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Old 14th July 2015, 00:28   #1
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Default Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

If you have a recipe with verdant Apple orchards , mystic valleys , gurgling rivers and majestic mountains with a high Himalayan mountain pass thrown in for good measure - what you get is a vacation in the lap of nature. And a drive through six states and one union territory makes for the perfect topping to the vacation!

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When the time came to zero down on a place to relax in the summer – it was a foregone conclusion that the means to reach it will be a long drive. The freedom of the drives have spoilt us, so much so that as a family we now prefer to drive rather than hop into a plane or a train.

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That’s when the call of the Himalaya’s became overwhelming – after all what better way do you have to beat the impending heat of the summer? The requirement was narrowed down to a long drive on the GQ and a relaxing stay in an idyllic getaway. Being based in Kolkata with about 9 days in hand, nudged out Ladakh and positioned Himachal as a natural choice. In the past we have covered the standard tourist circuits in Himachal (not self-driven) and wanted to visit somewhere we have not been before. One night, my T-BHP addiction found me glued to a thread posted by vardhan.harsh and our destination was decided. It was to be the Pabbar Valley and Chanshal pass with a stay in the amazing Hotel Dwarika Residency at Shelapani , Mandhol. Further research revealed it to be an oft frequented biking / driving destination by those fortunate enough to stay around NCR – what was a weekend dash for Delhiites translated to a weeklong sojourn for us , Calcatians. We debated with a cannon ball run to Delhi to increase the number of available days – but my better half’s urge to pay obeisance to the Lord at Kashi put paid to that part of the adventure.

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At exactly 04:55 hrs on the morning of 30th May (Day 1), 110 Horses under the hood of my Duster AWD roared into life to signal the beginning of a 4029 Kms long trip. Dusty Dada was waiting for this occasion and was raring to hit the road growling!. The aim was to reach Varanasi by late afternoon / early evening so that we could enjoy Ganga Aarti and complete the Darshan by late evening. Except for the traffic snarls at the twin border crossings – WB to Jharkhand and Jharkand to UP, it was pretty smooth sailing. On both occasions we had to tail local traffic, jump the median and drive on the other flank to escape the bottlenecks. Thankfully the Panagarh stretch was bereft of a jam, but the six laning work till Durgapur and heavy truck traffic slowed down progress till we crossed Asansol. Hotel booking at Varanasi was taken care through CHD (Central Hotel Desk) services from HiVayKing Club. Twelve and half hours later at 17:30 in the evening saw us pull into the parking space of our hotel - smack dab on Aassi ghat. It was a great choice to stay as it allowed us to hire a boat right next to the hotel at Aasi ghat and sail down the Ganges in the evening to witness the magnificent Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat. We got down from the boat at the conclusion of the Aarti , walked a little for a darshan at the Kashi Vishwanath mandir , had dinner and hitched an auto ride on the way back. With such an auspicious start to our vacation, we retired for the night.

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Start of Day 2 saw Dusty salivating with glee and waiting to sample the tarmac on Yamuna Expressway. We were on the road again by 05:15 hrs with the aim of making it as close to the hills as possible. With Allahabad and Kanpur bypass completely operational there were no holdups on the way. There were a couple of kilometers of road surface being re-laid on the Kanpur bypass (flyover) and only one flank of the flyover was open to traffic for some distance , it slowed us down a bit.

Our first scare happened near Kanpur when we suddenly felt the AC losing its effectiveness, it was 42 Deg C outside. When I failed to diagnose the problem, the only option left was to lower the windows and sample the Loo blowing outside. I knew that Kanpur had a Renault ASC , a call to the road side assistance was picked up immediately and I was given the number of the Service Manager at Kanpur. He too picked up , but unlike Kolkata, the ASC was closed on a Sunday. Thankfully restarting the AC after 30 mins solved the problem and it did not recur in the entire trip. It was diagnosed as a nearly choked AC Cabin filter when I gave the car for the 10K service on my return. Apparently it is a known problem and Renault recommends to drive with the recirculation mode on as much as possible. I habitually drive with the recirculation mode off when the AC is not switched on.

