It has been 23 days since the last post was written, reminds my blog. Meanwhile, I have been busy gathering some life notes. I set out for a journey to which would normally have me jumping with excitement, but at the time I was confused and highly dejected with my circumstances. Turmoil taken over my existence, I could not see, think or breathe clearly. Pain, it is said, leads to extraordinary moments for the blessed. I would like to believe this is what happened to me.
The journey started early after a sleepless night. Marred by my own delusions, there was nothing I could focus on. It made me jittery with the packing. Going to be away for 15 days, the list freak in me was hyperventilating not to miss any essentials or find the house burnt down due to some forgetfulness, on return. Anyway, much rechecking and coordination calls later, I left home on a bright breezy morning in May.
#1: Shimla to Janjheli
The plan of meeting new people midway was making me anxious. I kept myself busy watching Jacaranda blooms lining the road as we swiftly glided out of Shimla.
Eventually, I met the lovely couple who was to be my company for the next few days, at Bharadighat around lunch time. The instructions in the roadside eatery were interesting: behave yourself while speaking, take care of cleanliness and give proof of your humanity!
Many pines looked scorched with spring leaves not yet bloomed. Reaching Mandi, I was delighted to see my partner after 5 days! We all proceeded together to the remote village of Janjheli from here. As the terrain changed, Pines and then Deodars in thick overgrowth engulfed us. I could also notice some kind of sap collection marks on many of the Pine trees, probably for collection of essential oil, but not sure of the exact purpose.
Weather was changing fast with sweeping rains and ominous clouds looming over as we passed through the Gohar region of Mandi. Finally, we entered the beautiful village at dusk. From narrow forested roads an expansive valley opened up before us with mountain slopes in various shades flanking the clearing from all sides. In the Satluj-Beas valley, the variety of flora and fauna here looks promising. We managed to find a not so cozy accommodation, but it was the only stay option available.
#2: Janjheli-Shikari Devi- Aut- Pandoh- Jibhi Valley
The morning lighted up a backyard (an Apple orchard) with colorful birds and I spent my coffee time, without any coffee available, clicking the first camera shots for the trip.
Walking along the village alone, I knew I looked amusing. After finding paratha and dahi in a small roadside kitchen, I chatted with the lady about the village and convinced her to give me some hot milk and water (without sugar, mind it!), into which I mixed my own coffee powder to get the morning fix! Kept walking after this to explore some more of the village.
One disturbed fellow created a ruckus by falling on my feet to ask for medication for his ailment and a group of kind villagers rescued me. Relieved and thinking of my inadequacy of handling the situation, I dialled a friend and walked back fast while on the phone to save myself some embarrassment.
#2: Shikari Devi
Shikari Devi is 15 kilometers from Janjheli through picturesque meadows and pristine jungles. Hiking up in forest laden with moss, abandoned vehicle in slush, no network, caught and drenched in hail, called by the Shikari, me and my lady companion reached the roofless temple s-l-o-w-ly.
The gradient was steep after a point and we were gasping for breath, totally wet and freezing during the last stretch. The top commands amazing 360 degree views and on a clear day you can see Kullu, Mandi and Shimla in different directions.
Legend has it that the Goddess here is a protector of hunters and hence the name (Shikari). There are also references of Markandya rishi meditating here for a long time and Goddess Durga finally revealing her worldly form to him here. There is another legend of the Pandavas being blessed by Durga sometime during the Mahabharata at this site. The mystery of nobody being able to put a roof on the temple has bewildered people for generations! After my usual half hearted customary darshan, we headed to one of the many shanties around the temple. Coffee by the bukhara and warm conversation with the shop owner filled my heart and gave us some energy. All the shop owners here are from the village of Thunag and stay here itself except when they need to bring supplies.
Coming back to Janjheli, had a stomach full of spicy chhola bhatura and at around 5pm we proceeded to next stop at Banjaar (Tirthan Valley). However, a winding journey later via the overwhelming Pandoh Dam, crossing Aut and Banjaar, we stopped at Jibhi Valley for the night. The road looked slippery and dangerous in the dark of the night but once inside our place of stay, all my fear was put to rest. Arranged by a friend, Leena’s place turned out to be the coziest place in the middle of nowhere. She, her husband Lalit and their baby fill up the place with a lot of warmth and useful insider knowledge about the area. They arranged a lovely seating for the five of us to warm up with some snacks and coffee as we settled in and fed us delicious home cooked fare for dinner. Love and food; what more does a tired body need!
