When you think about traveling to Himachal, do you think about visiting the beautiful villages in Himachal Pradesh — the evergreen state of fresh air and happy people? This story is all about the villages of Himachal.
I am living a dream life in BhagsuNag, a small, hippie village in the Kangra valley of the Himalayas. Bhagsu Nag is above Dharamkot village, which is above Mcleodganj, a town you must have heard about as Dalai Lama’s main temple is located here. Both the villages and Mceodganj fall under the district of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.
When I came to Himachal, almost a month and a half ago, I didn’t know that I would stay put up in a village in Himachal for a month. As I arrived from Amritsar in Dharamshala on a rickety HRCTC bus, I straightaway went to the Vipassana center in Dharamkot(I know I still have to write about Vipassana as many of you are waiting to read). When Vipassana ended, I came out the deodar-dense ashram to realize that I didn’t connect with Dharamkot — a village full of stone, and Macremia jewelry stores and learners’ classes, hemp and regular cloth stores, restaurants and hotels, fancy cafes, and a popular Yak cheese sandwich shop.
Groups of international tourists sat at the streetside cafes facing the walkers and sipping cappuccinos or masala chai while their stone-ring adorned fingers frantically rolled cigarettes or held joints. Whether I scooched through those tiny streets crowded by people standing on the street smoking or buying second-hand clothes and crystals during the morning or the sunny afternoon, the cafes fringing the streets seemed to be filled with the same people and a similar vibe. The place lacked the positive energy I was looking for.
Following my instincts which told me to get away from Dharamkot, I crossed onto the other side of the valley to arrive in the village of Bhagsu. I wanted to live, learn, and explore the Himalayas nestling this village which is popular amongst Indians for the BhagsuNag Shiva temple and a waterfall.
Must read: Hiking around in Dharamshala – Guide to some beautiful Dharamshala hikes
As I write this story, I am sitting on a beige wooden bench having had two cups of masala chai after a satisfying and (almost) homemade meal of aloo gobhi (Cauliflower and potato sabji) and two chapatis at Roja Cafe. The rustic chapati here makes me come back to this peaceful cafe which is situated on the corner of the staircase that leads us to lower Bhagsu Nag or Bhagsu, as people fondly call the village.
When I told the elder brother Aman, one of the two brothers who run this cafe, that he must be using multigrain flour to make the chapati coarse, he said that the wheat from their fields wasn’t grounded fine this time, and so the flour has come out a bit thick. Though Aman didn’t seem pleased when I told him that his Aloo Gobhi was the best I have ever had (that includes my mother’s, sister’s, and my cooking), I am not deterred from praising him the next time; he offers organic, homemade, and delicious food without mentioning any of these adjectives.
Before I ate this sole-satisfying meal, I was browsing SandeepaChetan’s travel blog for Himachal and Uttarakhand travel inspiration. While reading their blog, I started fantasizing about the chinar’s of Srinagar, the isolated Zanskar valley with its picturesque but lifeless landscape, and the countryside life of the goat village of Uttarakhand. Even though I am traveling in the Himalayas currently, I still got zealous of their photos for life in the Himalayas can even make a king envious.
I know I have nothing to be jealous of, and instead, I should be thankful. While I write under a tree at this cozy cafe, in front of me a lonely kite glides in the open Kangra valley. Sparrows flutter and chuckle. The long-tailed Asian paradise flycatcher and the coffee Rufous treepie pop nearby now and then only to shy away. I haven’t had a single chance to click them.
The hills that surround Kangra valley are dense with deodar trees. On my unhindered walks through the mountains, I find pine forests in patches. Irrespective of how many times I visit pine woods, whenever I walk on the ground sheathed with pine spikes, I feel like I am in a fairyland. A few waterfalls adorn the mountains in this region, and I have reached them in many different ways in the one month that I have stayed here. The major waterfalls are the Bhagsu Nag waterfall, the Dharamkot waterfall, and another one which is a two-hour hike from upper Dharamkot. The last one is the least crowded, and definitely worth planning and spending a day around. You can also chill on the almost empty but gorgeous walk to the waterfall.
