The last two months gave me opportunities to revisit Manali/Vashisth/Naggar in Himachal Pradesh and Goa! This post goes over some of that experience and offers some helpful bits of info for people to use.
Manali/Vashisth – June 08
This was our first self-driven trip to Manali and Naggar. The drive was expected to be longer than any we’d done on our own so we timed it with our friend Amit Kalra’s visit and had him for moral support. In his school/college years, he’d frequently camp in Manali hills so we knew that he was going to help us experience Manali unlike ever before.
Kishore drove our Scorpio all the way through as Amit drove his. We were 4 adults and one child in ours, and Amit’s vehicle looked good enough for a Scorpio advert with 6 adults and 2 children. He drove ahead and would get really far ahead – Kirti from his side and I would constantly call each other and synchronise our paths. The rest of the time, I kept Kishore awake by playing music of his and my choice from my Zen. With 20 GB of music and audio plays, this little gadget is godsend for long drives.
One of our concerns was possible road sickness by not just me/Kabir but also Uma who was traveling with us with her 18 month old son Param. We took the usual precautions before setting out but made at least 4 stops for Uma to take in fresh air in the first hour itself. Later, a stopover for breakfast of aaloo-puri/idlis/dosas at Karnal and a round of Avomin ensured sound sleep for its consumers for most of the ensuing drive. Uma also didn’t complain of sickness after taking it and that was one big worry off our list.
After making a couple more short stops during the day, at Amit’s recommendation we finally made a longish halt for an early dinner at Valentino’s just short of Manali. An all-veggie Italian fare that took rather long to arrive, it was excellent with its flavours and ingredients – full of mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs and cheese – albeit as heavy as Delhi restaurants on our pocket. Kabir is a serious devotee of Italian flavours and even though he lamented an all veggie menu, later he agreed that this round of bruschettas/pastas/pizzas was a great way to begin our food experience of the trip.
Soon after, the sight of our hotel Sunshine around 10 pm, with pitch darkness around it, the process of getting small and big pieces of luggage into its 4 rooms on the Ist floor, its toilets with blue enamel-painted walls and rarely-washed floor or pot were part of an interesting experience that will remain etched on my mind for times to come! As will the natural beauty surrounding the hotel that became noticeable only in the morning – a large expanse of untended greenery peppered with roses, dahlias and fruit trees and therefore birds. While I was trying my best to not let my skin touch the bedsheet or quilt in the semi-wakeful hours of morning, I could hear Kishore marveling over Red-whiskered –Himalayan bulbuls, and trying to recall the name of Streaked Laughing Thrush that he remembered seeing the first time in Pangot.
After a quick consultation, our two days of planned stay at Sunshine was changed to one night and we slipped into something decent to move to Amit’s other haunt – Bhrigu in Vashishth. Bhrigu didn’t have valley-facing rooms so Amit kept 3 inside rooms for Swamy and his own family and we checked into Arohi next door. Both our rooms at Arohi were river/valley facing that made up for its sad breakfast and the noisy street on the other side. As for Bhrigu, while it can’t be recommended for its rooms, I’d whole-heartedly encourage people to use its rooftop restaurant Basho for its totally cool ambience and river-facing sitting area on the outside. Food at Basho would take a long while to show up but it would be great. Grilled trout, thukpa, grilled chicken, pasta and even mughlai items were good.
Thanks to Amit, two days at Vashishth introduced us to some memorable flavours – breakfast of pakoras, grilled sandwiches at Rainbow café; thin crust pizzas and saucy penne at Freedom café; most food at Basho; and our own discovery-Vishal’s Kitchen that operated from two tables on the Vashishth road and offered Maggi in a soupy incarnation with a healthy supply of sliced veggies, green chillies and fresh coriander…
The small Vashishth road is famous for its little Shiv temple, hot spring bath area, small eateries, some silver jewellery and woolen shops and ubiquitous German bakeries. Two more interesting items to be tried there are : cream rolls that cost Rs5/Rs10 depending on their size and that I remembered from my childhood in Neemach, and Juice made of absolutely any pulpy fruit – from mangoes, chikoos, papaya to the usual apple and anar. Kabir took to Mango juice in a big way.
Amit took us on two trails ending at waterfalls on both the days. One took about 20 min of walking through the back of Vashishth village – we shared a narrow forested path with cows, dogs and villagers, and finally landed up at a beautiful old temple, a distant Off-White cafe and a scenic waterfall. I settled down to admire these stone containers filled with water and a pair of Plumbeous Water Redstart jumping in and out of sprays of water. Uma also settled down amid greenery and made a pretty picture with Param sleeping on her lap. Amit took the more daring ones higher up where they walked through the chilled river with their shoes off…ooohh.
The next day we drove to Palchan that was about 30 min away from Vashishth. On the way Kabir and Aashna did bungee jumping at a makeshift facility but with good looking trampolines and firm cables. That was Kabir’s first time with jumping that high and after the first few min of worry, both the kids appeared to love it.
