The Indian Himalayas: Heaven on Earth

Namaste! The Indian Himalayas have been a muse to many poets, authors, musicians & filmmakers with it’s superb mountain views, isolated village communities, trails leading through magnificent forests and past alpine meadows, local art & culture & breathtaking lakes. The Himalayas, sanskrit for ‘the snow abode’, is a remote, barren & beautiful mountain range with the third largest snow deposit after Antarctica and the Arctic.

What's your fantasy about the Himalayas? Is it climbing mountains? Finding your inner hippy? Feeling your spiritual self? Immersing in a rich culture? Or is it following the trail of the Snow Leopard? The Himalayas offer a plethora of holiday opportunities & Utopiic provides tailor-made lifestyle holidays to suit every unique individual. But, before you dive in, just know, one trip isn’t going to cover it all, not even if you are on a year long sabbatical!

Art & Culture:​ The locals spend their days at a very unhurried pace. They are forever curious about why someone would visit their village & they rarely travel beyond the confines of their immediate environment. But, to their amazement, over the years many foreigners have come and settled alongside them, finding business, peace, a new lifestyle & beauty. This has given rise to a multi-cultural society and a chai-sharing culture. One finds a lot of new companions on his travels & returns home with stories of sharing life tales, chai & the haze of zen as everyone is greeted with traditional village hospitality.

Different parts of the Himalayas feature different architecture, language & dialects, beliefs & rituals and even clothing. Handwoven textiles display colours & patterns that are unique to the ethnic backgrounds of the varying culture group. These beautiful & heartwarming hill tribes give great importance to jewellery, which is sold everywhere & exhibits the Himalayan charms in the handwork, stones & rough edges.

From the highest road passes to the highest train journeys in the world, the Himalayas have a rich history & preserved traditions. Kashmir is a vale in the Himalayas with a fascinating culture apparent in their exotic boathouses & great village walks. Pashmina, the finest silk in the world, fabled to be so fine that a scarf can easily pass through a small ring, is produced only here. Even though Kashmir has been under conflict for a long time, people are warm & welcoming, so be prepared to be offered Kahwa Tea everywhere you go! Nearby, Ladakh offers a fascinating Buddhist culture with various ancient monasteries dotting the cold desert & valleys around it.

The heritage train ride in the Himalayas is wondrous. The Kalka-Shimla railways is the world’s steepest train journey & heads up to Shimla, the summer capital of India in the British Raj. While Shimla is beautiful, it is also very touristy & home to a large population. The British architecture mixed with Tibetan architecture gives the city a faraway look. The Mall Road of Shimla is honestly the best Himalayan mall road & one can find brands & a variety of local shopping, not to mention, mouth watering food. Towards the other end of the Himalayas, in West Bengal is Darjeeling. It is famous for the tea estates and fruit orchards, as well as its toy train.

Andretta, on the other hand, is a small hamlet in the Kangra district, established as an artists colony, with the tall & formidable Dhauladhar Range for it’s backdrop. It is a cozy artist’s hub that attracts theater practitioners, potters & painters. Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh is very musically inclined. Surrounded by pine covered hills & rice fields, the culture celebrates music, art & happiness. Psytrance, Postmodern Rock, Folklore, Ethnic Music, Contemporary Blues and EDM is popular here & every year many flock here for the Ziro Festival. Whether it’s a bit of live music you’re after or a dabble in pottery, ask your Utopiic lifestyle guide for the best experiences the towns have to offer.

Pilgrimages & evening aartis are another widely followed tradition across the mountain range. Haridwar is a favourite amongst the religious. Every evening euphoric crowds gather together in chants & prayers before thousands of floating candles on betel leaves are left adrift in the resplendent Ganges river. Mandi, with its own teal coloured, inviting Beas river, is also one of the most spectacular cultural cities of Himachal Pradesh, with 80 shrines & temples of Hindus, Buddhists & Sikhs.

“Silence is sometimes the best answer”. The Buddhist community is very alive in Dharamsala & Mcleod Ganj, which is home to the famous Dalai Lama. Dharamsala means ‘spiritual dwelling’ & boasts a peaceful environment, colourful buildings, cuisines from all over the world & the omnipresence of the Himalayas.

The village of Malana is an ancient hamlet with a very strong hashish culture, which is visited by enthusiasts not only for a spliff, but also for its complete lack of connectivity to the outside world. The culture here is very different, the women make all the decisions while most men live a laid-back life only taking orders from their female family members for menial work. They believe themselves to be the descendents of Goddess Paravati, wife of Shiva, while also having pure aryan genes from Alexander the Great! The people are friendly but avoid touch with outsiders.

Food & Drinks: ​Across the Himalayan range, with all it’s different cultures, the food is also well varied. The towns around the Beas river are famous for Trout dishes, while the NorthEast serve momos like no one's business. Whether it's vegetarian street food & little chinese joints in Himachal Pradesh or rista rice, kheer & lamb kebabs in Kashmir, they seem to have it all.

Kumaon Valley prides themselves for the best Apples, while Kangra, Darjeeling & Sikkim possess the best tea estates in the world. Most places serve Indianised versions of Israeli cuisine & English breakfast because of the decades of travellers. The weirdest thing of all though are the German Bakeries. They are everywhere, with the same yum chocolate balls, brownies and cheesecake recipes, even in the smallest, remotest village of Spiti Valley!

Local wine & local beer both made very intoxicating, are available across the Himalayas. The ingredients differ in accordance to the place they are brewed. Rice, apple, plum, even tamarind make for some interesting wine choices, but do not expect to find a great red! The Tongba, Jaanr & Chaang are some of the best beers found in Darjeeling & Sikkim. Get a few, grab a view, and get on it!

