Life in a Secret Village : Near Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh

I was feeling feverish due to the sudden weather change in Parvati Valley (in May, of all seasons!) when I received a phone call inviting me to a previously unheard of village located close to Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) near Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh. It was afternoon and I was uncertain if I would be able to make it to the remote village. I decided that it was better that I travel there the next day. I’d never heard the name of this village and that automatically made it a secret village; and being located in vicinity of GHNP I was certainly excited at being invited at a local homestay!

Great Himalayan National Park
Welcomed by clouds after I got out of the bus in Sainj Valley, somewhere near GHNP.

I’d reached Tirthan Valley after taking a bus from Aut – and spent a couple of days exploring another remote valley in this region called Seraj. I was then supposed to reach Sainj Valley because this is where the secret village near Great Himalayan National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) was located. A funny fact about transportation in Sainj Valley, Tirthan Valley & Banjar Valleys is that while Banjar is the transportation hub and biggest town in the region; the transport options do not necessarily ply from Banjar. Hence, I had to get down in Larji – from where the road to Sainj bifurcates.

Great Himalayan National Park
Another stunning sight of the base village; like a bowl surrounded by green devdhar forests.

The skies were consistently stormy everyday and I was lucky that it was nice and sunny when I made it to Sainj. Another bus ride would take me to the base of the village that I was supposed to reach. Within no time the weather worsened, and it began drizzling. A super cold wind blew and reminded me to be careful with my jackets. I was still quite feverish and it was imperative that I reach the homestay in the village while it was daylight.

Great Himalayan National Park
On one of the many aimless walks around the homestay in the secret village.

The bus ride from Sainj was crazy! The road wound up considerably higher with a series of hairpin bends and it seemed like a newly constructed road. With the continuous rain around, the road was full of slush and the bus was having a difficult time manoeuvring around the turns. I was very tired and to be honest a bit apprehensive if I’d taken the right decision to say yes to the offer of reaching an unknown village. But the person making the phone call was an acquaintance and my instinct told me it was going to be worth it!

Great Himalayan National Park
View of the sacred Pundrik Rishi Lake in Sainj Valley. On the left are colourfully dressed ladies walking to attend the festival.

The bus was full, with an eagerly awaited festival happening in the village and some school children had to be asked to get down so that the bus could make another attempt at covering the last 2 kilometres to the village around GHNP. It was gorgeously green and when the sunlight peeked through the clouds, it made the proceedings even more magical!

Great Himalayan National Park
Clicked from our chilling spot in the apple orchard during the afternoon one of the days at the homestay near GHNP.

The walk from where the bus left me and the initial village was nervy to say the least. The path was full of slush and it was impossible to walk even one step without slipping. It was a really funny sight to see the local Himachalis struggle with me and all this made for a good laugh! I spotted the locals who had invited me there, they were laughing at my misery and suddenly we saw one young guy had actually slipped and fallen in the slush. Some people picked him up and it all seemed chaotic in the festival environment.

Great Himalayan National Park
So many elements in this frame… can you spot all of them? Typical mountain life in small hamlets.

I climbed the stairs, and met with the locals as we walked to the festival place which was bang in the middle of the village. I was already happy with the pristine setting of this village that was set in a sort of a green bowl surrounded by pine and deodhar forests. There was a temple around where locals had gathered in their finest clothes; the ladies were decked in colourful shawls and jewels and the men looked dapper in their woollen waistcoats.

Great Himalayan National Park
Barley ready to be harvested; stormy clouds continue piling up in the valley.

We clicked a few photos and I was informed that the secret village with the homestay was in fact another 45 minutes hike away. The sun was about to set and I quickly told them that its better that we leave for our homestay village since I was not at my full fitness and would go slow on the ascending path. The gorgeous golden hour evening light lit up the forest and I couldn’t help but feel amazed at the stunning natural beauty of this place. After all, we were in close vicinity of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Great Himalayan National Park!

Great Himalayan National Park
Pundrik Rishi Lake as clicked from the other side.

We walked and walked through the devdhar forests and finally around half an hour later, the valley opened up and we were in front of the sacred Pundrik Rishi Lake. Having read Tarun Goel’s blog post years ago; I had known that there was no water to be seen in this lake but it is a vast space filled with greenery. Pundrik Rishi Lake’s location was surreal too; it was surrounded entirely by a devdhar forest on one side while our walking path continued on the other side.

Check : Serendipity and Adventures on the Chamba-Bhaderwah Road

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Happy space at the homestay : utterly beautiful view from the non-existent windows! Heavenly feels.

To our left there was a pristine village of around forty homes. Someone mentioned that a Swiss couple has recently bought an old dwelling here and lives in peace with a stunning meadow around. It was almost dark when we somehow reached the homestay. The locals were used to it and made it easily, while I had to take careful steps to make sure I don’t slip and prove to be a clumsy guest in the village!

Great Himalayan National Park
Clicked on a clear day; walking through the fields. A speechless kind of experience to realise the remoteness of this place has everything to do with happiness in the heart.

