Himalayas: An Intrepid Itinerary

Tej Parikh outlines an alternative itinerary for the curious, cultured and intrepid backpacker  

With its vast and lofty presence crowning the Indian sub-continent, the Himalayas have shaped the character of its people. Its ethereal geography allures not just for its scenic prowess, but also for the deeply preserved and authentic cultures that still thrive tucked away in its creases.    

Day 1: Kathmandu, Nepal

Navigate the maze of chaotic streets to the pagodas of Durbar Square, turning wherever the scent, hum and sight allures you. After sampling a Thali for lunch, journey further out from the frenzy, and hike up to the soothing Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) to get a panorama of the eclectic Nepalese capital. End the day sipping chai on a rooftop in the hippie hubs of Thamel.

Day 2: Kathmandu to Thimphu, Bhutan

Ten minutes after takeoff, witness a clear sight of Mount Everest to your left and bask in ‘roof of the world’, before a rollercoaster-esque descent into Bhutan.After being greeted by the herds ofGho (traditional dress)wearing tour guides, spot the sharp reds of chillies drying on rooftops, set against the majestic greens of the Paro Valley, before trying them with melted cheese, a traditional Bhutanese dish.

Day 3: Thimphu

/Shakyamuni Buddha Bhutan

Ascend Thimphu’s enveloping mountainside to circle the enormous golden Shakyamuni Buddha and peer down through the fluttering prayer flags at the halcyon civilisation below. Then become a local at the Memorial Chorten, losing yourself in the encircling worshippers, before visiting the Motithang Takin zoo to uncover Bhutan’s national animal. Explore the whitewashed Tashichhoedzong Monastery, the seat of the Bhutanese government, and wander through the large courtyards in amazement at the ornate architecture and paintings.

Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha

Learn what really manifests Bhutanese GNH (gross national happiness), at the Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts, and fascinate at the intricacies and guile of Bhutanese traditionin its sculptures, embroidery and paintings. En route to Punakha, venture to the 108 chortens arranged in rings upon a mound in the Dochula pass, against the backdrop of Bhutan’s highest snow-carpeted peaks.

Punakha Dzong

Day 5: Punakha

Hike to the Chime Lahkang fertility temple passing through the vast rice fields; losing yourself in the pacifying morning rhythm of the farmers. Cross the cantilever bridge, over the bright blue hues of the Mo Chhu river and explore the majestic Punakha Dzong, with its astonishingly quaint courtyards and grand temples.  End the day hiking up to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal, a unique four-storey temple, overlooking the rice farm plains of the valley.

Day 6: Punakha to Phobjika Valley

Catch sight of monks darting across the Ganteng Monastery before trekking through the vast u-shaped glacial landscape of the Phobjika Valley, keeping an eye out for the Black-necked crane.  Then heat-up over a bukhari, a Bhutanese fire stove, at a guesthouse in the bed of the valley wilderness.

Punakha Valley

Day 7: Phobjika Valley to Paro

Gaze out at the wondrous 3000m high landscape, noting the occasion snow capped mountain ripping through the valleys on transit to Paro. Marvel at the untouched rural livelihoods, before ending the day with a traditional hot-stone bath.

Day 8: Paro

Tigers Nest Monastery

Start early to reap the aesthetic rewards of the trek up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Built on the edge of the rock face, this is one of Bhutan’s most iconic images, set high up in the undulating green mountains outside Paro amidst the cacophony of prayer flags radiating from its base.  Complete the day relaxing over an archery game, Bhutan’s national sport.

Day 9: Paro to Kathmandu to Delhi, India

In a day of a transit, breakfast in Bhutan, reenergise with a plateful ofMomos in Kathmandu’s bustle before finishing off with dinner in Delhi.

Day 10: Delhi to Kalka to Shimla

Catch the early morning Himalayan queen train out of Delhi, and awaken with the mad rush at Chandigarh junction, before transferring to the world heritage site railway at Kalka. Enjoy the rolling hills and multitude of views as the narrow gauge railway winds its way up to the British Raj’s summer capital, Shimla, in time to watch the sun set over the quaint train station

Day 11: Shimla

Shimla Monkey

Commence at the grandiose of the Viceregal lodge before carving through Shimla on taxi up to the Jakhoo temple, home to the large Hanuman (Hindu monkey god) statue overlooking the Himalayan retreat.  Then walk down to the iconic Christ church and people watch over a butter chicken lunch on the scenic Ridge, before exploring the markets aligning the ridge like concentric rings offering an array of views as the sun lowers above.

Day 12: Shimla to Dharamshala (McLeod Ganj)

Wind down the Shimla mountainside and then ascend further for a piece of Tibet in India, in Dharamshala.  Visit the BuddhistTsuglagkhang Complex, follow in the footsteps of monks and the Dalai Lama as you enlighten yourself on Tibetan freedom movement. Then stroll the two focal streets of McLeod Ganj greeting wandering backpacker souls, whilst you sniffle lemon grass chai and learn Reiki or Yoga in this Himalayan abode.

Day 13: Dharamshala to Wagah Border to Amritsar

Intrepid journey through the Himilayas

Journey through the hectic and speedy roads of Punjab to the Wagah-Attari border where every day at sunset an extravagant India-Pakistan border closing ceremony takes place. Join into the national revelry, before tearing through the traffic and crowds of Amritsar to its holy core. At dusk, explore the mysterious and lit up Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, twinkling like a star upon the ‘pool of nectar’.

Day 14: Amritsar

Marvel at the Golden Temple during sunrise, after breakfasting at the world famous Brother’s Dhaba. Learn about the British rule in India at Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the infamous massacre of hundreds of Indians –where the bullet marks remain, etched into Indian memory. Then bravely stroll beyond the temple’s reach to immerse your senses in the chaos of Amritsar.

TejTej Parikh is a freelance writer specialising in travel and international development. He has written articles for the Guardian, various NGOs and social think-tanks. His travels have taken him to the Middle East, Colombia and the Himalayas, amongst others, and have been inspired by his passion for 'off the beaten track' travel, and learning about different cultures. His unique prose is to illuminate conventional thought and societal trends by drawing on his experiences travelling. This is showcased in his blog where he raises debates on issues from Facebook to the economics of happiness.

If you need any more information on the Himalayas just get in touch with Tej via his blog tejparikh90.wordpress.com.