One summer in Mumbai, beaten down by the heat – maybe both of the weather and that of life itself – I had an urge to see Himachal. Not one of those over-commercialized hill stations of Shimla and Dalhousie but the real Himachal. Within a few days, I randomly booked my flights to Delhi and an onward bus journey to Kullu. Probably the most impulsive plan I have made, defying the one thought at the back of my head – a trip to Himachal can’t be planned so quickly and maybe it is too far for a short trip from Mumbai. Actually, it is just a late evening flight and an overnight bus ride away. Tirthan, although was a little more – another hour of taxi ride away :P.
Tirthan is like love at first sight! A small quaint valley alongside Tirthan river in the Kullu district of Himachal. Small clusters of village dotted alongside the river and the hills to the other side make this valley picturesque. Even in the middle of summer, there was nothing touristy about this place. It is like a whiff of fresh air among all the crazy holiday destinations that the internet world sells you, only to discover the real hype. But, Tirthan was much more beautiful than the pictures or what the words could describe.
Experience the valley like a local – courtesy Tirthan’s home stay culture
There are few villages in the valley with a number of home stays – Gushaini and Nagini being the most popular ones. Absence of commercial hotels in the villages, gives you an opportunity to stay with a local family in their traditional houses. The food is served from the family kitchen. I booked my home stay via Airbnb in Gushaini, and it was right on the banks of Tirthan river – overlooking the valley. The view from my room was just amazing! The experience of travelling to a place multiplies if you get to know the people there, learn a bit about their life, eat the local food from a home kitchen and live the place beyond the destinations to see. Tirthan with its home stay culture offers you exactly this – a chance to go beyond the “Things to do/see”.
The village of Gushaini will make you feel at home – it was much more beautiful than what I had anticipated and whenever I see the pictures, they still make me want to go back. You can just keep endlessly walking through the village lanes and appreciate the beauty of the place. Though the locals give cursory glances (they are not very used to seeing tourists), but once you strike a conversation they are more than helpful. I happened to meet a lady painting her walls with some kids playing around. A small conversation ended up in an introduction to her family, fields and directions to a hidden path up to waterfalls which was closed for the tourists. I attempted the climb with her but unfortunately it started raining heavily – so we had to come back with a promise to visit tomorrow. Tirthan welcomes you with open arms if you are ready to drop that little inhibition. You could just do nothing, wander around the village trails along with lovely local dogs and talk to locals – yet your days will feel complete there.
After my failed attempt to reach the waterfall, I went again the following morning with my host. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Chhoie Waterfalls – the whole area around the waterfall was lush green. Despite summer – the water was ice cold and dipping your feet would need some courage. The hike in itself was rewarding – some old stone houses, dense forest, locals gathering wood, kids running along. Himachali people always make you feel embarrassed about your fitness levels, when you see the elderly literally breezing past you while you are struggling with the next step. The waterfall is located in the middle of Gushaini village – easily accessible by foot from any of the home stays. It would take around an hour one way for the hike. The path to the waterfall is a narrow one and there are two three ways to reach. Its advisable to take a local/guide along, or you can try some adventure on your own. My host had so many stories to share about literally every part of the journey – be it some tree, a house, attitude of city dwellers etc. In his innocence, he narrated few stories of how some city dwellers spoil the peace and serenity of such places by loud blaring music, and spoiling the trail path – some lead to accidents too. We spent some time literally chilling in the water. On our return, we tried an alternate trail path and my host shared stories about the beauty of Sharchi village- his recommendation for the next day.
Sharchi – Tirthan valley’s best kept secret
Sharchi happens to be my favorite place in Tirthan – it is just perfect! Sharchi is like a splendid painting on a clean canvass. Its a small village of shepherds with narrow meandering lanes running across beautifully manicured (seemingly) terrace farms, sheep grazing in the sunlit valley, blooming apple orchards and on the top lies a lush green beautiful meadow overlooking the snow capped mountains. I would say this is Tirthan’s best kept secret.