On the main GQ, several sections of the road seem to have subsided under heavy truck traffic and tyre tracks have formed ruts on the road. These sections are pretty uneven to drive on and the ruts can be deep at places, most probably stagnant water will settle here with the onset of monsoons. With the Mirage landing fresh in memory , my kid was eagerly waiting to savour Yamuna Expressway and crossing this stretch was one of the highlights of the day. A little after seven in the evening we were through Delhi and into NH1 territory. Here we were greeted by our next highlight of the day – a raging dust storm. I had coordinates of all Haryana Tourism Motels en-route as possible night halts. After 18 hours and 984 Kms , we finally pulled into Kingfisher Resort (HTCL) at Ambala for the night.

Somewhere on the Allahabad Bypass (grab from DashCam footage)
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(grab from DashCam footage)
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Day 3 was actually a buffer as my booking at Dwarika Residency was from Day 4. We decided to put it to good use and have a stopover at Chail as this had not been covered before by us. We started late after a leisurely breakfast at Ambala at 9 AM for the 150 odd Kms to Chail assuming that it would take about 4 hours to cover that distance. This actually turned close to six hours due to a horrendous snarl at Sadhupul. The main bridge at Sadhupul on the Kandaghat- Chail-Kurfi road was washed away in Aug 2014 and repairs seemed to have just begun. This meant a detour to cross the river over a makeshift bridge almost at water level. The route down is narrow and single file with no policing and this means opposing traffic makes a mess out of it. On this particular day heaps of loose gravel was dumped on the track to cover the mud with the result that most 2WDs were not able to crawl up. The resultant snarl and wait was for the Dozer to show up and clear the rubble. Chail Palace was not available at the last minute and we settled for Chail Residency instead. Rest of the afternoon was left to explore Chail.

Hotel Chail Residency
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Supposedly the highest Cricket Ground in the world - at Chail
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Chail Palace Grounds
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Day 4 saw us headed to our final destination, the road surface deteriorates badly as you leave NH22 at Theog and head towards Kotkhai and Kharapathar. The road from Theog to Rohru (SH 10) is being widened and is literally devoid of a surface , added to it, rains from the past two days turned it to a muck and slush fest. Good surface is back for the 13 kms between Kharapathar and Mandhol and the scenic beauty after a spell of rains was mesmerizing. The last 1.5 kms from Mandhol to the hotel parking is part dirt and part rocky track through thick Pine and Deodar jungle. A short few meters into the track and Dusty whooped with joy and dug in his fangs , the AWD claws were to be tested today. The rain from the last couple of days had turned the track into deep and slippery slush with little traction. Dusty sailed through with gutso and we traversed the same track again and again over the next few days. We saw a Gypsy 4X4 parked at the hotel – this does the local runs and gallantly comes to the rescue when 2WDs get stuck and are unable to climb. The Knight in Shining Armour (aka Gypsy) saw action within the next couple of days when it needed to rescue the occupants from a couple of Innova’s that failed to make the cut.

From the parking you need to walk about 100 meters through dense apple trees and reach the hotel. The first sight will take your breath away , the magnificent structure is set almost on the edge of a 7800 Ft high ridge with Apple orchards all around it except the front. The front opens to a magnificent valley over the shallow gorge of the Pabbar river , with Rohru nested far below in the distance. The property offers four rooms that are offered either individually or as a complete bungalow for a large group. It has a fabulous lawn , great lounge, a cosy dining area and a well-stocked kitchen backed with a splendid cook and a care taker. The owner Mr. Sudhir Khimta and his wife are the perfect hosts to complete the ambience. We were the first guests for the season as Mr Khimta had to cancel prior bookings owning to the sad demise of his father. We literally had the complete place to ourselves for the next few days – lying in the hammock amidst the Sun and clouds , pouring over a book , soaking in the mountains and savoring the apple orchards - it was perfect break from our mundane existence. The open lounge and seating area is tastefully done with wood all round – please have a look at the travelogue from vardhan.harsh (A drive to Pabbar valley & Chanshal: Spring break 2011) for complete coverage. We actually abandoned an idea to make a dash through Darranghati later, or to go beyond Chanshal to Dodra and Kwar , instead decided to spend more time in these sylvan surroundings. That and the problem with family accommodation in those areas and our absence of camping equipment.

