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Old 16th November 2020, 12:38   #1
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Default A drive to the Valley of the Gods : In a Mercedes GLE

Part-II.


Atal Tunnel- Rohtang Pass


The advantage of staying put at a place is that you are not forced to adhere to plans made earlier. If you are feeling lazy, relax at home. If you are feeling feisty, go out for some adventure sports. If you are feeling like a drive, take the car and go.

We had 4 nights at this great homestay in Kasol, but could have stayed for more than a week, if it had been possible. On the 22nd morning, we left early to check out Manali and Atal tunnel. We took the highway to Manali and reached Manali by 0900 hrs. Since it was quite early, we stopped for breakfast at an Udipi café.

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We were the only guests and we made sure to tell the waiter to get us what had been freshly prepared. Upma, idli and dosa. The food was okay. It is interesting to see how Udipi restaurants modify the taste to cater to the locals. In Gujarat, the sambhar would be excessively sweet to a die hard southerner. The sambhar at Manali had spices to cater to the Punjabi taste buds, I reckoned. They did not have filter coffee, sorry.


We were on our way to Atal tunnel and I cautioned the others not to take photographs ( even from a moving car) since there had been a government order banning the same from the Manali side. The roads were new and smooth as butter.

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Soon we were at the tunnel where the speed limit in the beginning was 40 kmph, which increased to 60 kmph after a kilometer or so. Shortly, after 9 kms, we exited the tunnel and stopped by the side where parking was allowed. There were many cars with the same idea and I spent some time taking pictures.

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There were two enterprising men who had set up a fast food joint out of their cars. Hope they don’t litter up the place.

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I asked the police personnel about the road to Rohtang and the answer was that barring a few kilometers, the road was new. No, the road to Chandra Taal was very bad and yesterday a SUV had got stuck there. It would take 4.5 hours too, one way. So that was out. Rohtang it is. I was cautioned to watch out since the weather was worsening. Mausam biged rahi hai. My wife gave some theplas and dry fruits to the police personnel having the unenviable job of noting down the particulars of those passing through, in good weather or bad. They were embarrassed, but gratefully accepted.

The drive to the Pass is exceedingly beautiful and I must have stopped on numerous occasions just to take the scenery in. There was sparse traffic.

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Near the Pass, we came upon a large film crew shooting for a movie. Seems that Nagarjuna, of Andhra movies fame, was shooting. We stopped on the road and watched it for a while. Since none of us had seen a Nagarjuna movie, there was not much inclination to go nearer or meet any actors.

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And then we were at the pass. Not even a handful of cars and a lone tea vendor, hopefully looking at us. We ordered tea, more to encourage him, rather than the need for it. Took the mandatory photos posing with the Pass marker and we were back on our way.


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Instead of returning the way we came – which would have been shorter and with better roads- we decided to go back via the old route to Manali. The roads were quite bad, but the scenery was exceedingly beautiful.



We missed out on exploring places further up since it would have required a night halt and we were not prepared. If we had stayed at Manali, then these excursions would have been quite doable. Secondly, there were conflicting reports about the demeanor of the villagers towards tourists particularly due to the Covid situation.

While we were returning we overtook a party of cyclists who were returning from the pass. We encouraged them and offered water, which they politely declined. As we neared Manali, the road meandered through thick pine forests and it was a beautiful sight with small waterfalls and springs bubbling away.

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Having had nothing to eat since our breakfast, we scouted for a good eating place and in the end, landed up back at the same Udipi restaurant we had visited in the morning! Oh well. At least we would not have any surprises. It was pushing on 1500 hrs and we wanted to reach Kasol before sunset – it had been a long day. Normally one drives about 100-150 kms in the mountains- we would be doing close to 265 kms today. I wanted to have a look at Naggar, but the others were tired and wanted to go back home. So without any further ado, we hoofed it directly to Kasol, reaching by 1700 hrs.

A nice hot water bath, a stiff aperitif or two and a simple khichidi-sabzi-dahi dinner. That is the life!

