“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the curiosity & courage to lose sight of the shore.” - Andre Gide
A journey started with curiosity and ended with millions of memories to stay forever. Be with me as I unfold memorable journey.
Tour name: Chandigarh-Shimla-Manali
Tour start date: 14th April 2018
Tour leaders: Unknown
Tour members: Unknown
Kesari experience: Unfamiliar
Being our first ever group tour, we had few curious questions like:
Curiosity #1: Whether we get a chance to explore places which are beyond our travel itinerary?
Curiosity #2: Whether we will be able to soak up beautiful places, as we will be travelling too quickly?
Curiosity #3: Whether we get a privacy in a group tour (with uncertainty about with whom you will be travelling)?
Curiosity #4: Whether we’ll be able to get good accommodations, good food & like-minded people?
Curiosity #5: Lastly, will this tour be worth the money?
With an inquisitive mind, we began our journey.
Day1 (Mumbai -to- Chandigarh)
We were greeted by Kesari representative on the Mumbai airport & handed over flight tickets. With kids with us, we were searching for families with same-age kids but strangers on board we couldn’t identify Kesari travellers.
We were received by Kalpesh (Tour Guide) at Chandigarh airport & requested us to board a bus to reach our hotel for overnight stay. This was the time we could actually see with whom we’ll be travelling for whole tour.
During evening dinner, we were introduced to two more young tour guides (Sanjay & Vikram) and rest of the families too (we came to know that our group comprised of 54 members, BIG for us but REGULAR for our Kesari guides). We were also introduced to two important aspects of this tour:
- Wake-up call - a Kesari representative would wake us up (at a specific time, every day) with Tea-Coffee served in our rooms.
- Luggage funda - Kesari team takes care of carrying our luggage throughout the journey - we just have to keep it outside our rooms and rest will be taken care. At every new location, our luggage would be placed outside our rooms. This used to be most tiring & irritating part of our past journey.
Day 2 (Chandigarh -to- Shimla)
गणपति बाप्पा मौरया. बोलो उन्दिर मामा की जय. बोलो उन्दिर मामी की जय.
Charged everyone on the bus for our 1st day of Chandigarh sightseeing & then 6 hrs long journey towards Shimla. We immediately realized why Chandigarh is called first “Well-planned city” in India. Chandigarh is a rare epitome of modernization co-existing with nature’s preservation.
For me, Rock garden was a pick of sites.
Hats-off to the creator of the garden - Nek Chand who spent first 7 years (1958-65) collecting stones & tiles to form structures resembling animals, humans and other abstract forms. As you stroll through the garden, enjoying awe-inspiring creation; worthy respect for the creator automatically floats in your heart.
While our way towards Shimla, we took a halt at Pinjore garden (built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century) and we were entitled to another surprise treat. We read about the popular Sikh festival Baisakhi or Vaisakhi during our childhood days but seldom get a chance to witness its celebration. At Pinjore garden, we witnessed some of the traditional folk dances like Bangra (Performed by male & female artists) in the corridors & lawns. It was treat & moment of pride to see such diverse cultures of India.
From hustling expressway, we started our journey into curvy, sometimes bumpy but beautiful scenics of Shimla (NH-22). As we ascended, temperature and environment began to change rapidly. Our expert tour guides, kept us informed about changing weather, nausea and need to carry warm clothing. Though time to reach our destination was important, our guides didn’t rush. Occasional refreshment halts resolved my curiosity #2 (“travel too quickly”).
We reached Hotel Golf Link @10PM (located on the outskirts of Shimla). We were completely exhausted but equally happy to reach the important destination of our journey. During dinner, we got to know about next days plan & wake-up call timing.
Day 3,4 (Shimla & Kufri -to- Manali)
6:00 AM: I opened our bedroom curtains to see a mesmerizing valley view…it was truly breathtaking. You really need to pinch yourself to realize that you are not in an exotic European location. The serenity of land, fresh cold breeze made me feel previous days long journey worthwhile.
For me, Mall road & Shimla church (designed with the Neo-gothic style of architecture) is a pick of sites… simply because the location of the church allowed us to view whole Shimla in a single glimpse. View of Shimla from there was of-course beautiful but also disturbing as most of the mountain ranges were cut to bring human habitats. Being one of the favourite tourist destinations, the city has commercialized over the years.
Nevertheless, every time we spent at Mall Road & Lakkar Bazaar (renowned for wood articles) was memorable. Seeing locals seating relaxed at various corners was the sign of how content & happy they are in the close vicinity of nature.
Kesari tour guides kept feeding us with valuable information about locations we were visiting which made us know that place better. Kesari team gave handy snacks & plenty of mineral water to drink to ensure we don’t dehydrate.
Day 5 (Shimla -to- Manali)
6:00 AM: Wake-up call
7:30 AM: We started 8 hr long journey towards Manali. I knew Shimla to Manali highway is one of the most picturesque ones and I was not at all disappointed. The route is completely in the hills of Himalayas, every route and turn is very scenic, covered with beautiful majestic mountain ranges, and the lush green valley.
