Visiting the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is on my bucket list. Has been for a long time. In 2015, while travelling from Shimla to Kullu, we passed by the road that we needed to take to reach Tirthan Valley. I promised myself I would be back, but never knew it would happen like this. During a recent trip to Manali, our travel agent suggested we explore Tirthan Valley in addition to Manali. When the itinerary showed up in my inbox, I was shocked – she had included a hike to the gate of the GHNP. I was elated!!
During our Tirthan Valley trip, we stayed at a lovely homestay called “Kudrat”. It is an absolutely beautiful place with stunning views of Tirthan Valley. After breakfast, we headed to the start of the trail. The final stretch of the road was under construction, so we ended up walking an extra mile to reach the start of the trail. On average, we were told, it takes about 5 to 6 hours to complete the hike.
On the way to the gate, there are quite a few steep inclines to climb. Having sat at home for almost two years thanks to the COVID pandemic, I was not as physically fit as I thought. I was walking 10,000 steps everyday for at least three months, but it was on flat ground. The altitude and the incline proved to be a bit more challenging than I was anticipated.
All along the way, we walked next to the valley where River Tirthan flowed. We passed through a couple of small villages and saw the villagers going about their daily routine. Slowly and steadily, we made our way closer to the gate. Around 2.5 hours into the hike, our guide told us that our pace was slowing down and it would take us much longer than anticipated if we did not pick up the pace. Luckily, we found a small shop selling juices. We immediately bought a bottle and gulped it down to give us some instant energy. It really helped. We quickly covered distance thanks to the burst of energy and the increasing number of downhill slopes (yes – coming back we had a reality check!).
For most of the trail, all we could see and enjoy was the valley below. The trail had been chalked out in such a way that on our right side was the mountain wall most of the way. As we got closer to the gate, the scenery changed a bit. We were able to access a fresh water stream that was making its way through the forest to join the river. Our guide motioned to us that it was safe to drink the water. All of us immediately filled up our empty water bottles and thoroughly enjoyed the cool water. We continued on the trail and soon reached Hippo Point.
We stopped close to the falls and started to admire them. The guide told us why it was named Hippo Point – one of the rocks looks like a Hippo in water. To access the falls, you have to climb down a steep slope. The kids were ready to do it. The guide immediately stopped us and said – “but you are almost there”. We didn’t believe him at first until he forced us to look ahead. Sure enough, there it was, the GHNP Gate. We all screamed in delight and rushed to the gate.
In order to hike and stay inside the park, you need to get special permits and often it takes a while to obtain them. So, like most of the day hikers, we walked a few steps inside the gate, clicked a few pictures and then started our journey back to the starting point. As we walked back, we met many folks who were walking towards the gate, fully equipped with backpacks and professional cameras. Our guide told us that many people spend a couple of days or weeks at a time inside the park hiking and capturing the stunning Himalayas within GHNP.
A few tips and reality checks
- Dress in layers. This is especially important during shoulder weather months.
- Carrying a trekking pole really helps during the walk. We were extremely grateful that our host allowed us to borrow the poles for the hike.
- Wear good trekking shoes. Having proper grip on the soles of the shoes will help you maintain a good pace and stay safe.
- Follow the local guide’s recommendation on which stream to drink water from. Not every stream has potable water. The last thing you want to happen is fall sick afterward so please do not be foolish.
- Make sure you are fit enough walk up two to three flights of stairs comfortably without getting breathless. Crazy I know, but, unknowingly, COVID has impacted everyone’s lung capacity. So, even moderate hikes can seem challenging if you haven’t hiked in a while.
- The views on the Tirthan trail to the GHNP gate may or may not excite you. But, if you are like me, then hiking to the gate is special as well.
- Hire a guide. They keep you company and can help you along the way if needed.
- If you can, get a permit ahead and stay inside the park. It will most likely give you the best opportunity to experience the amazing biodiversity the park is well known for.
- If you are short on time and hiking to the gate is not a do-all-end-all for you, then, look for other possible hiking options in the area that will allow you to experience the river, waterfalls, the forest, the farms and the beautiful Himalayan meadows.
Unexpectedly, I managed to complete one of my bucket list items. In theory at least – by stepping on the inside of the park by crossing the gate. And I completed the round trip in 5 hours! But, I am getting older. If I were to make a wish again like I did in 2015, this time I would wish for the opportunity to not only hike quickly and easily to the gate of GHNP but also be able to spend a couple of days inside camping, trekking, spotting an elusive animal or two and just having a great time!