Last week when we posted Juhie Tak's account of the blissful time in a secret valley tucked away under the blue skies of Himachal Pradesh, many of you asked us where this place was. This is also exactly how we felt when we were going to this fairy tale like valley featuring the most pristine meandering river. Our memory of that day is quite vivid. A long, overnight bus ride from Delhi had taken us to Aut (same bus as Kullu-Manali), post which we hopped on to a local bus to get to Tirthan Valley. The first thing that struck us during the ride was the warmth of the locals - school children who made space for our large-ish backpacks and a family of four who squeezed in together to make space for us. About half hour before you get to Tirthan, all mobile phone networks apart from BSNL, Airtel and Idea fail to work. (Vodafone has no signal at all!) On realizing that we were a bit lost, the folks in the bus even offered to let us use their cell phones. We got off at the Nagini bus stop and were happy to see Ankit waiting for us.
Ankit and Panki Sood are our partners in Tirthan Valley. The brothers run an organization called Sunshine Himalayan Adventures and have been working in the eco-tourism and conservation space for over 20 years. They were instrumental in the Great Himalayan National Park being awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2014.
The valley itself is one of the finest examples of how a community can come together to protect and conserve its natural heritage. Over the last few decades, time and time again the close-knit community has successfully managed to keep all government proposed hydro-electric projects away from the valley, in order to safeguard their river and the fish and bird population living in the region. These efforts have resulted in the valley ranking amongst India’s top 2-3 birding destinations with over 300 species. Fishing is also highly regulated to preserve the native trout species – angling is permitted in a limited stretch along the river, and completely banned during breeding season. No mass fishing methods are allowed, and one must go with the locals and with required permits if they wish to experience this.
There really is no better way to experience this valley, than by staying with the locals who have also been pioneers in the art of running homestays. Raju Bhai is possibly the best example of how a local family opened up their home to travelers in the late 80s/ early 90s and is now one of the most popular homestays in the country (Raju’s Guesthouse). As if on cue, most locals now have either set up homestays or made small guesthouses next to their homes. The benefits of this model are multi-fold – this naturally limits the number of travelers in the valley at a certain period of time, provides a unique local experience that can never be matched by hotels, safeguards local architecture and also ensures maximum benefit to the local economy.
Our flagship partner homestay is a traditional Himachali home owned by Khem Bhai and Hema Bhabhi, who have been hosting people for the last 8-10 years. Staying with them will guarantee constant cups of warm, milky tea and Hema Bhabhi’s signature delicacy ‘siddu, a Himachali kind of bread made from wheat flour, which resembles a momo. The evenings usually involve Khem Bhai regaling travelers with local folklore, and if you’re lucky, some of his Tirthan Scotch :)
Our partners are deeply entrenched with the community owing to their years of association. They work closely with the locals on homestay development programs that are co-supported by the state government and Asian Development Bank. They are currently working on preparing a comprehensive eco-tourism resource map that will include social (fairs, festivals, traditional practices), cultural (music, dance, costume, cuisine, folklore) and natural (treks, caves, natural attractions) mapping of the valley. They also custom create training material, and conduct workshops with the community on a regular basis. You have the opportunity to not only see the valley as a traveler, but also engage with our partner and the community on these on-going initiatives.
The valley offers plenty of hikes and trails for all kinds of fitness levels. There is an easy 45-minute hike to a nearby waterfall for the novices, but for the avid trekkers a trek to the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is a must! Sunshine Himalayan Adventures trains the local youth to be trekking guides, as well as birding experts and our most popular trek is an overnight camping trek till the base camp in GHNP.
While a trek/ hike is a must, we also recommend that you take some time off to simply sit by the river and let it's sound bring you a sense of calm. Walk down to the water with a good book and a cup of tea in hand, find your spot and watch the hours just go by!
Consider this hidden valley as your next vacation destination, not just to experience the local culture, the natural beauty of the place or the warmth and hospitality of your hosts, but also to give the locals a hand in their efforts to preserve the pristine valley.
About our author - Suprita Mitter first travelled to 8 countries when she was a year old. Along with her mother, she accompanied her father, a marine engineer, and lived on the ship with him till it was time to go to school. Ever since she has been trying to make her way back to making travel her way of life. She uses the skills she picked up during her stints with media houses like NDTV, Reuters, PING Network, Mid Day and Condé Nast Traveller to aid her travel dreams. She also happens to be little local's first patron and now leads all our content initiatives.
About our partner - Sunshine Himalayan Adventures has been working in Tirthan Valley for the last 20+ years, with the single point mission of ensuring conservation of the natural resources and heritage, as tourism increases inevitably. Spearheaded by two brothers Ankit Sood and Panki Sood, the organisation was instrumental in Great Himalayan National Park being awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2014. They are working closely with the local community to promote homestays and locally owned small guesthouses, over large hotels. You can read more about them here.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to be part of such travel experiences, do read about our current trips here. And please write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org and give us feedback on what you'd like us to post about!