Malana

The next day, we got up late (by our standards ie at 0730 hrs ), dawdled over breakfast and stepped out by 1000 hrs. We went to the Taxi Union office and booked a taxi to Malana. The roads were bad, but not as bad as Tosh. The good part is that the roads in Himachal are not as narrow as those in Uttarakhand, particularly the small state roads. One has to drive slowly and backing up due to a vehicle coming from the opposite direction is only occasionally. But then in Uttarakhand we went to non-touristy places and hence probably the roads were worse.

We stopped for the usual landscape shots and proceeded to a dam which was newly constructed on the Malana river.

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There is a road being constructed to link Malana village, but there seemed to be no progress. All for good, I suppose. Malana, being isolated, has its own laws, rules and regulations and all inhabitants need to follow them. Making it easy for outside access would corrupt the culture. Not that everyone is enamored of their antecedents and culture. The locals ( non Malana) feel that the Malana villagers consider themselves an elite race and are similar to orthodox brahmins as far as caste consciousness and practice of untouchability are concerned. (One can get a good understanding by reading this). In fact, the Malanas ‘purify’ themselves with Gowmooth, followed by a bath, if they unwittingly come in contact with an outsider.

Still, recreational drug tourism is a money spinner and the per capita income of a villager is said to be around Rs 25 lacs per annum ( US $ 35,000/-). We avoided the Malana Magic Valley trek. Neither we were in a mood to trudge up an hour and a half to the village. One needs to camp near these places or in these villages and do these treks.


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We stopped at a small eating joint opposite the Malana Village trek gate. We had some refreshments, shot the breeze with some boys from Mumbai, and departed back. Altogether, a very chilled out day. Good we took a taxi.

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Last edited by earthian : 16th November 2020 at 12:40.
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Old 16th November 2020, 13:03   #2
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Kasol – Palampur


Our 4 nights were over at this beautiful homestay, right alongside the Parvati river. Our next destination was the Rakkh Resort at Palampur. Accordingly, on the 24th morning, after breakfast, we set out for Palampur.


The highway via Mandi is undergoing widening and is very, very bad. Alkali dust slush everywhere. One would be eating the dust thrown up by the vehicle in front. The traffic was also heavy. It was the worst that we had encountered in HP till now. The good news is that infrastructure is being enhanced everywhere. New tunnels are being built, roads widened, dams being built . Though this augers prosperity for the State and its citizens, i really do not know whether such infrastructure investments are good in the long run?

There is a different route, albeit narrower road- but much more picturesque and cleaner. Anyway, we were in it- nothing to do but lump it, grit your teeth and carry on.

There was no chance of stopping anywhere, thanks to the dust that surrounded one. Still, we managed a pit stop in a relatively cleaner and dust free location and had some hot pakodas. Cheered us up considerably.

By and by, we arrived at Baijnath and I suddenly recalled that this was the site of a famous Shiva temple. No sooner had I uttered it, we saw the sign for the parking to the temple. Sheer luck….or was it divine providence? All the bells of the temple were wrapped by cloth to prevent anyone ringing it and then transmitting the dreaded Corona Virus. Funnily enough, Parikrama was not allowed due to the Covid situation. If one could have darshan, partake prasad, then why not parikrama?

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After taking some pictures, we were off to Rakkh resort.


The road after Baijnath improved considerably and we enjoyed the scenery and winding roads. By late afternoon, we were at Rakkh Resorts.

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Old 16th November 2020, 15:31   #3
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Palampur


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This property is just under the magnificent Dhauladhar range.
We spent 6 days at this resort. It was just perfect. The resort was sparsely occupied and our cottages were very good, with a nice sit out and view. The only problem was that it was quite a steep trudge from the entrance to the cottage. The Management encourages people to enjoy the outdoors with all kinds of activities, but were considerate enough to allow us to use the battery operated golf carts to go up our cottages.

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The resort is being managed by a young lady and I must place on record that the resort is quite efficiently managed by her and her team. She and her husband, both Chartered Accountants, chucked off their jobs in the USA and settled down here. Moka, the activities guide is a knowledgeable birder too and I spent one morning checking out the birds in the vicinity. Our routine was to get ready and go for breakfast at about 0830 hrs and over breakfast, decide where we would like to go (or not).