Sharchi is at a distance of around 15 kms from Gushaini village along a narrow motorable dirt road. You can either choose to hike or hire a taxi to reach Sharchi. The drive uphill will require some fine mountain driving skills. There is a narrow lane which takes you to the village, after the motorable road ends. It would take around a day to explore the village, but given the beauty around, it would never feel enough. Sharchi is a place where you get high on nature – though Bhang grows wildly in the valley. I was lucky to try some Bhang pakodas later in the evening with my hosts, made from the hand plucked bhang from my trip to Sharchi.
At the end of the hike along the village road, you reach a sprawling green meadow, outlined by pine trees, overlooking blue white mountains – I could not believe that a place like this existed in India. It was so beautiful and yet peaceful – no one except the few villagers or us to disturb my peaceful sleep on the bed of green grass. You could spend hours rolling on the grass and not get tired of it. You could click a thousand pictures and videos but still not capture the beauty. I would have spent at least a few hours just sleeping, lazing and running around this meadow.
Being a secluded shepherd’s village, the locals are generally not very outward and you will need to be patient. While exploring the village it started raining (seems like rains love me!) and I was lucky to have help from a little girl returning from school who offered me shelter in her home. It was a rustic traditional Himachali home built of stone and wood panels. The girl’s father – a carpenter cum guide had recently started a home stay. One conversation led to another and I ended up spending an hour with them – had delicious maggi noodles prepared in the coal chulha, and helped the owner set up an Airbnb account. The family promised to take us on treks to the mountains visible from Sharchi – on my next visit.
Tirthan valley is endowed with several beautiful treks
Tirthan valley is a part of Greater Himalayan National Park (GHNP) and boasts of several beautiful treks – while you are there you could book treks organized by the GNHP from their office in Shairopa, Tirthan.
Serloskar lake trek is a popular trek amidst the dense forest which starts from Jalori pass. Jalori pass is 30 kms from Gushaini village. The trek is 6 km one way through thick forests of Deodar and Conifers. Its a easy to moderate level day trek with some steep ascends and descends. My host suggested to take a short cut which included climbing several mountains and descending – with spectacular views. Though the distance was short, I think this route tired me more due to the steep climbs. But it was all worth it due to the mesmerizing views of mountains, green grassy hills and a lone temple which we encountered on the way.
The sight of the Serloskar lake at the end of the trek was a relief as I was struggling to keep up pace, while my guide was laughing at me. The view was captivating with a beautiful backdrop of clouds, carefully chosen trees to complement the old temple situated right at the center. The lake and the temple are dedicated to Goddess Buddhi Nagin – who is believed to have resided in the lake. There is also a common folklore which says the the birds around the temple, always keep the water clear of any foliage. For the two hours which I spent there, the lake indeed was crystal clear.
I spent hours lazing around the meadows surrounding the temple, exploring the Deodar forests around and playing with little butterflies. There are some local makeshift food stalls serving Maggi, chole rice near the temple. You could also choose to camp around the lake area – if you plan it in advance, as all the requirements will have to be carried with the help of porters till the lake.
Visit Tirthan to explore the magic of Jibhi
Jibhi is a small cozy village in Tirthan valley which has become quite popular in the last few years with offbeat travelers. Jibhi is around 18 kms from Gushaini which can be covered by a taxi or local buses via Banjar. The bus service is not frequent and you will have to rely on locals to help you with the timings. Travelling in local buses is an experience in itself, which offers you a chance to understand the local life – and helps you become a traveler from a tourist.
I had booked a lovely tree house via Airbnb, just a stone’s throw away from the Jibhi Waterfall. The tree-house came with a little balcony which overlooked the stream running from the Jibhi waterfall through the beautiful forest. The house was built on an old tree which grew right in the middle – as rustic as it can get.
You can spend two to three days slow travelling in Jibhi – exploring the magical valley and local life. Jibhi will sure make you feel like a place where you want to live and just not see. You can explore the valley in a private vehicle or choose to use the public transportation. Locals including home stay hosts are super helpful and can help with all local transport details – including bus, shared taxi etc.