As we moved towards Kullu, mountain ranges (with an abundance of deodar and pine trees) were bettered with beautiful Vyas River. This place is considered as a paradise for water adventure lovers (especially for river rafting). At 4000+ feet height, clear blue skies and fresh air was intoxicating.
During our evening tea-coffee break, we happened to visit beautiful Aar-Kay Shawl Factory (near Mandi). A weaver in traditional attire was weaving Kulluvi shawls.
We reached Hotel Highland @7:30 PM (situated in the heart of the Manali city). The exertion of our day-long journey vanished when we were told that next day we would be visiting snow-point (that’s for what we travelled so far..).
Day 6,7 (at Manali)
7:00 AM: Wake-up call
Next 2 days we were destined to visit Rohtang Snow Point, Hidimba Temple, Vashist Hot Water Spring & Shopping at Mall Road.
We started day 6 with the visit to most awaited snow point, we were informed that Rohtang Pass is closed for tourists by BRO (Border Road Organisation - Himachal Pradesh) and an alternate spot is given named as “Gulaba”. As our hotel was in the heart of the city, drive towards snow point was just 30-40mins. Heavy vehicles were not allowed hence we had 7-8 Innova cars to take us there. You need to rent snow boots, winter jackets and hand gloves from a roadside shop. This attire ensures that we won’t get hit by intense cold and could enjoy the snow without fear of getting wet.
“Gulaba” is at a height of 14,000 ft & with kids in the group we preferred to go on a horse. Surrounding view from foothill to snow point is just spectacular, looking at the snow covered mountain ranges and surrounding beauty is majestic. Human existence in this vastness can just be compared to “Spec of a dust” which can vanish with single spoof by the mother nature. You tend to bow down to the mighty creator.
“Gulaba” was literally swarming with tourists, a piece of a glacier was open for tourists. We spent 3 hours in the beautiful topography - enjoying the snow (being our first-time experience) & taking photos. Memories worth cherishing for a lifetime.
While our way back to the hotel, we visited Vashist Temple (dedicated to saint Vasistha) which is famous for its ever-flowing hot spring water. Due to renovation work, we were not allowed to visit deep inside but the aura of the environment could be felt easily.
Kesari team allowed us to utilize day 7 for planing anything other than our itinerary we wished to visit and that resolved my curiosity #1 (“explore places beyond our travel itinerary”) & #3 (“privacy in a group tour”). With Arvind Kausadikar & family, we planned to visit beautiful “Solang Valley” on day 7. This place is famous for heavy snowfalls, cable cars and hosting various winter adventure sports like skiing, parachuting, paragliding etc. The view from the point is magnificent as it gives a view of whole mountain ranges of Manali with snow-capped peaks and glaciers.
We witnessed snowfall as well. Localists told us that this is not a usual season for snowfall…but GOD has definite plan to surprise us all :) Experience of tiny snowflakes from above was awesome.
How can a journey end without your “lady luck” doing a shopping? Yes, you guessed it right!!! Ladies went on a shopping spree after our lunch at Mall Road. This place is renowned for street shopping like trinkets to exotic authentic Kashmiri and Kulluvi shawls & jackets.
Later in the evening, Kesari team organized get together function with some surprise element. These group activities like magic shows, experience sharing, cake cutting, games & prizes made the whole atmosphere lively and exciting. I was supremely delighted to see every person (without any age bar) in our group enthusiastically participated in each & every activity which made this evening & whole journey worth remembering.
Day 8 (Manali -to- Chandigarh)
6:00 AM: Wake-up call
7:30 AM: We started our long 12 hr long journey back towards Chandigarh.
We reached Hotel Golden Plaza @8:30 PM & concluded our trip by catching a flight to Mumbai next day. I must say this trip was one of the most memorable trips and quite close to my heart. With great tour guides and equally superb travellers, my curiosity #5 (“Worth the money?”) got completely resolved.
Tour name: Unleashing happiness...
Tour end date: 21st April 2018
Tour leaders: Sanjay Pereira, Kalpesh Kharva & Vikram Vyas
Tour members: Joshi family, Keluskar family, Karoor family, Kausadikar family, Kachare family, Borate & Ghanwat family, Jog family, Dhule family, Apte family, Kadam family, Mehta family, Tawde family, Sawatkar family, Dhenge family and many more…
Kesari experience: Experience counts but awesomeness indeed - Kesari team delivered second part seamlessly. Kudos to our fantastic tour guides who made us feel being part of extended family.
Special thanks to Sandeep Kaluskar who tirelessly kept taking snaps of every moment (through his Canon DSLR camera) in our entire journey. Some of his beautiful clicks are shared above.
Thanks for taking time to read this blog and stay tuned for my next happy moment...