As is the norm with villages that are only accessible by foot; homes in this secret village too were traditionally designed in kath-kuni architecture style. Wooden homes with stone roofs complimented a rustic village feel and we were in touching distance of Great Himalayan National Park. Snowy peaks glistened in the moonlight and it appeared that fresh snow had accumulated during the recent weather disturbances.

Great Himalayan National Park
A traditionally designed wood and stone home in the valley; the core area of GHNP is not very far from here.

I don’t know if I first saw the homestay; or the aroma of devdhar wood hit my nostrils first! The house was made of wood and that fact alone was enough to please me. There was an open corridor with an endless view of the fields and the snowy peaks on the other side. A lovely breeze blew; the windows actually have been left like that to not prove a hindrance to the fresh air that blows abundant in this setting.

Read : Sustainable Rural Tourism in Garhwal, Uttarakhand

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My feverish state meant I was too lazy to change the 35mm lens on the dslr, but I still think it was worthwhile clicking with it.

All of us sat in the corridor and exchanged greetings with the homestay family, the aroma of devdhar wood from the room was omnipresent and every breath I took seemed to increase my lifespan. I was immediately welcomed by everyone and shown around the house. It was a nice and cosy space that functioned as a perfect homestay and with the open corridor with an endless landscape view full of fields and mountains, I knew I was going to love it!

Great Himalayan National Park
A curious mix of rain and sunshine, that created a nice frame until the lady walked in to make it perfect.

It was still quite cold and we moved to the kitchen room to have our dinner. The room was warm with a running bukhari / tandoor (traditional mountain stove in all parts of the Himalayas). Food had been prepared by the ladies of the house in the upper floor kitchen and had been kept warm on the tandoor. This space served served as a separate kitchen + dining area for the homestay guests. I was delighted to eat bhaturu (traditional Himachali dish) along with tasty rajma, kadhi and a tasty local preparation of brinjal.

Read : Jageshwar Dham Temple in Uttarakhand

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What a house! I like this one too 😛 The abundance of fresh air has everything to do with happiness. What about you?

The washroom was located a short distance away from the homestay and it was also a point where the 3G/4G mobile network was prominent. We sat in the open corridor again and talked about life, the pointless need of chasing materialistic happiness and constantly being reminded by the world of comparisons.

When the breeze blew and brought with it the intoxicating smell of the snow, a little tear escaped my eye. I was torn between comfort and adventure; the aroma of the room of devdhar wood on one side and the beckoning of the snowy Himalayas on the other – and in the midst was a homestay that balanced it all! 

Great Himalayan National Park
Men and women working in the fields surrounded by delightfully green forests, a day in the life of a traditionally Himachali village.

Someone played incredibly beautiful music; a fusion of western and Indian classical beats and in my feverish state, I had no idea when sleep came. Every breath must have been magical in that sweet aroma for when I woke up, I was fit as a fiddle and my fever had disappeared. The sun was out and it was finally pleasant enough to let go of my jacket and soak in some sunshine. We lazily sipped glass after glass of piping hot chai until the homestay owner declared that I should have a bath with warm water.

Great Himalayan National Park
A village temple that was located close to the school in a lovely green meadow.

The festival in the nearby village was in full swing and all the locals were getting decked up for it. Our host had received numerous phone calls from his friends for the cricket match and he was getting restless to go for the same. His funny way of speaking and friendly demeanour instantly made him a hit and we always laughed our heart out when he spoke!

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I hope to return to this secret homestay village in August and say hello to the clouds in the open corridor!

Among his best one liners was, ‘Bhai ji, main na jab bando ka friend request aata hai tab dekhta hun profile ko… but jab koi bandiyon ka aata hai tab direct accept!’

I’m not sure if you had a laugh too but when he said it in his funny way, we actually rolled on the floor laughing!

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While coming back from the festival; after it had rained the sun briefly shined on the other side for a special effect in this phone photograph.

After that, while lunch was being made, we decided to head for a walk for some chill time. We crossed fields of wheat, barley, potatoes and the villagers were picking peas as they were ready. I happily pocketed some when they gave me the peas and how tasty they were! There were pretty traditional houses in one of the nearby villages and after walking across more fields, we ended up in an apple orchard with a bird’s eye view of the sub-valley in Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) and snowy peaks to top it off.

Great Himalayan National Park
Now now; I am confused. I could also live here; surrounded by fields and an endless valley view on the other side! Sometimes life gives difficult decisions to make. Haha.

Someone played Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell album as we sat among wild strawberries surrounded by marijuana plants that gave out a sweet smell. The valley reverberated with the sound of rushing water in the stream that flowed below. It was magical to just be in these surroundings. After spending an hour or so enjoying the solitude, we headed back to our homestay for lunch and then leave for the festival and cricket match.

Check : Khangsar, Kwaring, Sarang, Kolong – Exploring Lahaul Valley

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Wild strawberries and this is the endless valley view that I’m talking about!