Health & Wellness: The more one returns to the Himalayas, the more he realises how much he still has to discover. Every visit is an opportunity to revisit our values. The Indian Himalayas boast the world’s most ancient forms of healing. The Vedanta Philosophy is taught through the ancient most Indian scriptures - the Vedas & teaches that our real nature is divine. It talks of different realities, the existence of god in every being, the interconnectedness of every person through tantra & spirituality through self-knowledge. Ask Utopiic for a better understanding & the many workshops one can attend.

Herbal supplements & Ayurvedic principles of life are found around every corner. Do you tend to be cold & prefer warmer holidays? Are you creative? Prone to anxiety? Impatient? Good with kids? Have an oily skin type? Well, just tell a native Ayurvedic doctor & he will tell you your Ayurvedic constitution or ‘dosha’. There are generally three types of dosha - pitta (water+fire), vata (air+space) & kapha (earth+water), & he can advise on the kind of lifestyle one must lead accordingly. Ask Utopiic to pick the best native doctor & choose to see your entire world through an Ayurvedic lens!

Another ancient practice, Yoga is now a world phenomena, & one can catch classes almost anywhere on the globe. Rishikesh is the Yoga capital of the world. For ancient forms, varied flows, authentic techniques, it is the place to be. While Yoga experts can be pursued almost anywhere in the mountains, rural villages near Shimla like Thali, Baror, Suni & Mahunag offer off-beat, more secluded destinations to learn & practice yoga while also bathing in hot springs with views to die for.

Imagine a grassy knoll overlooking bamboo and sal forests with the sound of birds and swaying trees. The Himalayas offers that & more, from guided meditations sessions to sound meditation workshops, hypnotherapeutic meditation to 9 day long retreats. Enjoy the best of oil massages designed to relax the body and uplift the soul. One can even spend some time learning the great art of massage themselves! Small ashrams or luxurious wellness retreats, we tie up with the best.

Wildlife & Nature: ​Weird fact, this majestic and rustic mountain range with it’s unperturbed natural aura is rising 5 mm every year. Nanda Devi is the highest Indian mountain, rises above 8,000 meters & is glorious in the rising sun! The great lakes of Kashmir & the Valley of Flowers in Yumthang Valley are two distinct destinations, a must for every visitor, of natural architecture.

The range is home to many rare, endangered & endemic flora & fauna. The climate ranges from tropical at the base of the mountains to perennial snow & ice at the highest elevations, giving life to all kinds of forests & parks. Wildlife parks like Great Himalayan National Park offer wildlife watching, river crossing & trout fishing. Tirthan Valley is an offbeat destination with magical lakes, hidden waterfalls & old world charms. Borong in Sikkim is another high altitude hamlet with many indigenous bird species including the Stripe-Throated Yuhina & Streak-Throated Barwing.

Kaziranga National Park in Assam has two-thirds of the world population of the One-horned Rhinos & herds of the Barasingha (Swamp Deer) & Wild Buffalo. There are many more sanctuaries and wildlife parks, so just ask your Utopiic guide to point in the right direction for the Jungle Safari, so you can get on the trail of your favourite animal species. Wild Elephants, Royal Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopards & Gangetic Dolphins are just some of the other options.

Snow Leopards, also called the ‘Ghosts of the Mountains’ for their solitary & elusive nature, do not roar, only meow & growl like little cats but are ferocious predators & more closely related to Tigers than Leopards! They often stick to high altitudes and wander south only in the dead of winter for food. Hemis National Park, in the Zanskar range of Eastern Ladakh is home to many Snow Leopards & people on their trail start by trekking through Markha & Rumbak valleys. The altitude is high at 6000 meters.

dventure & Sports: ​The solitary act of trekking in the Himalayas hones a feeling of enlightenment. The Frozen Zanskar River trek is an out-of-the-world experience as one gets to walk on ice as they take in the spectacular black & white, blue & grey, painting-like views that make this spot an extraordinary feat. Other amazing treks, worth a mention, include Kashmir’s Great Lakes trek, sure to inspire memories that will last a lifetime, Stok Kangri, a high altitude trek in Hemis National Park & the Chandratal Baralacha La, Pin Bhaba Pass & Deo Tibba treks in Himachal Pradesh. The Spiti Valley trek is one of our favourites & encompasses the best of two terrains, India’s largest high altitude lake - Tso Moriri & the spirit of an old kingdom. The Valley of Flowers, the Deorital & Chandrashila & Nanda Devi base camp treks are amongst the best in Uttrakhand while the Sandakphu, Dzongri & Green Lake treks are breathtaking, literally, in Sikkim.

Motorbike tours are always an adrenaline pumping thrill. Utopiic itineraries include Leh-Srinagar highway, Dungri La/Mann Pass, Khardung La, Nathu La Pass & the Delhi-Kargil-Manali circuit with experts. White water rafting is very common in Kullu & Rishikesh on the Beas & the Ganges. The clean air, glistening water & thunderous rapids make for a true adventure, while being in paradise. If flying in the air is more your speed, hang gliding and paragliding in Bir-Billing in Kangra valley is the destination.

Heli skiing captures the fancy of many. Chanderi Pass, Deo Tibba, Hanuman Tibba & Rohtang Pass are the places for these, while traditional skiing can be enjoyed at the biggest ski station in Auli, Kufri, Narkanda & Solang Valley. Lately, ice climbing has become quite the sport in Kashmir as many attempt & succeed on climbing the frozen waterfalls.

Enjoy dramatic scenery, stroll in medieval temples & savour the moments in the Himalayas. As it is famously said “Chase the angels or flee your demons, go to the mountains.”

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