An insiders View from Vashisht, Himachal Pradesh

Vashisht ManikaranI’ve had the pleasure of calling Himachal Pradesh, the Northern Indian state where they grow the best apples and where the Tibetan Government-In-Exile is located, my home for the past two years. The Himalayan peaks are breathtaking (for the eyes and the lungs) and the people are of the good hardy mountain variety. Rajistan and Kashmir are all that they say, but Himachal stands on its own.

Though it’s hard to go wrong in HP, I highly recommend two villages as your base camps. The small village of Vashisht is on top of a mountain about 3km from the larger and more popular Manali. Vashisht is famous for Guru Vashishta’s temple and it’s hot water springs. The spectacular views here, and it’s strategic location to so many other spectacular places, make this the number one destination for Indian honeymooners as well as Westerners looking for something different.

Vashisht Manikaran 2From Vashisht you can make day trips to Nagar, Solang, Rohtang Pass, Kullu,and more. All these places offer outdoor adventure sports, a photog’s paradise, fantastic local and north Indian cuisine, and pockets of laid back shanti shanti-ness.

For the most relaxing stay head backside from the temple and look for guest houses and homestays in the village proper, removed from the tourist vehicle path. Take your bath each day at the hot springs and enjoy the 20 minute hike out to Jogini Waterfall. without doubt, head to Nirvana Deluxe Dhaba for your first (and probably all subsequent) meal. The thali is hot and fresh and all you can eat, the taste is bar none, and it’s the cheapest food in town. It’s where you go to sink in and do as the locals do.

When you’re ready to move on, head 85 km down the road to Manikaran – a place of sacred pilgrimage for both Hindu’s and Sheiks. While you might prefer to hang your hat in nearby Kasol (about 4 km away), it’s the hot springs, Gurudwara, and the trekking from Manikaran that are the real attraction here.

With the village as your base camp, take the challenging day treks to Pulga and Chandrakhani Pass, visit Malana Village (the reward at the end of the Chandrakhani trek) travel to the remote but powerful Khirganga, and absolutely do not miss, under any circumstances, the views from Shoja. From Shoja you get a complete panorama of the Kullu Valley. Unforgettable.

download (4)Manikaran is best known for the Sheik Gurudwara built on top of the hot springs there. A Gurudwara is a Sheik temple, but is often much more community focused. In Manikaran Gurudwara they serve a free meal, open to all faiths. Eat Indian style and take in the view of selfless service as the volunteers practice what they preach.

You’ll find both Vashisht and Manikaran in the guide books – they aren’t so very much off the beaten path and – like all other places located in the middle of the biggest mountain range on planet Earth – a bit of a commitment to get to. But you won’t be sorry. No cliched expressions (any more), just the straight up truth. These small villages in the Himalaya’s are powerful places that will pull you in and inspire you.

Thanks to Nadia Alamo for this wonderfully evocative piece.