A day trip in Jibhi can include visiting the Shringa Rishi and Chehni Kothi temple. Shringa Rishi temple is at a distance of 7 kms from Jibhi on the road going towards Banjar. After a few kms off the main road, you shall reach the base village Bagi. From Bagi vilage its a 30 minutes hike on well laid stairs to the temple. Chehni Kothi is another one hour hike from Shringa Rishi temple, along a well laid out trail.
Shringa Rishi temple is dedicated to the presiding deity of Banjar. Its one of the most important temples in the Kullu region and holds an annual festival in the month of May. The temple has a beautiful courtyard full of lush green grass and beautiful flowering plants. It has a simple wooden architecture with galleries on the first and second level. The balcony of the temple offers some breathtaking views of the valley and the spiritual environment might make you feel meditative. I met the pujari of the temple who with his family lived on the premises and had a long chat about life in the valley and temple’s history. The valley life to him though peaceful had its own challenges like lack of secondary education for his daughter – Shruti. I spent a few hours with his family in the temple courtyard bathing the warm sun, sipping some milky tea and wondering about the nature of life. How everything is so relative – for a traveler Tirthan is bliss but for a local he has seen all aspects! The pluses and the minuses are different for everyone, and maybe life is an opportunity for us to choose our pluses and minuses :). I wondered – how life is so intriguing this way and suddenly my thoughts went to how sun rays feel so divine on your face in the hills.
A one hour hike from Shringa Rishi, amidst the apple plantations and lush green hills take you to Chehni Kothi. The hike crosses a few local villages, fields and a few cafes run by the villagers. You could taste some amazing soupy Maggi in one of these cafes. There are some mesmerizing views all along the hike. Chehni Kothi – the tower temple, gets its name from the village of Chehni. Chehni Kothi is famous for its unique architecture and tower like design. The temple has the traditional Himachali architecture of in the form of a tower. Its prohibited to climb up the unique wooden stairs of the temple, and its only done on auspicious days by the locals. Chehni village is a small settlement of few traditional houses around the temple – with a hand pump, courtyard in the center. You could pick up a conversation with locals doing daily chores on the story/history of the temple and hear various different versions.
Behind the temple lies a huge forest with deodar and pine trees. Children from the nearby government primary school of the village were playing around us. I spent few hours exploring the forest along with my guide. My guide was most interested in discussing – How did he think a valley life was not meant for someone like me. Though he himself hated cities, but still thought I could not survive for long, away from all the city comforts. Though I still don’t know if he was right, but life definitely feels more like it when I am away in the hills :).
While you are in Tirthan, try to immerse in the beauty of the place. Choose to slow travel, chit chat with locals, try the home made food. Homemade trout fish and Siddu are specialties in the valley. Siddu is local steamed walnut stuffed, whole wheat delicacy which tastes yum with pudina/apple chutney. You can also try your hands at angling of the trout fish by obtaining a local permit with the help of the home stay hosts. With so many soulful experiences, I am sure you would feel like going to Tirthan again and again or maybe settling down forever. My host is still awaiting to hear back from me on my settlement plan in Tirthan 😛
Travel Tips to Tirthan:
How to reach Tirthan: From Delhi, you can book a overnight Volvo on HRTC website to Kullu (it would take 12 hours from Delhi and would cost approx Rs 1500), drop off at Aut tunnel – and arrange a taxi pickup to Gushaini which will cost around Rs 1000 and an hour. Though a taxi is the most convenient way to travel in the hills it can turn out to be expensive too. So, either you can arrange a pre-booked package with your home stay at a discount or opt for local buses (this has its own share of uncertainty and hence the fun). For return journey you can board the buses starting from Manali in Kullu. Kullu can be reached via change of two local buses: Gushaini- Banjar- Kullu, or a taxi. Or a road trip can be planned to Tirthan via Delhi Manali highway, take the turn to Banjar valley when you reach Aut.
Stay recommendations: I stayed in Bisht Niwas home stay in Gushaini – you can easily find the details on Google. In Jibhi – I booked Daleep’s tree house through Airbnb. A per night tariff of Rs 2000-2500, with food excluded.