Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

I’ve been a-trekking! What a truly beautiful experience, I feel so recharged after some physical exercise and some fresh air.

First we left Dharamsala via local bus and took yet another twisty turny ride around the mountains – all the more fun hanging onto the rails of a bus seat as we went. It was a nice cosy ride though, iPod on, watching the mountain views out the window. We stopped for a brief break somewhere, found a local toilet, bought some local food. Little things that seem so normal at the time, but looking back seem like such a foreign experience (and one I’m glad to have had).

We arrived in Dalhousie in the afternoon and took a wander through the town spotting some more pretty impressive rock art.

And chillaxing dogs. I like a town with chillaxed dogs.

And monkeys!

As we started out in Dalhousie we passed this settlement. It is these moments that make travel so rewarding. When stark reminders pop up around you and you remember how different parts of the world are. Ironically it is when I am out in nature overseas that I am struck with how similar places in the world are – I’ve been on bushwalks all over the world and when you disappear down a path away from civilisation it’s the tree and hills and mountains and sky that make you realise you could just as easily be in Australia, in Canada, in Thailand, in Samoa. Sure there are subtle differences but essentially we have all been gifted with trees and sky – it is our own man-made interferences that divide us. Here as we started the trek, just before we disappeared into nature, the sight of these shanty homes struck me.

From Dalhousie we trekked all the way to the Chamba Valley, which took about 6 hours and was up and down the whole way. I love a good trek and don’t mind the ups and downs. At least we were able to send our bags on ahead in a vehicle so we were traveling light and earning fabulous views with every up. We went up and over the Lakhar Mandi Pass, traveling through the forest, then down down down a steep and narrow path.

Really, I had my camera out the whole time I think, it was just so beautiful. See what I mean:

We stayed the night in Khajjiar, however we were all so tired we ate and retired to our rooms pretty quickly. I had a TV in my room (so rare) and watched Bollywood music videos till my eyes closed.

The next day we were up early and started day two of the trek to Chamba. It was just as beautiful but we spent most of the time heading downwards this time.

Indian toll booth? Not sure what the payment is to get past…

Oh the peace and serenity of a blue sky, clean air and wide open spaces…

Finally our trek was finished as we arrived in Chamba just as it was starting to downpour – we grabbed a bite to eat, stocked up on some supplies and caught the local bus to the base of the hills near our accommodation. The bus ride was comical, we were wet and carrying our large packs, wedged in wherever we could find room. It was raining, the roads were steep and winding, the driver hoon-ed this way and that, barely stopping to let people off. With no clue when we were supposed to get off we watched our tour leader like a hawk ready for the signal to jump up and launch ourselves out the bus before we accidentally got left on it and were trundled away to God knows where.

The home stay we were spending the next three nights at, a place called Himalayan Orchard Huts, can only be reached by a 30min steep steep steep walk up a narrow and rocky path – I suppose it makes the place even more special by having to put in a solid effort to get there. Our arrival was all the more so by doing it in the rain – yep, soaking, bedraggled, tired and this time carrying our bags – let’s just say the trek was made pretty much in silence, heads down, lets-just-get-there-already determination. That’s generally my strategy when I’m well over something before it is actually over. Grim determination, let’s do this as fast as possible.

It was worth it, the views alone but also being a home stay the family also live on site so we were welcomed warmly with a special ritual (well, OK, I got a dot on my forehead but I was so tired otherwise I would certainly have paid more attention and would have more specific information to give you). The family are friendly and happy to chat about their life in the Chamba Valley and our lives back home from the various places we come from.  There is a fresh water swimming pool (it’s actually less like a pool and more like a hot tub next to the verandah – but cold… can I call it a cold tub?) which is filled by the fresh spring water on the mountain. The family have an organic farm that supplies the delicious food we eat everyday around a large dining table. The son joins us at each meal time and explains the ingredients and local methods of cooking. The father runs morning meditation classes and our tour leader holds a few impromptu yoga classes outdoors each morning. It was certainly a time for R&R which is always made all the more divine when you’ve earned it after trekking for two days.

The area is itself beautiful and we had the chance to do some treks around the hillside. The paths and cultivated land are jutted into the slope and form beautiful patterns when you look out across the valley.

On one walk we were invited into a local classroom where the teacher asked the students to stand and say ‘my name is…” in Hindi. This was actually quite frightening to some of the children as Hindi is not their mother tongue, they speak a local dialect instead. Some of the kids whispered so quietly we couldn’t hear, others were more confident, giggling as they went. One little boy was so petrified he stood there staring blankly at his teacher like a deer in headlights until his teacher excused him to sit down, it was really so cute (though I felt so bad for them – who the hell are we to waltz in and disrupt the lesson in such a way!) Finally the whole class sang us their local anthem and we waved goodbye. I would have loved to take some photos but the kids were really so shy I didn’t dare. They were very different to the kids in the cities or towns that regularly see foreigners and have no problem running up to us yelling ‘hello hello’ before running away giggling.

I took this photo when we walked past a local house and they offered us chai. This is their kitchen – wow huh?

The rest of the three day stay I relaxed on the verandah reading or just enjoying the views. The accommodation was basic – I stayed in a little room on the ground floor which actually felt a bit cave-like due to the plastered walls and low light. I had a bad experience with large hairy spiders here. Two mornings I woke up to find one in my room to my horror. I just really truly can not handle spiders. Not big hairy ones. I can’t rest if I know there is one near me – so both times I had to call out like a wuss and get one of the guys to remove it for me. Ughhh! To make matters worse, during the second day’s meditation session there was a mother of a spider on the top corner of the room. We were in a small cosy room as it was, so heaven help me I could not close my eyes or lapse into the meditation. I kept one eye open for 60 minutes and then had to run underneath it when leaving the room. No, I did not go back to meditation the next day.

Aside from that, I would recommend the Orchard Huts to anyone traveling in the area, it is a fabulous way to experience local life in a relaxing, beautiful environment.

And a bonus is that when it’s time to leave the 30min trek back to the main road to catch the bus is mostly down hill, yay! This time we were lucky to do it in dry weather; so off we went on the last leg of our journey – to Amritsar!

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A traveler, dreamer, designer and optimist sharing all of the above.

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