From Dharamshala to Kareri Lake, and Everything in Between!
4th December 2018
| OCTOBER 2018 |
The perfect Himachali village doesn’t exist, but I came across a place that is very (very) close to being perfect. Perfect for trekkers, perfect for those looking to find some peace, or perfect for digital nomads looking for a change of scenery. With electricity, running water, easy(ish) transport options, and a very fast 4G network connectivity, Kareri village is a pristine village near Dharamshala in the Kangra District largely untouched by the advent of Western tourism unlike its nearby counterparts like McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot.
A small village, which still has a board displaying the population count, Kareri is surrounded by the majestic Dhauladhar range on one side. On the other side, you can spot the Naddi and McLeod hill. If you keep your eyes open en route Kareri, you can also spot the beautiful Mun Peak, the one most famous for its uninterrupted view from the Triund ridge. The poeple here are mostly in the trekking business working as trek guides, or providing camping facilities, and also own farms and animals for animal husbandry as a side income.
Getting to Kareri
One of the biggest reason why Kareri village is largely untouched by over tourism (yet) is because there is no direct connectivity to the village. The nearest ISBT is Dharamshala, about 25 kilometers away. Every morning between 8 am to 8:30 am a local state transport bus plies from Dharamshala to Ghera, a village just about 8 kilometers short of Kareri. From Ghera, one can either get the shared taxi going further till Kareri, or just take the easy hour long walk to the village.
The most common route is therefore taking an overnight bus from Delhi to Dharamshala and then hopping on to the local bus from Dharamshala to Ghera. From Ghera, take a shared taxi to Kareri village. We, however took a taxi straight from Dharamshala to Kareri that would’ve otherwise cost me 1500 rupees but I found fellow travelers to split this fare with.
Although we reached the village by 10 am, we wanted to take it slow and dwell in the beauty of this nondescript village and so we decided to spend the day here. We happened to ask the first person we saw if there was a homestay nearby and to my luck, he runs one along with his brother and was kind enough to walk me through the small lanes of the village to reach his beautiful pink coloured house. Now my favourite part about this homestay was that it was, in fact actually a homestay and not just a cheaper version of a hotel, as has become the trend in most of the touristy spots in Himachal these days. The family of two brothers, along with their respective wives (who happen to be sisters too!), and children live in that house, and the parents of the brothers live just a few houses away.
Our stay was arranged by the older brother, Hansraj ji and his wife Sushma ji (find their contact details at the end of this post) who went out of their way several times during our stay to make sure our visit to Kareri was as good as it could get! Their kids Ayush and Nidhi are little bundles of joy (and lots of energy) and we spent most of my day sipping tea, watching the mighty Dhauladhars change colours along with the sun, and playing with the kids. We also walked down to their farm, pet the cows and horses and later spent the evening counting stars. (We grew tired after 43!)
Since Kareri is still a village with hardly any tourist in flow, the cafe scene here is pretty dull. During my explorations in the village, we found one cafe-ish spot that serves the usual munchies like fries, pancakes, and pasta, along with some kick-ass chicken gravy and butter rotis. Run by an old woman and her son, this was my go-to sunset spot for looking at the burning colours over the Dhauladhars. There is also a convenience store of sorts right across the road from this cafe that serves your basics like biscuits, chips, basic toiletries etc.
Besides this one cafe, my favourite meals used to be sitting in the warmth of my homestay’s kitchen, as Sushma Didi cooked us hearty meals of soya chunks in gravy, dal, chicken and rice with dollops of ghee over a traditional chullah stove. It’s not like they don’t have a gas connection, it’s just that they believe the tastiest food is the one slow cooked over firewood in a mud chullah and I couldn’t agree more! Sushma Didi went to the village shop especially to buy chicken for us for a surprise goodbye meal on our last day there. If that isn’t the epitome of the warm and wonderful Himachali hospitality, I don’t know what is!
Trekking to Kareri Lake: Kareri to Reoti
The next morning, we set out for the trek to Kareri lake. Sushma Didi was kind enough to offer to keep my extra luggage in her room, free of cost, while we only took the essentials in a small backpack up to the lake. She also sent her 4 year old Ayush who served as my tiny guide throughout the way.
Before reaching the starting point of the trek, you must take the road going towards Naholi Village and walk for about a kilometer until you hit a very distinguishable bridge over the Niyund River. This bridge serves as the starting point for the trek and also has a few shacks selling food items.
