Posts tagged travel tips

Shoe Shopping in Karsog Mandi – Things Nomadic Writers Have To Do

The Story of The Lost Shoe and a Failed Attempt at Buying a New Hiking Pair in Karsog Mandi

 

Anyone who knows my love for hiking would understand how important shoes are for me. In a tragic incident in 2020, I lost one of my Merrell shoes. I had purchased hiking boots in Chile in 2017 and since then my shoes were my loving companion on every trip and sometimes within cities too. (This Chile travel tips will prepare you well for your trip.)

When we returned from Chikmagalur after our one-month 2020 birthday trip (articles coming up soon), I started cleaning our rooftop shed. My partner promised he would bring up all the stuff from the car. I told him please bring the bags a couple at a time. But he loaded all the stuff onto him and finished unloading the car in one trip. I think he did go back to the car to see if he had left anything behind and came back satisfied. 

A couple of days later when he was putting the shoes into the washing machine, he shouted he couldn’t find one of my Merrell shoes. We looked around. Under the bed, in other bags, and in every corner. My heart sank. Oh, it sank! I still skip a few beats when I realize I will never find my shoes again (the linked shoes are similar to mine but just purchasing a new twin pair won’t do it). They kept my feet warm even on ravines and wouldn’t let me slip if I tied them tight. In dry and wet we walked together. 

In my shoe. On a hike in Himachal in 2019.

 

Our car in Bangalore was a rental one. We had taken a Zap subscription from Zoom Cars. So we paid a monthly rental and put out the car on the Zoom platform when we didn’t need it. Travelers who book short-term rental cars would get ours and we would receive part of the rent earned. The vehicle came out to be almost free. (an article on Zoom car subscription coming up soon.)

As we had just returned from Chikmagalur, we had put the car on Zoom. Someone had taken it the next day itself. It returned and went on another booking. That day the car was with us and was parked near our building.

Leaving the food burning on the stove, we ran down. We searched the entire car but couldn’t find the shoe. My shoe! I even looked around in the garbage spread on an empty plot near our house thinking the people who had booked the car might have thrown it away. But my shoe was nowhere. 

Tears simmered in my eyes. I trudged up the three floors to our rooftop and erupted on my partner. It was his fault I had lost my shoe. Why couldn’t he lose something of his own due to his mistakes? I screamed. That evening was an ugly one. Even our car cleaner had seen the one shoe inside but hadn’t informed us. What a bright mind!

Swearing never to trust my partner with my stuff, I succumbed to sleep. My partner never tried to retrieve the lost shoe from the Zoom car guys and I don’t think I will be able to forgive him for his carelessness. 

I lost my Merrell about a year ago but I haven’t forgotten them. Maybe I still hope I will find the shoes someday. I don’t know how. I left the other shoe on the rooftop when we left Bangalore to start our road trip through India. I didn’t know what else to do.

I thought writing about losing the shoe will help me accept the reality. But I find the acceptance hard. The comfort I get when I know my feet are safe in a sturdy shoe and I can walk on ice and rocks and not fall on slippery slopes is missing. 

Well, I’m alone now. Since the day I lost my shoe I’ve been using my partner’s Adidas shoes. They aren’t the sturdiest or the thickest waterproof shoes but I’ve managed with them well. 

 

1 / 1 – hiking away in my blue Adidas shoes in Shikari.jpg
hiking away in my partner’s blue Adidas shoes on Shikari hills.

 

writing-outside-in-the-mehli-forest-himachal.jpg
Walking around in Mehli Shimla.

 

After wearing the Adidas shoes for 11 months straight — out of which three months I have been hiking and running in them on Himachal terrains — now their cloth is tearing apart. They let water inside and my feet get cold.

But I didn’t buy a new pair of shoes before starting my trip to Himachal as I wanted to settle my mind on a trail running shoe. Trail runners are shoes that can be worn to run on tough mountain trails. If you can run on hills, you can run on roads and pathways. So I decided to buy a trail runner for both running and hiking. 

Before I could understand the finer details of trail runners, I had to leave big cities. We were already in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and soon entered Himachal Pradesh. The lockdowns were also in place.

I decided to work around with the Adidas one. 

After the big hikes of Shikari Devi and Kamru Nag in Mandi, my blue shoes almost gave up. They are more torn than ever. When it rained in the dense deodar jungles of Shikari hills, my feet got completely soaked. Wet feet aren’t fun.

My partner also slipped on mossy wet rocks towards the end of our Shikari Devi hike. I was never satisfied with his choice of hiking shoes. He was using a more casual shoe with some traction. 

 

My Adidas and his casual shoe.

 

After Shikari we were still at Hotel Mamleshwar in Chindi. The manager there told us we could find good shoes in Karsog, the village having the biggest market in Mandi district after the Mandi town. 

We had just returned from the Shikari trek the previous night. Now with the windows of our Queen room at Mamleshwar wide open, we got a good view of the mountains and the orchards beyond. The backside of the room opened into the deodar trees and the apple gardens nearby and beyond them lay the deeper cedar and pine woods. 

After having tea on our bed laying in cozy duvets, we discussed where to go and what to do. Some ideas around going to Chowki village and hiking to Kamru Nag were thrown around. While dilly-dallying the decision we ordered breakfast and went down to eat it in the sun on the lawn. Poori bhaji and parathas were on the menu. Some more tea followed. We extended our stay at Mamleshwar by one day because we wanted to be slow that day. 

After spending a couple of hours eating, resting, talking at home, doing laundry with hand, and all, we got ready and drove towards Karsog. Oh but not before the caretaker at Mamleshwar hotel fixed the wiring of our dysfunctional geyser.

 Today would be the shoe shopping day we echoed. The view of Karsog Valley from the Shimla Tattapani Mandi road is beautiful. You see green hills and velvety paddy fields rolling into the horizon. But as we entered the Karsog market our dreams drowned in the brook we had seen from the top. 

The dusty Karsog bazaar seemed full of the automobile, cement, welding, and other rough shops. The roads around Karsog were dug up. Many JCBs and other road rollers were busy doing road work here and there. Trucks were parked randomly. 

We thought to get coffee at a shop that displayed it sold the hot beverage. One needs to pee too. The owner said they hadn’t ordered coffee yet as the weather was still hot. Who drinks coffee in the summers? Have something cold. 

To escape the madness, we said we will have tea. That was all right by her. I asked for the toilet and only when did she make sure I had to pee and didn’t need to do number two she said I could unlock the door below and go. Water is scarce, she confided. 

With tea, we figured out places to see in Karsog. Apart from the Mamleshwar and Kamaksha temple we would need more time to do any of the longer hikes from Karsog. 

Beyond the shop lay the dusty and sunny Karsog market. So we chucked any ideas about going around and headed to the market to buy shoes. 

 

 

karsog bazaar shops in mandi

local villager going to shop in karsog market

shops in karsog market

shops in karsog village market

the uphill road in karsog

dentist in karsog

Some scenes from the Karsog market.

 

The first few shops showed us some shoes that couldn’t be called hiking shoes. A few shops had good shoes for men but nothing for women. When I asked for shoes for myself, they brandished sandals, soft cloth shoes, and other ridiculous inventory in front of me. Nothing would serve the purpose. What patriarchy!

I gave up. Even my partner didn’t want to invest more time in trying shoes he was sure she wouldn’t like. 

But I put my foot down. “As your hiking guide I say you need strong shoes. Or else if you fall again I ain’t going to pick you up.” I declared.

At one shop, he chose the Woodland hiking shoes between an Adidas option and Woodland. I wouldn’t be able to find trekking shoes for women in Karsog, shopkeepers said.

 

carrying shoes in karsog mandi
Carrying around the Woodland shoes in dusty Karsog.

 

Monsoons had been pouring down on us since we had come to Mandi. Ditching our old rookie umbrella, we bought a new one. And at the same shop, I discussed the length and width of a Whisper pad with a middle-aged shopkeeper who was giving me the big packet of green pads when I wanted the small one. After discussing wing size and night strength, we moved on. 

 

temple in karsog
An old temple in Karsog.
old wood and stone house in karsog mandi
An old wood and stone house in Karsog Mandi
khud in karsog
The khud or the nallah or the brook that flows below Karsog.
garbage on khud in karsog
See the garbage near the brook?
children playing in karsog village
Children playing in the Karsog town.

old building in karsog village children playing in karsog village mandi

Some more pictures from around Karsog.

 

We must be already running into the evening and it was time for our dinner. The streets were crowded and locals stared at us as if we were jokers or aliens. Every head turned as we moved. 

Many dhabas displayed Mandyali dham on top of their shops. The menu displayed roti, rice, a dry vegetable, dal, curd, etc. But by evening most of the food was over. We found one dhaba making tandoori roti. And when the guy said he had eggplants and rajma, my eyes went wide. He had me at brinjal. He lit up the tandoor and served us rice and vegetables and we sat and gulped the food at godspeed. I’m not sure how many chapatis we ate but at least 3-4 went down. The dhaba chefs kept bringing the curries. 