At Palchan, some of us settled down at the pretty complex of Whispering Rock Resort and the rest followed Amit to his ‘secret waterfall.’ Another 20 min walk through wheat fields and slippery slopes got us to this picturesque waterfall.
Naggar – June 08
For the last two days of our stay we moved to Ragini at Naggar while Amit and family stayed on at Vashishth.
Ragini is a small hotel next to HP Tourism’s Castle, with clean rooms/toilets and a fairly good view of mountains from its rooftop restaurant. Its owner Manoj divides his time running this place and taking his tourist guests to Rohtang and other challenging drives. This was my second stay at Ragini, and all three of us had some things on our list to re-experience. Kabir wanted to taste Ragini’s lasagna, pizzas and apple juice; Kishore wanted to taste the trout with beer and apple juice, have coffee and cake at the downstairs bakery and lots of ginger-honey-lemon tea everywhere else; and I wanted to taste the food, revisit the earlier identified spot for Spotted Forktails, and take Kishore to the Roerich Art Gallery.
Ragini was pleasant to stay as earlier. This time round the neighbour’s cow didn’t cry out as frequently as previously. Its food had somehow lost its earlier flavours but we still had lots of apple juice made from apples from Manoj’s orchards; Kishore enjoyed filtered coffee at the bakery; we walked up to the nallah that I’ve now named as Forktail Creek and saw beautiful Spotted Folktails on each visit; I liked walking through the Roerich Gallery gardens, bought 4 lovely coasters with Nicholas Roerich’s paintings on them; and for the first time I ate an unforgettable meal at Gillou’s. Kishore had mentioned an interesting variety of red rice and simple but delicious hill food at Gillou’s so we went and warned him about visiting for a meal the next day, and on that visit were treated to fantastic rajma-chawal, mixed vegetables and aaloo paranthas with home-made peach pickle on the side. Gillou’s wife, Hira gave us lots of pickle to take home that I’ve since shared with others in family.
Our Forktail Creek is just before the board of the Mountain View Café when walking from Ragini to the Roerich Gallery. The trail on the right would very likely show Yellow-billed Blue Magpies and certainly our stars Spotted Forktails. On an evening, around that road we saw Black Bulbuls in good numbers, some Grey-hooded Warblers, one Verditer Flycatcher and Grey Bushchats at many places. Great Tits and Streaked Laughing Thrushes could also be seen commonly. On the previous visit in Oct 2007, I’d walked up to a trail right in front of Ragini and seen Eurasian Treecreepers and Pygmy (or Grey-capped) Woodpeckers. I couldn’t cover that trail on this visit.
One small place in Naggar that requires a special mention is Tutu’s Teastall. It’s located just short of Ragini. Its owner, Tutu is a resourceful chap who whips up besan in a jiffy and produces delightful bread-pakoras, and serves them with ginger-lemon-honey tea that is so popular everywhere in Manali-Naggar. On Kishore’s first trip to Naggar, when he and his gang of guys were snowed in and Ragini didn’t have its restaurant to feed them, it was Tutu who kept the guys alive on bread-omlettes and nothing less than mutton curry!
Yet another place that shouldn’t be missed by food seekers is a small restaurant called Nightingale that we couldn’t visit this time but remembered it for its thin crust pizzas and a healthy supply of tomatoes and herbs in most other food.
Naggar is a place I can visit every year – it has much happening in the form of its Forktail Creek, Roerich Gardens, Ragini’s apple juice, Gillou-Hira’s rajma-chawal and Tutu’s bread-pakoras that I’d like to remind myself of each year. Wish it wasn’t so far to drive up to.
Goa – July 2008
The 5-day trip to Goa was a culmination of 6 months of labour on a property survey and follow-up with several people for purchase of an identified apartment. On this trip, Kishore and I spent most of the first 3 days on the formalities of buying the apartment, and later on a griha-pravesh puja and in making the apartment usable for the remaining 2 days of stay in it. Kishore has put some of its pictures in his gallery with his recent post.
This time round, Goa was remarkably different from March — with fewer people, regular rains, green fields, some socializing and some scanning of Mapusa and Panjim markets for houseware. The stay at Cavala was different because we’d insisted on a room overlooking the Baga fields instead of their swimming pool. Just gazing from the room balcony on 3 days gave us good views of White-browed bulbuls, an Alexandrine Parakeet nesting nearby, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Baya Weavers in breeding plumage, Magpie Robins all around, Waterhens, Asian Koels, Brahminy Kites, many White-throated Kingfishers and one unidentified pink-beaked bird (pic below). Also, Cavala’s rock-n-roll Saturday night had brightened up most of the otherwise sleepy Baga and had most of the hip crowd of Goa attempting to be part of it.
In the past, Goa has been beaches/beer/shack food or forests/drives/birds to us but from now on it’ll also be a home away from home. Look forward to knowing this place better and helping others know it more.