Mountain Hikes and the Simple Life in Himachal Pradesh

Find a home in the Himachali village of Beral, with abundant nature and wholesome food.  
Giri Ganga Beral Himachal Pradesh
The hiking trails around the Himachali town of Beral wind through thick deodar forests and across babbling brooks. Pictured here is the scenic route to the temple complex of Giri Ganga. Photo: Amrita Das

Beral is a reserved little place, with a couple of small grocery shops, a government school, and a mix of wooden and concrete houses, all hugged by apple trees. Not much happens here—and this is precisely its charm. It forces you to slow down, and observe all that is around, like the green apple trees outside the balcony of my room, and the way the sunlight filtered through their branches early in the morning. I found the village easily welcoming me, as I spent my days outdoors, walking, meeting neighbours, swapping stories with my host family, or reading. At sunset, I sat on the deck on the uppermost floor of the house and looked at the Nawer Valley, spread out before me like an open book beneath the sky.

Traditional Architecture

House Beral Himachal Pradesh

The lowest floor of a traditional home in Himachal Pradesh, usually reserved for sheltering cattle. Upstairs are the bedroom and the kitchen. Photo: Amrita Das

The Kalta family home where I stayed is a modern bungalow, but many houses here incorporate traditional Himachali architecture, with stacked stones, sturdy logs, and slate roofs that allow the snow to slide off in winter. Painted in shades of blue, some have open wooden balconies with carved floral motifs, while others are enclosed, with weathered wood finishes. The old houses are typically divided into four slim storeys: the lower obra and obri, where cattle and domesticated animals live; above an insulated sleeping section called the pand; and still further up the kitchen and living space, or chowki.

The newly built temple of Jharag nearby was just getting its finishing touches when I visited. With a wide foundation, the temple rises to a pinnacle. The entire structure is decorated with incredible woodwork: the light wood outside is carved in tassels, creeper plants, and figures of gods, and the inside depicts deities and characters from the Mahabharata, including an entire panel on Draupadi and the Pandavas.

Mountain Trails

Without any distinct trails, I sometimes walked towards a view of the white peaks of Shrikhand Mahadev, and at others towards the villages of Jharag and Thali. The numerous farms of the surrounding country flourished with deodars, walnut trees, and apple orchards, which are the main crop here.

One day, my host Ashish and I set out on the leisurely Giri Ganga hike, first driving to just above Kharapathar, where the bus from Shimla stops. Though the road is entirely motorable, the walk from Kharapathar, through a thick deodar forest,was breathtaking. Giri Ganga is a temple complex of unknown age, amidst green meadows and against a forest backdrop. It is said to have been discovered by a passing rishi, who was carrying water from the Ganga. Dropping his lota or jug here, he spilled the holy water, exclaiming “Giri Ganga!”

The complex has five temples and is divided into upper and lower sections. The lower part has a statue of the rishi, and temples of Mata, Vishnu, Shiva and Ram. The Kali temple above a steep flight of stairs seems older. After checking these out, we wandered behind the Kali temple into the dappled forest, tracing the path of the Giri Ganga River through the meadows.

Temple Beral Himachal Pradesh

The temples of Himachal Pradesh are known for their fine wood carvings. Here, local artist Jagat Ram painstakingly etches an image of the goddess Sherawali at the newly built Jharag temple. Photo: Amrita Das

Sidu Beral Himachal Pradesh

The host’s mother kneads the dough for sidu, a Himachali specialty. A preparation of steamed bread made of wheat flour, yeast and seeds, sidu is usually doused with ghee, and eaten with dal or chutney. Photo: Amrita Das

Traditional Food

During my week-long stay, my host’s mother showed me how to make everything from homemade dairy products, like ghee, butter and buttermilk, to local delicacies like sidu (steamed bread stuffed with local seeds), and lota (a dosa-like breakfast dish). I enjoyed the breakfast bedheni rolls, a wholesome kind of stuffed paratha with crushed poppy seeds and a generous pouring of ghee. But ghenda, which I discovered on a visit to Ashish’s aunt, was too heavy for my taste. To make it, water, ghee and sugar are boiled together, then cooled, before wheat flour is cooked in this mix. This is rolled into large orbs with depressed centres, and topped with more ghee.

During one of my hikes, I visited Ashish’s relatives in Chenu village, about an hour and a half away. Here, I tasted slow-cooked mutton. The mutton is usually dried in December and consumed the rest of the year. It is usually prepared by the man of the house as a thin, spiced meat soup called saag.

My last meal in Beral was mutton soup cooked by my host’s father. After dinner, as we sat watching TV together, I wondered how it was possible to blend in so easily. How could a tiny mountain village in Himachal feel so much like home?

A cosy alcove at the homestay makes for a pleasant spot to view the sunset on the picturesque Nawer Valley. Photo: Amrita Das

The Guide

Getting There

Beral is 86km/ 4hr away from Shimla, which has the closest airport. The closest major bus stop to Beral is Kharapathar. Buses from Shimla’s Lakkar Bazar Bus Stop to Kharapathar take approx. 5hr. From there, Beral is a 11km/ 1hr by road. Ask your homestay to pick you up from Kharapathar.

Seasons

The weather is most pleasant between March and May. Beral receives rainfall between June and August, which makes the trails and roads slippery, though August is apple-harvesting season. The temperature dips, from October-February with occasional snow fall. It’s cold, but views of the snow-capped peaks are finest at this time of year.

Stay

The Kalta home in Beral is rustic, with three simple but comfortable guest rooms on the ground floor, and a shared bathroom. Homestay rules apply (lend a hand with the cattle, if you like!), and meals are home-cooked. Mobile phone signals can be weak, but the house has surprisingly fast Wi-Fi. (91290-33323/80910-33323; kaltaashish@live.com; ₹1,000 per day per head, including meals.)

The government-run HPPWD Giriganga Resort in Kharapathar has basic rooms but is a good overnight option for those attempting the hike to Giri Ganga from Beral (a strenuous 16 km/ 7 hours one-way). Book in advance (01781-251139; giriganga@hptdc.in/ doubles ₹1,500; does not include meals).

Buy Local

Ashish’s mother knits extensively and her colourful mufflers, socks, woollen shoes and woollen headbands are nominally priced (about ₹300 for mufflers,₹200 for socks).

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    Amrita Das is a freelance writer and travel blogger​​ who quit her corporate job to become a traveller. She shares her off-beat and cultural adventures through her writing. She tweets at @Amrita_Dass.

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