 

mandyali thali in karsog dhaba food in karsog il forno dhaba in karsog mandi

 

After stuffing ourselves we left. A wine shop caught my attention. But as the owner was missing we drove on. It is not uncommon here in Himachal to see a shop owner leave his shop open to attend to his chores or to chill with his friends at their house. If a customer comes, the neighbor will call the owner. Then the owner will speak with the customer to see if his return to the shop would be worth the purchase. If not, the customer can decide to move on with his life. Simple! 

Without getting meddled in the phone calls, we drove on towards Mamleshwar Chindi. Now we found another wine shop selling the local wine brand Hawk Eye (earlier Gold Eye). A bottle of pear, a bottle of plum, and a small bottle of cherry joined our company. 

Nice music filled our car and the jungle silence felt needed. Once home, we turned our laundry around and went to sleep. 

But soon I heard the sharp sound of an animal nibbling away at something sharp. With the help of a flashlight, I could see the eyes. The being sat on the deodar behind our window erect and gnawed at something. First I thought it must have been the flying fox bat. But after spending months in Himachal I know the nocturnal being could be nothing else but a flying squirrel

Deciding to buy my shoe some other day and admiring my partner’s new Woodland shoes, we both drifted into a deep sleep. Goodnight squirrel.

Please note: This is not a guide to Karsog. I will soon publish pieces on the village and the gorgeous Karsog Valley.

 

mamleshwar hotel in chindi village at night
Hotel Mamleshwar Chindi on a foggy night
mamleshwar hotel in chindi village
Another one of those spooky images.

Have you lost a shoe ever? Tell me some of your funny shopping stories.

Read More

What a Dam Did to the Tattapani Hot Water Springs

Why Tattapani Village in Mandi District (Himachal Pradesh) is in Serious Need of Development

 

We first heard about Tattapani village when we arrived in Mandi District. After staying in Shimla villages for two months, we drove to Pangna village of Mandi, then to Chindi, hiked to Shikari Devi temple and Kamru Nag, explored around, and are now staying in a small highway village near Karsog. 

Tatapani — literally meaning hot water — was once an important village for not just Mandi people but for all Himachal folks. Located 52 km from Shimla, 120 km from Mandi, and 45 km from Karsog, Tatta Paani was visited by devotees on every Makar Sakranti festival in hundreds of thousands of numbers (I can tell by old Tattapani images). The religious villagers used to bathe in the village’s natural hot water springs rich in Sulphur. (Natural hot springs remind me of Manikaran village in Parvati.)

Read More

My Best Bangalore Hotels, Apartments, and Homestays (Stayed At Each)

Some of the Best Bangalore Hotels — From Personal Experience

As my partner and I left our rooftop terrace in Bangalore to start our indefinite road trip, we started searching for budget hotels in Bangalore. Our car was still not delivered (more on the chaos in a separate piece), and we had to stick around the city a bit longer.

The most challenging thing about finding a good guest house in Bangalore is that in big cities hotels are expensive, even if poorly maintained. I have run into a lot of guesthouse owners who overestimate their property’s worth and charge exorbitantly. They calculate their property’s per day rent in terms of how much the building values but not on the services they provide and the current state of the hotel or homestay. 

I stayed at a homestay in Bangalore where we almost went crazy fixing the place and handling the hosts. You can read more about this Bangalore Airbnb experience in my family-run guesthouses of India guide. At times, some of the stays at Bangalore were so dirty we checked out from the place the same day. 

 

This Indian accommodations guide has extensive write-ups on my hotel experience in India.

And I understand the hosts’ apprehensions about Indian guests. A lot of us are notorious for making the place dirty, breaking others’ stuff, being rude and noisy, and not caring at all. But if we look beyond, the Bangalore hotel industry is run by staff most of whom aren’t trained in the hospitality industry. Well, that’s a problem in all of India I guess.

In a big city like Bangalore, I have realized it makes more sense to stay at a known or reputed hotel. Smaller and cheaper hotels in Bangalore offer poor services (maybe because their costs are high but can’t be recovered in budget pricing? or they just don’t know any better). And star-rated hotels in Bengaluru have to function well because they cater to a wide audience. Homestays in Bangalore are a gamble. 

In the above two guides, you will read me discussing more on such Indian hospitality problems. Today I want to write about these three guesthouses-cum-best-hotels in Bangalore I loved staying at. I booked them on different occasions and here sharing my honest reviews. 

Please note: This is not a sponsored post by any of these accommodations in Bangalore. They don’t even know I’m writing about them.

 

Read More

Who Knew Basavanagudi in Bangalore Could Be So Beautiful

Going Back in Time in Basavanagudi in Bangalore

 

Spread symmetrically around parks and temples, Basavanagudi in Bangalore was a surprise to me. I was taken to this old locality of Bangalore by a dear friend Julia.

Julia is a French woman who married an Indian man mostly for her love for Kolkata (sorry Sudipto) — she met her husband there. As destiny had it, Julia happened to move into the flat below our rooftop abode in HSR Bangalore. From my terrace shed, we stalked the blood-red moons together. Christmas was celebrated at her home and Diwali was at mine.

In December 2020, when the lockdowns had been lifted and the cases were receding, Julia took me to Basavanagudi. I hadn’t explored the locality. If Julia hadn’t suggested, I may have never visited the ancient lanes, intriguing parks, and the historic temples in Basavanagudi.

Read More

We Dared to Hike to Shikari Devi Temple (Mandi Himachal) On Our Own

Hiking to Shikari Devi Temple Mandi Without a Guide At the Onset of Monsoons

 

 

Deciding To Do The Shikari Devi Trek

Since we arrived in Mandi (our trip began at Pangna going through Chindi) we kept hearing about the Shikari Devi temple. Locals religiously believe in Shikari Devi and used to walk to her temple every year. Now a road has come up to the top, and most Himachal people do not trek to Shikari Devi mandir. They get a car and drive there. But the walking trail exists and goes through the deep Shikari Devi Sanctuary. This forest is a dense one, and not even one house can be found inside, except that of some nomadic shepherds.

Every time my partner and I heard the mention of the hard trek to Shikari Devi, we would get a little bit more interested. As the road was kaccha and not a tar road, we were sure we will not drive there. We never drive on kaccha roads here in Himachal. But the idea of a challenging hike excited us both.

We took directions and suggestions from many people at Mamleshwar hotel in Chindi and talked to the village people. Most said we could go, but we had to be cautious of the way. The jungle trail is not the easiest one as many side routes exist around it. A few said the path was not a problem as long as we could walk. Would we be able to walk that long given we were from the city? That was the principal concern.

Assimilating all the local inputs, we understood the walking trail would need some figuring out. We would have to start early to have enough time to return if we get lost or cannot walk. And a one-night stay would have to be booked at the Forest Rest House at Shikari, so we stay there at night.

The internet did not have any information on the hike. As this trek is mostly done by locals and the temple is revered by Himachali people only — outsiders don’t even know about the temple of Shikari Devi — all the information about this mountain is only spread through word of mouth. I wish I could find a good Himachal blog on the Shikari Temple walk (and for many other obscure hikes). But I got your back. This guide to Shikari will have all the information you may need to go there.

As we were both going to be busy until late Friday night, we decided to hike to Shikari on Sunday. Saturday would be a relaxing and planning day. The weather predictions expected the area to be windy, rainy, and stormy all week long. But on Saturday, the weather remained clear, bright, and dry. So we were inclined towards believing the weather would clean up and be nice to us.

 

Leaving For the Shikari Devi Mandir Hike, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh

Preparing everything at night, we had a filling dinner to prepare the energy for the next day and slept like two babies. Our 5-am alarm woke us up. I jumped out of bed at 5:20 and immediately got into action.

I will talk about the preparation of Shikari Devi hike in a separate section in detail. But in short, I can say we packed the essentials, kept our big bags in the car, checked out, and started walking. One big mistake I did was listening to my partner and not bringing my North Face rain jacket that is meant for heavy rains and winds (I bought it for the rougher terrains of Chile). He thought the rain jacket would add more weight to the bags. But we carried the umbrella.

We were on the road at 7:10. Timings are important because if you have got the light of the day, you can save yourself anywhere.

 

The Unpredictable Rainfall and The Confusion Whether To Go Or Not

The sky had been cloudy from the night before. The mist made me conscious. Will the weather clear up? We wondered. Soon it started raining. We were still away from the Hanuman temple in Bakhrot village. The trek to the Shikari Devi mandir begins from the upwards road opposite the temple.

