KULLU VALLEY, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA.
On the threshold of the valley of the gods stands an old sentinel town in blissful harmony with its eternal neighbor, the lush Himalayan vegetation that grows, withers and rises again in the unending circle of life, on both sides of the river Beas.
Bhuntar in Kullu Valley Himachal Pradesh India is a steadily growing hill town that blends the advantage of location, facilities and scenic sights for off the map exploration, photography or settling down depending on one’s trade or occupation. As per the population census 2011, the region had a population numbering 4, 475 in strength. The main town is one of the major supply centers in the valley and an important commercial destination, travelers just might find useful as a base for exploring nearby Himachali hamlets or the Himalayan countryside itself. Manikaran and Kasol on its right bank are accessible via a metal bridge. Manali can be reached from either sides of the river.
EXPLORE MORE OF BHUNTAR.
Popularly known as the gateway that leads into the Kullu Valley, Bhuntar is a bustling mid size Himachali town en route to Manali, Kasol and Manikaran, tourists largely pass by without stopping by unless to ask for directions. Fact being, the region is no tourist magnet with a must visit label attached that urges vehicles to screech to a halt only when they reach their destination.
There are no forts and palaces of historic importance; discotheques, clubs and pubs to party till the wee hours run out; extravagant shopping malls to go on an unending splurging spree; snow points and pilgrimage spots. But in case ones does happen to step out of the metal clad horse powered movable that brought him or her to his region of Himachal fueled by nothing more but a passion for exploration, photography or a rejuvenating sojourn in a quiet part of the world of nature, there exists the possibility Bhuntar might just come across as a pleasant surprise.
Like towns and villages, speckled like tiny black dots of pepper on a spotless snow white landscape that have every little to offer other than an immersive experience of the favour of the land, the town of Bhuntar provides travelers with the staple hotels and home stays (available at extremely pocket friendly prices) to seep into the fabric of local life and observe unobtrusive the Himachal culture and her people.
On the outskirts flourishes an eternal crop of lush Himalayan vegetation, brimming with its share of birds, reptiles and butterflies under an ever changing Himalayan sky that can leave one breathless with dramatic cloud formations especially after a thunder shower that can bring a hot summer day to an abrupt end. Naturally, interested explorers will need to do the scouting on their own or hire a local lad, possibly for a fee. Nestled among the foliage are temples and Buddhist monasteries one might also wish to look-up.
The town center is a busy thoroughfare and abounds in commercial establishments. Here one can find a variety of shops, restaurants, travel and booking agents along with doctors, clinics, pharmacists and a specialty hospital. Walking distance away rafting organizers operate, catering to thrill seekers with the necessary requirements to navigate the icy waters of the river Beas.
Non Himachali companies and organizations work in the region with personnel sheltered in rented houses and kids enrolled in schools present in and around Bhuntar. Depending on trade or occupation, one can also consider setting down here in the midst of the Himalayan countryside on temporary or permanent basis. The location is advantageous, the airport steps away, facilities all around and the roads linked to all major destinations via both banks.
What to expect. Bhuntar has typically been a stopover town for inbound tourists headed towards Manali, Kasol or Manikaran. It does not have places of significant historical importance, nightlife destinations or snow points. But as a quiet Himachali town nestled in the midst of nature, it does offer a break from city living, a fresh environment, opportunity for off the map exploits and a lazy relaxing sojourn. As a busy commercial destination with shops, service stations, hotels and homestays the town can also be very useful as a basecamp.
Weather. In summers hot during the day, pleasant in the evening. In winters, cold to freezing with snowfall rare and only during extreme cold winters. Unexpected short thunder showers through out the year and heavy rainfall during the Indian monsoon.
Distance. 500 kms from Delhi. 250 kms from Chandigarh. 30 kms from Kasol in Himachal. 34 kms from Manikaran in Himachal. 50 kms from Manali in Himachal. 11 kms from Kullu town.
Neighbourhood. Bajora: Visit via foot, own vehicle, local bus, auto-rickshaw or taxi. Sarabhai: Visit via foot, own vehicle, local bus, auto-rickshaw or taxi. Shamshi: Visit via foot, local bus, auto-rickshaw or taxi. Mahol: Visit via car, auto rickshaw, taxi or local bus. Badah: Visit via own vehicle, auto rickshaw, taxi or local bus. Kullu: Visit via own vehicle, auto rickshaw, taxi or local bus. Hatithan (on opposite bank of Bhuntar): Visit via foot, local bus, auto-rickshaw or taxi. Diyar: A picturesque small village, visit via own vehicle, auto rickshaw, taxi or local bus. Kasol: Visit via own vehicle, local bus service, taxi. Manali: Visit via local bus service, taxis or own vehicle (local buses bound for Manali typically stop at Kullu for a while before proceeding – if in a hurry buy a bus ticket till Kullu (main bus stand Akahara), then opt for the first departing bus.