Pro tip: You can also take the shared taxis that start from Kareri and drop you till this bridge to save some time and energy.
Super Pro tip: Please don’t buy chips and Maggi from these shacks, opt for eggs and bread instead. The plastic problem is real and they dump most of their waste down the bridge by the river.
The trail is well marked mostly with steps along the Nyund River. About 2 hours into the trek, you reach a natural pool formed by the streams of the river which serves for an excellent place to sit and relax for sometime before heading on further. You can sit on one of the massive boulders surrounding the pool and take in the beauty Mother Nature has so abundantly provided us with. There are also a few shacks selling juices and chocolate that serve as good quick energy refueling snacks.
Super duper Pro tip: You don’t need to buy water bottles on the way, they make for unnecessary plastic waste. You can simply carry your own bottle and refill it from these streams.
Reoti is the midpoint of the trek from Kareri to the lake and serves as a popular campsites for trekkers to halt a night here before heading on to the lake. The trail throughout the way is well marked and if you ever get lost, there are enough shepherds and fellow trekkers that would be happy to orient lost souls. So if you’re wondering whether you should get a guide, my answer is no. Kareri Lake is a simple DIY trek that you can easily manage by yourself.
We took about 6 hours to reach Reoti with plenty of breaks since my little guide Ayush had started to give up and even had to be carried on shoulders for a little while!
The most prominent landmark for Reoti campsite is the iron bridge that connects two hills over a stream. Right before the bridge the trail gets very narrow and that’s when you know that you’re just about there. The campsite is unmissable with an open green patch to pitch your tent, and with Hansraj bhaiji’s wooden shop. There is a narrow stream flowing just by the site where you can fill your bottles, and there is even a makeshift toilet right across the stream. Perhaps as luxurious as trekking can ever get!
Reoti to Kareri Lake and back
After relishing some mouth watering dal chawal for dinner, we set out for the Lake after breakfast the next day. The Lake isn’t very far from Reoti and is perhaps just about 5-6 kilometers away. the trail is again well marked except for a patch right after Reoti which is basically just a dried up river bed and one must just keep going upwards amongst the big boulders until the way clears out and a more definite trail can be seen. It took us about 3 hours uphill to reach the lake, with a few chai stops on the way. The trail has a few small shops where you can refuel yourself.
After crossing quaint meadows, abandoned shepherd huts, and massive boulders, we were finally facing the Kareri Lake, and it was well… disappointing to be brutally honest. I had a completely different picture in mind when I set out for the trek, imagining a crystal blue alpine lake surrounded by lush greenery. With autumn in full swing and winter on its way, the greenery had long gone but what was saddening was that the lake had more or less dried up leaving mucky patches inside it. The local shop owners told me that a small dam of sorts have been built over the lake to monitor the flow of the stream going downhill that supplies water to the villagers. This leaves all the dirt and silt behind, making the lake patchy and dirty.
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The winds in the middle of the day were so strong here that I cannot (and do not want to) imagine what it must be like once the sun sets. We found ourselves a cozy spot inside one of the shops and decided to warm ourselves by the fire of the chullah preparing lunch for campers spending the night at the lake. We learnt about the various treks that go further from Kareri Lake like Minkiani Pass trek, Indrahar Pass trek, Mun Peak expedition, and once can even reach Triund through this route! I, for one, am sure to come back here soon enough to trek further till Minkiani Pass, and maybe even beyond!
A few hours later, we returned to Reoti to spend the night beside a bonfire while chatting with Hansraj Bhaiji about life in the mountains. Upon breaching the topic of plastic waste, he told me that while most villagers burn their trash, he collects his plastic waste and takes it with him in his camper till Dharamshala as often as possible, and dumps it in the trash cans there, since the villages do not have proper disposing systems in place for plastic waste. With enough cups of chai in my system, and wholesome conversations to warm my soul, I slept very well that night in the bone chilling subzero temperature, despite being disappointed by the state of the lake.
The next morning we set out for the base, Kareri and spent another lovely evening there before further heading on towards Delhi the morning after that. Kareri does not have a hospital, or even a chemist, in fact they do not even have a barber shop. The village school is only up till 8th grade, after which kids walk all the way till Ghera every day to finish their schooling. Despite the difficulties they face in attaining basic necessities like transportation, education and healthcare, the positivity that these people exude is infectious. I boarded my bus that evening with my tummy tingling from the warmth that was inside me, silently craving for more such wholesome experiences, hoping to be back here very soon.
A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.