Hardly anyone was going to Sainj Valley until recently. Way back in 2013, I had reached Sainj town on a whim but did not know where to go after that and came back to Aut! Even as late as 2017, one homestay owner in Tirthan nonchalantly told me that there is nothing in Sainj (Of course, I had better information to not trust him). Anyway, things seems to have changed over the last couple of years. Even my post on Shangarh Meadows elicits a lot of queries & those homestays are getting rich nowadays. However, there is much more to Sainj Valley including places like Deori, Upper Neahi, Shanshar, Raila etc, apart from scores of major treks beyond these villages.
To be honest, even I have a lot to explore in this valley and that is why I had avoided writing a post like this although I had the information. However, I recently noticed that some other sites are writing Sainj Valley Guides, that too by using my photographs in an unauthorized manner. So, I think I should write this post anyway. Do note that, this area is still unexplored and more gems will be unearthed in the days to come (and so I will keep updating it).
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Sainj Valley Travel Guide
Understanding Sainj Valley
Sainj Valley is one of the two major valleys along with the Tirthan Valley, that constitutes the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), which has now been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tirthan is more touristy as of now but Sainj is growing too. The interiors of this gradually ascending valley are covered with deep forest of the national park. However, the lower portions, the “EcoZone“, are dotted with many villages, some of which are on their way to becoming tourist hotspots. There are many small treks and trails, and longer, multi-day, treks into the interiors are also possible, with the help of local guides.
How to reach Sainj Valley?
The best place to get a bus for Sainj Valley is Aut. This is the place you get on the Delhi-Chandigarh-Mandi-Kullu-Manali route, just before Bhunter. If you have taken that route to Manali before, you will remember the tunnel you cross after Mandi. That is the Aut Tunnel. After that you will find the Aut town and bus stand, from where all the buses to Sainj and Tirthan Valley leave, along with Banjar, Jibhi, and Jalori Pass. The buses keep going regularly throughout the day. So, you can take any bus going towards Kullu or Manali but get down at Aut and look for a local bus. But how to know which bus to take? Primarily the buses will be going to two places, Sainj Neuli.
Bus to Sainj
This is a small village with the same name as the valley. Most buses will go up to Sainj. This spot itself may not look too inviting and the main attractions are further inside the valley.
Bus to Neuli
Some buses go further up to Neuli, another 10 KM or so beyond Sainj. Ideally, you should look for a Neuli bus because most attractions here are near this region.
Bus to Deori
There are three buses every day from Sainj to Deori, generally leaving around 11 AM, 1 PM, and 6 PM.
Bus to Shangarh
Sainj to Shangarh bus at 4 PM every day. The road to Shangarh is a detour from Ropa at Sainj-Neuli road. It is around 10 KM motorable road.
Bus to Shanshar
There are a couple of buses going to Shanshar via Sainj but they are limited in number and so they may not be available when you need them. We ended up hitchiking.
Bus to Raila
There are two buses to Raila (bus probably comes from Aut or Kullu. I am not sure. But you can catch them right at the road that bifurcates from Sainj Neuli road towards Raila. On Google maps this small bridger is mentioned as Parbati 2 Bridge. Morning bus reaches the bridge around 9.30-10 am while the evening bus gets there around 3.30-4 pm. The buses return immediately after dropping the passengers.
Local Shared Cars in Sainj Valley
If you don’t get buses to inner villages, there are always shared cars although they charge much more (unless you manage to get a shared car with locals). Generally, you should take a bus to Sainj town and then look for cars to inner villages. They can charge anything between INR 500-1000 to cover 8-10 KMs. The cost is usually It is easier if you are in a group. of course, you also have the option of hitchhiking.
Sainj Valley Distance Chart
Aut to Sainj 18 KMs
Aut Neuli (via Sainj) 27 KMs
Aut to Shangarh 35 KMs
Sainj to Ropa 7 KMs
Ropa to Shangarh 10 KMs
Sainj to Deori 10 KMs
Sainj to Raila (Twin Towers & Ashapuri Temple) 19 KMs
Sainj to Shanshar (Manu Rishi Temple) 14 KMs
Where to stay in Sainj Valley?
As a place that is just beginning to receive tourism, the options are limited here. Based on my understanding, the following are your options.
Forest Rest House Ropa, Sainj
This is a new official property developed at Ropa. It has both private rooms and a dormitory offering an affordable stay for visitors. DO NOT confuse this Ropa in Sainj with Sai Ropa in Tirthan, which has a similar property, which is better known. Dorms are usually cheap at INR 200 while the private room prices have increased of late to around INR 1000.