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We went to Dharamshala and McLeodgunj one day and I found them quite disappointing. Parking is a huge problem and if it was difficult during these Covid times; imagine the state when tourist flock here in full bloom. Most of the museums and Dalai Lama offices/palace were closed and we made our way to the Bhagsunag temple. We managed to get a parking place and took a auto to the nearby Bhagsunag temple.

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The Dal lake was touted to be another sight to see, but it was a huge disappointment. A partially dried water body and none too clean .

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St John’s church in the wilderness was a nice church with beautiful surroundings. Unfortunately it was closed too.

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We went to Bir Billing one day. Rather, we went to Bir – the landing site of the para gliders. It was a nice place with glider after glider landing. There were the Pros, the novices – who were talked down by radio by the instructors; and there were the thrill seekers who did the flight in tandem with a professional. My wife was in two minds- she badly wanted to do try paragliding and she was afraid too. In the end, she skipped it. But on our way back she resolved to do it when next given the opportunity.

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We checked out a tea factory and some local pottery artists one day. Went to a nearby Buddhist monastery – closed though. All very idyllic and chilled out.

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Thus ended our stay at this beautiful place. It was Oct 29th, 19 days after we had started out from Ahmedabad. We had not made any plans for return yet and I asked the others what they wanted to do? Go further some where else or return home?

We had been pretty lucky till now, having enjoyed a nice trip during these troubled times, without any mishap and the consensus was that we return back. We wanted to come back via a different route and we decided to come back via Jullundur – Bathinda- Jodhpur- A’Bad route, with pit stops at Bathinda and Jodhpur.

We stayed at the Radisson in Bathinda- the only hotel which seemed to our requirements. Far from it, though. The hotel seems to have fallen on hard times due to the Covid situation, and though the rooms were all right; the hotel maintenance and surroundings were seedy and poorly maintained. The staff strength had been pruned by 50% and the rest had to double up to do other chores. Still, it was one night and the Chef at the restaurant tried to make us feel at home by dishing up his best ‘homely’ food.

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On the other hand, in Jodhpur we stayed at ITC’s Bal Samand Lake and Palace property- a tried and tested one and we didn’t have any surprises.

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The next morning, after having our breakfast and lunch packed in our dabbas, we departed for Ahmedabad and made very good time , arriving home by 1500 hrs.
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Old 16th November 2020, 15:38   #4
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Thus ended a drive to the Valley of the Gods. We had travelled a little over 3800 kms. The car returned an average fuel consumption of around 9.35 kms to a liter- quite poor but not surprising, costing us a little over Rs 30K in diesel costs. We encountered about 36 toll stations- the bulk of them on the way to and from HP. The State highways in Rajasthan did not have Fastag , whereas everywhere else Fastag worked quite efficiently and apart from a few stations, the wait times were within 3 minutes or so. Still a long way to go for seamless paying without slowing down or stopping, but we are slowly getting there. Apart from the mandatory puncture that we have in all our trips, there was no issue at all with the car. Luckily we had the mandatory puncture in Gujarat – about an hour after we started out- and it was quickly attended to and put behind us.

Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab roads are quite well maintained (The highways) whereas Gujarat was quite bad. The roads in HP are generally better and wider than that of Uttarakhand and there seems to be enormous investments being done in widening and upgrading roads.

During one of our tea breaks we had met a couple of young men- one from HP and the other from Uttarakhand. I asked them which they thought was better and I got what I thought was a political answer: “Himachal apni jagha hai, aur Uttarakhand apni jagha hai”. On reflection, they were absolutely right.

Thank you for reading and I hope you had as much fun reading as I did penning this down. Wish you all a very happy New Year ( It is the New Year today, for us Gujjus) and hope that the New year would see the conquest of Corona Virus and for our members to once again take to the roads.

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Old 17th November 2020, 07:21   #5
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 17th November 2020, 11:44   #6
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Default Re: A drive to the Valley of the Gods : In a Mercedes GLE

Very engrossing read, thank you for sharing the travelog! The photos complement the narration very well.
Many of these places in HP are very close to my heart and even just the sight of the roadsigns, photos make me very nostalgic and yet cheerful at the same time
Wish you many more fabulous drives!
Cheers.
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Old 17th November 2020, 12:41   #7
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Very scenic and detailed travelog. The best part I liked in your post is the leisureliness and not to hurry to cover many places.