But trekking in Dharamshala is only possible when the weather is benevolent. Sometimes, clouds float next to my room in my homestay. When they do, 2’o clock in the afternoon feels like 8’o clock at night. The sky changes color like a chameleon, one moment enticing you to go for a walk as the sun shines sharp, and the next moment you see a gang of dark clouds racing through the sky to pour down on the otherwise quiet villages. Do not ignore the water-bearers, for they get offended and only yesterday bashed us with ice balls double the size of marbles. Cows, horses, and sheep graze freely on the hills. I also find the sheep standing in small grooves on the mountains and staring into nothingness. If you find them, could you please explain to me what they are up to?
Suggested Read: Kalga village, Parvati valley – a peaceful abode in Himachal
Hippies walk up and down the hills. You can reach from one place to another in many different ways for you can climb up or go down the road or a street or via the colorful houses and fields of barley with their golden corns swaying with the wind. Artists — classical singers and musicians, yoga practitioners and teachers, meditation gurus, Ayurveda and massage experts, jewelry makers, painters, stone and crystal collectors, embroidery and stitching experts, silversmiths — fringe the streets of both Bhagsu and Dharamkot. From the many things you can learn (if you have the time to put your bags down for a while), I started learning flute and practiced yoga. I (and others) pay for the class by the hour.
Related Read: Honest account of my yoga journey in Dharamshala – Along with the history and real meaning of Yoga
I find it hard to digest how many new things this one month has given me. But learning new skills wasn’t my only goal while staying at one destination in Himachal Pradesh. I also wanted to visit Himachal to experience the struggles and joys of Himachali people.
While being honest, I will admit that I am not facing everyday problems that people here have to protect themselves from except being bashed by the uninvited Himachali storm, thunder, and hail. I don’t collect wood for a bonfire or a chulha. I don’t have to bring supplies from the town and wait for the weather to clear up and then carry those supplies up the hill. I don’t have to worry about surviving the winter when the entire village becomes white. I don’t have to follow the standard societal rules.
But I have heard about these struggles from the local people. In spite of the harsh climatic conditions the Himachali and Tibetan and Nepali people who have made this valley their home have to put up with, they seem happy enough. The tourists like me also have nothing to complain about.
If you are finding places to visit in Himachal Pradesh, then Kangra Valley is a great place to start. Dharamshala, the hub of Dalai Lama, is a big tourist attraction but that doesn’t spoil the mood of the traveler who prefers solitude and wants to experience the real beauty of Himachal Pradesh. For if the rush of Mcleodganj and Dharamshala bothers you, you can pack your bag and walk up to one of the many villages that nestle in the valley and stay for as long as you want.
Also Read: India – In Stories and Photo Postcards
What to do if you stay for a long time in one of the villages of Himachal Pradesh, especially in Kangra valley?
Not even a single day is uneventful here.
Birds chirping up can wake me up or a thunderstorm beating down on the corrugated roof of my homestay can shake me to my core. When I get out of my bed, I open up the curtains of my window to look down at the vast, naked valley sprawling in front of Bhagsu, which is at the height of 2,100 meters. The view overwhelms me more often than not. Then I wrap myself up in a shawl and walk out in the balcony where bright orange and yellow flowers shine in their pots against a hilly backdrop.
Yoga schools stud the valley, and that is why Dharamshala is one of the most sought-after places to travel in Himachal Pradesh. I go to a place called Brahma Yoga, where a 24-year-old guy teaches Hatha yoga from 9 to 10:30 Am, and that is how I begin most of my mornings.
After Yoga, I sit at the restaurant in our place and eat breakfast along with a cup of coffee or the Himachal masala chai. Other tourist friends some of whom are staying for a month, some for two, and a few for weeks join and together we crouch in a corner if the sun is limited or spread our legs if the sun is kind.
When I have taken enough time to finish my breakfast, I walk into the woods to practice flute, and then I make weird sounds for about an hour or two and then go to my flute class in Dharamkot. If I don’t have a class, I take a long shower and then walk to a place to write and work or sit at the restaurant in my home and try to find words to share my experience in this divine land. Some days, I pack my small backpack and hike around in the valley.
Related Read: 100 Days of traveling and living like a nomad
Many people travel to Dharamshala for spiritual reasons. High up in the lap of the giant Himalayas where art, yoga, and Vedic traditions flourish along with the dharma spread by the Dalai Lama, I also tend to sit and think and feel and take my day as it comes. The outer world seems to connect with my inner universe better here.