On the way, we stopped at a dhaba to get a cover from the drizzle and have some tea. The aunty there said we should not go. The fog had covered the road in front of us. She said, “up there at the height of Shikari, the mist would be even thicker. You may get lost. The jungle is full of wild animals.” But she agreed that many people walk to Shikari, and the route is well-marked. The main trail though is surrounded by many smaller paths, and even locals forget their way there.

To add to our dilemma, she iterated a story of three young boys from Hamirpur who had decided to walk up to Shikari in the snow of January (I wonder why). After a couple of days, their bodies were found. (We will keep hearing the stories of those two Hamirpur boys. Some said they were buried in snow, some said they lost their way, others believed wild animals had eaten the boys. But while writing this guide to Shikari Devi trek, I read the news articles about those boys. Those 2017 news pieces mentioned that the boys died (possibly) due to hypothermia as they were buried in 7-8 feet deep snow. Some wild animals may have later eaten up the body. The unfortunate (and most probably, unplanned) hikers were found about a kilometre away from the mandir of Shikari Devi Mandi.

 

Just a precautionary note — After having been to Shikari, I can say with two hundred percent surety no one should trek to Shikari Devi peak in snow. The routes go through dense jungle, and so many paths go forward that one wouldn’t know one from another. Everything would look the same, and the hiker will lose the direction. Only think about going to Shikari in the snow if you have a team of guides. One guide will not be enough as even locals forget their way on the Shikari trek. And there won’t be even one soul to help you in snow as shepherds would be gone too and no one else would be walking to the temple either.

But the dhaba owner also said if the weather clears we may have luck. The shop owner near the dhaba suggested we could go as the weather clears up slowly. “And you have to walk straight on the path. Don’t go here and there.” He concluded.

The local dhaba woman showed us the Sainthal village hill from her dhaba. The high mountain — or as the locals call it dhar — had a sea of clouds floating in front of it. Shikari Devi summit was even further up ahead of Sainthal village, and we could not even dream to see it in such fog. But the temple is visible from Chindi on clear days.

Climbing to Shikari Devi Himachal Pradesh from the Bakhrot Hanuman Temple

Grey and stuffed clouds stood neck to neck with each other. Meanwhile, we had two cups of tea, and my partner ate an omelet. Slowly the rain reduced, and the clouds backed off a bit. We paid and walked on.

In front of the Bakhrot temple, we took the kaccha road. We asked a local man if we were on the right way. He was surprised we were going alone.

“It is a long walk. You would need like 5-6 hours more to reach. Are you sure you will be able to walk?”

We nodded.

“Ask the people at the Sainthal village about the weather conditions at Shikari Mata mandir. If they say its too rainy or windy up there, return.”

We were thankful for the advice and decided to return if the villagers up ahead advised against us climbing.

Five minutes later, two old Himachali men (perhaps on a friendly stroll) were surprised we had come from as far as Karnataka to Himachal. They also said we would need many hours and that we have to walk straight. “No shortcuts or you will lose the main path. You have to go down if the path goes down and go up if the way climbs up.”

We nodded, again.

We noted this advice to heart that we had to follow the main way and not explore smaller trails. And because we had the Forest Rest House at Shikari Devi booked for this night, we were assured we only had to walk one way. Serais — or guest houses — also give resting places to travelers up at Shikari temple.

Further up we crossed another village (or perhaps a couple of houses) where people had been active since morning. They advised us to take the car and not walk.

But most of them were worried we won’t be able to walk for so long. Keeping that aside, the route still didn’t sound so troublesome, at least on a clear day.

 

Crossing the Sainthal Village On The Trek to Shikari Devi

After climbing upwards for maybe an hour and a half, we arrived at Sainthal. Now instead of the jungle, a path curled straight ahead. Dry pine needles were swept to the side forming pyramids. Two women and a man stood there talking and minding their cows.

When we told the trio we were going to Shikari, they didn’t seem to feel so good about our decision.

“There isn’t a road there like you have in your state. This is a jungle path and not one, but many trails go around the main one.”

I told them we had more jungles from where we had come. But we appreciated their apprehension. The man gave us his number and said we could return to his house if we faced any problem or got lost. He lives alone, he said.

The women joined in and said we could stay with them too.

Thanking them for their advice to stick to the principal path and not wander, we entered the village. We walked through the mud trail of the village which was fringed with apple orchards, ancient mud and stone houses, cows, and farmlands.

Three cows stood staring at us outside one house under whose plum tree we stood. The plum tree was loaded with the fruit, and I had a hard time controlling myself not to pluck even one. But the house was unattended, and we didn’t want to steal. The cows were wary of us and called out so loud we were sure someone would show up soon.

The view of the valley below Sainthal had already become amazing. Ahead on the trail, clad in a warm jacket and topi, an old man came out of his cowshed as we were about to cross it. He held a stick in his hand and a benevolent look on his face. He inquired if we were going to Shikari Devi. When we said yes, he said, “Jai Ma Shikari” and asked us to stick to the main more-trodden path. “If it went down, go down, if it goes up, go up. Walking slowly you will arrive. There will be a lot of mist up there. But do not get scared and keep walking on your path.” He pointed his hands straight.

The old Sainthal villager was so reassuring I was pumped up after speaking with him. He must have done the trail at least a few times as in the past villagers visited the Shikari temple once a year. And as there was no road to the temple, they all walked.

The sky had now cleared up a bit more. Small red and green apples hung meekly from bushy apple trees. Further on, we crossed the tiniest and maybe the only eatery of their village. Maggie is sold here and tea coffee signs stood outside, but the door was shut.

We were finally at the spot the dhaba owner had shown us. A misty hill from far was now a village. We were not to meet any human until Shikari now, we were told.

 

Entering the Dense Shikari Devi Sanctuary and Finding The Way

After Sainthal, we walked through a pine and cedar jungle. The mud trail held in places by stones and roots was wide enough at that point. It was walked on, but at places, the path was covered with grass, pine needles, and dry leaves. Many trails ran alongside. Some on the left and some on right. Some tracks went long, and some met the other trail after the curve.

We continued. The weather was still clear. At a hillock point, we were confused if to go left or right. Left was a rocky and steep remnant of a path, and on the right, a narrower trail went straight. These two didn’t meet.

As if they heard our confusion, two hikers showed up. I guessed them to be semi-local for one of them carried a Quechua bag. Most locals don’t care about the brands. The boys asked us to follow the path more walked upon. They were on the narrower but straighter path. We would reach from the uphill path too but we would have to climb and go up and down, they said.

We were in the dense forest now, and the jungle was silent except the occasional crow calls and the crickets’ harsh buzzing.

In a few minutes, we ran into four more men. Some of them looked like stoners with heavy beards and red eyes. They asked us from where we had come and all that and told us we were on the right path and it would take us maybe three to four hours more. By that time, we would have walked for about forty-five minutes.

“Do visit a Shiva dera near the trail.”

We thanked them.

 

Getting Scooby — The Goldenest Furriest Fox-Like Dog I Have Ever Met

A golden fury dog was following the group of men. Once they left and we trod on, we saw the dog was now following us. He was golden, like ripe wheat. They whistled for him, but he didn’t go back. So the men walked away.

Now the dog trotted ahead. We walked behind. The dog seemed to know the way. And when he sat and waited for us to catch up or just rested behind us, he looked like a furry fox.

We named him Scooby as on the walk we had been singing the song Scooby-Doo Where are you? We were re-energized with this gorgeous and dependable company. Whatever doubts we had about the trek subsided. Such is the magic of friends.

 

Continuing Our Journey in The Dense Cedar Jungle of Shikari Devi, Now With a Dog

Within few minutes, the trail again divided into two paths. When I checked the left one, I saw two-three small stone and concrete structures standing there in solitude. Not a single soul was around. A lake covered with green moss lay in front. I could see by the Trishul on the top of the structure it was the shiva dera we were told about.

Behind lay a deep jungle. We sat on the rocks and tree stumps. Sharing our sweet biscuits with the dog, the journey now looked fascinating. In the middle of a dense and silent jungle with a strange dog en route to a high temple, what more we could ask from life. Our stomachs were filled with a sea of anticipation, fear, surprise, and excitement.

From then on, the dog ran ahead, and we moved after him. If the trail got divided into two or more paths, we both went around the trails. Then we discussed which one looked more walked upon and which one could have been a side path for shepherds and their cattle or so and so. We also noticed the empty supari packets, lays and other chips bags, and cigarette packs lying on the side of the path. If a path had those remains of a human presence, we were more confident it was the main one to Shikari.

One cannot depend entirely on a strange dog, can they?

And a lot of times Scooby trotted behind us. He would just sit in the middle of the path panting. I guess he must have been pretty tired by walking back and forth in the jungle. Who knew from where he had come?

