Back of the Book
The author Koko Singh has traveled extensively through the Himalayas for over twenty-five years. Having opted out of the corporate main stream, he has been volunteering as a consultant to an NGO (SRUTI), for over fifteen years now. This shift allowed him the time to indulge in his love for travel and this set of books is an effort to share the beauty and adventures of Himalayan travel.
By buying this book, or any other in the series, you are contributing to community development efforts as 7.5% of the sale price is going to a voluntary organisation of the author's choice.
Driving Holidays in the Himalayas is a series of books that endeavour to give the reader a glimpse of many exciting, exotic locales than can be easily accessed by road and hopes to provide enough insight to make your trip a comfortable and memorable one.
Whereas this book explores Himachal, others in the series take you through Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Ladakh and Zanskar.
These books especially focus on travellers who are found of driving, have their own wheels (two, four-or even hired will do!), and love the mountains. Given the time constraisnt of our lives today, each book is designed to cover a fair degree of terrain in a week to ten days. Although it does not aim to visit every place possible in a region, it certainly traverses a reasonable cross-section. It reflects the author's own preferences of picturesque places to visit and also makes dining recommendations.
Through the ages, the Himalayas have been revered by millions of Indians as the abode of the Gods. The early 'rishis' (sages), referred to them as "the expanse of the two arms of the Supreme Being", suggestive of the whole world being locked in the Himalayas divine embrace. Writing in the fifth century AD Kalidas, the renowned poet, has an evocative but apt description-
In the Northern quarter is divine Himalayas, the lord of the Mountains, reaching from Eastern to Western Ocean, firm as a rod to measure the earth
There demigods rest in the shade of clouds, which spread like a girdle below the peaks but when the rains disturb them, they fly to sunlit summits
It is here that Shiva, the great god of destruction, found solace after the death of his consort Sati, and atoned for almost destroying the world with his dance, the 'Tandava Nritya'. After wooing the bereaved Shiva for over a thousand years Parvati, the daughter of the mountains, succeeded in winning his love. The Himalayas are studded with temples dedicated to Shiva and Parvati, and every year devotees in untold numbers travel hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers, to visit their 'abode'. In the words of the Skanda Purana: dew, so are the sins of man dissipated at the sight of the Himalaya."
Centuries of pilgrimage led to the building of numerous temples and hermitages, but not a single hill station as we know it.
In earlier times, the local inhabitants were unaffected as the transient pilgrims were extremely limited in number due to the difficulties and time required for the arduous journey.
The first planned hill retreats were set up by the great Mughal emperors Akbar, Shah Jehan, and Jehangir who established summer palaces around Srinagar in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The beautiful Nishat and Shalimar gardens are testament to those early endeavours and are a star attraction even today. The Mughals faded into oblivion and were followed by the British, a unique creature, unlike any other who ruled the subcontinent. They made little effort to absorb or integrate with the ancient cultures and traditions they found in this land and instead sought to create small, very British 'islands' of comfort wherever they were based. They were masters at the game of intrigue and treachery, playing one powerful local ruler against the other to extend and consolidate their grip over the country. However, one enemy continued to challenge - the climate.
One of the main problems faced by the British was keeping the army of almost 100,000 troops healthy. Soldiers garrisoned in the hill forts were found to be much better off than their comrades in the plains and this started the search for resorts to be used as sanatoriums.
In 1819, the first 'hill station' was established at Shimla (now the capital of Himachal Pradesh) and over the next seventy years, around eighty hill stations were developed all over the country. Situated on hill tops and often even in places without a local populace, the Raj used the ample resources at its command to construct roads and railways under the most challenging conditions- who else could build railway lines to remote Darjeeling and Shimla! To give them due kudos, it is thanks to their eccentricities and desire to create conditions akin to those 'back home', far from the enervating heat, that such an extensive network of roads developed, allowing us our muchcoveted driving holidays in the Himalayas.
Geologically speaking, the Himalayas are the youngest mountain range in the world and are actually still growing -up to 0.8cm annually. Samples extracted from the slopes fo Mt. Everest confirm that in the past millennia, what is today the world's highest and longest (East to West) mountain range was once part of a vast ocean bed!