Clouds started to gather in the sky and by the time we finished our lunch, the weather had become gloomy and cold once again! And lunch had been such an elaborate affair that I immediately felt drowsy. But the infectious energy of the host put any plans of rest to sleep, he was in his best humourous mood and was very excited about the cricket match. The elder brother of the family also dressed up and bhabhi ji was also ready in her finest clothes and make-up.

Great Himalayan National Park
The temples in a meadow : Located close to the school and surrounded by towering mountains. I’d love to study in a school with a view like that!

As soon as we started walking toward the festival village, it started drizzling. It was fun to meet the locals along the way and hide beneath the trees when the rain got heavier. A cricket match was being played near the Pundrik Rishi Lake and the surreal shade of green made it feel like an unforgettable sight. Mahi (host of the house) tried to pose for a few shots around the lake but the cool guy that he was, he failed miserably at it!

Great Himalayan National Park
Cheerful villagers picking peas in the fields.

The festival was a riveting affair, and a separate blog post is needed for that. It drizzled continuously and once we started on our way back to the secret village with the homestay near GHNP region in Sainj Valley, a strange thing happened (more details in the festival blog post).

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Toilets in these villages are usually not attached to the traditional homes and are built separately.

The sun peeked through the clouds as we neared the lake and the stunning light resulted in some epic landscape photographs. We jumped and ran to our homestay, only to be invited for chai into a 200 year old home in the village. Later in the darkness, I somehow stumbled into our homestay only for the breeze to kiss like a long lost lover. The heart fluttered with unparalleled happiness, perhaps I could stay here forever.

Great Himalayan National Park
Surely one of the most stunning locales for a cricket match.

But I am a man with wandering feet; and another enigmatic village in Tirthan Valley beckoned to me the next day. The hosts heartwarming behaviour made me wish I should never leave but since it was time to go; one of the members of the family walked with me to guide along a different hiking trail that would lead me directly to the Sainj – Neuli road from where I would get a bus to Sainj.

Read : Offbeat Places Around Dharamshala – McLeodganj

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Transfixed view from the homestay in the secret village near GHNP.

I, hereby take the opportunity to thank Mahi for his epic one liners; and the locals to have invited me to this insanely beautiful and traditional Himachali village in the periphery of Great Himalayan National Park where nature exists in an unrivalled form. I also hope you appreciate my not naming the village; as a matter of fact people with wandering hearts and feet – aka Bawray Banjaray’s are known to make their way here.

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Trust me, this was only clicked from a phone! Insanely beautiful evening light.

In a few years when the entire world’s tourist locations will be mapped on a travel map; my only hope is that intrepid travellers will have a at least some spaces to call their own. I don’t care if google doesn’t show my secret village blog post in search results if and when it becomes popular but this is an attempt to make more people aware that magical places like these exist only because there is less tourist footfall.

Great Himalayan National Park
It was fiercely cold during my stay in the valley; courtesy of the fresh snowfall on the peaks.

I’ve observed the detrimental effects of excess tourism in many a place; and with a renewed focus on sustainable and responsible tourism I love the idea of the locals to run a rural tourism initiative by starting the homestay. With water problems running high in the entire Himalayan region in summer, I urge all tourists and travellers to find their own offbeat village rather than crowd the already crowded hill stations.

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A traditional Himachal slate roof with the mountains in the background : Somewhere near Great Himalayan National Park!!

Have any secret villages to talk about? I’d love to listen to the stories and experiences.

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautiful place … so pure…so pristine!

    Like

    1. Absolutely! Thanks for checking 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mayuri Patel says:

    No words for this post..Just beautiful and pristine place it is
    Looks like, if one stay here forever their life will extended by so many years due to breathing of fresh air.
    love the article and Really agree you didn’t mention the Name of village and let it be secret only

    Like

    1. Very well said, Mayuri. Thanks for taking the time out to comment 🙂 Hope to return here soon and live for a week or two!

      Like

  3. Gorav says:

    Siund

    Like

  4. Antony says:

    This appears to be such a beautiful place. Perfect for living a long healthy and tranquil life. The houses look quaint, rustic and very welcoming. The scenery lush, fresh and energizing. Idyllic!
    Nice post with some lovely images. Let’s see some more…

    Like

    1. It was indeed magical 🙂

      Like

  5. neelstoria says:

    So beautiful, peaceful and serene. You are indeed blessed, no many people are privy to such magically enchanting places. Pictures don’t tell even half the story . I can only imagine what your stay must have been like!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for this wonderful comment 🙂 I can just say that I hope to return to this place really really soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. malek azis says:

    your article is very nice ,, very help me ,.

    Like

    1. Thanks and good luck.

      Like

  7. Avninder Deol says:

    Magic ! magic ! Almighty ‘s Magic. See the God ‘s creations and compare to the modern luxurious home of any metropolis anywhere in the world 😊

    Like

    1. Wonderfully said 🙂 Thanks for the heartfelt appreciation.

      Like

  8. shiv singh says:

    Feels like to visit this awesome place…will get in touch with you once we decide to visit this place.. Keep discovering.. Shiv

    Like

    1. Good luck for the same! Happy travels.

      Like

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