Tour: Amritsar & Himachal Pradesh

Date: 14 - 28 Sep 2019

Duration: 15 Days

Sat 14 Sep - Day 1 Amritsar - Arrival Day

Day 1 is arrival day at Amritsar. From the UK, international flights usually fly into New Delhi Airport first with a connecting flight to Amritsar.  Once you have booked your flights, email us the details and we will arrange for your airport to hotel transfer. To allow for different arrival times and to give you an opportunity to recharge following your journey, the first meet is at 18:00 in the hotel foyer, for an introduction to your tour leader and the rest of the group before dinner.

Amritsar: Sunrise 05:25; Sunset 19:37; Daylight 14:12 Temp 26° - 40°; 

Sun 15 Sep - Day 2 - Amritsar (Golden Temple)

On day 2 we will head out for a sunrise capture of Sri Harminder Sahib, popularly known as the 'Golden Temple'. The temple is the central place of worship in Sikhism, a monotheistic religion started in 1499 and now the 5th largest religion in the world. The main structure dates back 400 years, although the gold plating was added in the late 19th century. It was built to welcome all, regardless of faith, demonstrated by the 4 entrances and free food offered via its communal kitchen. In Sikhism, the scripture is revered, as opposed to a prophet and passages from the Granth Sahib are transmitted from the temple to Sikhs across the world as daily guidance.  Following our sunrise capture, we will return to the hotel for breakfast, before heading out for a heritage walk within the oldest parts of the city, which will include classic havelis (historical houses) and the old city bazaar. After lunch we will visit a classic Punjab rural village giving us an opportunity to photograph both city and rural life in the region. As sunset is quite late at 19:00, we will return to the Golden Temple, for a second opportunity to capture this beautiful and iconic site as the sun descends.

Amritsar: Sunrise 06:04; Sunset 18:58; Temp 25° - 35°; 

Mon 16 Sep - Day 3 - Amritsar to McLeod Ganj

Following breakfast on day 3, we will check out of our hotel and drive to McLeod Ganj in Dharamshala, which is the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans living in exile since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950s.  The journey time without traffic is approximately 4 h 30 mins*, however we will stop on route for lunch and refreshment breaks. On arrival we will check into our hotel, freshen up and head out for a late afternoon stroll and sunset capture of the surrounding landscape from the view point in McLeod Ganj.

 

McLeod Ganj: Sunrise 05:18; Sunset 19:33; Daylight 14:16; Temp 26° - 39° ; 

Tue 17 Sep - Day 4 - McLeod Ganj

On day 4 we will start the day with an early morning visit to Bhagsu Waterfall to give us the best opportunity of capturing the falls before tourists arrive. Following the falls we will visit the main Tibetan complex and home to the Dalai Lama, Tsuglagkhang. Apart from being the official residence of the Dalai Lama, the complex contains the Namgyal Gompa (temple and monastery), the Tibet Museum and the Tsuglagkhang temple itself, which is a replica of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa and contains a 3 m high statue of Buddha. Photography is allowed in the main temple, but it is restricted in the adjoining Kalachakra Temple and during certain spiritual ceremonies. Whilst at the site we will have the opportunity to photograph monks going about their daily duties and classic Tibetan temple architecture, as well as take a stroll along the prayer flag lined path encircling the complex. On completion of our visit, we will spend the remainder of the day on a nature hike, whilst visiting a couple of hamlets.

*please note we are exploring combining the afternoon trek from day 4 with village tour on day 5 in which case the accommodation on the night of day 4 may move from the hotel to camping or home stay

Wed 18 Sep - Day 5 - McLeod Ganj - Gaddi Villages Day Tour

On day 5 we have asked a local trekking operator who usually runs a 5 day trek through local villages on route to Triund hill, to put together a 1 day tour of Gaddi tribal villages for us. Little is known about where the Gaddis migrated from, some say it was from the south desert plains of Rajasthan, due to their similar attire and nomadic shepherding nature, but there is no actual evidence of this, they have however been in the Himachal Pradesh region for centuries. And although the Gaddis are not regarded as nomadic anymore, as many have settled into villages on either side of the Dhauladhar Range (southern rim of the Himalayan mountains), rearing sheep and moving to greener pastures seasonally, remains an integral part of their life style. 

Thu 19 Sep - Day 6 - McLeod Gang to Shamshi via Mandi

Day 5 will primarily be a drive day to cover as much ground east as possible towards Spiti Valley. The drive takes 5h 30 without traffic or stopping, however we will stop on route for refreshment breaks and lunch. On arrival at Shamshi we will check into our hotel and reconvene for dinner.

