“Of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.”
Travelling might seem to be an escape from our mundane routines or a way to spend time with friends and family, but I believe it to be much more than just an adventure or a trip. It is more about introspection, a process wherein you leave a part of yourself and also gain a small part of that place you visit.
Out of all places in the world, mountains inspire me the most. It is not just about the spirit of adventure or the geography, but of the lives of people who live there, their breathtaking stories, their pure aura, the challenges they face, the respect they have for nature, the simple life they lead and yet manage to have a smile on their faces.
It is quite a common saying that the soul of India lies in its villages and India does boast of some of the most beautiful villages on this planet, specifically the ones tucked in the hilly areas where living a simple life has its own charm and challenges. These villages certainly reflect the beauty of India and are major attractions as they portray the simple rural life, untouched by modernity. There is a kind of serenity and old-world charm that makes these places magical, in addition to their rich culture that makes them worthy of recognition.
My interest and love for traveling stem from my parents, who themselves enjoy and encourage travel. I consider myself lucky enough to have travelled and experienced some of the most picturesque rural mountain regions of North India from a very young age. Visiting these places was like discovering these hidden gems within India far removed from the usual tourist tracks. The exposure to the raw beauty and rustic charm of these quaint hamlets offer you that much-needed peace and serenity away from the frenzied life of the cities.
So here is a list and glimpse of the experiences that I have had of few of the most beautiful villages of the Himalayan region–
Patnitop in Udhampur(Jammu and Kashmir)
I remember visiting Kashmir at a very young age where just a different topography and the clear blue river fascinated me. This small village named Patnitop was our last destination of that trip and I still have a clear picture of how energetic and happy that place was, with sheep running down the hills and young Kashmiri kids running behind them. The colors of the clouds and the contrast of conifers, (it could beat any Instagram filter) and all of it at an altitude of 2,024 m with the river Chenab flowing in close proximity to this location. This place was famous for adventure sports and bungee jumping but what I found most appealing were the contrasting shades that the scenery of hills and mountains was painted in, ranging from lush green vegetation to the silvery snow-covered peaks. Also, this was more peaceful and sublime than any other similar hill station.
Lachen Village in Sikkim
Lachen Village is located at an altitude of almost 3000 metres, with lush vegetation set against the snow-white mountain peaks. I remember we were stuck on the way to Lachen for 5 hours due to the roadblock as a result of heavy snowfall, but it was worth the visit. The picturesque landscape looked more pristine as everything was covered with snow. The river water appeared to be transparent and sparkling as it quietly flowed past the village. The scenery was very overwhelming because you rarely witness the natural beauty of this kind. The sheep and yak wool of Lachen Village was greatly fascinating and it was amazing to see the process of shearing in an eco-friendly manner. The charm of the place filled one with a sense of positivity and inner peace.
Darap Valley in Sikkim
Pelling is a small hill town in the district of West Sikkim, nestled at an altitude of 2,150 metres. Darap Valley is a small village about 7 km from Pelling, on the way to Yuksam. It is mostly occupied by the Limboo tribe along with a small population of other communities as well. One of the intriguing things about this village is that it provides a close panoramic view of the Kanchenjunga. During sunrise, one can literally see every single ray of sunlight falling upon the snow-clad mountain peaks. I remember meeting a Sherpa who joyously said that foreigners who came for Himalayan trekking simply gave away all their expensive bags, ropes, boots, and other gears as gifts to them after a successful descent. And as he told his stories, his face shone with the sheer joy of having lived those moments.
The lives of people here are simple, so is the food with more proteins required to battle the harsh conditions. One can feel the synergy the people and the mountains have with each other. For them, the beautiful landscape is just routine, yet something they deeply cherish. Witnessing this was one of the most enriching experiences of the journey.
Malana in Himachal Pradesh
Malana is a picturesque, ancient village located in the Kullu valley. It is also famous for the finest quality of hash produced Malana cream. Although there are just a handful of people inhabiting the village, it is very popular amongst adventure lovers and trekkers. In my view the people there were very protective of their age-old customs and traditions, their costumes, food, and festivals which were a depiction of their proximity towards their natural surroundings. The locals said that their village was “one of the oldest democracies of the world”. Despite being a part of the Kullu valley, there is a myth that the Malanis have very distinct physical features, and a dialect that is different from the rest of the valley. Whatever be the reality, in my observation they were the kindest and most welcoming people. The native Malanis obtained all the resources from the forest and mountains but always regarded them to be a blessing rather than a commodity.
Chitkul village in Himachal Pradesh
A village on the Indo-China border, Chitkul is surrounded by magnificent views of the remarkable mountains. Its serene environment boasts of mountains, meadows, rivers, jungles, and orchids. This place has clear blue skies and clean air and the locals even boasted of the village having the purest air in India. A visit here was indeed a unique experience in itself. Major attractions included a Buddhist temple, and the only non-Buddhist deity was the Goddess of Chitkul. It is believed that the local Deity is related to the Deity of Gangotri due to which, the locals would carry the Deity to Gangotri on foot over the high mountain passes. One of the most spiritual experiences that I have had there was the temple stay, and it was not spiritual because of religion or the deity they worshiped, for me it was their belief, the magic and beauty of the valley that they nurtured and cared for which made it enchanting. At locations like these, people’s beliefs were in line with environmental interests and maybe that is the reason why the village is referred to as the model village of the region.
The common elements of all these places apart from the magnanimity of their serenity and simplicity is the culture and devotion of the native people towards nature, which is inspirational. These Himalayan villages are a perfect example of how nature and man can not just survive but coexist and thrive sustainably.
Also one feels so close to nature and one’s own self at peace and there is so much to introspect and learn from these villages and the inhabitants.
There is a famous quote by Milton Avery –“Nature is like a springboard. From here, I get my initial impetus. I have tried to relate the visible drama of mountains, trees, and bleached fields with the fantasy of wind blowing and changing colours and forms” and it so effortlessly explains how intertwined our thoughts are with the energy of nature.
One seeks to experience so much in a journey with the constant idea of arriving, but the truest form of travel helps to seek tranquility and happiness within.