At another part of the walk, we came upon a junction from which paths ran in all directions. As we stopped to find the one we had to take, we noticed some Hindi alphabets on the soil. Karsog was written, and the arrow was pointed in the direction from which we had come. And Shikari was written, and the arrow pointed to our left towards the uphill narrow path. That trail wasn’t so obvious. If the sign wasn’t there, maybe we wouldn’t have known if to go left or right.

The markings must have been made by the boys whom we had crossed before. Another group of four-five local boys jumped down from the direction which was marked to be of Shikari. They were returning from the temple, they said.

At least we were on the right path. We kept climbing up and down in the Shikari Devi forest Sanctuary for hours.

 

When Our Scooby Took Trouble With The Shepherd’s Buffaloes

After two or three hours, we came across a herd of buffaloes. At the sight of the buffaloes, Scooby went into full action and started barking at them. A few calves were there in the group, and their parents were huge.

You know buffaloes can get giant?

From my experience of trekking to the Bunbuni meadows in Parvati, I knew the buffaloes belonged to some shepherds. Villagers don’t venture into the deep jungle with their cattle. Most Himachal villagers herd their sheep and cows near their houses.

So the owners must be nearby.

We waited for Scooby to finish barking. In between, many buffaloes seemed to have made up their mind to run after the dog but none of them did. We waited on the side taking the cover of the tree in case they engaged in an ambush. But as soon as the buffaloes even looked in the direction of Scooby, he started making his way towards us. We were sure he would run for us if they chased him.

 

An Unpleasant Encounter With the Shepherds

Crossing the buffaloes from the side of the pasture, we ran into two curious kids who were looking in the direction of the noise we had been making.

Our journey to Shikari gets interesting now and a bit inconvenient.

The two kids were shepherd children. In kurta pajama and salwar kameez they stood. Thin faces and frail bodies.

The children asked if the dog belonged to us. We were stupid enough to say that he was not ours and he had just started following us. The boy was holding a wire rounded as a circle which was attached to a long wooden stick. They asked us to help them give the dog.

First, we didn’t understand what the girl and the boy meant. But then I got it. They said, “can you help us get the dog as we want it. We are scared but it has been with you so it would listen.”

My sweet partner even put that round wire around Scooby’s neck, and the boy took the stick in his hand. But it wasn’t too late. I said the dog had been walking with us since the beginning and we needed him to show us the way.

The girl said they feel afraid, so they need the dog. And I promised we would bring them the dog later.

I walked away and told my partner to come to me and tell them to not take the dog.

When both of us told them to let Scooby go, they removed the wire from around his neck. Scooby was so peaceful he may not have even noticed what was going on. He didn’t even wince when the wire circle was put around his neck. How could he be so patient?

The children’ parents peeked at us from behind the hill at whose base they had constructed their hut.

As we walked, the girl shouted from behind that her mother is asking us to give them the dog. And we said we would bring it the next day.

 

Arriving at the Steep Mountain (Dhar) and Dodging the Shepherds

We walked a bit straight on through the jungle. Due to the uncomfortable conversations, I can’t recall how much did we walk. But it wasn’t long when a steep hill stood in front of us.

We had been told about the precipitous mountain. The elderly man at the dhaba had said we would have to climb up from the dhar. But the path, he said, went zig zag.

As we climbed up, the shepherd man followed with those two kids. He was also wearing a kurta pajama. The three were looking in our direction. We knew they had come for the dog.

By this time, we were empathetic towards Scooby and felt comforted by his presence. Also giving him to a family so they could keep him chained and enslaved to herd their buffaloes didn’t feel like a good thing to do. He was a free dog.

The man asked us again if we would give them the dog. But my partner emphasized the dog was ours, and we won’t part with him. I felt protective.

The father and children stayed seated on the rock. They had stopped because we had stopped. Now as we climbed the steep mountain, we noticed they had started walking behind us too. At another curve of the mountain, I saw them watching us from their place. Their eyes affixed on our movements. The dog —ignorant of the possession dual — walked ahead peacefully. But often, he would sit and pant making a noise as if a tractor was at work.

We continued through the zigzag path. This hill was also covered with dense forest and boulders. Our speed had increased because we didn’t like the shepherds at our tail. Why were they following us?

The dhaba aunty had warned us against the shepherds. She had told a story where a guy from the village had gone to get milk from them, and they had killed him. He couldn’t be found later.

She had said, “you mind your own way and don’t ask them for nothing. You can’t trust these shepherds.”

Now I’m not from Himachal, and I don’t know a thing about these people. So I was no one to say anything. But I didn’t like that the Gujjars were following us when he had asked them to not take the dog.

Though we kept clambering up, after a while, we couldn’t see them. That hill takes a while to get on and is the steepest part of the whole Shikari hike. We wanted to believe the shepherds had let go of the chase. By this time we were getting tired too. Stopping for water, biscuit, and banana breaks, the journey went on.

But we could never relax throughout that steep climb as we both knew even if we couldn’t see the shepherds they could be anywhere. They know the jungle like we know our house and walk so fast they can catch up with anyone from outside the forest.

Scooby walked with a spring in his feet though. And looking at his golden sheen amongst that dense green deodar jungle kept us energetic.

Almost at the summit of that steep hill, a large herd of sheep was running down. Their wool had been taken off. The smaller sheep had their long wool intact which hung from their bodies like their tall ears. Came behind an old man with a long beard.

This time we didn’t even say hello.

But when the shepherd asked if we were going towards Shikari or returning, we told him we were on our way.

We were clambering up some rocks at that time. And seeing us struggle, the old shepherd suggested we take the straighter path below.

When we crossed, we heard him talk to someone. Soon we saw the shepherd’s father from before trotting upwards from another side. So he was there all the while.

 

Getting Out Onto the Pastures About The Road to Shikari Devi Mandir

Now we went further on for maybe ten more minutes. We could hear cars and bigger vehicles on a road nearby. Our GPS also worked, and our blue arrow was now closer to the Shikari mandir in the big green Shikari Devi forest reserve. A road curved ahead on the map.

Did we finally make it? We wondered.

As compared to the dark canopy of the forest we now received light in abundance. It was almost as if we were coming out of the jungle after a year. In the next few upwards steps, we came out in the open. We were on the pastures then. Out of the danger of any harm that shepherd man could have done us. To be frank, we didn’t like the look on his face. So now we were cheering hurray.

A large group of men and women adorned in gaudy clothes and heavy jewelry danced to local music on the velvety pasture.

 

Dancing With the Kullu Devotees On Shikari Devi Sanctuary Pastures

The dancing group called us towards them. They were all wearing decorative bands of colors golden and orange around their heads. Shikari Devi was written on those bands.

The group was visiting the temple from Kullu. They danced in slow rhythms by swaying their hands upwards and downwards, as one would dance on meditational songs. They formed a circle and asked us to join them. I kept my bag aside and danced alongside.

My partner sat on the side. Our Scooby had been following us for a while now. As I saw him lick water from some rock, I poured down water for him in the groove of a rock where we were seated. He finished a liter of water. (Maybe he needed water all this time, but we hadn’t found a place to pour water for him. Now I feel I should have stopped and figured out a way to make him drink.)

 

Making The Final Walk to Shikari Devi

After a while, we bid adieu to the Kullu devotees and started walking towards our destination. Now the fog had covered large parts of the pastures and forests lying ahead. A mud road ran below. A few cars went on it.

The mud trail went up and down the green pastures filled with cattle and horse dung. Now the path went through pastures. Up and down and straight a little bit. After perhaps 5-7 minutes, our pasture track met the main road.

We got onto it and walked further. In the pastures above and below, the gaddis (gujjars or shepherds) herded their cattle, sheep, and buffaloes.

 

Arriving at The Parking of the Shikari Devi Temple Mandi and Gorging on Hot Rajma Rice

What we saw further on surprised us.

Hundreds of cars were parked ahead. And we head probably ten people and one dog in total on the walking trail. And all those were also returning from the mandir, not going towards it.

Now we understood why everyone said no one walks to Shikari now. They all drive. A big jostle of people seemed to float around the footsteps of the staircase that takes to the temple. There were a few dhabas. The thought of warm food after such a long walk brought a smile to our faces.

At a dhaba near the steps, we shared a plate of rajma ki dal and rice. They knew the way to the forest rest house at Shikari which we had booked the day earlier from Tattapani. We had to take the stairs to the second water tank and from there the path went straight to the FRH. Everything was covered in mist now, so exact directions were going to be useful.

Oh, we climbed up from 1822 altitude to 3359 height of Shikari Devi. Bravo! It was 4 pm when we arrived at the dhaba. So accounting for all long conversations with locals but not for the resting breaks, we can say we took six hours to climb. The duration wasn’t too long as we also figured out the way on the go.

Scooby had stopped behind on the road. He just sat there. People watched him. But he didn’t move despite our whistles that desperately called him.