Mr Khimta is adding more rooms to the hotel and building a separate wing , and two more hotels are coming up in the vicinity. In the near future the idyllic surroundings are likely to be overrun by noisy tourists.

near Mandhol (grab from DashCam footage)
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Reached final destination - Duster has morphed into Mudster.
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Hotel Dwarika Residency
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From the lawns of the Hotel
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That's Rohru in the distance
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Pabbar Valley
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Beginning of a Star Trail - Pabbar Valley at night with Rohru twinkling in the distance
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The dark night bares itself to the camera
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Last edited by DriveTrain : 14th July 2015 at 22:23.
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Old 14th July 2015, 09:29   #2
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Default Re: Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

Day 5 was almost a rainy day and we spent the rain soaked morning to visit the GiriGanga temple complex. AWD again came to the rescue as several kilometers of the narrow jungle track from Kharapathar to GiriGanga was full of muck and slush. The driver of a solitary Bolero 4X4 doing duty for a tourist family had his mouth agape when he saw the Duster climb up next to him. The track is not very steep and really does not need AWD or 4X4 , except when it rains and the track turns into slippery slush.

Patiently waiting
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Giriganga Temple Complex
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Having a little disagreement!
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Portion of the jungle track leading to Dwarika Residency
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Day 6 was a no drive day and we trekked through the surrounding apple orchards to our hearts content and also climbed up to the so called “360 Deg View point” that offered panoramic views all around. The trek through think Pine and Deodar forests was very refreshing, near the very top we came across a local hamlet where the locals came out to speak with us and was adamant to serve us refreshments as a token of their hospitality , it was truly touching.

Enjoying her holiday
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Verdant Landscape
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Budding Applets
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It was basking on the road and very surprised to see us , I could not react fast enough to get a clean shot.
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Zooming down from the "360 Deg" viewpoint
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Towering to touch the heavens
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Dusty was back to flexing his muscles on Day 7 for the trip to Chanshal pass and back. The route to Chanshal (except of the built up portions of Rohru and Chirgaon yown) is mesmerizing scenery and brings out the true beauty of the land. The route from Shelaghat (6 kms from Mandhol and between Kharapathar and Mandhol) circles through the back of the mountain and joins the main highway near Patsari. This road in unmarked on all maps including Google. From then on the road runs parallel to and hugging the Pabbar river upto Chirgaon, from where the climb starts. Shelapani is 7500 Ft , while Rohru is at 5000 and the pass itself is 12500 Ft high. There was plenty of snow on the side of the road near the pass and on the surrounding mountains but not on the road itself. The road surface is barren and rocky with loose rocks on stretches , but it is eminently doable in any vehicle and does not require a particularly high ground clearance. That is, except when it snows or rains heavily. It was extremely windy on top of the pass and the parked car was literally buffeted by very strong winds. Let me let the pictures do the talking.

Somewhere between Chirgaon and Larot
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Chanshal pass is up there in those snowy peaks
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Duster in its elements
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Local transport coming at us
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Reached
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The Chanshal Dhaba
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Remnants of an Ice Wall - almost looks like dirty brown teeth
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Landscapes
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The pass is exactly at the bend
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Haunting beauty
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Life line of Dodra & Kwar - for the few months it remains open
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Jai Ho Dusty Dada
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The road meanders down to Chirgaon
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HPPWD Office at Larot
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The river that lends it name to the valley - Pabbar
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Tranquil
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Last edited by DriveTrain : 14th July 2015 at 22:31.
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Old 14th July 2015, 20:19   #3
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Day 8 was the start of the return leg. We wanted to try a different route down and chose to join NH1 at Karnal travelling via Hatkoti , Tiuni , Chakrata , Vikas Nagar , Yamuna Nagar & Indri. It was difficult to leave the mountains and we wanted one last aftertaste at Chakrata. I had been warned by the venerable HVK that it was prudent to come down via Shimla due to prevailing road conditions, but wanted to try a new route anyway. In hindsight we should not have climbed back to Shelapani on day 7 but stayed back either at Rohru or Hatkoti, that would have given us additional time and saved some distance. I spent better part of two hours on start of day 8 to give the Duster a good wash at a road side facility. Fresh tarmac is being laid between Hatkoti and Chakrata and it is simply a dream road to drive in those stretches. Alas, most of the distance is however devoid of a proper surface and instead of coasting, you need to carefully and slowly negotiate the road. The scenery is however breathtaking. The drive through a portion of the Rajaji National Park as you come out of VikasNagar is equally scenic. As a peril of following Google Maps to a T , the route takes you to join SH 6A (73A) after crossing a barrage over Yamuna near Faizabad , the approach is basically a narrow lane through a congested mohalla , with barely space for one car to pass. After a 356 Kms run from Shelapani , we ended day 8 at Skylark Resort (HTCL) , Panipat. The idea again was to be close to Delhi and start very early in the morning and cross the Capital.