Eighty million years ago, in the period when dinosaurs roamed period when dinosaurs roamed the earth - the Jurassic Age - the earth's land mass split into two great continents, Laurasia in the northern hemisphere and Gondwanaland in the southern hemisphere. Later, the land mass that is the Indian subcontinent broke away from Gondwanaland and floated across the Earth's surface till it ran into Asia! The collision between the hard volcanic rock of India and Asia's soft sedimentary crust resulted in the creation of all the Asian mountain ranges such as the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir, as also the Tien Shan and Kun Lun. This process took between five and seven million years and the fact that the Himalayas are at the front of the continental collision accounts for their dwarfing the other ranges and for their continued upward movement.
The Himalayas stretch 2500km from Nanga Parbat in the West (in Pakistan), to Namche Barwa (Arunachal Pradesh), in the East, The range boasts of fourteen peaks in excess of 26,200ft/8000m, including Mt. Everest, which at 29,028ft/8848m is the highest mountain in the world. The highest peak in our country is the third highest in the world - might Kanchendzonga (28,160ft/8585m) located in our second smallest state, Sikkim.
The Himalayan range is actually three almost parallel mountain systems. At the top lies the Great Himalayan Range with perennial snow peaks rising to heights in excess of 16,500ft/5000m, preceded by the Middle Himalayan Range of peaks averaging between 13,000-16,500ft/4000-5000m. The foothills, or the Lower Himalayan Range, are the ranges bordering the plains with mountains around 8000ft/2500m in height and, regrettably, it is only in this third and lowest layer of mountains that most of our driving journeys are confined!
The Himalayas are also the source of the three major river systems of the subcontinent - the Indus, the Ganga, and the Brahmaputra. All these originate from glaciers, one of which, Gaumukh- the source of the holy Ganga- is only a few kilometers from the road head at Gangotri in Uttarakhand.
Geography and Location
Himachal Pradesh is located just below Jammu & Kashmir, being bound to the North by this state. To the East lies Tibet, Uttarakhand to the South and the plains of Punjab form its western border. The state encompasses an area of 55,673sq km which is practically all mountainous with the altitude ranging between 1150ft to 23000ft/350m to 7000m. The highest peak, Shila (23,050ft/7026m), is in a remote inaccessible area but your travels can bring you close to peaks such as Leo Porgial (22,275ft/6791m) near Nako in Spiti, Deo Tibba (19,680ft/6001m) near Manali, and Kinner Kailash (19,850ft/6050m) which is 1015 'Crow kilometers' from Kalpa (Kinnaur). This state has three high altitude passes (called 'la' in Tibetan); the Baralacha La (16,000ft/4880m), the Kunzum La (14,928ft/4551m) and the Rohtang (13,050ft/3978m). These passes control access to Lahaul and Spiti as also Ladakh and remain closed around six months of the year.
The mountainous system runs in three almost parallel ranges and the upper most are the Greater Himalayas which lie at the eastern border diving Himachal from Ladakh. Kinnaur, Pangi, Lahaul and Spiti are part of this system. Below this runs the Pir Panjal range of the middle Himalayas which divides the Chandra and Ravi valleys. Further East the Pir Panjal forms a natural divide between the Chandra and Kullu valleys and is breached by the Chenab River at Kishtwar. Parts of chamba, Lahaul-spiti as well as Shimla and Kullu are included in this range. South of the Pir Panjal lies the Dhauladhar range that divides the chamba valley, with the river Ravi flowing through, and the Kangra valley with its Beas River; it also divided the Chenab and Tawi valleys. Kangra, Chamba and Mandi are part of it. The lowest in elevation are the Lower Himalayas and the Shivalik range in western Himachal covering Kangra, Una, Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Solan, Sirmaur etc. are part of this system.
There are several major rivers crisscrossing the state and each of them has carved out its own beautiful, unique valley. The Beas originates in the high mountains above Manali and forms the Kullu valley, finally flowing west below the Kangra valley. Its main tributaries are the Parvati and the Spiti, In the North, the Chandra and Bhaga rivers from the Lahaul valley while the spiti forms the Lingti valley. The mighty Sutle is joined by the spiti and then met by Baspa River coming down from the lovely Sangla valley. The Sutlej starts from Rakas Tal, near the base of Mount Kailash (Tibet) and flows 300km before crossing into India, finally meeting a watery grave in the huge artificial lake near Bilaspur, caused by the construction of the Bhakra dam. The river Ravi ries from the Dhauladhars, flows through the Chamba valley, entering Punjab near Dalhousie. Himachal is also home to some beautiful lakes- Deepak Tal and Suraj Tal are accessible while traveling by road to Baralacha La. Others or religious significance are those at Rewalsar, Nako, Renuka and Parashar, details of which you will find at various stages in the travel plan.
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