Cellular service.Cellular services ranging from Vodaphone to Airtel work just fine in Bhuntar and nearby regions barring aside technical problems that arise once in awhile. Many local shops offer recharge facilities for prepaid connections. Sims can be locally purchased but requires residence proof (Himachal). Few shops may offer used SIM cards registered under former owners. The main Internet Service provider is BSNL that offers a broadband connection. Reliance phone bills can be paid but Reliance Data Card users will need to engage in online payment. Data cards including 3G and 4G also work well.
People.The local inhabitants of Buntar are largely a mixed lot of Punjabis, Sikhs, Tibetans, Laholas (Lahol & Spiti) settled in the area for many years conducting day to day affairs (mostly in trade) alongside the more ancient folks of the hills – people rooted to the region for generations with ancestral homes and farms in far flung villages, and referred to as Paharis (mountain people), as well as folks from other parts of Himachal. They can be distrustful, friendly, indifferent, spin yarns, rude, polite, harassing or helpful to outsiders on individual basis. By nature, a majority of the populace are laid back, easygoing and content. Visitors are advised not to form harsh judgement on the inhabitants on the whole based on isolated experiences in case they be of the unsavoury nature but to rather form their opinion on a person to person basis. Beside the respective mother dialects, the language that has come to be popularly spoken is Punjabi-Hindi (Hindi embedded with Punjabi words). Not many know English or care to speak the language fluently. Nonetheless English is well understood if accompanied with gestures, and not scorned at. In Government circles and schools, Hindi is the official language.
Power cuts.Electricity is a plaguing problem in Bhuntar and surrounding regions. Frequent power-cuts occur throughout the year, especially on windy and rainy days. In 2014 a sudden heavy snow storm left the town without power for over eight days. Electrical sparks from overhead wires are a known cause for starting fires.
Night time.After dark Bhuntar and its outlying regions can be shrouded in darkness without a moon up in sky. There are no street lamps or paved road for pedestrians. If out walking in the dark, carry a flashlight or like the local populace commute via your own vehicle.
HOW TO GET TO BHUNTAR.
Bhuntar is well connected by road and air. The town, in fact the entire Kullu Valley, has no railway infrastructure. What can possibly be counted as the closest railway station is located at Shimla, 202 kms away from Bhuntar. Travelers coming in from Shimla will need to hire local taxis or opt for the long distance bus service. Travelers disembarking at the Kalka railway station in Punjab, will need to do likewise.
Airport.The Kullu Manali Airport is located on the outskirts of Bhuntar, walking distance from the main town. It is the only airport in the valley and a convenient way of making the journey from Chandigarh and New Delhi. Though frequency of flights fluctuate throughout the year and flights can get cancelled, last minute, due to technical problems. In winter a helicopter service operates transporting passengers to Lahol Spiti when snow blocks the Rothang Pass.
Bus Service.Regular Volvo bus service managed by private operators, Himachal Tourism and Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) ferry passengers to and fro on a daily basis. Inbound buses predominantly head towards Manali but both drops and picks passengers from Bhuntar. One can book bus seats via booking agents present at Bhuntar – the town is a key stopover point for long distance and local passenger transports.
Cab or car.Many prefer visiting or passing by the town in cabs or their own vehicles as the town is connected via the National Highway 21. Cabs can be hired at departure points as well as in the town of Bhuntar.
Documents.Identification documents such as passports, residence proof and driving license are generally not asked or searched for unless one happens to be checking into a hotel or there happens to be a security scrutiny – keeping the papers handy is a wise option.
Bridge Manikaran.With a canopy of heavy metal beams crisscrossing each other, the Bridge for Manikaran, Kasol and Diyar is located walking distance from the Bhuntar Market. It is the only metal bridge in the area and can’t be missed. If still in doubt ask the locals for direction.
Bridge Manali.The Bypass bridge for Manali is a D-Shaped Bridge that can be found on the other side of the river from the town of Bhuntar. Presently, the bridge is preferred by long distance passenger transports such as busses and inbound tourist vehicles for a faster route to Manali.