Saying our byes to Pabbar
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Fertile slopes
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Hatkoti Temple Complex
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Freshly laid tarmac towards Chakrata (grab from DashCam footage). Even with a juggad Circular Polarizer on my GS90C (Ambarella A7LA70) the dashboard reflections on certain turns were really nasty.Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!-223.jpg

What a dream to drive
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Tons river valley
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More like a shallow gorge
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SH 57 runs through a portion of a forest (possibly Rajaji National Park)
(grab from DashCam footage)
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Day 9 was reserved for the Panipat to Varanasi run and back to the same hotel where we stayed during the inward leg. I mistook a turn within Delhi and had to run quite a hoop to get back to the flyover. Most of the Panipat to Delhi leg was spent on cruise at 90 kmph with Cruise control on and so was the Yamuna Expressway portion at 98 Kmph. From Panipat till end of Yamuna Expressway my MID showed a FE of 19.7 Kmpl (touching 19.9 Kmpl) with AC on and the drive mode set to Auto (AWD). It seems that steady cruise between 90 to 100 Kmph over sustained distances translates to very good FE for the AWD. Had quite a scare approaching the Hotel at Aassi ghat from the highway. Essentially there are two routes to Aassi Ghat , one through the city and the other is through Nagwa road behind BHU. While travelling from Kolkata , I had missed the turn into Nagwa road and had entered via the city proper. Next day I took Nagwa road to come out , but it was very early and the road was devoid of traffic. The portion of the road running behind the walls of BHU is being concretized with only a narrow flank done, and it is more than one feet off the surrounding lane. While coming back this way on the night of Day 9 we were caught by incoming traffic and had to back out about 500 mts nearly in the blind. With cycle , bikes and doodh walas pressing around everywhere it was a traumatic experience. We back tracked and took the route from the other side of the BHU compound.

No wonder a fighter jet can land here - on the Yamuna Expressway (grab from DashCam footage)
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Only another 1300 odd Kms to reach home (grab from DashCam footage)
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This can qualify as an airstrip too - somewhere enroute Kanpur (grab from DashCam footage)
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Day 10 was a 668 Kms drive from Varanasi back home. Thankfully we did not encounter any traffic snarls on the two border crossings or at Panagarh, and did not need to jump a median. Near Asansol, a large pebble was thrown up from the wheels of a Dumper traveling in front of us and glanced over my bonnet and struck the windshield. It still struck though I was about two car lengths behind, thankfully nothing on the windshield but two miniscule scratches on the bonnet to show as battle honours. A wonderful vacation was polished off with a flourish after devouring a couple of Langchaas (a local sweet) and Samosas at Saktigarh on the way home.

Why should Durgapur Expressway be left behind - it too can qualify as an airstrip! (grab from DashCam footage)
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Father and daughter celebrating a successful drive with some Lollies on the way
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This signals that we are home - Nivedita Setu on the Hooghly (grab from DashCam footage)
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Kolkata to Delhi one way toll sums up to exactly 1790. Total toll paid works out to almost Re 1 / Km. Interestingly the next toll plaza after Palsit (near Bardhaman) is 145 Kms away at Beliyad with no toll in between.

Avg FE for the entire trip was 15.14 Kmpl , total diesel cost was INR 14,900 at an average of Rs 56/Lit. AC was on almost throughout the trip , even on the hills to keep out the dust and the rain.

