthouse to another in Old Manali, we found this Tibetan gentleman who suggested a trail that was not only an interesting trail in terms of the landscape but it also seemed like an experience packed with many elements of local flavour.We started after a breakfast of not-so-well made aloo parathas and chai. [point of reference from now on for awesome paratha’s will be Sonia didi’s paratha’s at Keylong].
We travelled upto Prini which is about 4 kilometers from Manali, from Prini we started walking towards Sethan village, our stopover for the night. It was a climb of about 6 hours from Prini to the little Tibetan village called Sethan. Walking through all those little villages on our way to Sethan gave us a a snapshot view of how the locals live, their lifestyle and the architecture. This house in the picture below is a typical construction and the architectural style goes by the name – Kaath-Gun Shaili literally translating into a construction style consisting of layers of stone and wood. Mr. Tenzing, our guide told us that the advantage of this kind of construction is that the wood keeps the house warm in winters and the stone keeps it cool in summers.
The climb was not entirely exhausting; it was just a long stretch. Altitude makes a lot of difference, climbing the same vertical distance here in Maharashtra would’ve been less taxing. All along the way, we found the thing that Manali is famous for, the weed plant. Apparently the higher up the in the mountains it grows, the better is its quality.
We were panting throughout the climb, checking the watch every 5 minutes, just waiting to pass on the shared backpack to each other after the decided half an hour and then we saw these lovely ladies. They climb the mountains everyday to gather wood, dried up leaves for burning and the come down with this heavy load! At least my sense of cribbing went down a lot after seeing them, although there wasn’t much to crib after that, we had almost reached Sethan.
Just before, our last stretch of climbing, we stopped over at this little dhaba for a cup of chai and ate our packed lunch there. Having a cup of tea at 9000 ft, somewhere in an nameless village in Himachal Pradesh……. it’s a different high altogether. :)
This <below> was our Tibetan Homestay after reaching Sethan. Sethan is a small village with hardly 15 families living in the village. The main occupation is farming and the land has been allocated by the Government. We had about 3 hours for resting before we set out again on an evening trail to explore Sethan. Somehow, very strangely I wasn’t sleepy at all so I decided to make the best of the Rs. 20 purchase I’d made at Old Manali, my notepad…. and I sat there and wrote…..and I’ve not had a more coordinated and productive connection between my mind and the pen in months….It just flowed, everything that is sometimes too difficult to voice out loud to even yourself….I wrote about 11 pages in those three hours sitting out on the ledge and spent another 40 minutes reading through every single word.
After a nice afternoon nap, we started out for a walk through the forests surrounding Sethan and this <in the picture below> is what our little village looked like from a height. The dinner preparations had started, our cook who was also our guide for this trek – Amit, a good-natured fellow had given us an idea of what our dinner menu would look like and it was quite a tantalizing preview.
It was a peaceful walk through the ‘forbidden forests’ :), the serene environment, the little Gompas and the stunning blanket of green added to this charm of the evening.
After we got back from the walk, we almost immediately started out on the soup which was followed by a dinner that was THE highlight of this trip. :) And as always, I have the food pictures …devouring food with your eyes first, I believe, gets your appetite even more worked up. :P
Very aptly put,
After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value. ~George Macauley Trevelyan
This awesome dinner was followed by a third course of rassagullas. The last shot of a rassagulla led to some very unfavourable circumstances in the night….. :) Unfavourable for some and supremely hilarious for some of us. After laughing uncontrollably like nuts, we finally went to bed.
That’s the thing about being with friends, most of the times you don’t even knowing why you are laughing …..you have your own inside jokes. Especially these two, I’ve known them since college and it’s been eight years together now. We were in the raft, for white water rafting in River Beas at Manali, when I had no clue why I started laughing like a maniac and it just wouldn’t stop, I turned back and Anagha tried to ask me between splashes of water as to why I was laughing like a cracked nut. But I couldn’t even answer and after a while even she was in the same state, laughing like another cracked nut. When you don’t even know the reason for your mad sense of happiness, I think you are in good company. :)
Anyway, next day after a breakfast of porridge and black tea, we started out towards Hampta Pass. Along the way, just a few kilometres from Sethan, we crossed the Pandu Ropaa, it is rumoured that the Pandavas during their vanvaas, had stayed here and harvested wheat in these fields.
We crossed the Devtibba River to get to the other side of the range where the River Hampta followed quietly along our way.
This region is famous for the paper-like material that comes out from the bark of trees, apparently it was the writing material used by Valmiki for writing the famous Indian epic Ramayana.
Finally after four hours of walking, our first sight of snow….We had a great time walking upto the top and sliding down the snow and of course we did a little bit of snowball fight too. :)
After climbing upto about 12000 feet we took a lunch break to savor a lunch of eggs, meethi rotis and mangoes. We started our journey back towards Sethan after our lunch break. We reached Sethan, packed up and hauled ourselves into a pickup truck with all construction workers headed back towards Prini after a long day of work.
We had a great time doing this trek, but a couple of things that we could’ve done or rather avoided are –
1. My advice to anyone who wants to do a trek around Manali : Don’t take up any Tour Operator made plan. You’ll unnecessarily pay Rs 1500 per day for something you can do by yourself with a little local guidance and a map. Most trails upto Solang Valley are etched out very clearly. Most tour operator packages are custom tailored to suit foreigners and they are a little exorbitant, so be careful about what you choose.
2. My two cents on the river rafting packages, – If you’re looking for some real adventure, don’t waste your time here. This 14 km rafting experience was more or less like a boating trip. The only sense of excitement came from splashes of frigid water.
3. Stay at Manali – As far as possible, try and stay at Old Manali. New Manali is basically a clutter of shops, restaurants and hotels centered around the Mall Road. It’s way too touristy and hence crowded. Old Manali has a lot of quaint little cafes and comfortable guest houses available for a half the price of New Manali. We paid Rs 500 for a really quiet and nice guest house in Manali with room service and a gorgeous view of the River Beas. The cheapest room at New Manali will cost you Rs 1000.
Auto rickshaws take Rs 50 from old Manali to new Manali, so even considering 100 bucks a day spent on travel, you’re still better off staying at old Manali.
4. Must try food:
(a) Live on parathas as long as you’re there, eat as many as you can and as many types possible. They’re fantastic. :)
(b) Moong Dal Halwa and Jelebi. I not really a fan of anything sweet, but this place is pretty famous for both these things.
(c) Poori – Aloo ki Subzi : This recipe has been blessed by the heavens! What Pav Bhaji is to Maharashra and Dosas are to Bangalore, Poori- Aloo is to Himachal. :) You can’t go wrong with it and there’s no way it can taste bad any place in Himachal Pradesh.
(d) Chai : Drink Litres. Because whatever you are going to have at home at your local tapri’s is always going to feel like an insipid, clumsy mockery of the lovely adrak ki chai here.
So yeah, that’s that. :)