Patrick Orme-Lynch

Patrick Orme-Lynch

The Kullu Valley – Jewel Of The Himalayas

India’s Kullu Valley is one of the most spectacular parts of the subcontinent. For trekking or simply sightseeing, there are many places to visit for the intrepid (or not so intrepid) traveller…

If India is on your hit list then some of the questions you might be asking yourself may be; when do I go, where and how can I see the most colourful parts of this huge sub-continent?

Generally in winter the south is ambient and sunny whereas in the summer the snows in the mountains of the Himalayas have melted and you are free to roam.

The eastern parts of this mountain range are predominantly dry and fairly barren with the notable exception of Hemkund and the Valley of flowers. Whereas the western end is verdant and offers exciting travel experiences.

NO GO ZONES

Unfortunately, although The Vale of Kashmir in the west is famous for its lakes and picture postcard scenery, it is a political conflict zone.

However the open arms of the spectacular Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh is well suited to welcoming large numbers of visitors that seek both the winter snows and summer sun. The colourful and peaceful tribal people are some of the most easy going in India and the region is relatively easy to get around using (slightly scary) buses.

MANALI

Main street Manali – pic: Axel Drainville via Flickr

The snow melt of the River Beas tumbles magnificently down from the high passes carving through precipitous valleys. Manali at the head of Kullu Valley is a major port of call accessible all year round and brimming with hotels, guest houses and all the services for tourism you could think of.

A high altitude ski resort is planned for the future. From a late thaw in June/July until the beginning of snowfall in September, the high Rhotang Pass is open and the road to Leh, known as Little Tibet, is just a bus or taxi ride away.

The whole region is a trekking paradise where some of the most interesting adventures are to be found off the beaten track.

In fact, the world renowned ABVIMAS trekking course can be found here (read our very amusing first hand review of the course)!

FESTIVAL

Legend has it, a holy man was carrying a casket containing the most revered Hindu gods through the Kullu Valley, when a strong gust of wind blew open the lid and they all tumbled out, never to return to their heavenly thrones.

Now every village in Kullu valley hosts one of these deities and the villagers hold festivals throughout the year in their honour.

One such temple shrine is within the Nagar Castle Hotel and in mid May each year, a shamanic ritual of drums and horns, parades through the narrow streets of the village. The climax is the grand festival around 22nd of the month, a portend of the rains to irrigate their crops.

NAGGAR

Naggar Castle – Pic: Vijay-V82 via Flickr

Naggar, meaning King, features an impressive medieval fortress perched on a vertical rockface. An astounding landmark that has been converted into a luxury hotel whilst retaining its medieval charm. There are stunning views from the battlements to the Beas river below and across the valley to the snow peaks beyond. It has a reliable restaurant and friendly staff.

Close by you will find the cafes serving cool cakes and fabulous filter coffee, creature comforts that are often difficult to find.

A permanent exhibition of the works of artist Nicholas Roerich, offers a cultural focal point in the village. Capturing the monolithic might of Himalayan peaks his dramatic play of natural light castes shadow and highlights of colour in a style that will challenge your perception .

TREKKING IN THE KULLY VALLEY

Depending on your physical preparedness, a mountain trek is a must to really experience the true beauty of the surrounding high mountain ranges.

Do not stray from the beaten track without a guide and a porter to carry your baggage is recommended. There are agencies offering guides for trekking or even white water rafting in the Beas river below.

A reliable independent mountain guide can be contacted to make the trek up to the Chandrakhani Pass at 12,000 feet where the effects of altitude will challenge your limits of endurance.

I went with Bindu Jogindra (00 91 (0)9805783785/ 9418360307 e-mail: jogibaba827@gmail.com) . On the day he will take you, at your pace for six or seven hours up to the pass itself. Here you can sit enthralled by the amphitheatre of the mountains around then camp or sleep in a chai shop come rest house. There is a source of clean mountain water nearby and toilet facilities are the open mountainside. Can be chilly!

Five Star location with basic amenities at the chai shop cum rest house near the top of the pass. Guide Bindu to the left, porter centre and proprietor Eric to the right.

TREKKING THE CHANDRAKHANI PASS

Day two will take you over the Chandrakhani Pass itself, crowned by an open temple, where burning incense or leaving a small gift to the deities that guard the pass will bring good fortune.

Over the pass, the descent is a steep scree of lose granite, generously seamed with shining mica that glitters like silver bullion in the bright sunlight as you enter the magic Valley of Malana and approach the unique community of Malana village.

Malana Village – Pic: Saurab Chatterjee via Flickr

An ancient sect, part Hindu part practitioners of esoteric magic that eschew direct contact with anyone from outside the village. The people of Malana village have their own strict rules of non-engagement to the point that to purchase a bottle of mineral water from a shop there, the visitor may be barred from entry having to bizarrely pay money by depositing it on the floor of the shop and pick the bottles up of the ground.

Neither do they accept the laws of India but consider themselves a law to themselves. Which goes some way to explaining why the village is also famous for the exceptional quality, and quantity of Malana cream hashish. Produced from the ubiquitous small, terraced, charras fields that patchwork the mountainside for miles around.

The village temple is a masterpiece of wooden sculpture to be marvelled at but definitely not photographed. They might not murder you if you did but they might well murder the guide for taking you there in the first place. Having said that, the villagers are friendly and welcoming, displaying a great pride in their village.

Limited guest house accommodation is available on the outskirts of the village. A road and taxi rank a mile away can bring the trek to an end or there are still further options to continue exploring other peaks and passes.

MANIKARAN

Malana Valley leads to the Parbatti River, over lorded by the pilgrimage town of Manikaran where Hindu and Sikh pilgrims arrive from across India in a constant flow of buses and cars to worship at the temples and bathe in its hot springs.

Hotel Shivalik (INR 2000/3000 room – tel 01902-273817/9418135951 ) has rooms close to the white torrent of the snow melt river. Life in this pilgrimage town centres upon the three temples by the river where there are public hot spring baths.

Tourists will also find private ones in some guest houses. Groups of orange clad devotees and Sadhus meander through the cobbled alleyways by the river. The sonorous toll of the temple bell, chanting and the haunting melodies of aarti wafting across the river in the afternoon sun reflect their devotion.

PARBATTI RIVER VALLEY

The road continues upriver, further into the mountains, where there are further trekking options from Keerghanga (altitude 10,000 ft) accessible by car, bus or motor bike.

The hip village of Kasol on the road back to the transport hubs of Bhuntar and Kullu offers a rendezvous for those following the India trail.

GETTING TO THE KULLU VALLEY

Getting into the region is relatively straightforward as there are frequent connections to nearby cities.

Volvo sleeper buses run a daily overnight service from Delhi to Kullu or Manali which can be booked online.

Chandigargh is the nearest major train station, 250 kms from Kullu. Connection is by overnight sleeper bus, government run buses in daytime or a six hour taxi ride up the mountain roads at a rate of INR 8,000 to 10,000.

An airport at Bhuntar (Kulu Airport, KUU) offers flight connection to Delhi and Jaipur. Check flights on our handy flight booking widget below.


Heading to India? Read our guide (and get the free download) to surviving India…

If you’re going sightseeing in the Kullu Valley, or you can suggest other best things to do in Manali or Manikaran, please comment below.

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