Believing he would follow us, we had walked towards the dhaba. But when I turned around after a while, he was gone. How could I lose him? For the least, I wanted to thank him, feed him, and give him some more water. He could have just saved us from getting lost for all we know. We always decided upon a path independently of his choice, but still, he could have saved us on that strange dense-jungle walk.

 Luck was on our side that day as I went behind the dhaba, I found Scooby. One whistle, and he came close to us. We opened the tap under which he licked the stone and drank to his heart content. As he didn’t eat the ajwain biscuits, I fed him all the remaining sweet ones we had. They had been his favorite all the while on the hike.

 

Climbing Up The Shikari Devi Steps and Loosing Scooby

We went up the marble stairs, and Scooby followed. Some stairs were newly constructed and were covered with dry bushes and tree branches to demotivate people from walking on them.

The paths that ran adjacent to the stairs were walkable enough, and I mostly preferred those mud and root ways over steep staircases. Especially if my legs are already breaking with the climb.

Some people were scared of Scooby, and in the mishap, we again lost him. I guess at some point he just stopped following us. My partner was exhausted by now, and I couldn’t ask him to wait to find Scooby.

I miss Scooby. He is the only dog who might have just encouraged me to keep one of my own. Maybe when I grow old!

Up and up and we arrived at the second water tank. We assumed a straight enough mud path from behind the tank would take us to our destination, and we followed it. The trail on which we walked goes further beyond the FRH, and we were later told the way went to the helipad.

 

Arriving at the Forest Rest House (FRH) at Shikari Devi

The FRH was invisible until we arrived close to it. A sea of clouds floated in front of the rest house. Of course, we should expect clouds at the Shikari Devi height of 3359 meters. The Everest is 8849-meter high.

Let’s not compare, but the Shikari peak is tall.

Tall enough that its weather is unpredictable around the year.

Clouds come and go,

and sunshine dodges them all.

One second the weather is sunny and clear,

and the next you can’t see your right hand,

the fog makes it so obscure.

The rest house was a simple slant roof building in the middle of nowhere. A small tent was clamped on its ground. Three boys hanging out around the camp looked like the owners of it.

The chowkidar wasn’t around. One of the boys told us the chowkidar had gone to the road to get some cooking material.

We had tried many times but couldn’t reach the Divisional Forest Officer’s (DFO) phone. As the Rest House officials had told us we had to inform the DFO about our booking at Shikari, we called him again. This time his number worked. He said he will call the chowkidar. And that the caretaker runs a shop near the temple and must have gone there with his wife to sell offerings that people present in the temple.

 

The Weather Worsens at Shikari Devi

Large clouds had descended around us now. From that time we won’t see anything clearly until the next day evening around 5 or 6 pm. The weather only cleared for two to three hours even then.

The chowkidar arrived and we got some hot tea. The room was opened up. It was simple yet sufficient. The caretaker first told us the bathroom flush doesn’t work and the geyser doesn’t work. He informed us that limited water is available so we have to use it carefully. Only when we promised we will not waste water, he opened up the lock of the bathroom.

While roaming around the room I found the heater kept behind the bed. We took it out and put it on. Some songs downloaded on my partner’s Youtube music filled our room.

We hadn’t received any signal throughout the jungle. Only around the dhaba area below the steps, the phone had some connectivity.

 

Dinner Time at FRH and the Stormy Night, Shikari Devi

The caretaker brought our simple meals much later (8:45 pm) than we had requested him to. He had again gone to his tent to finish some work there. The dinner had rice, chapati, dal, and cauliflower potato sabji at about 8:45. The smoky chapatis from the chulha were delicious, and we ate plenty.

As soon as the food was over, we got into our bed like two little kittens. At midnight it started pouring down. The boys outside in the tent wouldn’t even be able to get out to ask for help. Our heater was on. And the constant patter of the rains on the roof woke me up many times. I dreamt a lot that night.

 

A Rainy Morning at Shikari Devi Hill

The alarm rang at 5 am but there was no dawn sunshine to wake up to. It was still raining outside and clouds must have been right outside our window. Switching off the alarm, I drifted off into sleep with the sound of the rain pattering the valley around us.

Only around 8:30 in the morning I went to the bathroom. And the worse had happened. I had got my periods, and the underwear and the pajama hadn’t taken it well. That feeling of liquid bubbling in my panties had made me conscious but I guess I couldn’t wake up earlier.

I cleaned everything. But the worst part of it all was the freezing water spray.

Sun was hidden but the light was bright enough that I had to squint my eyes. The chowkidar came to ask for breakfast soon. And he brought us three aloo parathas. We got one more and enjoyed the paratha with butter or pickle, I don’t remember.

 

Sleeping All Day Long in the Rains. Devotees Get Stuck at Shikari.

We slept on as there was nothing one could do.

In between people knocked at our door several times. Once there were devotees who had come to visit the temple but had gotten stuck in the rain. The weather had taken them by chance. Thunderstorms and strong winds were shaking the area mercilessly at the time.

The family had little children with them, many of whom were crying. We told them the way to the caretaker. Later we saw the mother and the wailing children sitting inside the earthen chulha room.

For lunch, we had a lot of dal and rice to make sure we don’t feel hungry until the late dinner. We had the heater on all the time. The three boys with the tent had left at some point. We were sure they must have brought their car which was parked below the temple.

The weather was so unpredictable and harsh that day that hikers couldn’t even think of stepping out into the jungle. But the people in cars were still driving up because there was no way they could know about the storms up at Shikari Devi hill. And those who were going down were the ones who had driven and not walked the way.

So between us and the caretaker, it was decided we would stay another night. He extended our booking by calling the DFO. The Rest House also didn’t have any phone signals so we could not really do much. We were so dependent on the caretaker we were happy to just snooze in our bed. The next day we would try, we thought.

 

Wandering Around the temple of Shikari Devi Himachal Pradesh and Kullu Devotees

We woke up from our afternoon siesta at about 5:30 pm. The weather had just cleared up, and the views were damn fine. After a cup of tea and a few photographs over the clouds, we went for a walk around.

The temple and the forest rest house are surrounded by green pastures green. The shepherd brings so many cattle and horses in the hills they are covered in horse and cattle poop. You have to walk carefully, and you can’t do rolly-polly. Like we did around Kanag Devi temple near Theog Shimla.

The caretaker and his wife showed us their home from the FRH. They were both from Thunag in Janjheli Valley. Pointing to a rolling hill filled with dense forest, they said our home is right there. And the chief minister’s house is located there too. Just below his home, we have the way to our home. I could see the path going from below the Shikari Temple in the distance, around the pasture it went, and then disappeared in the thick cedar jungle. A couple of shepherd huts were visible from our view.

Behind the government rest house, we could see rolling waves of hills and more green pastures. The helipad lay somewhere ahead.

And on the front side of the guesthouse, was pastures and then the Shikari temple. There were pastures beyond the temple too.

As it was already about 6 pm, we decided to go in only one direction. And we headed towards the mandir. We climbed the uphill pasture and saw hundreds of people near the Serais — guest houses.

We were prepared for the crowd as our guard had told us a devta (god) from Kullu had arrived. All those hundreds of people had come following the devta. A devta is a man-god for Himachali people. I have yet to ask someone how a devta is chosen but once selected, the devta is the living god. People go where he goes. They carry him on their shoulders. He is given the best food and the best bed. He is all.

I had first come across the human devtas of Himachal in a village of Spiti Valley. Read the linked guide to see some interesting pictures and to know how the arrival of a devta is announced in the village.

Some of the Kullu devotees had walked on foot for two days from their home to Shikari Devi temple (Mandi), such is the belief of people. They had brought ration and would cook their food. A lot of tents were also set up there.

After spending a night at Shikari Mata temple, many people would follow the devta wherever he would go.

The Shikari temple was on our front now. On our right lay further pastures and jungle until the hills rolled onto a valley. Beyond laid mountains studded with huts and homes. At night we saw lights shining in those hills.

We climbed further onto the temple. I didn’t go inside but my partner did and saw those drums lying on the floor. Shikari Devi temple is popular for a hundred years maybe. I have read its mention in a 1961 census survey of Pangna village. Devotees believe that once upon a time hunters used to pray to God to help them get a good hunt. And then this god came to be known as Shikari Devi. And Pandavas had also stayed at Shikari and prayed to her. The goddess told Pandavas to build her a temple and they made one.

Now the Shikari Mata temple stands roofless. People believe that even in heavy snowfall the temple stays snow-free. And all the efforts to make a roof above the shrine have failed.

Even our waiter at Hotel Mamleshwar in Chindi told us the temple never receives snow. I wonder how many of them have seen the temple spotless in January and February. The temple is closed at that time and the guest houses shut down. Not even a single soul could be found and that’s the time when those two Hamirpur boys had also visited the Shikari temple. You would call and call but no one will come to help.