I have stayed in Shangarh myself. It was an excellent homestay and more properties were being developed out there (prices have gone up!).Backpacker hostels have also come up here where you can get a bed for INR 400-600. Homestays nearer to the meadows are more expensive. Your best bet is to find a homestays in side the village where you may score a room at INR 800-1000 including food (Yes, ask and make sure that food is included in this price, especially dinner and breakfast).
Upper Neahi is another village a short walk from Neuli. This area has also become popular with a popular homestays coming up in recent times. A site near the village has now been developed with wooden cottages. Nearby Deori also is coming up with options nowadays.
This is a short hike or drive from the aforementioned FRH in Ropa. This is an alternate route to Pundrik Lake. This village also has a homestay.
Shanshar has newly opened up. One or ywo homestays have opened but no one seemed to be staying there. I am sure more will come up in the near future.
Raila has 3-4 homestays. Prices eemed to be a bit on the higher side like INR 1200-1500 per head but one can ask around.
What is the best season for Sainj Valley?
You can go to Sainj at any time although it is better to avoid the extreme rainy season of July and early August as roaming around is difficult in too much rain. Spring, summer, as well as post-monsoon seasons, are delightful here. As for the winters, you may get snowfall that depends on the situation that year. If you are lucky, you can find the entire Shangarh meadow covered in snow!
What to see and do in Sainj Valley?
Visiting Sainj is about visiting sundry villages, majestic meadows, intriguing tower temples of this region, and experiencing local culture. If you want, there are scores of treks possible too.
Shangarh Meadows & Shangchul Mahadev Temple
As you can see, the grassy meadow of Shangarh village is an attraction itself. The people who have seen both, believe that it is more beautiful than the meadow of Khajjiar, which is more famous. The Shangchul Mahadev Temple of Shangarh on the edge of the meadow itself is worth a visit. You can go further to Barshangarh and visit the waterfall, just a couple of KMs ahead. You also have trek routes connecting to Upper Neahi and you can also trek further to another village called Lapah, which interestingly has a FRH.Also Read: Shangarh Shangchul Mahadev
This village again has become a tourist hotspot where you can simply relax and enjoy if not busy in small trails. You need to hike a bit to reach it via either Deori or Ropa. However, now a road has been completed from Ropa via Jhili Neahi. Road is not smooth but some shared vehicles may run in the evening. The village itself is beautiful and it has a popular homestay.
Pundrik Rishi Lake
The lake dedicated to Pundrik Rishi is also nearby, but the lake has almost dried out due to natural causes. There is a shrine nearby and it is located just before Upper Neahi.
Deori and Manyashi
A set of beautiful villages located at the widest patch of Sainj Valley. Deori has bus from Sainj and it also leads to Upper Neahi. Manyashi is higher up from Deori with two tower temples.
Shanshar is even 10-15 Kms beyond the aforementioned places and still remains untouched by tourism. This region has many scattered temples in various villages but it will probably be better if you have a local person to show you the way. You can look for the Manu Temple in Shanshar as well as in Talyara Village, and also the tower temple of Ashapuri. Read more about Shanshar here.
Raila region is somewhat secluded from the main Shangarh -Shanshar route of Sainj Valley. The diversion is at some point between Sainj and Ropa. There are many villages here and primary attractions are it’s tower temples and some open meadow called Bhatkanda higher up. Read more about Raila here.
Treks in Sainj Valley
Sainj Valley- Raktisar Trek
This trek takes you to Raktisar, the source of Sainj River. It starts from Neuli and takes around a week. Raktisar has many mythological stories associated with it.
Sainj to Tirthan Trek
You can also do a trek that crosses over from one valley to the other. It takes 4-5 days.
Jiwa Nala Trek
Jiwa Nala is another river towards the west of Sainj. It is a tough one that starts from Siund Village (2 KMs ahead of Sainj) and eventually you can enter Parvati Valley. It also takes more than a week to complete.
Apart from these big treks, there are scores of local trails possible here. Most villages are connected to each other with short treks. Here are a couple of treks.
Shangarh to Lapah
Fron Shangarh, you can hike to the high altitude village of Lapah, which also has a forest guest house.
Upper Neahi to Sarikanda Thach
It is a high altitude meadow that takes several hours to reach. You may see snow here even during early summer. I have not done it but here is a good blogpost. Scroll down and you will see nice images from Sarikanda.
Phone and data connectivity in Sainj Valley
Phone and data connectivity has greatly improved of late. As of 2022, I have noticed that it works in most of the places like Sainj, Shangarh, Upper Neahi, Shanshar etc. Only in Raila I felt that the signal was a bit weak and may have some issues. Unless you are going for a long trek, you should not get disconnected here.