The drive was smooth and enjoyable, without any hiccups, but since my body refused any sleep more than 4 hours the day preceding the journey, we had to take quite a few frequent stop overs for tea and stretches. The discovery of the journey was the 4 lane highway under construction at Bilaspur and already operational at Sundernagar. Although it’s enjoyable to drive on the smooth and well aligned tarmac, it’s extremely heartbreaking to see the destroyed flora and demolished mountains (we really need to stop, lest we lose it all). To enter the Tirthan Valley, one has to take the diversion towards the right, before the Aut tunnel on the Chandigarh – Manali National Highway.
And now starts the tricky, interesting and the most enjoyable stretch (at least for me). The last 30 kms to our destination – Jibhi ( lil’ known beautiful hamlet in Banjar Valley), which is literally single lane passing through markets and the town of Banjar. The tricky part is when you come face to face with a HP state transport bus or trucks plying on the same route and backing up all the way on a 50 degree slope to let it pass. It makes you break in a burst of sweat no matter how cool the surroundings are (my wife kept chanting The Hanuman Chalisa all through the stretch). I did face two road transport buses, a dumper and a few SUVs where the margin for error was almost zero, but still I enjoyed the challenge and had a smirk on my face by the end of it all.
Jibhi, a small village, is full of surprises for you at every turn. Since, we had far too many stop overs than planned, could reach by 4 in the evening which did not leave much scope for exploration but only rest and food.
You start realizing the beauty of your surroundings the moment you wake up feeling refreshed by the first light and the scent of the air. No alarms, no schedules, just the moment and your thoughts. I personally love being on foot once I am in the mountains and shun the car at the first opportunity.
- Helps you in connecting with nature and the people around.
- Helps in cleaning your lungs and the overall body functions.
- Ease of photography.
- There is no rush, you are on vacation.
Carrying the legacy forward, we hopped on a local bus to Jibhi pass (about 12 kms from our home stay) and embarked on a trek of 10 kms (to and fro) to the sacred and scenic Serolsar lake. The trek was quite arduous for my wife with rocky path and tight trails (disappearing at times), but she was delighted and refreshed at the sight of the lake which is located in the middle of a meadow.
The legend associated with the lake states that 100 snake sons of the Budhi nagin protect the surroundings and a temple dedicate to her is present nearby frequented by locals. The place receives ample snowfall and if you happen to be lucky, can spot a bear or snow leopard during the colder months. Fortunately we met a couple from Britain in the local transport who accompanied us on the trek and it was a nice exchange of thoughts and cultures with them. The journey back home was quiet as everyone was lost in their thoughts cherishing the breathtaking sites and was followed by an early dinner with the British couple and some more chit-chat. I always crave for such encounters as they broaden your horizon and bring forth perspectives which are interesting and intriguing at the same time.
Being an endurance cyclist I have an appetite for outdoor activities but the wife is on the moderate side, hence it was unanimously (pun intended) decided to go easy on Day 2. So keeping the tradition in line it was decided to visit a local waterfall (nameless), the Nag temple and some fun and frolicking in the Tirthan river post lunch. The Nag temple is located in the vicinity of the local Govt school and is a nice steep hike.
Ironically, for the first time in many years I actually sat and patiently watched an entire game of Kho-Kho ( I am not a TV person), being played by the local kids and was mesmerized by their intensity and the dedication of their coach. We clicked a pic with the team and left a few words of praise as a parting token.
Sometimes, it’s the little unplanned moments in life that bring you joys greater than any planned adventure. Next on the list was some refreshing time in the Tirthan river which has it’s origin in the glacial springs of Hanskund, located in the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). One can enjoy trout fishing in the downstream too after obtaining the daily license from the concerned authorities.
Sitting by the riverside in the lap of the mountains always takes me in the state of trance and creativity and hence was born the idea of starting this blog.
The nights always seem mysterious and haunted in the mountains supplemented by the roar of the water for most of us but at the same time it’s the most natural and ambient space to gather your thoughts and ideas and work upon them. The time I edited the pictures, penned down my thoughts and explored the best music to connect the strings.
Day 3 was dedicated to a visit to Cheni Kothi , a good 16 km hike and trek to and fro from our homestay.
Hike – Leisure activity on well made trails and man-made roads.
Trek – Rigorous and challenging with no defined trails.