Not all would have the luxury of time, but if permits your travelog shows how cool and comfortable it would be.

Great SUV GLE to a great place. Keep rocking
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Old 17th November 2020, 14:51   #8
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Originally Posted by earthian View Post
Kasol – Palampur


Our 4 nights were over at this beautiful homestay, right alongside the Parvati river. Our next destination was the Rakkh Resort at Palampur. Accordingly, on the 24th morning, after breakfast, we set out for Palampur.


The highway via Mandi is undergoing widening and is very, very bad. Alkali dust slush everywhere. One would be eating the dust thrown up by the vehicle in front. The traffic was also heavy. It was the worst that we had encountered in HP till now. The good news is that infrastructure is being enhanced everywhere. New tunnels are being built, roads widened, dams being built . Though this augers prosperity for the State and its citizens, i really do not know whether such infrastructure investments are good in the long run?

There is a different route, albeit narrower road- but much more picturesque and cleaner. Anyway, we were in it- nothing to do but lump it, grit your teeth and carry on.

[/center]
Hi Earthian, loved reading your travelogue. How bad is the road from Mandi to Palampur- actually from the tunnel before Kullu to Palampur?

I am planning a trip to Tirthan valley, and will go via Palampur, so was wondering about the road condition and approximate time it would take.
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Old 17th November 2020, 15:52   #9
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How bad is the road from Mandi to Palampur- actually from the tunnel before Kullu to Palampur?

I am planning a trip to Tirthan valley, and will go via Palampur, so was wondering about the road condition and approximate time it would take.
The NH 3 is being widened. There are some tunnels being built for hydro and also for road. The road from Bhuntar to Mandi was bad. After Mandi we diverted on 154 which was relatively better. (As far as my memory goes). You would take about 1 hour more depending upon the time of day, than the normal.

There is a smaller state highway road which is recommended by Google Maps. SH 23, i think. Connects to 154, bypassing Mandi. This is supposed to be better, but maybe narrow at parts. Best is to ask the locals.

Last edited by earthian : 17th November 2020 at 15:55.
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Old 17th November 2020, 23:04   #10
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This is amazing! One of my dreams is to do a round-country trip in a luxury SUV, and especially into the Himalayas. Lovely pictures!

May I ask where is Part-I though? :P
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Old 18th November 2020, 07:23   #11
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This is amazing! One of my dreams is to do a round-country trip in a luxury SUV, and especially into the Himalayas. Lovely pictures!

May I ask where is Part-I though? :P
Thanks. Here is Part-I: (A drive to the Valley of the Gods - Kullu and Kangra in Himachal Pradesh)
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Old 18th November 2020, 08:08   #12
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Great log. Didn't you go out and look around Palampur itself?
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Old 18th November 2020, 08:47   #13
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Excellent travelogue as always Earthian.

Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
During one of our tea breaks we had met a couple of young men- one from HP and the other from Uttarakhand. I asked them which they thought was better and I got what I thought was a political answer: “Himachal apni jagha hai, aur Uttarakhand apni jagha hai”. On reflection, they were absolutely right.
During my recent travel, a tea stall owner in Baijnath (Uttarakhand) sensed that I had travelled to Himachal as well. He asked me exactly same question hahaha, I was confused for a moment and then had exactly same reply for him.

Last edited by ast.ggn : 18th November 2020 at 08:49.
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Old 18th November 2020, 11:32   #14
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Great log. Didn't you go out and look around Palampur itself?
We did. Went to a Tea estate and factory, Tashi Jong Buddhist Monastery, Andretta Artists' Village, Bir, had Jalebis of Palampur and went to a car wash:

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Excellent travelogue as always Earthian.
Thank you, ast.ggn
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Old 25th November 2020, 08:54   #15
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Default Re: A drive to the Valley of the Gods : In a Mercedes GLE

Nice travelogue! I’ve been wanting to do a road trip to the Himalayas around the Himachal Pradesh area, but in my S Class. Based on your experience, do you think it’s possible to take a two wheel drive, long wheelbase car on those terrains?
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