When we walked beyond the temple, the Kinnaur snow peaks in the distance caught our eye. We admired the white summits for a while.

Several Kullu men were heating their asses on a bonfire on this hill from where we watched the Kinnaur peaks. So we left them in peace and returned towards the temple.

The Shikari Devi temple area needs a good few days to explore.

We didn’t get much signal inside the rest house but now while walking down the pasture our phones beeped. An electricity tower stood there. I made a quick call back home. My mother had been watching the news which mentioned heavy rainfalls in Himachal. When she heard we were at a temple, she asked me the name and was surprised we had walked almost one full day to arrive at it.

Beyond the rest house, the setting sun lit the sky on fire. Streaks of golden and orange danced ahead. And horses still grazed in the pasture in front. Cedar and pine trees danced in the wind. We could just watch it all.

 

The Second Dinner and the Star-Filled Night

Some people from Kullu had put up tents at the Rest House, and they had a bonfire going too. But the winds were too damn strong and we ate dinner inside. A creamy and soft rajma (kidney beans) with chapati filled us to the core.

The sky was lit with stars outside but due to the clouds, The Milky Way wasn’t visible. In such weather, you wouldn’t find even one star in the sky.

 

The Second Morning at Shikari Hill

Clouds poured all night long. We snoozed the alarm and only woke up at 8. We knew we couldn’t do much even if we woke up.

The chowkidar must have been getting impatient for us to leave because this morning he brought cold parathas even when I hadn’t showered. But where could we go as the weather was still not the best?

Our chowkidar had told us that we owed him 2000 rupees for the two-day rent and 2000 more for meals and heater and everything. The heater was just a trick as that was included in the tariff.

We only had about 4500 with us so we paid the rent and gave him 1600 more for food and his services. Some cash needed to be saved for the way. We had seen his wife smoking out her lungs on the chulha and the guy running in the rain back and forth from his hut to bring us chapatis, water, and pick up our plates. So paying a little extra than usual seemed totally right.

 

Starting Our Return Journey From Shikari Hill to Chindi, Mandi

Seeing the cloudy sky, we put aside our plans to hike around the pastures. The weather had been sporadic and we needed to make our way back.

Given the two days of heavy rain, the jungle must be wet. We knew. So our idea was to get a cab or take a lift from someone already leaving the Shikari Mata temple.

The chowkidar wasn’t sure if we would get a taxi. He also didn’t try arranging one for us.

While leaving us on to the trail that would take us back to the stairs of the temple he said if he had made any mistake we should forgive him. We walked on straight onto the muddy and slippery trail now. My partner was already a bit conscious and any attempts at a joke or an idea of wandering around were turned down by him furiously. Oops.

The walk through the jungle until the staircase and then further were all soaked.

 

A Failed Attempt at Hitchhiking

Many cars were parked on the road though. We spoke to a lot of cars but most of them couldn’t take us. Some were full, some went in the opposite direction to Dharwad, Thunag, and Janjheli Valley, and some wouldn’t give us a lift because the friends were drinking and chilling and couldn’t be bothered with our presence.

The sky was still foggy but much clearer than before. There was a bit of sun.

 

Starting the Hike Through the Shikari Jungle For the Second Time

As we were reaching close to 12:30, we decided to quit asking people and retrace our way through the jungle. Now we had seen the path and, mostly, it went downhill. That the trails would be soggy and slippery was on our mind but we couldn’t do much. Assuring ourselves the weather will clear up we packed a couple of biscuit packets and filled our water bottles.

Scooby wasn’t there. We observed so many dogs around closely to see if we weren’t able to identify him because of the wet furs. Whistling incessantly we looked around. But he wasn’t there.

Quickly we made it all the way back through the road and pastures to the point where we had arrived.

Making sure it was the patch where we danced and the exact groove where the dog had drunk water, we descended into the jungle.

Let me tell you that from this point on there was no home until the village of Sainthal almost 3-4 hours walk away. On our way, we would find one Gujjar home of which I have spoken earlier. But given how they had behaved last time we didn’t even want to get seen by them. What if they ask us that we had promised them a dog but we hadn’t brought any along?

Trusting the universe and our walking strength we ventured into the jungle of the Shikari Devi sanctuary the second time. The path at the beginning goes down a bit and we were surrounded by old deodar spruces and pines. The jungle was silent after the rains except for a few birds who chirped thoughtlessly. The trees were all washed.

The trails were now wet and slippery. A lot of branches and leaves had fallen on the tracks. Because the paths were all soggy we couldn’t tell which ones were more walked upon and which ones were more grassy and covered with pine needles.

 

Reaching the Precipitous Hill and Descending Down

Trusting our instincts and memory, we went ahead. Slowly we kept encountering the turns and rocks encountered on our onwards walk. We arrived at the precipitous rocky slope where we had seen the sheep. Beyond the rocks the steep downhill climb began. Turning backward and forwards we descended it holding our hands sometimes and sometimes grasping the mossy wet trees.

We had almost descended down the entire dhar (mountain) — which the locals say is the steepest part of the climb. Steep rocks formed the last few steps. They must be slippery. There would be another way around but everything was wet.

 

We Take a Fall. Ouch.

I was holding my partner’s hand who walked behind. As he took a step, he slipped, and along with him, I fell too. My ankle was just twisted a bit but my partner had taken the fall on his right side. His right calf was a little bruised.

We both got up immediately. Now we had to make sure his leg doesn’t swell because then we wouldn’t be able to walk.

Our estimate told us we were near the shepherd area so we continued our walk and decided to take a break a bit later after crossing their home. We would sit and see if everything is alright.

After walking straight for a bit we descended. My partner has had no pain so far. Weather was also clear until now.

 

Crossing the Shepherds the Second Time and A Short Break

Now we came on the hill under which stood the shepherd home. The old shepherd was sleeping on a rock. We thought he was drunk as froth was oozing out of his mouth. We passed their hill quickly.

The gaddi’s buffaloes stood on the right, and after a staring contest between us, we moved ahead.

 

The Mist Enters and All Becomes Ghostly

Taking a break on some rocks, we analyzed my partner’s legs. Neither was any part of his leg swollen nor did he have much pain. We peed, ate some peaches, pears, and bananas.

By now mist had started to spread in the forest. We walked fast.

Further on we met the Gujjar children. They walked with their phone’s music on and perhaps were returning after selling milk and khoya to one of the villages.

Saying namaste to them we moved on. We kept on taking the trails which looked wide. Maybe that’s where we made the mistake. The entire forest seemed covered in mist now.

Tall green deodars stood black in the white clouds of fog. The jungle suddenly seemed ghostly.

 

The Rain Pours and We Are Soaked

Soon it started drizzling. And the clouds poured. We took shelter under some trees and opened our umbrellas. I missed the rain jacket but what could be done then.

Even under the umbrella, we were soaked as the rain swayed with the wind. We walked in the umbrella, then stopped, and walked. We had to get out of the Shikari Devi forest before the weather became too bad.

 

Are We On The Right Path?

Filled with water, all the trails looked the same. We couldn’t see any footsteps on them. And the path was also not constantly wide and turned from wide to narrow and narrow to wide. Maybe it was somewhere there we took a path just because it was wide. One of those choices went wrong.

We believed the lays packets and toffee wrappers would leave us on the right path but that assumption wasn’t true either. That there could be exits from the jungle leading to other villages didn’t cross our mind.

 

Getting Lost, Well, My Partner Disagrees.

Soon we were descending a jungle we didn’t recognize. Deodar logs and stumps fringed both sides of our path now. We thought someone must have cut those trees the previous day. And then we came upon a cabin — a rooftop with some pillars all made of wood — that we hadn’t seen earlier. At first glance, I felt it was the Shiv Dera but we knew that dera lay through an inward path and not on the main trail.

For a second I lost my breath. My partner had been complaining of a little leg pain for a while now and we were not in much strength against the dense jungle that would soon begin to darken. It was already 4 pm. I wanted to believe we were near Sainthal but we were far from it. And the worst part of it — we didn’t know where we were.

My partner took out his phone. The phone connections had started working a bit. We must be coming out of the dense jungle, we thought. Cedar logs also proved humans were nearby.

We Were Near Darwad Village. How Did That Happen?

The GPS arrow pointed towards Darwad. The dense green of the jungle was now giving way to a cleaner territory as per the map.

And I remembered the chowkidar had asked us to go the Darwad way. He had said it would be shorter as compared to the path to Bakhrot we had taken earlier. But the road distance between Darwad and Chindi would be about 70 km. We had ignored his suggestion as we didn’t want to venture onto a new path in the moody weather.

 

My Partner’s Knee Hurts

We had somehow ended up on the wrong trail while choosing the wider path. My partner’s hurt knee pained a lot now. I rubbed some Volini on his knee and we moved downwards. We had to get out of the forest before another downpour came or it got dark.