FACILITIES AT BHUNTAR.
As a midsize Himachali town and an important commercial center, Bhuntar offers a variety of local shops ranging from grocery, poultry and general stores to service stations, hotels and eateries. The town also has a variety of transportation options, schools and homes for rent.
Bus Stop.Bhuntar is a major stopover for passenger transports outside the towns of Kullu and Manali. Local buses arrive and depart for Kasol, Manikaran, Manali as well as for other close and far places such as Banjar, Sundernagar, Mandi and Shimla. Two types of local passenger buses can be found. Private operators that ferry passengers for short distances and make several stops along the way (these are usually minibuses) and long distance transports usually operated by the state department that prefer to make selective stops. Short distance private buses suspend operation after dark and finding one can be difficult at night.
Autorickshaw.Bhuntar is a major stopover for passenger transports outside the towns of Kullu and Manali. Local buses arrive and depart for Kasol, Manikaran, Manali as well as for other close and far places such as Banjar, Sundernagar, Mandi and Shimla. Two types of local passenger buses can be found. Private operators that ferry passengers for short distances and make several stops along the way (these are usually minibuses) and long distance transports usually operated by the state department that prefer to make selective stops. Short distance private buses suspend operation after dark and finding one can be difficult at night.
Taxi stand.The Bhuntar cab service offers pickup and drop, sightseeing and holiday packages. As well as operates all seven days of the week, 24×7. The cabs are available for passengers disembarking at the Kullu-Manali airport for destinations within the valley.
Service center.Bhuntar has both local mechanics and authorized service centers for a variety of vehicles. The Handa Motors Service Station (an authorized Maruti Service center) falls just before the entry to the Bhuntar market on the National Highway 21. It is walking distance away from the Kullu-Manali airport.
Shops.As a busy commercial destination, Bhuntar has a large number of local shops in the market where one can buy anything and everything from booze, cigarettes, grocery, fruits, poultry, mobiles to expensive electronic items such as refrigerator and televisions as well as utensils and other items for everyday use. Photostat, typists and cybercafes can also be found in and around the market.
Eateries.The town has a spattering of small local eateries (Dhabas) serving local Tibetan delicacies such as dumplings (momos) and soupy noodles (Thukpa), fried chow mein, sandwiches and pizzas. As well as North Indian dishes such as Tandoori chickens, the local Himachali Meat Chawal, Parathas and Rajma Chawal (red beans curry and rice). Eateries can be vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Look-up the menu before ordering.
Restaurants.Restaurants in Bhuntar are not five star speciality joints but do offer comfortable seating and a variety of mixed dishes. Local populace, and passing travellers typically make-up their guest list.
Medical.Bhuntar has a handful of pharmacies, general physicians, dentists and clinics within the town. The Sri Hari Har specialty hospital is located on the right bank across the river.
Cinema Hall.In 2015, Bhuntar opened its first cinema hall. It largely plays Bollywood blockbusters and has to pick-up in popularity.
Homes for Rent.Many families offer accommodations for rent in Bhuntar and its outskirts. These can be fully furnished houses or set of rooms, and normally taken by company employees working on projects nearby. The rent amount is low compared to cities but may differ from owner to owner.
Booking agents.Services include online ticket booking, western union money transfers, arrangement of air or bus tickets as well as arranging hotel accommodations.
Public Schools. Elementary educational centers can be found both within the town and outskirts. The prescribed curriculum is C.B.S.E. Among the schools, is the Piedmont Public School (located near the market) founded by Lal Chand Kaura – an ex-principal of D.A.V. School Mohal (Kullu, Himachal). Close by in the hamlet of Kalali, is the La Montessori Public School, founded by Lalita Kawar – also an ex-teacher of D.A.V. School, Mohal.
Petrol Pump.The most convenient petrol pump in Bhuntar is located close to the entrance of the Kullu-Manali airport. It falls just before the Bhuntar-Haithan Bridge and the Manali Bypass bridge. Other petrol pumps can be found in Shamshi, Mahol, Gandhi Nagar and Akhara bazzar in Kullu, if not taking the bypass road.
Banks and ATMs.Bank branches at Bhuntar include H.D.F.C., Union Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of India, the Oriental Bank and the Central Bank of India. The branches are located right within the market along with their ATMs, barring aside a second State Bank of India ATM that can be found at the Petrol Pump near the airport. Mornings, the ATMs are usually in service mode and withdrawing cash can be frustrating.