#3: Jibhi Valley
A travel free day, this bright morning was spent exploring around the valley. Lying in the region broadly identified as the Seraj, the culture and lifestyle is akin to that in Kullu area, distinct as you move from Mandi to here. Differences are visible in dressing and traditional architecture, for example. Being close to both, the Tirthan valley and Jalori Pass (or Jalori jot), this area is fast developing as a tourist hub.
Jibhi town itself is small and quaint. After a stormy night in my head and bad dreams, I needed to do something calming. So we ended up spending the day hiking to a nearby waterfall with refreshing sights and smells of moss, ferns and wilderness. For me, the day’s highlight was watching a group of yellow billed blue Magpies dancing close by. They always manage to evoke a sense magic with their flowing blue flights!
After some rest I took a walk to the other end of Jibhi and reached the riverbank. Most onlookers seemed used to a lone woman walking, although some honked uselessly as they crossed. What do they get with disgusted, blank-face attention, is beyond my comprehension.
The sun was setting slowly. If you have ever been to the Himalayas, you will know the call of the Himalayan Barbet. It filled the twilight hour with desperate, unmistakable longing. On the other side, trouts could be seen swimming through the clear, gushing stream.
In the evening we regrouped. The chatter slowly went towards the purpose of life, as it sometimes happens to deprived tourists clamouring for some peace on such holidays. I had a long and interesting conversation with Lalit, (the homestay owner) about his life, work and details on exploring the Great Himalayan National Park. It was engrossing to hear him talk about his life as a snake rescuer in Konkan jungles before he turned back home to do what he is doing now! Every new person has the possibility to offer you something surprising, I realized.
#4: Jalori Pass and Serolsar Lake
After a very steep drive to Jalori pass that almost burnt the clutch plate, we proceeded to the trek to Serolsar Lake.
First with lush green meadows and pink rhododendron bushes lining them and then with exclusive Oak forest, the trail was replete with a colorful carpet of wildflowers. The balmy weather disappointed our lens but made walking easier.
Velvety moss covered the forest from root to tip and old and fallen, waxy oak leaves covered the way in all shades of yellow and brown. Many small deities lined the trek.
Occasional bright spots of rhododendron in attractive shades of pink and red make the heart skip! I picked up a mossy, lichen infested branch to bring back home but it was left behind somewhere.
There is interesting folklore around the lake, one being that of a pair of birds who keep the lake clean by picking up every speck that drops onto the water. Other folklore is available on the internet if you’re interested. The reigning deity is Naag Devi.
Back to Jalori pass after 4 hours or so, we had piping hot rajma chawal and kadhi with a real appetite. And besan ka meetha, that was shockingly sweet. Interestingly, my partner noted and I gaped in awe- the shop we bought the meetha from felt exactly like the one shown in Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of the Blue Umbrella (Ruskin Bond). The same dullness in shop, the same sullen smile on the man’s face. We had often wondered in our one year of Himachal familiarity, where Pankaj Kapur must have found his Himachali muse. I am pretty certain now it had to be a shop/village/shopkeeper like the one here!
It was now time to start for Sarahan, around 120 KMS from here. I was already weary thinking of the journey ahead! However, as we started, fresh conifer growth filled the roadsides with vibrant shades of green. It was lush and refreshing enough to offset the hardly-there road till Aani. After Aani the vegetation changed, Satluj emerged by our side splendidly and we continued on winding roads till Sainj and finally reached Sarahan to meet our next set of travel companions.
#5 onward will be continued in the next post.
After 24 hours of writing the above, I am playing with my dis-coloured bangs gazing at the stormy skies in Shimla and wondering why is it important for me to share the journey; this journey, to be precise?
As nourishing as it is for me to travel through the Himalayas (since this started sometime when I was 13) there is always, in these journeys, a feeling of touching the time that has flowed past. Being able to connect with lost, wandering souls of the ages gives you a rush hardly to be felt in any other endeavor. So much human effort to rise up in challenge and extremity must have shaped my life as it is now. When you travel in particularly treacherous, less traveled, remote (even if fleetingly) areas, you must realize the value of all that has happened here before you, to make this experience possible. It is a grand blessing that I have the means and desire to explore this. These journeys transform me with each new sight and sense. Writing this, partly, is for my own memoir. But the other purpose is to attempt to touch the human consciousness around me, in my little way. I would sing and paint and be poetic if I could, but for now, I can only do this!
Note: numbers are for destinations, not travel days.