Following the directions to a Kirana store, we trudged. The honks from the road could also reach us.

 

Getting Down to Darwad, Mandi

Holding my partner on one side, I descended the slippery downward slopes. After walking for ten minutes we saw a blue hut.

One guy at the house told us his house was the first one of the village Darwad. We had to walk further down the path through the fields and orchards to get to the village.

This better path that the guy had chosen for us over another one was even steeper and went through fields. The rain had made the track slippery and wet. Several plants lay uprooted on it.

All around us beautiful mud and stone homes stood beautifully on lush green hills. Everything looked so fresh. I was in some of my best landscapes of life but my partner was in pain so I was concerned.

 

Having Tea With Locals and Getting a Taxi

After climbing down for some time, we came upon an under-construction house. Four-five men and women were working there. They saw we were soaked in water. Upon hearing that we had been coming from Shikari, they said we lost our way and went that way. But in order to save our pride, we said we were told to get down the Darwad way and so we have come from here. I don’t know how much they believed us but at that insecure moment, the surety no one knew we had gone the wrong way was making us feel strong.

The humble people offered us tea and laid a plan for us to sit down. We told them my partner’s knee hurt from the fall and asked how could we get down.

Seeing our difficulty they asked us to stay with them. But we didn’t want to impose.

The workers and the family told us about a bus we could get from 6 km away. The bus stand was at Sanarli village. But to get to that bus town, we had to first climb down the village and then cross a couple more villages on a kaccha road. Further on the road Sanarli town will come.

There was confusion about the timing of the last bus and if in the rain the bus would ever come.

“We might get a taxi. Or someone may give us a lift.” We thought aloud.

“No. You won’t find a taxi like that. And the traffic on that kaccha road is less. Most cars run full.” They said.

“They could call us a taxi right below. The walk to that point in Palochi will be ten minutes from here.”

If we had been both okay I would have definitely chosen the bus route. But my husband was in excruciating pain now and I wanted to make it easier for him.

We went for the taxi. The price from Palocchi to Mamleshwar Chindi where our car was parked was fixed at 900 rupees.

 

Descending from Darwad To Our Taxi in Palocchi and Awkward Conversations on the Way

The downwards trail from the village further on was even worse. It got wetter, muddier, and steeper. Not one but many trails forked in different directions. Some went through fields and others went from outside the fields. First, we went through the farms. And in between the farms, we would suddenly run into a house.

The surprised villager would ask us many questions before telling us the way. Oh you can go here and you can go there and what happened and from where are you and where you are going and from where you have come. A village lady here, a girl there. They all offered tea, they all offered to stay. But we couldn’t and didn’t stop. I knew my partner wants solitude when in discomfort. We promised to go later and clambered down.

The scenery was beautiful. The distant hills were covered with fleecy clouds. The grass was so green and fresh I could have eaten it. Apple orchards covered us on both sides. Corn, coriander, and radish grew in bulk.

Most villagers understood we had gone the wrong way. And then we came to a house where two children sat in an iron tub in hot water. The mother of those kids first demanded to know from where we had come. She told us the way. When she saw us descending slowly, she shouted, “you don’t fall on these paths.”

I shouted back, “his leg is hurt.”

She threw a walking stick to us. We laughed and moved on. As I turned to click a photo she smiled, and we waved at each other.

Further on came a concrete path. The path was sometimes rocky, muddy, and just plain concrete at times. We crossed a courtyard where people directed us. The Palochi point as we reiterated to everyone.

The trail went down and down and down. I was sure it must have been to the khud. But a girl told us the trail went by the side of the brook but would bring us to the taxi. She really wanted us to stop and have tea with her. She was doing literature and when she heard I write she got piqued. With a heavy heart, we told her we would come some other time.

The cab driver called us to see if we had lost the way. The villagers had said the descend would take us ten minutes but we had already been walking for more than half an hour. But we were so slow that counting time didn’t make sense at that point. I was just thankful that my partner could walk without depending on anyone except my hand.

 

Reaching the Taxi. Oh How His Leg Hurts!

Finally, I saw a car in the valley below. So that was it.

Soon we were in the car and the driver sped his Alto. The adventure hadn’t ended though. The road ahead was not a tar road but a kaccha road on which loose stones were strewn. The mud had also gone loose in places.

 

Driving Through the Villages and Crossing the Brook in a Car. Woah!

We ran through villages whose names I don’t remember. Trucks sped by, people braked to say hi to each other, buses fitting themselves in the gap, JCBs fitting in, people shouting at each other for being impatient and then speeding up themselves, all the while beautiful homes and valleys and their paddy fields rolled on our left.

But the driver showed us the big stone on which Bheem had thrashed the demon who ate one villager a day. Two-three women sat atop a rock chatting. Then I saw a little girl standing upright on an apple tree plucking one of its fruits. She knew her weight wouldn’t do any harm to the plant.

If all this seems exciting let me ask if you have ever crossed a brook in your car? Well, we did. I mean the driver drove and we sat holding onto each other. I started laughing though when he splashed the car through the shallow stream. That’s the way the road works. You get in your car and cross the stream in your car if you have to get somewhere.

Wow!

 

By The Side of the Paddy-Filled Karsog Valley, Mandi

Now we were on the main road with the velvety paddy-filled Karsog Valley on our left. My partner was better now as he had taken a pain killer after sitting in the car. And I felt bad for not giving him the medicine when we were hiking downwards.

 

Taking Shelter At the Hotel Mamleshwar Chindi

We arrived at Mamleshwar and leaving all plans behind asked for a room. Our jolly taxi driver told us he had a relative at the hotel and he was going to see if he can meet him. Everyone knows everyone here in Himachal. We took his card and left after thanking him for coming out to help us.

The fun didn’t cease.

The manager asked us if we wanted a maharaja room or a maharani room both costing close to 1800 rupees. We said we wanted the simple 1000 rupee room. All simple rooms were booked. So be it. We saw both the King and Queen rooms and decided on the maharani (the Queen) room. It was spacious and opened into the forest and the orchards.

Wait, wait. The story isn’t over yet.

 

Ending the Day By Doing the Laundry With Hand, Eating Mushrooms, and Drinking Apricot Wine. How Can I Complain?

I had to of course wash all the muddy and wet clothing there and then. We showered in hot water. My partner chirped at the idea of eating chicken and I ordered mushrooms. We opened a bottle of apricot and celebrated our journey.

We partied until 11 or so and slept like babies. I guess we are babies. Wanting to explore every patch of this gorgeous earth and wishing to speak to every person on the planet while eating it all we can. I guess we are babies just out of our shells looking for fun and adventure all the time. And if on the way we face some troubles that’s okay too. Who said it will all come easy?

I hope you enjoyed my memoir of our hike to the Shikari Devi temple (Himachal Pradesh).

 

What is Shikari Devi Height?

The temple of Shikari Devi is located at a height of 3340 meters.

 

What is the Shikari Devi trek distance?

No one really knows. Everyone talks about the hike in terms of hours taken. Most villagers say you start in the morning at 6-7 am and arrive at 2-3 pm.

 

What should one bring on the Shikari Devi climb?

Pack

  1. Toilet paper
  2. Rain jackets
  3. Warm jackets for men and for women
  4. Soap
  5. Light Travel Towel
  6. Water Bottles — At least 3 litre water for one person (Think about getting this Lifestraw Go Water Bottle with integrated 1,000-liter capacity)
  7. Extra pair of socks and an extra pair of underwear (for these two should stay dry and clean)
  8. pack some food, fruits and bananas, peanut bars (or other protein bars)
  9. Bring cash
  10. Carry phone chargers and power banks.
  11. Download some songs offline
  12. Wear sturdy Hiking Shoes
  13. Carry strong backpacks
  14. pack medicines such as volini, pain killer, bandages, ibuprofen, dettol
  15. Wear good-quality hiking tracks or just good stretchable track pants (for women and for men)

 

Look at my Travel Resources and Travel Tips guide for more ideas.

Important — Load the offline maps of the area and before you start the hike load the map. The GPS arrow will keep showing you your position at least.

 

Should we walk to Shikari Devi or should we drive?

This is entirely your choice. We love to hike so we went the wayfarer way. For the drive, the road is kaccha. You might want to consider booking a local taxi.

 

What’s the best time to visit Shikari Devi temple?

Avoid monsoon and winter. The best months would be April to June and then from October to November. Ask the locals before going.

 

How to book the Forest Rest House at Shikari Devi?

I will soon publish a guide on booking PWD guest houses in Himachal Pradesh. You will find detailed information there. But to book the Forest Rest House at Shikari call on the number given in this pdf (search for Shikari) and say you are visiting the place. Tell how many rooms you need and the dates. Call the numbers the office provides. Later call the chowkidar (guard) of the FRH and confirm your arrival to him too. Though the guards are informed by the office, a phone call from your side will prepare them better.

