Thursday, 29 May 2014

Narkanda In Early Summer – Himachal Pradesh

Some minutes before Noon of 27th April 2014, found us at Chandigarh airport on a bright sunlit day, to begin our journey through Kinnaur and Spiti regions of Himachal Pradesh. As we get a pick-up in an air-conditioned Innova and cruise through some of the finest roads on NH22, I reminisce about our maiden journey through Himachal in the month of June a year ago. The extreme vagaries of weather then, with downpour and rock slides, a large tract of hill roads caving in or dispersed with builders, disrupting the Kinnaur region road traffic for months thereafter. Thus our itinerary went for a toss and we missed going to some of the famous destinations in Kinnaur. This year we aimed to visit those left out destinations as well as to cover almost all of Spiti valley. Will weather god cooperate this time?
From Chandigarh by NH22
HPTDC Hotel Hatu

After three and half hours of taking to the road we take a break at Shimla and have a changeover to Tavera vehicle which is much more suited for travel through high altitude of Spiti valley. As per our chalked out program driver Sohan Singh took us to Sankatmochan temple at Shimla. Having visited this temple
complex last year, I just lazed around, allowing my friend Sachin to have a darshan and few pics. Around 5.30 pm we reached the outskirts of Narkanda bazaar. On the right hand side we passed through arched gate, the road going up the hill for about 5 minutes and we were in a large sprawling compound of Himachal Tourism’s Hotel Hatu - named on the highest point at Narkanda i.e. Hatu peak. Noteworthy is Hotel Hatu and Hatu peak are about 7 km apart. Short of time, we dumped our luggage to take a drive to Hatu peak to reach there before sunset. Some distance later, we took to the 6 km narrow winding asphalt road going up the hill, suitable for small car including Gypsy & Tavera. We did not encounter any other car coming up or down on this road. Being early summer and general election in Himachal being about 10 days away, not many tourists ventured. We took a few minutes break to view a small pond and a hut which our driver described as shepherd’s camping site.             
Road beginning to Hatu Peak
Shepherds' Camp

There are number of retreats for tourists who can spare more money to stay along this picturesque route. We come across Agaayat vass Retreat’s signage. With no sign of any dwelling around, surely it could be the right place to stay incognito! Narkanda had an extended winter this year, which was very apparent as we passed by snow splattered hill slope and view mounds of accumulated snow along the road side. The shaded area of densely growing trees along the roadside kept the accumulated snow from melting in spite of high temperature in day time.
Signage on way to Hatu Top
Snow laden road

To our dismay the orange hues of setting sun was filtering through the pine trees, making us anxious to reach top as fast as possible. As we finally made our entry on the table land known as Hatu peak, the setting sun was in its final stage of journey near the horizon as if saying ‘adeau’ for another day. After the sun set, the orange hue covering areas above the horizon, we could view the huge amount of snow piled up on one side and on the other the numerous fluttering cloth flags covered fencing leading to the Hatu Mata Mandir. With the gushing wind, it was shivering time combating wind chill factor in our simple jackets. Having reached high altitude of 10,000’plus starting from Mumbai at sea level was a big transition in a single day. How good we are at acclimatizing? Not much discomfort though, up to now.
Sunset Moment at Hatu Peak
Hatu Mata Temple at sunset

Hatu Mata Temple being open for darshan, the intermittent sound of temple bell was perhaps the only sound in this table land barring for gushing wind rustling the temple flag. In fading light we did not get proper view of the grand Himalayan panorama. We needed to scurry back to the car for return journey through unlit winding path for a safe journey. Impressed with the place, we planned to visit Hatu peak yet again the next morning.
Hatu hotel room provided us with clean linen, bedding, quilts and proved to be our liking. The facility of electric heater in the room to combat the extreme chills at night was reassuring. The dinner was ordered one hour in advance and the freshly prepared meal was good and appetizing.     
Snow View Panorama 
Close-up Snow View

On the second day of our tour on 28th April, the morning greeted us with a wonderful cloudless sunlit day. The Himalayan Panorama looked majestic from Hatu Hotel and we looked forward to seeing the Himalayan Panorama from Hatu peak. With a quick breakfast under our belt, we headed along the same 6 km route to Hatu peak which we traversed the last evening. The visual this morning on the Hatu peak table land was equally fascinating with foreground splattered with snow, the mid-ground comprising forested areas on hills and on the backdrop the unhindered view of Himalayan panorama. In morning the Hatu Mata temple was covered with plastic sheet. The carvings on temple top looked elegant. We were the only people up there. A small walk on this table land and a few pics later we were back to our hotel to pack up for our day’s journey to Kalpa.         
Landscape at Hatu Peak in Morning
Snow View from Hatu Peak

A couple of hours to go before we resumed our journey, I came out of the hotel gate and walked on the cement walking track alongside the hill. The walk through the greens with cooing birds, in comfortable cold climate was invigorating. School children immaculately dressed looked wonderful in their dresses making their way in bold strides. In all my journeys through Himalayas, I do not miss taking some clips of school children. It gives me immense pleasure to see the light of education burning bright in high altitude, inhospitable terrains and backward villages of Himalayas. Some more walk and I had a wonderful view of valley below. The red colored cottages, the apple orchards and dense tree covered hills gives one a picture post card like beauty. Narkanda will remain one of my immensely liked destinations in Himachal.
School Children in morning
Valley view from Narkanda

AS I picked up on my packing work a chance look through the window caught my attention of a couple of birds feeding amidst grass in lawn - looking like sparrows but larger in size and striations at the throat - breast area (as found out later from net, they happened to be of Pipit specie resembling Water Pipit). There was time enough for a few clips through my Handycam. The birds finishing with their feed were gone to another feeding location and we took to our car for next part of our journey to Kalpa.
It is my pleasure to give visuals to my readers in form of clips I took at Narkanda through the following captioned link: