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I am sharing my personal offbeat travel experience that everyone should try once.
We are constantly looking for places to travel, in this age, with access to so much information available at a click of a mouse, traveling has become far easier than it used to be.
Irrespective of times, I have had a natural desire to travel and experience life through journeys. It’s been nearly 20 years of traveling through India and each trip has transformed me in ways that I had not imagined.
There’s this constant desire to be on the road, that unfulfilling need to be in the lands that take my breath away. I am poor with words, expressing that is not merely possible, but I am sure you understand what I mean.
I don’t ever run out of motivation to travel, I ensure that I top them up by watching some movies that inspire me to travel more.
Sometimes, we are not looking to go to a place to see what everybody sees as tourists. As travelers, we are looking for a much more unique experience. I am going to share an offbeat travel experience in Himachal that I personally enjoyed. I hope that it will bring about a curiosity in you to do the same.
How did this travel experience come about?
One day when I had a rough day at work and in need of a vacation so badly that if I didn’t take one it would have made it harder to go back to work the next day. It wasn’t just another bad day at work, If I recall it well, it was one of the worst days in my 16 years of working.
Thinking to myself that taking another vacation & coming back after a few days isn’t going to cut it. Traveling just for the sake of taking a vacation is not usually my idea of packing my bags.
I wanted to have a travel experience that can really help me deal with what was going on. Besides that, a journey that can show you a different world that we are usually alien to.
So, keeping that in mind I quickly contacted a friend who had worked with a company that arranges experience-based travels. She recommended an option to live with the locals. Eat organic and be totally off of the city life madness.
I have stayed in one of the most ordinary places only to experience life from the local’s perspective. However, living with the locals in their homes could be a different experience. I thought, well, this sounds like a really great opportunity to grab hold off.
Without delay, I get the details of the contact person and made the necessary arrangements to be on my way. It was August, just after monsoons but in the mountains, rains last a lot longer than what we are used to. Roads can be tricky during this season and chances of landslides are plenty.
The travel experience begins
One last decision due. Drive the car or take the Bus.
Of course, I took the car, I love the freedom of stopping wherever and whenever I want. As an amateur photographer, I wouldn’t want to lose the opportunity to take pictures at every turn (literally).
Bags were packed, I put on the shoes, pick up the car keys, lock the door, and left. It was midnight, dark skies with promising clouds and raindrops making their way one at a time. The thought of driving with the first few drops falling on my face just brightened my mood.
No idea what to expect, I put on my favorite playlist and just drove. After a really long drive, I finally see a glimpse of mountains still quite far from my reach. Guaranteed by Eddie Vedder’s song starts playing in my head.
The first time I saw the mountains in my life was back in 2008. I have been forever fond of them, there’s something about them. There’s always this natural pull that I can’t seem to explain or express. All you crazy mountain lovers would know this feeling you get from this surreal and sublime beauty.
The healing energy that courses through your veins when you are in nature. Gives me chills down the spine, partially because it was chilly but more because the beauty always refreshes me.
It was 7 AM with nearly 150 km to conquer, I was in no rush. Stopping at every beautiful corner and taking hundreds of photos, I continued to let myself soak in the mist and the mountain rain. The map said I would have covered the journey in 14 hours, I think I took roughly 18 hours, (guilty).
After over 18 hours of drive, I was ready to lay in the grass and soak my feet in the stream. It was difficult to locate the actual place, it was in a remote part of the city. With the help of locals and their directions, I finally arrived and was greeted by the host with a loving smile.
Let me be honest, my first reaction when I see the beauty, I can’t stop the tears rolling down. Not because of sadness but out of the sheer joy of being lucky enough to have the chance to experience it.
It was about a mile upward hike to get to the home-stay, with the fresh air, I managed to make it. What I saw blew my mind.
By the time I arrived there it was evening, all credit goes to my non-stop stops. It was worth it, I love a good drive and an awesome journey. What’s a good travel experience without enjoying the journey.