Shamshi: Sunrise 05:17; Sunset 19:30; Daylight: 14:13; Temp 27° - 38° 

Fri 20 Sep - Day 7 - Shamshi to Manali

On day 7 we will drive approximately 1 hour to visit Naggar Fort, before driving a further 30 mins to Vashisht village for a morning hike to Jogini waterfall.  The waterfall is formed from the Beas River and cascades 150 feet down a stepped rock face, into a small pool below. The hike is set in a classic mountainous landscape, populated with pine trees, streams and apple orchards. It will take approximately an hour each way to reach the base of the falls, with the climb to the top taking a further 15 minutes. On completion, we will meander through Vashisht village, which has a rustic charm and a temple said to reside on a point of continuous worship, dating back 4000 years. The temple is dedicated to one of the seven sages in Hinduism, Rishi Vashisht. Next we will stop at Hidimba Devi Hindu temple, which was built in 1553 and sits within a pine forest. Its architecture is quite unusual and bears a striking resemblance to the narrow multi-tiered temples found in Bali. We will also visit the neighbouring Nyingmapa Buddhist Temple, which houses a tall statue of the Buddha. From here we'll continue with exploring Manali Old Town, with its characterful old stone and wooden houses, including Manu Maharishi Temple. Depending on how we are doing for time we will either end our walk here or continue onto to Goshal village.

Sat 21 Sep - Day 8 - Manali to Chandratral Lake

On day 8 we will journey to Chandratal Lake for which the translation is ‘Moon Lake’, due to its crescent shape. The lake lies at an altitude of 4,300 metres, on the Samudra Tapu plateau and is flanked by the Chandra Bhaga mountain range on one side, with a valley formed from glacial erosion on the other. We will camp at the lake to capture it during the best light at sunset and dawn. The lack of pollution in the area further reveals dramatic star filled jet skies, with a good chance of witnessing the Milky Way.

Manali: Sunrise 05:15; Sunset: 19:31; Daylight: 14:16; Temp: 25° - 37°;

Sun 22 Sep - Day 9 - Chandratal Lake to Kaza via Ki Monastery

On day 9, we will rise early for a sunrise capture of Chandratal Lake before driving approximately 2 hours, to Ki Monastery (also known as Kye or Kee), which is the largest monastery in the region and sits at an altitude of 13,667 feet. The monastery is thought to have been founded between 1008 - 1064 CE and is home to around 250 monks, who typically inhabit the monastery during winter and reside with their families during summer. It is built in the Pasada architectural style, characterised by 2 or more floors within a fortified structure. It has has experienced a tumultuous history, with raids from the Mongols (17th century), the Dogra and Sikh army (19th century), plus being ravaged by a fire and an earthquake. Remarkably, inspite of its historical plight, it still retains murals dating back to the 14th century and even earlier copies of Buddhist scripture. Following Ki, we will take a short 15 minute drive to the mountain hamlet of Kibber, which is regarded as the highest continuously inhabited Himalayan villages in the world. The main source of income is from agriculture and the homes are all painted white with terracotta roofs giving them a somewhat eastern adobe look. From Kibber we will visit the smaller and more remote Gete village and, if doing well on time, swing by Tashigang village before returning to Kasa for the evening.  

Mon 23 Sep - Day 10 - Kaza (Langsza - Hikkim - Komik)

Following breakfast we will spend day 10 exploring 3 further villages within the surrounding area of Kaza, including the highest village in Asia, Komik, which is situated at 14806 ft. As with the other villages in the region it is agriculturally based, but on a smaller scale catering for a community of 84 people. Due to the isolation of the village it is occasionally possible to see local wildlife, such as Tibetan wolves, red foxes, Bharal goats and hares. Mid way we will stop by Hikkim, which is said to have the highest post office in the world, where, if the post master is about, you may have an opportunity to send a quick postcard back home. The lowest of the villages in terms of altitude, at 14436 ft, is Langza Village, which is often cited as the most beatific within Spiti due to its lush green pastures, akin to an oasis within an otherwise desolate landscape. There are approximately 130 people residing in the village across 30 homes and as the village has been predominantly Buddhist for centuries, it has a 1000 year old temple, called Lang Gompa, belonging to the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, accompanied by a gold statue of Buddha from the same era. Langza is further nicknamed 'Fossil Village', as marine fossils are often found in the sedimentary rock, from when it lay submerged under the Tethys sea millions of years ago. On completion of our tour of Langza we will return to our hotel in Kaza. 

Kaza: Sunrise 05:12; Sunset:19:28; Daylight: 14:16; Temp: 4° - 19°;

Tue 24 Sep - Day 11 - Kaza to Nako via Tabo Monastery

On day 11 we will start the day with a 1 hour drive to Dhankar village, where up until the merger of Lahaul and Spiti Valley in 1960, used to be the capital of Spiti. Its choice as the former capital is apparent, as the village sits embedded into the surrounding rock in vertical tiers, crowned by Dhankar monastery atop a 300m jagged cliff. Its position ensuring the safety of its inhabitants during war mongering eras, with tales of monks throwing stones at ensuing invaders to keep them at bay. Whilst in Dhanker we will visit the monastery and take a stroll around the village. If conditions are good and we have made good time, we will include a 1 hour hike to Dhankar Lake, but we will make this decision on the day. From Dhanker village we will drive to Tabo monastery, which externally, with its series of mud brick cubic structures, looks straight out of a Star Wars movie set. The monastery is thought to have been founded in 996 CE and its primitive exterior, belies early examples of some of the most beautifully painted Buddhist murals. Following Tabo we will drive for a further hour, which will officially take us out of the earthen undulating landscape of Spiti and into the greener pastures of Kinnaur Valley, to a small hamlet called Nako where we will stay overnight. 