Other guest houses (locally known as Serais) also are built at the Shikari Devi hill. But a lot of them have shared accommodations. I think they put mattress in the big hall. Sometimes people camp outside these guesthouses too. Or you can camp on the FRH grounds by talking to the guard. Keep in mind the weather though and carry the essentials.

 

Should we hire a guide for the Shikari Devi trek or shall we go on our own?

As you know from my story, we went on our own. But even the locals didn’t say we were taking any huge risk. The walk is just really long and goes through a dense forest without any villages. That’s the best and the worst part of going to Shikari hill.

Looking back on the journey, I can say our experiences in the jungles of Himachal Pradesh and of hiking at other places helped us a lot. So don’t go on your own if this is your first time doing a long trek or if you aren’t confident you will be able to walk that long.

Have you hiked for a day-long before? If yes, you can climb up to Shikari. As per the trail, I have given enough information in this guide.

To reiterate — Take the more walked upon path. Even if you notice the toffee wrappers and chips bags on the side of the trail, do think before assuming that would be the only right way. Many other side trails also lead to other villages. When in doubt, check all the trails. Don’t go after the widest trail. The tracks do get narrow at some points while another trail may seem wider. That’s how it is.

First you climb up to Sainthal, then into the jungle, now walk through the forest for 2-3 hours, further a steep uphill climb comes, and soon out in the pasture. Walk through the pastures, get on the road, and arrive at the staircase.

Some people also have a good direction sense. But if you are one of those who get lost even in the city, consider taking a guide.

Having said it all, you can choose to go on your own or hire a guide.

If the weather is bad or rainy, postpone. Leave as early as you can so you have all the time to figure out the way and for any mishaps.

About those wild animals now — Wild animals don’t bother anyone during the day. They stay in their own areas. But if the hills are misty, there is the fear of running into the Himalayan bear. So a clear sky is the best time to hike to Shikari Devi. And, of course, don’t go into the jungle at night.

Hope this helps.

 

 

Would you do drive or walk to the Shikari Devi Mandir? Tell me in the comments.

Pangna Village Will Amaze You (Mandi Himachal)

So Much You Don’t Know About Pangna Village (Mandi, Himachal Pradesh)

 

Pangna village blew my mind. Before visiting this Mandi village in Himachal, I knew the rough history of Pangna. 

I had read that the Suket dynasty had Pangna as its capital for a few hundred years. The Suket kingdom was of the Sen kings who were originally from Bengal. First, they moved from Bengal to Punjab. But when one of their rajahs was killed there, they fled to the hills. Here they made their first palace at Kunu Dar (near Karsog) in 778 AD. Then they shifted to Pangna and made the village their fort. Until 1240, the Sen’s ruled the Pangna area. 

Somewhere there was a fleeting mention of the Suket King’s daughter who had committed suicide because the king trusted a Brahman’s words over her. And in her memory, the tall Kathkuni temple, more popularly known as the fort, was constructed.

Read More

Noone Knows About These Shivpur Temples in Mashobra

Hiking to the Hidden Seepur Temples Near Mashobra

 

I have spoken a lot about my writing and exploration days in Mashobra Shimla. You can read the linked guide to get a closer look at my life in the village. But even though Mashobra is becoming the next Maldives (Vir Sanghvi says) travelers don’t know so much about this picturesque town of Himachal Pradesh. I didn’t know about these stunning temples in Shivpur, a small village near Mashobra. 

Read More

An Itinerant Writer’s Life in Mashobra, Shimla (Along With Things To Do)

This piece is different from usual travel guides. I wrote this narrative while exploring Mashobra, Shimla. In the write-up, I speak freely about my writing journey. You are taken to the nooks and corners of an itinerant writer’s life who manages her work on the go. 

Hope you enjoy the reality.

Oh, I have mentioned all the things I did in Mashobra throughout the piece, and you can find a list of them at the end too. Or go to the places to visit in Mashobra Himachal Pradesh now.

Read More

Amazing Karnataka – From Ten Years of Travel

Timeless (And Best) Places to Visit in Karnataka India And All About the State — From a Local

I have spent six years (if not more) in Karnataka, spanning over a decade. And finally I’ve moved out (for the unempteenth time) to have a life on the road.

It seems yesterday when I had gone to Bangalore to work at a software company. Ten years ago, I wasn’t going to Karnataka. I was moving to Bangalore, the capital of the state and the software hub of India. This crowded city of Bangalore seemed like a state of its own. My local Kannada friends told me the city wasn’t so jammed and hotch-potched in their young days. They grew up cycling under the canopy of trees, taking the local bus, and spending time in parks. 

Since Bengaluru became the Silicon Valley of India, millions of employees and employers came to the city with their families. As the city wasn’t planned by any civic planner, it expanded in every direction in an unruly manner. Concomitantly, the infrastructure got so bad that everyone living in Bangalore wanted to go out to the places to visit in Karnataka rather than staying within the busy city.

But today I’m not here for Bangalore. Today I want to tell the story of Karnataka — the state of the jungles, so let me get to that quickly.

Read More

Best Restaurants Near MG Road Bangalore – Adventures of My Belly

My Favorite Restaurants Near MG Road — Places to Overeat

 

I first created a draft for the restaurants near MG Road Bangalore when I was staying at the boutique hotel Casa Cottage behind Richmond Town. Sitting under the avocado trees, I would read books on Bangalore. Sometimes midday, I would pack my Kindle, pen, and notebook and head out. A few days, I stopped by Koshy’s and Indian Coffee House, and other days, I walked on. Towards the evening, my partner would join me for dinner, and we would explore different restaurants around MG Road (It’s close to Richmond Town). And many of those adventures of my belly found their way into this article.

I lived in Bangalore for quite a while and ate at many restaurants, kiosks, food stalls, and cycle vendors. But I never wrote about those eateries. I was scared of indulging in my food obsession. In Richmond Town, I was eating out at a new place daily because we were soon leaving Bangalore(for the nth time). Our Karnataka adventures were coming to an end. And so, I decided to record my food experiences in this MG road restaurants’ guide.

Here they are all. Enjoy.

Read More

Relishing Crunchy and Soft South Indian Dosas

A Colorful Introduction to South Indian Dosas

 

I love South Indian dosas, and I enjoy talking about these crispy crepes even more. You have to bear with me as this article on dosas in India will be long. Like my piece on some of the best visiting places in Karnataka.

 

What’s a Dosa?

Dosa is a thin crispy or soft savory crepe, sometimes it is even thick and soft like a pancake. Dosa could be rolled and stuffed or it might be plain and open — with all other variations not out of the scene. It is served with sambhar (a curry), chutneys, garlic-chilli powder (podi, also known as gunpowder among the uninitiated), and other paraphernalia. Though now dosas are eaten throughout India, and the world, they are still a staple only in South India.

 

masala dosa in chikmagalur town karnataka
A simple stuffed dosa with coconut chutney and sambhar served on banana leaf. Eaten somewhere in Karnataka.

 

plain dosa in bangalore karnataka
Plain crispy dosa served with coconut chutney and sambhar in Bangalore on a small roadside dosa joint. Filter coffee is a must with dosa.

 

Where Did Dosa Originate?

No one knows where the dosa — known as dosai in Tamil Nadu, dose (dough-sey) in Karnataka, and dosha in Kerala — originated. But the ancient Sangam literature of the Tamil area mentions dosa as early as the 1st century AD. As per Wikipedia, a dosa recipe is said to be found in Manasollasa, a 12th-century Sanskrit encyclopedia compiled by the Chalukya king Someshvara III of Karnataka. Originally the South Indian dosa is said to be of a softer and thicker form. But later in Karnataka, dose took a much crispier and thinner avatar.

Read More

Hiking Down to the Leopard-Infested Gorge in Mehli Shimla

Memoirs of walking down to the ravine from the Mehli village in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

 

I’m charged right now. As charged as I can be. I’m seated on dry pine needles and grass. A group of mosquitoes buzz in front of me. But I don’t care. For I’m listening to the sweetest sounds of chirping birds and the rhythmic music of freshwater falling on stones. We have driven to a jungle spot to work and write. There has been no power since morning in our remote stay in the mountains near Mashobra village of Shimla. Our village is probably called Gagal and it is near Mohanpur, that’s all I know about our whereabouts. Our host told us the electricians are fixing the cables and we would only get power by 5, maybe a bit before

It was only 2 pm. My Mac was at 18% and my husband’s Mac was discharged. He has a big release today so he needed electricity immediately. You know what he has done to ensure he never gets out of power? He has purchased a car charger that loads up electronics from the car battery. We are perfectly remote and nomadic in every sense.

Read More