Not wanting to overexert, after a shower, and an early dinner, retiring for the day was the best thing to do. The sound of crickets was like a magic potion for a sound sleep.
The City of Chamba, Himachal
A small village called Chaminoo in the District of Chamba, Himachal is a real treat for anyone that wants to distant themselves from commercial tourist spots.
There were no modern restaurants or cafes or known sunset spots that are filled with tourists. I prefer the isolation and being an introvert, the fewer people I see the more comfortable I feel.
Thanks to Mohit Chauhan, we are all familiar with Chamba from the most famous folk song. Seeing that for real kept me in awe for the rest of the stay.
The place is known as Rafi’s House. In my whole travel experiences of traveling to different locations in Himachal, I have found the locals in the hills are very humble. Rafi belongs to the ethnic agricultural and pastoral community; Gujjars.
Being tired from the drive, I couldn’t believe that I slept for over 12 hours. The sound of people working on the field finally woke me up. When his mother noticed me stepping out of the room, greeted with the most beautiful smile. Breakfast was served, parathas with honey, a cup of tea (every traveler’s favorite drink).
After the breakfast, I decided to head out and drive aimlessly looking at the insane and alluring beauty of Chamba. With no destination in mind, it was good to just take the roads till I could go no longer.
Hours of driving again in the fresh mountain air, continuous walking around didn’t get me tired at all. It was getting dark though and it made sense to return, with rains and slippery roads, driving at night is never a good idea.
Met Rafi at the small grocery store run by him just before the little hike starts. He waited for me to arrive to ensure that I don’t get lost in the hike. It wasn’t a tricky hike or anything, but that courtesy and humility are traits that make me go back to the hills.
I hear a voice calling me out as I was scrolling through the pictures I took, it was Rafi. We had a casual small talk and gradually moved towards a more meaningful conversation.
Rafi happens to be a state champion in hockey and is a coach to a number of aspiring players. To be honest, it was an honor to meet him. A real sports champion who has continued to keep one of the oldest sports alive and is an inspiration to the young.
He then invited me to kitchen for dinner where we sat on the cushioned floor and waited for the dinner to be served. The kitchen was still old school, where the food was cooked in tandoor. Mild fragrance of burning wood and the warmth from clay oven made the room cozy.
It was one of most delicious meal ever, having lived in cities all my life I had never experienced such a thing. It was incredible, simple yet mouth watering cuisine.
Then Rafi gave a quick tour of his property and shared the plans on how he planned to extend and invite more travelers to experience the complete authentic and ethnic culture of the locals.
The Gift of Jammu
Then he began telling the story of how the Gujjar community first migrated to Chamba.
Long ago, the King of Chamba invited the King of Jammu to visit the city. The King of Chamba spared no expense in treating his guest with delicious cuisine and gifts. Although, the guest was happy about the hospitality he had just one complaint.
While leaving, the King of Jammu mentioned that the only thing he missed was the Milk and Honey. That intrigued and left the King of Chamba wondering what was so special about it that he missed so much in spite of everything that was made available for him.
After a brief period had passed, people from his kingdom ran to him stating that a large group of tall & dark-skinned men and women were approaching their district.
They found out that the wanderers were a “Gift to Chamba” from the King of Jammu. When Chamba tasted the milk and honey they instantly knew that there was no match for it. Since then, Chamba is nicknamed as the Land of Milk & Honey.
The honey was literally nothing like I had ever tasted before and I insisted them to serve a portion with every breakfast. They gladly did.
Becoming the wanderer
Aimless wandering and photographing everything that captures my attention was my favorite thing to do. As I mentioned before, I didn’t want to go visit the popular destinations. Driving high up in the mountain for that perfect view and going to find that spot I noticed from the top. That was routine work out. It was exciting.
The freedom like a bird, go wherever I could, reach heights and lows of the hills. The curvy bends, steep climbing, and the slide like downward roads. Every single moment spent in the mountains brought even a higher level of enthusiasm and even higher levels of fascination.
