For the last four years, my husband and I have been traveling the world looking for a place to call home.
We have considered, visited, and lived for a few months each in various parts of North America, Europe, Central America and India.
Our most important requirements for a home base included reliable, high-speed Internet access, a low cost of living, good local business potential, clean air and water, and extreme natural beauty. We've now decided to call this beautiful Himalayan valley home for part of each year.
The Himalayas are the highest and most extensive mountain system in the world, extending approximately 2,500 Km from North-West to South-East with widths ranging from 250 - 300 Kms.
Himachal Pradesh is a mountain state in the north of India, with Tibet to its East. Himachal's territory from South to North encompasses the Shivaliks or outer Himalayas, with a height of 350M to 1500M, the lower Himalayas, at 1500M to 4500M, and the Alpine Zone or the greater Himalayas, above 4500M.
The landscapes of Himachal feature breathtaking mountain vistas, dense pine forests (the Himalayas are home to over 3 million hectares of forests), terraced fields, fruit laden orchards, mountain meadows, rare and exotic varieties of plants and wild life. Five rivers flow through the state, and there's an abundance of tributaries, lakes, waterfalls and hot springs.
The Kullu valley, where we've chosen to set up home, is sandwiched between the lower and greater Himalayan ranges. It is believed that this valley was once a vast lake.Local legend has it that the Ark of Manu landed here after a great flood, with its cargo of Gods - which is why it's called The Valley of Gods. The valley is 75 KM in length and 2-4 KM in width and ends near Rohtang Pass at 3,978 M above sea level.
The closest town to where we live is Manali (height 2025M), a popular destination for Indian as well as foreign tourists. Kullu and Patlikul are other nearby towns. The closest city is Chandigarh, about 310KM away.
New Delhi is 570KM away, an overnight bus or taxi ride. There's also a one hour flight to and from New Delhi once a day, which costs about $100. The airport is at Bhuntar, about an hour by car from Manali.
We've been spending on an average around 4-5 months a year in this area for the last 2 years, in different seasons. We've stayed at the Holiday Inn as well as at youth hostels.
Our experiences have always made us come back for more. We fell for the breathtaking vistas, the peace and quiet, and the open friendliness of the local people. So we decided to rent an apartment and be on the lookout for land, so we can eventually build our own house here.
The most important advantages of life in the Valley of Gods: The cost of living is unbelievably low, there's plenty of untapped business potential, especially catering to the steady flow of tourists, and the air, water and views are perfect.
When I say low cost of living I really mean rock bottom. You can live like a king in a large luxurious home, well appointed with all modern amenities including satellite TV with English language channels, enjoy sports such as paragliding, skiing, snowboarding, trekking, cycling, rock-climbing, and white water rafting, and feast on fresh fruits from the orchards, fresh brown trout from mountain streams, and delicious local delicacies.
You can easily get by on English here. Almost everyone can speak at least a few words, and a large proportion can communicate fluently in English. Almost all product labels, signs, menus, tourist leaflets, timetables, and other information is printed in English.
There's a wide variety of English language newspapers and magazines available in the market, and even a couple of second-hand bookstores with an assortment of books in just about every language.
There are no movie halls, no malls, and few late night pubs or night clubs, so there is little to spend your money on. (This void is also a great business opportunity.) When we want to watch a film we order a DVD online and have it shipped to us. Though there is no English language movie theater, a local lounge bar serves up live football matches and rock concerts on a projection screen.
The Manali market is adequate for groceries, building supplies, and so on. Very rarely would one need to make a trip to Chandigarh for something.
Because of the lack of unwanted distractions and the natural peace and quiet, we're extremely productive here and our projects get finished fast. Authors and programmers will especially appreciate the peace.
Excerpted from "Living In The Valley Of Gods: Life In The Himalayan Highlands" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 55.