As my older son’s Grade 12 exams commenced, I wanted to do something special for him. Afterall, he had spent the last three years stuck behind a desk either studying for exams or attending classes online. Due to many restrictions, travel breaks were just not possible. So, we wanted the celebratory trip to be special … something that took into account activities both of us enjoyed. I had two choices – either design and execute a trip plan on my own like I always do or seek professional help. This time around, I chose the latter… and I am so glad I did!
I have been following Vandana at Offbeat Tracks (http://offbeatracks.com) for a couple of years now. I always admired the published travel itineraries of Offbeat Tracks … they seemed so unique. So, I contacted her. We spoke at length and she asked about what interested us – Himalayas, Food and Adventure. She and her team quickly put together a couple of options which included Sikkim, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. We ended up choosing Himachal Pradesh as we had explored quite a bit of the state a few years ago and loved the magnitude of the Himalayas in this area. We further narrowed our itinerary to visit Manali and Tirthan. Vandana and Sudha quickly put together a beautiful itinerary that took into account my main criteria: new places, safe transport, beautiful homestays, yummy local food and amazing sightseeing. Once the itinerary was finalized, our moms and kids travel group was formed and it was no longer just me and K. Here is what we were able to accomplish during our trip (late April):
Day 1 – Chandigarh and Bharatgarh Fort
Since moving to India, I enjoy visiting places of worship and one of the places I wanted to visit was the Naina Devi temple located in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh. We decided to make this a pit stop on our way to Manali. Offbeat Tracks found a unique place for us to spend the night – Bharatgarh Fort. Truly an underrated gem. We reached there late in the afternoon and settled into the very comfortable rooms. Later in the evening, one of the property caretakers took us for a walk around the pond nearby and we had a great time exploring the area. After we came back, we thoroughly enjoyed a delicious dinner. The special for the kids that night was authentic Amritsari chicken which they enjoyed very much.
Day 2 – Travel to Manali
Once we woke up, we walked around the Bharatgarh village and explored the area. After breakfast, we headed to the Naina Devi temple. Luckily, the visit went very smoothly and soon we were on our way to Manali. Along the way, we stopped at a restaurant called Panchwati where we had lunch. For our tea break, we stopped at a place called Beas Zayaka Restaurant. Both places were well maintained. We reached Manali around 8:30pm in the evening. We checked into our homestay “The Green Mountain Lodge” and had a lovely dinner there before calling it a night. The dining area was private and in the common area between the two bedrooms we had booked – perfect homely feel!
Day 3 – Exploring Sissu, Tandi and Khoksar
As we had arrived after dark the previous night, we had no clue about our surroundings. Around 5:30am, as daybreak began, we looked out of our windows and our jaws dropped. Beautiful view of the orchard behind the property with a stunning view of the gorgeous Himalayas in the background. We just sat in the balconies lost in the views. Unfortunately, we had just missed the blossoms. After a yummy breakfast, we headed to explore Sissu and Tandi in our 4 x 4 jeep.
During the last time we had visited Manali, the Atal Tunnel was still under construction. It was a pleasure driving through it to reach Sissu. As promised, the views on the other side of the tunnel were spectacular. Unfortunately for us, most of the snow had melted, but, nonetheless, the views were beautiful. We drove all the way up to Tandi and after soaking in the views, we headed back to Sissu for lunch. We decided to check out the adventure activities by the river and the children ziplined their way to the other side of the River Chandra (Chenab). With views of the Palden Lhamo dhar waterfall in front, the experience was surreal. There was some snow on the other side, so the kids played for a bit before ziplining back to us.
By now, everyone was hungry. We were supposed to have lunch by the river but it was too windy. So, we decided to head to the café that was preparing the food to enjoy it indoors. Goldrop café had the perfect setting and we really enjoyed the nice hot food while listening to lovely music. Thank you Rajesh!
The kids really wanted to play in the snow. So, we called up Devansh at Offbeat Tracks and asked him to suggest a place where we could experience snow. He quickly investigated with our driver Dola and suggested a detour to Khoksar. We went there and the kids and adults alike enjoyed playing in the snow. Since it was one of the few snow points with accessible snow, it was quite crowded. That was expected, but the experience was awesome nonetheless.
We returned back to Manali and after a laidback evening eating hot pakoras, drinking chai followed by a delicious dinner at The Green Mountain Lodge, we called it a night.
Day 4 – Visiting Majhach, Jogini Falls and Hamta
By now, all of us had gotten used to waking up to gorgeous sunrises followed by a yummy breakfast at The Green Mountain Lodge. Our first stop that day was the village of Majhach perched high up in the mountains. Driving there sitting in our tempo traveller was an adventure in itself. Once we reached the village, we were able to see sweeping views of the Manali valley below along with watching how villagers live a simple life. After spending some time there, we headed to our next stop, Jogini Falls.
We started our Jogini Waterfalls trek at a small link road next to SASE. Soon we reached the Jogini Mata temple area. We hiked up a little more to get a better view of the falls before heading on the trail to Vashisht Temple. Both trails are well maintained and we were happy we enjoyed views of the waterfall all the way up to the main viewing area and experienced old forest on our walk to Vashisht Temple. Once we reached the temple area, we visited the Vashisht temple, the Shiva temple and Ram temple before heading to Manali Town for lunch. We decided to have lunch at a small place called “Andhra Bhojanalaya”. After lunch, we headed back to the lodge to prepare for the evening program.