Then the evening dawns, and if a night is a full moon night, a rotund white moon watches us from above the mountains. The sky shines with a silver light. Deodars shimmer. Birds sleep. On full moon nights, the spiritual seekers sit together in the open and watch the moon and dance and chant mantras. Some, like me, sit in their room or admire the moon from their balconies all by themselves.
After watching a Butoh dance performance on one such full-moon night, I walked back to my homestay in the moonlight that spread like a silver curtain over the damp grass. Some nights I listen to the Indian classical music bands who play in restaurants until late. When I head back at the end of these performances, I am not scared to walk alone as Bhagsu, Dharamkot, and Himachal Pradesh, in general, is a pretty safe place even for a solo woman.
Even when this cosmopolitan village has so inspired me, I sometimes miss more active hikers here for I love to explore. But I find most of the people staying indoors and chilling, smoking or practicing different meditations and yoga or attending various types of breathing sessions or dance practices. If you are interested in any of these practices, then Bhagsu is an excellent place for you. While I think that these are all good things which will help connect us with ourselves better and I try these activities, for me walking in nature is the best cure for everything. I understand myself when I am out in the woods.
As these thoughts cloud my mind, a traveler girl comes along and order two aloo paranthas. While gazing at the floating clouds and the open hills studded with deodar trees, she declares that she must be in a fairytale for what she is seeing could not be real. I smile and instead of agreeing (verbally) write on.
The daily account of tourist life in this tiny hamlet of Himachal must sound dreamy and a bit self-obsessed, maybe. But giving yourself time is one of the best things you can do in Himachal Pradesh and the Himalayas.
Here are some of the things to do in Bhagsu while staying in the area.
Hikes to do around Bhagsu Nag and places to see —
BhagsuNag in itself is not one of the most unexplored places in Himachal Pradesh for you would see a battalion of foreign travelers from around the world, but you can find some of the most hidden trails around this tiny hamlet. You just have to get out of the village and walk either up or down and let yourself follow the path. You will find a walk that suits your style.
On days when I want to get into nature, I pack my backpack with water, bananas or Himachali apples, toilet paper, phone, a charger, and my pink Northface rain jacket, strap on my Merrell shoes, and I leave.
Such days have taken me to:
- To a fresh waterfall in Dharamkot — Walk up to the Gallu Devi temple above Dharamkot and ask for the way. The hike from the temple takes up to 2 hours at an average pace. You can swim in this waterfall.
- To BhagsuNag waterfall by two different paths— You can walk up to this waterfall from upper Bhagsu, the walk is short from there, and the top side of the waterfall is less crowded. Or you can walk from lower Bhagsu, which is a long walk. Do visit Shiva cafe which is further above the waterfall, and drink the cold coffee there.
- To the Triund campsite and the snow-capped mountains of Dhauladhar— You can book a tour to do this trek, but we went on our own. When you cross the Gallu Devi temple above Dharamkot, there is a checkpoint. The officers there will ask you if you have a tent booked at the top of Triund. We hadn’t booked a tent for we knew we would find something at the top. We were lucky to find a group who told the officers that we were with them; otherwise, the officers wouldn’t have allowed us to go further. They check this to make sure that everyone has a safe place to sleep a the top of Triund. You might want to book a tent ahead of time or request a group to take you along. Also, carry an ID card. The walk to Triund took us almost four hours one-way. Carry water and bananas and some snacks or protein bars. The shops along the way sell stuff at higher prices for they have to carry the inventory to the top. You should camp at Triund for a night to really experience the place. The same day or the next morning, you can also walk to the snowline, which are the snowcapped mountains of Dhauladhar and could be reached by hiking for about two hours from the top of Triund.
- To McleodGanj — The main road from Bhagsu road goes up to Mcleod.
- To the Dalai Lama main temple in Mcleodganj— This one is easy to find in Mcleodganj.
- And even to Dharamshala— Take the road that forks from the Bhagsu-Mcleodganj road and goes down, and keep walking. Ask the locals for the way. You can also walk along the stream that goes down from Bhagsu waterfall and continues. Or you can choose to walk up the hills like I did.
From Mcleod, you can hike up to the village of Naddi, too. Himachal is so well-connected for a walker that you can reach almost anywhere from everywhere if you have the time and physical and mental capacity to walk. I will write separate articles on some of these walks later.