I had to be extremely tactical and creative to devise ways to keep my wife motivated for the entire foot journey. En route is the Shringa Rishi Temple dedicated to Rishyasringa believed to be a great saint of the Ramayana era. The serenity of the place is worth capturing and this valley is so very blessed with flora and fauna of all kinds (Wife had a close encounter with a colorful snake). Lined along the path were fruit trees, and it was a sight to see ripe mangoes, plums, apples, apricots etc. It’s important to mention here that all the treks in this valley are steep going by the gradient, which automatically puts them in the category of mid level treks and have disappearing trails which at times discourages the travelers. We happened to meet one such couple from Delhi on this trek who decided to turn back after completing 3/4th portion and seeing the unwillingness of my wife and our craving for company decide do descend back with them.
On the way back, the hunger pangs started to set in and unanimously it was decided to take a halt for some Maggie and tea (the staple food for Delhites or every traveler ?). At this point, it would be cruel not to pour some praises about the Maggie, which turned out to be the most time-consuming and most delicious (so far) at the same time. The love birds operating the stall took good 30 mins to prepare the 2 minutes snack which gave us some quality time to get acquainted to the dynamic couple (Sujeet & forgot to ask the lady’s name 😉 ).
When in mountains, you can never predict the weather and I feel it would be totally unjust to even try .. lol. What followed was a light drizzle and some gushes of cold chilly winds which catapulted the mood from tea to a few pints of not so chilled beers. Biding our goodbyes at the fork of the road (one end leading to Banjar and the other towards Jibhi), we headed back to our homestay singing songs and clicking pictures along the way.
Ah ! Have I not mentioned our hosts yet ? A lovely family of four and a super cute and temperamental kid named Ryan. The couple Sunny and Rachna are a wonderful lot who’ll make sure your stay is comfortable and enjoyable (@ The Jungle Book Home Stay). Sunny takes care of the logistics in the 3 properties being run by the family while Rachna and her in-laws provide the homely comfort. A special mention and shout out for the home cooked food with nice blend of tastes ranging from local delicacies (on order) to chicken curry (Rachna’s trademark dish). Our days and nights almost always started and concluded with a cute greeting from the fast growing little guy and his smirky antics.
Incidentally we came across another sweet traveler couple (also from Delhi 😉 ) who occupied the room adjacent to ours and plans were formulated on the dinner table for a hike together. The destination this time was the Balu Temple, in Bahu. Also it was decided to check on Jungle Book 2, the other property owned by our hosts for future flybys. Fortunately, someone smart enough (don’t know who’s idea it was) suggested we take the car this time till the beginning of the hike which did make me frown a lil’, but to be honest was a blessing in disguise. It seemed like a walk in the park, chit chatting all the way and clicking some random pictures en route the hike, not realizing what wonders lay ahead of us.
A glance around and you would have found your dream spot. A meadow so beautiful, adorned by a few cottage like structures, no human presence till we came across the priest of the 1000 years old temple and a shepherd with his flock of sheep, staring aimlessly towards the sky. It felt as if everything stopped in that moment and that was it ! The zenith, eternity, horizon, halo .. whatever you have imagined the infinity to be. We couldn’t help but spend a good chunk of our time absorbing the energy in that place and the nature’s way of pampering you. There was nobody to give you a tour or enthrall with legends and stories, yet it felt as if the narration was playing in your mind.
The hike back saw us getting drenched in rain and savoring juicy dim-sums and the staple food of travelers (Maggie), along with hot piping tea at a local tea stall. The rain decided to stay with us for some more time and painted a canvas so beautiful, it’s still reminiscent in the memories. The smoke of clouds drifting past and the green waves of trees drooling around threw in a punch of rigor and content at the same time.
Since it was the last evening to be spent in the beautiful locales, it was decided to visit a newly opened cafe (forgot the name). The owner informed that they shifted operations from Kasol (Parvati Valley) to Tirthan due to ongoing sealing by the Govt. in Kasol. The food was all that was expected and the ambiance added to the mood. The endless talks continued back to the homestay and only when they strayed towards haunted experiences and stories, was when the wife decided to call it a night.
Once again, the first light, in the sun-kissed surroundings, with a heavy and reluctant heart, I bade adieu to my beloved hills, with another promise to be back soon, for we have a thousand miles to honor, a million paths to trek and a zillion moments to share !