Peak FE was 19.7 Kmpl on the Panipat to Delhi and Noida to Agra Stretch. FE actually touched 19.9 Kmpl – have a look.

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Now the long wait begins for the next trip - plans are to be made , I can almost hear the call of the road getting stronger......

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Last edited by DriveTrain : 14th July 2015 at 22:37.
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Old 14th July 2015, 23:44   #4
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Default Re: Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!

Superb thread. Amazing in all respects. All elements in place. Family, road, drive and hills to make it complete! Not to mention the good photographs.

Last edited by ampere : 14th July 2015 at 23:46.
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Old 15th July 2015, 09:14   #5
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Default Re: Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

Beautiful. I love destinations like this. Few families might not really appreciate your enthusiasm of going to Leh/Laddakh, and these Himalayan foothills with nature all around is a very good destination & is mesmerizing as well, especially compared to barren landscape of upper reaches.

Yes, can't wait for your next travelogue
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Old 15th July 2015, 12:06   #6
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Great drive across some of the country's best highways leading to a fascinating Himalayan escapade in a very capable vehicle and with loved ones. Perfect recipe for the dream vacation we all have in mind.

Every time I make up my mind on the next place to drive to, an amazing travelogue like yours come up to add to the pleasant confusion.

The beauty of the valley and especially the Chansal Pass is heavenly and you have managed to magnify the beauty of the place with your pristine photographs. Thank you for adding another getaway destination to our to-drive-to list. Although, the road conditions at few places does not seem to be hatch friendly, it is only a matter of time till Mr.Samba lugs his Etios up there and then the herd shall soon follow.

Though Kolkata-Delhi drives are unanimously copyrighted by the Senguptas, I would still like to shoot a query to you as you have just done the stretch. What other possible night halts on this route did you consider apart from the usual Varanasi, Allahabad?

Hearty congratulations and eagerly waiting for the next episodes of your travels with Dusty Dada.

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Old 15th July 2015, 14:45   #7
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Default Re: Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

Amazing travelogue DriveTrain. Complemented by some really beautiful pictures and fitting captions too. Thanks for sharing the trip details.
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Old 15th July 2015, 15:48   #8
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Wonderful travelogue. You really allowed the Duster AWD to showcase what its built for.
Terrific dash cam photos over and above the pics of the valleys.

Kudos to you, your family and the mighty Duster.
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Old 15th July 2015, 15:54   #9
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Hey that is a good trip experience. Canyou share route in to hills - say from Ambala to Ambala - on googlemaps?
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Old 15th July 2015, 16:05   #10
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Wow, been a while since i saw home. This is where i grew up. 20 odd kms from kharapathar is a village called sharontha. My maternal grandma's place.
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Old 15th July 2015, 16:13   #11
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Awesome dada, What more to say! Nothing divine like a road trip, specially something like this.
Our family still remembers yours when we talk among ourselves. Its a pleasure to see the Duster in its own environment.
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Old 15th July 2015, 16:32   #12
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Sirjee,
a. Outstanding snaps. Which camera do you have? What's your software workflow?
b. Excellent mileage for a 110 bhp beast! You drove well!
c. Above all, kudos to your family for letting you drive that long (instead of wanting to fly to Delhi).
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Old 15th July 2015, 20:28   #13
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Wonderful travelogue and superb photographs, DriveTrain. Now I know where to go for our next vacation! Thanks, man.
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Old 15th July 2015, 21:49   #14
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Default Re: Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

Great photography and brilliant narration. I grew up in that part of the country and you took me back to my childhood.

What kind of dashcam were you using ? Could you share the details please. Thanks.
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Old 16th July 2015, 00:27   #15
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Default Re: Lure of the Himalayas – Himachal beckons again!

Lovely scenery and quite a tour! Thing that I find especially stunning personally is that I've lived in Himachal ten years and considered myself quite well-traveled all over the state, and yet can't remember hearing of even one of the place names (apart from Rohru / Chakrata, which I know I've been through)...???!!! Can't wait to take out a map and try to figure out how I managed to miss all this... or else (not likely) how I managed to ride through it in a state of complete oblivion...??? :-)

Beautiful.

Many Thanks,
Eric

Last edited by ringoism : 16th July 2015 at 00:31.
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