Wed 25 Sep - Day 12 - Nako to Kalpa (Kinnaur Valley)

After breakfast on day 12 we will continue our journey through Kinnaur Valley to Kalpa. After 2 hours we will turn off to visit Jangi village and Lippa Monastery. Apart from the monastery the village contains a further 3 temples due to the dual faith of Hinduism and Buddhism that runs through the valley.  What is also evident on entering Kinnaur, is the very different architectural styles between temples and dwellings in Kinnaur and those previously visited in Spiti. From Jangi we will also visit Rarang Monastery (30 mins), before driving on for a final 1h 30 mins to our accommodation in Kalpa. If early enough, we will head out for a stroll around Kalpa following check in, before returning for our evening meal.

 

Kalpa: Sunrise 05:14; Sunset 19:25; Daylight 14:12; Temp 4° - 19° 

Thu 26 Sep - Day 13 - Kalpa to Sarahan via Sangla Valley

On day 13 we will explore the villages and area around Kalpa, with a particular focus on Sangla Valley, for which there is only one road in and out, as it eventually leads to the Indo-China border. We will start with a visit to the neighbouring Kothi village, followed by Roghi Village (46 mins drive). From here we will head down into Sangla Valley and visit Sapni Fort (40 mins). We will then move onto Kamru Fort (1 hour) and carry onto Batseri village where we will stop for lunch. This will take us 3/4 of the way through Sangla Valley, which is renowned for its natural beauty. The last village within the valley before the Chinese border is called Chitkul, but as we have a 4 hour drive back the way we came and to our overnight accommodation in Sarahan, we will only include a visit to Chitkul if we have made exceptionally good time and the weather and road conditions are good.

Fri 27 Sep - Day 14 - Sarahan to Chandigarh

There is no way around it day 14 is a full day drive to take us out of Kinnaur Valley  to the nearest airport with the most frequent schedule of flights, namely Chandigarh. We will start with an early morning visit to Bhimakali Temple, in Sarahan, of which there is an old and new temple built in 1927 (the build date of the original is uncertain but it is thought to have survived an earth quake in 1905). The temples are impressive examples of the wooden, almost fort like temples, found within the region. The newer temple is 3 stories high, with intricately carved doors and windows on the upper floors and 200-yr old gold image of the goddess Bhimakali. Depending on when they change over from summer to winter timings, our visit may coincide with morning Aarti, a devotional Hindu ritual using lit ghee wicks. From here we will journey onto Shimla, stopping for lunch on route.  

Chandigarh: Sunrise 05:22; Sunset 19:29; Daylight: 14:07; Temp 27° - 36°;

Sat 28 Sep - Day 15 - Chandigarh Airport - Departure Day

Day 15 is departure day from Chandigarh airport. As per arrival, for UK customers, you will need an internal flight to Delhi and a connecting flight from Delhi to UK from there. Once you have booked your flights email us the details and we will arrange your hotel to airport transfer, which is included for those departing on 12 September.

Useful info / links: For booking flights we find www.skyscanner.net an easy to use comparison site, particularly for combination flights. For UK customers, your Amritsar flight will likely arrive the day after your departure, so we advise selecting a multi-city option and searching for a flight from the UK to Amritsar (ATQ) the day before the arrival date. The minimum number of stops is 1 and the shortest flight time is around 12 hours. Airlines that offer regular flights to and from Amritsar and Chandigarh are Jet Airways and Air India. If you usually fly BA or Virgin they also offer regular direct flights into Delhi and then partner with a domestic carrier. At the time of publication flights were ranging from £450 - £550, but this will no doubt change as the departure date draws near.

The ethical bit....

For each tour we select a charity that works in the area we visit to donate £25 per person to. For this tour we have selected a charity called Spiti Projects, which was set up in 1993 by a former UK nurse, Joan Pollack. The charity is committed to helping improve the health and wellbeing of the people of the Spiti Valley and since it's incorporation has successfully built a hospital, school and clinic. They have further implemented a child sponsorship scheme, a mud brick incentive (to encourage the return to traditional methods of building more suitable to the high altitude conditions in Spiti) and a 'knit for spiti' project, where you can send knitted clothing to the charity for distribution in preparation for the harsh winters. If you are interested to discovering more about this charity please do not hesitate to visit their website: www.spiti.org

 

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