Mild drizzling, moody clouds, and the filtered light, if I was a poet, I could have written a thousand poems and still wouldn’t be enough. There’s something that can revive a soul, it has to be nature.
If you are a photographer, bad weathers and rains usually offer a great chance at good landscape photos. I hope the pictures are enticing enough for you to take that trip to the mountains.
You can contact Rafi Bhai at +91 78072 12486 to make the necessary arrangements for your travel. I promise you won’t regret it and if luxury isn’t your thing then this is the best thing.
He also recommended visiting the Manjar Mela (fair) to see what’s it like. Not my favorite thing to do, but then couldn’t miss the chance to see another aspect of local culture.
It wasn’t a good idea to take the car smack in the middle of the fair and not find parking. So, I park the car on top of the hill and make my way down on a steep staircase.
A fun tour, walking past the tiny lanes, kids playing, busy markets, and the fair was crazy. Some yummy street food and plenty to shop if you are into that, you know, picking souvenirs for your friends and family.
The day before I arrived was a performance evening that showcased the historical art and culture along with traditional dances. Rafi takes part in them every year, missed it by a day. Although, he shared the pics of the fabulous event, being there would have been a fun evening.
Every travel experience is unique in its own way and so was this one. Being an introvert, it is tough to make a social connection with strangers but thanks to Rafi and his family, their warmth got all the awkwardness away.
Days in hills are always short, especially when you are on a vacation, I could barely keep track of time. Not wanting to have them wait for me, I did my best to make it back in time.
His father introduced himself, an ex-cop now retired. Usually spends time with the crops and tending to other occupational chores. Raif’s brother in law is a source of inspiration. He runs a school in the village, hikes for miles to go find students so that they are educated. Kids help their parents in agriculture or grazing of animals.
He realizes the importance of education and youth of the country is the most valuable resource. They are learning skills that can feed the country and education along with that will only strengthen their abilities.
The Last Day
There’s this sinking feeling that arrives every time I am closer to ending the trip in the mountains. It’s a heart-wrenching pain.
Looking at the brighter side, considering I had an amazing travel experience, I decided to stay in and just take it all in. To be honest, you wouldn’t have to go out of his house to really enjoy nature. A few steps down there’s a river flowing, I found a section to just sit by and listen to the sound of nature.
It was blissful. There’s a lot that we don’t know about ourselves, there’s a lot that we don’t know about the world. And it doesn’t matter. Staying in the moment, focusing the energy and soaking all the vibration. I believe that the universe was listening to all that my soul saying with unspoken words.
In a matter of minutes, there was something unique happened. A moment of realization and clarity. I knew what I had to do when I went back. Everything felt possible, it seemed doable. The fears seemed to shrink, and the courage had grown much stronger than the time from that bad day at work.
With that in mind, I was ready to pack up and leave the next day. I spent the reset of the day in the quiet. Hiking up and down, simply wandering and smiling inside.
It was time to say goodbye, packed my bag, everything back on the shoulder and leave as I came. Met the family before leaving, received hugs and blessing.
Rafi was waiting down at the store.
What an incredible travel experience, I kept thinking to myself. The humility in the hilly billies just continues to amaze me. As I stopped to look back, it was an incredible view. It was breathtaking, even though I had looked at it a hundred times.
Time had come to a standstill now whereas the days had passed quicker than a blink of an eye. I wished I stayed there for a few more days. But then any number of days is not going to be enough. With heavy feet, I dragged myself.
The walk back towards the end of the trip is the saddest part in every travelers life. I wasn’t any different. Like a child who lost it’s toy and wants someone to find it. Then everything gets better that instant.
Reached the end of the line, after coming down a hill. I hoped it was an upward walk that would slow down my pace and took longer to reach the end. Passed the river, the sound of it I still hear and rush I can still feel.
Met Rafi and his wife, said my goodbyes to them. Loaded the little luggage that I had brought back into the car. Waived my hand and left.
There were no more words.