Barbers and beauty salons.Bhuntar has a modest salon style beauty parlour for both men and women along with small barber shops that offer facial massage, head massage, hair cuts, and few other basic grooming services.
Hotels. Hotels in Bhuntar usually cater to packaged tours arranged by travel service providers, passing tourists or the local populace as well as the flight crew of passenger airplanes. Since Bhuntar is not as hotly popular as Manali, rooms are more easily available. Hotels in the region range from budget types to four star establishments. Few have their own restaurants and provide bar service. They offer modest accommodations and can be utilized for breaking a long journey short or overnight stays (in case of early morning flights) or for longer lodging purposes if perchance one is looking forward to exploring Bhuntar and nearby regions.
Police station. Bhuntar has both traffic constables and a police station located near the Manikaran metal bridge next to a large commodity depot. Visitors can approach the law enforcers in case of any hassles faced. Local disputes arising out of heated arguments are normally solved by striving for a reconciliation of differences before registering complaints. Bhuntar has a negligible crime rate.
Home stays. The town has a few home stay options that can be booked for an arranged duration in case tourists are not inclined towards lodging in hotels. The homestays are normal houses that owners let out to guests. They were initially introduced by the Government to ease pressure during heavy tourist seasons, provide suitable accommodation options and families with an alternate source of income. Presently, the homestays have come to operate independently.
THINGS TO DO. PLACES TO VISIT.
Bhuntar might lack several of the ingredients that puts a destination on the tourist map but the town does have its own Himalayan charm and a few offerings travellers just might be interested in getting acquainted with. Other than river rafting, the only adventure outlet as of now, and scenic short treks on the outskirts, there are temples and a monastery that one can explore such as the Bijli Mahadev (a short half a day trek with the option of covering a considerable part of the journey by taxi or the local bus), the Diyari Thakur temple, the Bajora temple, the 14th century Adi Brahma temple, the Tibetan Dechen Choekhor Mahavira Monastery, and a Sikh Gurudawara.
Monastery. Walking distance from Bhuntar is the Tibetan Monastery Dechen Choekhor Mahavira (see Farbound.Net snippet: The dharma abode of great bliss). The holy site is located above a residential area known as Sarabhai. It can be visited on foot by taking a steep but paved road that winds up from the main National Highway 21, a short distance away from the Kullu-Manali airport and close to the spot where rafting organizers operate. Or by taxi and autorickshaws.
Gurudwara. Built by the Sikh community, Bhuntar’s Gurudwara is located on the opposite bank of the town. To visit the site, visitors will need to first cross the Beas river either via a suspension pedestrian bridge (if on foot) or a more sturdy metal bridge (automobile) and then take the right road towards Diyar.
Home Guards Temple Complex.The homeguards temple complex is located near a residential area known as Sarabhai right next to the Home Guards base and on the National Highway 21. It is an active temple visited by the local populace. There is a fish pond in the back where one can feed the fish or linger around in the peaceful settings for a heart to heart connection with nature. Afternoons are usually quiet and peaceful unless there is a religious ceremony in progress.
Scenic Treks.The outskirts of Bhuntar can be explored via foot, especially where the Kullu Manali airport is located as well as the opposite bank. The hilly landscape, dotted with villages and Himalayan vegetation has mountain trails, farms, groves and everything else for off the map exploration.Visitors can hire a local lad for a fee to show them the area or explore on their own.
River Rafting. The Rafting Point in Bhuntar is located a little distance away from the Kullu-Manali airport. The operators usually cater to packaged tours that arrive in private buses but may also accommodate drop-ins.
Photography. Bhuntar can be wonderful place to walk around if you are a photographer looking to capture raw nature, mountain paths, hidden valleys, old Himachali villages, cloud formations, birds, or local people engaged in everyday chores – without having to stray far from your base.
The Bijli Mahadev. The Bijli Mahadev is an old Himachali style temple situated on the summit of a mountain overlooking Bhuntar. During storms, lightning bolts shatter the Shiva Lingam into pieces which is then rebuilt using home made butter. Visiting the temple requires half a day trek and can be done entirely on foot or covered partially by a bus or car. The lighting bolts falling on the head of the Lingam is what begets the mountain it’s name. The practice of patching the Lingam back in shape with butter is an ancient one.