If you’re planning a trip to the mountains, most likely you will fly into Delhi and head north from there. You might be going all the way up to Leh or Kashmir but it was November and we were soon to find out that we couldn’t go so far north at that time.
We stopped first in snowcapped Shimla hill station, where a nice man at the tourist center explained that our planned route was completely idiotic, so much so that it was worthy of grabbing a few of his friends to laugh and talk about how dumb we were in Hindi. Nice!
Although, he was nice enough to give us an alternative route (which was equally shitastic).
This is the story of our detour to unknown Sarahan, where we were close to stranded in a snowy November.
The plan that was laughable in November: Shimla, Kullu, Manali, then Leh…maybe even Kashmir. Rohtang pass was closed to Leh so it would be impossible. I wanted to do some trekking and maybe visit the Great Himalayan National Park.
The NEW plan: Instead of going north from Manali to Leh, we were told go around NE near Tibet, to the east of Pin Valley and go around to get to Leh. Including: Shimla, Sarahan, Sangla, Rekong Peo, Kalpa, Nako, Tabo, Kaza, Keylong, (Some of these are tiny little towns you only pass through).
this photo shows route 1 straight north and route 2 to the east (which I didn’t complete mapping out)
So we were off to explore the Himalayas while most people laughed wondering what in the world two tourists were doing this far north in November. This time of year there are no tourist buses, so local is the only option. We took a 7-hour ride then switched to 2 more local buses, sometimes standing for an hour or two while people were hanging out the doors in the freezing cold.
What’s interesting is travel on the East side of India at this time isn’t as secluded. You can visit Sikkim & Darjeeling later in the year with a little less difficulty.
When we arrived, we quickly found Hotel Srikhand, which was right on the corner in this tiny town. For Rs 150 they offered us a dorm room. The hotel was owned by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism board and was similar to the YMCA in Shimla.
It looks great, right? Well then he walked us to the dorm. Should have known for Rs 150. “No other hotel?”, we asked.
The room was…. horrible. The bathroom was unbearable. It was beyond freezing. We were in desperate need of showers but barely rinsed off with the ice cold water in the bucket. Worst “shower” I’ve ever had!
We were easily the only tourists in town; everyone kept reminding us. Since no one else was in the dorm, we stole all the blankets, each having about three, and still barely managed to stay warm. Plus the fact, this is when the rash symptom of Dengue Fever decided to kick in. Strongly. I was up all night thinking I was allergic to something, rubbing tiger balm and hydrocortisone all over myself.
I think you guys might already be guessing the moral of the story: don’t backpack this area of the mountains in winter.
In the morning, I had my first intro to the fresh apples that the valleys gift each year. I have never had such good apple juice and pies!
What Can One do in Sarahan? See a Buddhist temple. It’s nice. The end.
We wandered for all of five minutes and found nothing else in the town. We asked around, and people confirmed there was nothing for us, matter of fact, why the eff were we even here? It came time to book a bus.
“Hi Mr.… where’s the bus station?”
“Oh, the bus station closed. No buses.”
This was the start of an uncomfortable realization we could not get a bus north through Spiti valley as the nice man in Shimla told us to. We could either get on the bus we came in and spend another night/day going South on the same miserable route we’d just come up, or hire a care to take us on the dangerous path east through the mountains.
The road leading to Leh is on many lists of “most dangerous roads in the world” and these small connecting roads, we were told, were very scary. It took some time to find a driver, but during off-season people are always looking for work and we found someone willing to take us west on an unusual route.
Car hire was Rs 5,000 for about 11 hours to Kullu. The plan was to stay there one night and head to Manali which was LITERALLY where we were meant to be before the Shimla man laughed at our plan! Unreal. Sometimes a little extra planning can go a long way. The car ride was the most beautiful part of it all!
There are so many places to trek in the Himalayas that you can plan out if you aren’t into getting lost like I did, lol.
Regardless, it was a nice adventure in a beautiful place, although it took a few days and cost a chunk of extra money. I hadn’t put enough thought into traveling in the mountains in the winter. India is very seasonal.
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