Must Read: My experiential guide to Dharamshala treks.
When you get bored of Bhagsu and Kangra valley, travel to Manali or Kasol, a noisy gateway to a beautiful Parvati valley – which is what I am planning to do. You can also go to Bir Billing in Kangra and do some paragliding there for the village is popular for the same.
Where to stay in Bhagsu? What can you eat?
The best way to find a place in BhagsuNag is to walk around and ask for availability and prices as many homestays and hotels aren’t registered on any website. Upper Bhagsu is better to stay as it is less crowded and more peaceful than lower Bhagsu, which has a daily influx of tourists coming in to pray at the Bhagsunag temple.
Homestay in Himachal Pradesh is easy to find and so are hostels, hotels, and resorts. I chose to stay in a homestay for a month at the price of almost 15k per month (discounted from 700 rs to 550 and am sure that I could have gotten it for 500). The room has an attached balcony and a toilet with 24-hours hot water. You pay rupees 10 for a bottle of filtered water, but my LifeStraw bottle has saved me much money for I fill it up from any community tap around the village as the water comes directly from the Himalayas.
You can eat at the many multi-cuisine or Tibetan or Indian places, most of which sell Indian, Punjabi, Tibetan, Chinese, and Israeli food. Spinach and cheese Momos, Veg Thukpas, spinach mushroom burger, hummus platters, curries and roti, enchiladas, noodles, samosa, you can get it all.
When is the best time to visit Himachal Pradesh?
The climate of Himachal Pradesh is moody. You should come here in the summers which start somewhere in mid-April and goes until June end when monsoon starts and the weather starts getting cold. Clouds pour down even in the summers, and the summer is not as warm as the summer of the plains. The temperature goes up to a maximum of 35, during the afternoon on a sunny day and then it can drop to 4–5 (if there is rain) but generally stays at about 15 at night.
Be prepared to face a sudden shift in the weather at any time of the day. Carry a rain jacket and a thick jacket or a shawl in your bag. Wear shoes.
What should you bring on your trip to Dharamshala and Himachal Pradesh?
- Good hiking shoes for women and good hiking shoes for men – A must-have in the Himalayas.
- Yoga/track pants for women and for men – suitable for long travel and walking around.
- A hiking daypack – You would go out on so many day trips that you would need a daypack for snacks, water, and a jacket.
- A woolen sweater – You can also buy woolen jumpers in Dharamshala.
- Warm jackets for men and for women – You might even need these on a rainy day in the summer.
- A rain jacket – A must-have for it pours crazy in Dharamshala.
- Warm shawl – You can also buy a Kullu shawl from Himachal. Wrapping yourself in a shawl when the Himalayas send chilly winds your way is the best thing you can do.
- Lifestraw water bottle – Comes with an inbuilt filter, and you can fill it with water from anywhere. At many places in Himachal, you can also refill your regular bottle for 10 rs.
- Strong sunscreen – the Himalayas can be pretty sunny, and you would burn in a minute.
- A first-aid kit – Always carry one while traveling.
- Flashlight – Please don’t go without this one.
Along with these important travel things, you should bring your regular clothes and basic items, of course.
How much does traveling in Bhagsu and other villages of Dharamshala costs?
I spend almost a 1000 rupees, sometimes less and at times more, on food and stay. The yoga classes and flute lessons are excluded. I buy a few apples and bananas and mangoes under 200 rupees, maximum 3 dollars, from a grocery store in lower Bhagsu. Taxis and autos mostly run on fixed prices and are available in abundance. But the road isn’t always vehicle-friendly, so most of us walk around. But you can commute within the main places such as Mcleodganj, Bhagsu, and Dharamshala with taxis or auto-rickshaws.
I have given you many reasons to visit this sleepy village of Bhagsunag; I hope you can connect with at least one of these. My next stop is Parvathi Valley, and if things go well, then Spiti valley. Stay tuned to my articles for I am going to publish many more stories from Himachal. You can subscribe to my blog to get the articles straight into your inbox, too.
Updated follow up reads:
My not-so-typical travel article on Parvathi Valley – read before you go to Parvati.
Spiti Valley – My travel blog to one of the remotest places in India
Spiti in Photos – A photo diary on Spiti
Travel guide to Manali – 7 quirky ways to experience Manali
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