India's secret sanctuary in Sethan
May 13, 2019
by Ria Andrews
India has a lot of wonderful hidden spaces. One of my favourites – early October in Sethan. Just before the first drizzle of snow and right when the forests are getting accustomed to the cold while still basking in the late summer sun. It is the perfect time to visit the mountains.
Sethan is a little village in India tucked between the majestic Himalayan mountains that surround Manali in Kullu Valley. Manali, in turn, is a traveller’s favourite tourist destination right next to the Bea river. You can get to Manali by bus from Delhi for around 1200 rupees. So if you want to get to Sethan, a pit-stop at Manali is ideal. Manali is tailored for tourists, you don’t need to hunt around for what makes this town splendid, you simply see it everywhere you turn. Make sure you cover all parts of this city. There’s an area called Old Manali and another called New Manali. Both places weave up charms of their own kind.
The ride from Manali to Sethan
From Manali, which is 2050 meters above sea level, you need to travel uphill till about 2700 meters above sea level to reach Sethan. The ride up the mountain can be tricky. The trek up on foot will take you a couple of hours(depending on your pace, the mountain is pretty steep), just make sure you find the trekking path and not follow the tarred road which is longer. A jeep can be rented out for about 1500 rupees. And if you’re brave enough, and of course careful enough, you can hitch a ride from the locals. It takes about 45 minutes up 14 km in a vehicle. But if you’re planning on taking your own car up there, make sure you get a permit from the Manali before you go. Also, the roads to get up to Sethan are not the greatest, so off-road driving skills will come in handy.
Your stay in Sethan
Sethan is home to only about a dozen families. It also has a community centre. When I was here, this space was taken up by a group of lovely Buddhist monks. You can rent out a room in one of the houses or rent out a tent from the camping site from around 300 to 1500 rupees for a night. But if you have your own tents and sleeping bags, then you can camp out on the community centre lawn. The beds in the houses usually have loads of snuggly blankets to pile upon, because, well, you’ll need them because the rooms are not heated.
Indulge in traditional Manali cuisine
When I was there, there were exactly 3 little shops that served food. Mealtime is when the tandoor is usually heated up and this heats up inside the shop. You can request certain basic dishes, or you can do what I did, and simply eat what they make. It’s all delicious, hot and so easy to gobble up. My meals consisted of basic rotis(round flatbread) and vegetable curry. Although I did have meat too on certain days. They charge you between 30 to 120 rupees for meals. Since the Buddhist monks were in the village, there was a little celebration a day before they left. There was a community lunch provided in the community centre and everybody is welcome.
Find your happy place in Sethan
Now to why I fell in love with this little corner of India. The view of the village is the kind you’d want to mass produce on postage stamps. You can tour this cosy little Himalayan village in less than 10 minutes. And you can keep following the road up the hill which eventually leads to Hampta Pass for all your trekkers out there. It winds into forests, curves out of the best view of the mountains, goes down a grassy hill, and up another. If you’re not the walking or trekking kind, that’s fine too because Sethan has a pretty good view right from the village.
Sethan gives you space and time actually get in touch with the mountains without trying too hard. I like how the surroundings allowed me to be the most comfortable I’ve been with myself. When you walk down the road, you almost never run into anyone. And if you do, the shepherds or some local workers, they usually let you be. When you’re in the forests, watch out for nettles and perhaps the caves as there are bears in the area(rarely sighted).
During my visit, almost half the village and the Buddhist monks took a trek up the hill till about 3300 meters above sea level. The villagers carried a lot of food for our picnic in the mountains, much past the treeline, with a view of the majestic Himalayas. And my oh my, it still is my very favourite picnic spot. Watch out for the harsh sun as you get higher up, SPF up before your trek. It takes about an hour and a half to get past the treeline. So make sure you handle your time wisely. It’s best not to stay around the forest in the dark. It gets pretty cold and the animals tend to start lurking around.
Bouldering in Sethan
Sethan is a bouldering haven. It’s lesser known than the other places in India like Hampi, which makes it virgin territory with lots of rocks to climb. You can always reach out to climbers back in Manali before you get up to Sethan. They will help you make sure you have all your equipment before climbing. These include a chalk bag, climbing shoes and a crash pad. If you’re lucky, there might already be some climbers around that can help you out. Climbers from all over the world have enjoyed climbing here because of its brilliant rock quality. It’s perfect for beginner and experienced climbers alike.
I visited this village for climbing and I got some much more.