When you are in the mountains, during a shoulder season, weather can be unpredictable. Sure enough, it rained… heavily at times. The locals were ecstatic as they needed the rain for the apple orchards to flourish. For us tourists, it was a bummer. We were supposed to go up to Backwoods Mountain Camp in Hamta to enjoy a lovely barbeque dinner. We sent our driver away thinking it was no longer feasible. Around 6:30pm, the weather cleared up. Our host at The Green Mountain Lodge, Mr. Tenzin, not wanting us to miss the experience, personally drove us to the camp in his own vehicle and we had an amazing time. Thank you Tenzin! The BBQ and dinner that followed were simply superb. The kids were over the moon. Vikas, Taashi and Ramesh at Backwoods Mountain Camp were gracious hosts and did not let the bad weather deter them one bit. What an ending to a beautiful day!
Day 5– Exploring Solang and Manali
After a delicious breakfast, we headed to Solang Valley and took the ropeway to the top of the mountain. Breathtaking views all around. Due to poor weather, we could not try paragliding but we didn’t feel bad at all.
Next, we headed to Manali Town to visit the Hadimba Temple. We then decided to have lunch at Johnson’s Café after which we explored Manali Town. We also managed to spend some time at the Buddhist Monastery before heading back to the homestay.
For dinner, we had tasty momos specially prepared by the chef at The Green Mountain Lodge.
Day 6 – Naggar, Manikaran and Tirthan Valley
On our way to Tirthan Valley, we decided to check out Sajla Waterfalls, Naggar Castle and Tripura Sundari Temple in Naggar. What a peaceful start to the day.
Next, we headed to Kullu (Babeli) to buy some local shawls. We decided to stop by Trishlaco Shawl Factory and Sale Depot to check out the shawls. At first, we walked away feeling the shawls may be overpriced. But, as we entered the factory area, we met a lovely woman who explained the shawl making process and patiently answered all of our questions. Soon afterwards, we headed back to the sales area and picked up a few lovely shawls.
Unfortunately, we had to skip the water rafting activities in Kullu due to low water levels. Perhaps next time.
Later, we headed to Manikaran (another impromptu detour managed by Offbeat Tracks). Visiting the Gurudwara, Shiva temple and Ram Temple gave us an opportunity to experience the magic of Manikaran, while partaking of langar at the Gurudwara where the food served is cooked using the hot springs of River Parvati raised the experience to the next level.
We finally reached our next homestay – Kudrat Homestay in Tirthan Valley just before sunset. Wow! What a view! It is an amazing place with gracious hosts. After a delicious dinner, we called it a night.
Day 7 – Exploring Tirthan Valley
After a wonderful breakfast, we headed to Tirthan Valley to trek to the Great Himalayan National Park gate. This was a bucket list item for me, so I was eager to do it. Offbeat Tracks and Kudrat helped arrange for a guide who helped us navigate the path to the gate. Beautiful views, wonderful company – what more can one ask for? Another UNESCO site in India visited (technically : )). Task done!
Later, we headed to a riverside eatery called Café HP49 in Banjar where we enjoyed lunch with views of the Tirthan river.
Afterwards, we headed back to Kudrat and enjoyed a delicious dinner where the hosts Bhawna and Sudhir ensured the kids had a wonderful dish especially prepared for them.
Day 8 – Back to Chandigarh
The next day we decided to sleep in and soak in the views as much as possible. After breakfast, we headed back to Chandigarh. A long ride made bearable thanks to the stunning views along the way. For lunch, we stopped at a place called “Suket Café” where the kids enjoyed pizza and wraps. For evening tea, we stopped at a fun roadside dhaba called “Alpine Dhaba”. Due to traffic in Chandigarh, we reached our hotel around 8 pm. Room service dinner ended our day nicely!
Day 9 – Exploring Chandigarh and back home
On our final day, we decided to explore a bit of Chandigarh after breakfast before heading to the airport. We managed to visit the famous Rock Garden and drove by the lovely Sukhna Lake.
As you saw above, true to my nature, I packed in as much as possible in the 9 days. However, after seeing and experiencing the wonderful homestays, I think my approach will be different the next time around… maybe. For example, we could have easily spent the 7 to 8 days exploring just the Manali / Lahaul area using either The Green Mountain Lodge or Backwoods Camp as a base or stayed at Kudrat and explored the Banjar area along with Great Himalayan National Park. One thing is for sure. You need to spend time in the mountains while your body cooperates because mobility unfortunately determines the extent and fulfilment of experiences.
For most travelers, including myself, when planning a vacation, we inevitably manage each tiny detail on an individual level (where to stay, what to do, etc.) instead of looking at the overall experience goal. Going with a boutique travel agency that considers the overall budget, looks at the “what is in it for me” of the client often has the potential to raise the bar on the travel experience to a new level.
From planning to execution, Offbeat Tracks (http://offbeatracks.com) took care of the small details. From ensuring we had a safe, reliable and polite driver, to clean, well maintained and comfortable vehicle (so many people remarked on how lucky we were), delicious food choices for the kids everywhere, comfortable stays, amazing hosts, adapting to last minute on-the-fly detour requests, topped with cool activities – we enjoyed a truly offbeat vacation in every sense of the word. This moms and kids group had an awesome time! Thank you Offbeat Tracks, especially Vandana, Sudha and Devansh for ensuring everyone had a fantastic and memorable time.