Whizzing under the azure blue sky on the highway, CCR hummed The Cotton Fields in my ears while the Punjab roads flaunted their archaic mustard fields along the highway! A dozen cows turning out to be more effective than the concrete speed breakers and the village boys huddled in their thick woolen shawls with elephantine milk tumblers hanging by their bikes, raced along our car! The end of December chill made the morning sun feel so damn good and my two furry sons in the backseat seemed to enjoy it the most for they hung their necks outside the window, flapping their ears and wagging their tails! And why wouldn’t they wag! We were home bound! We were on our way to the mountains momma!
This year had been all about road trips to Himachal and her valleys. After Fagu, Narkanda, Sangla, Chitkul, Spiti and Kangra, it was time to explore a little bit of Tirthan. Yes..little as we could spare only three days but spent that time exactly how we wanted in the therapeutic lap of nature.
Having read about the verdant valley of Tirthan with endless pines, gushing river and streams, sparkling waterfalls, exhilarating hikes and winding trails, it seemed like a perfect getaway for us with our Doggos! Could i find a better way to start the new year! Of Course Not!
A six hours drive (that became 8 to 9 hrs courtesy a bad jam just before hitting Aut) through ever changing landscapes lead us to Jibhi! Having wasted almost 2 to 3 hours being stuck in a jam, which also displayed some impudent behavior of a bunch of travelers driving on the same highway. These four guys from Delhi who clearly seemed to be drunk,threw plastic bottles out of their car while waiting in the never ending Que in the jam, smoked publicly clicking pictures of themselves while stripping their shirts out! Yikes! Such an eyesore! Moreover i was annoyed to see how unabashedly they created all the ruckus, on this land they traveled to for fun or vacation! Wonder what the mountains and river must think of us humans!
We reached Larji (a hydel power project on the Beas) only by the sunset hour and boy it looked surreal! I was so exhausted by the journey especially by the endless wait at the jam, and only hoped that the BnB we had booked turned out to be nice though i really hadn’t expected much for the options available in pet friendly stays are mostly scanty and doesn’t meet your needs every time! But Leenas Place took me by surprise! It was by far the best stay ever in Himachal! A hugeee wooden room with a beautiful veranda and a balcony with astounding views anddd the thing i’m the most finicky about when not backpacking…yep the washroom! It had boiling hot running water 24.7 and a flawlessly clean space! We had a quick early meal for two treks awaited us the following morning ( trust the boys to give you some serious fitness goals!
If there’s any place on earth where i’d stick to my new year resolution of waking up early morning, it’s got to be here in the mountains! No matter how insanely cold or how knackered i would be, the body doesn’t need an alarm here! And well in our case the two furry balls make sure anyway that we’d be up before anyone else on the planet to take them out! And so our day started at 6! It was still quiet dark and freezing cold outside! While lazing around in the bed, sipping on our black coffee, the huge glass windows let the faint sunlight seep in! The sun crawled up on our side of the valley but i couldn’t help envying the mountain on the other side of the river for it basked in the morning sunlight and those houses that stood the highest beamed haughtily! Well! ‘Never mind’, i heard the river murmur! ‘You get to see me up-close!’
We had to leave by 8 for Jalori Pass to start our short trek. While getting ready, i happened to trip over Dasher( my brown Labrador) who was camouflaging with the brown carpet like a boss! My knees bruised and palms all scratched were just the starters for an adventure that we can’t seem to do without on all our trips to the mountains ;P especially Himachal! Lata ( the caretaker) was sweet enough to give in to my request of making Siddu for breakfast. I wanted Tee to taste it this time and like always he didn’t like what i like! Hmph! Talk about opposites attract
The sumo trudged on the narrow road that ran along the Jibhi Naala! As we got farther from the town, the hustling river bickered only louder and the number of houses dropped along with the temperature. I with Tee, Dasher n Haachu, stared out of the car window, in awe of those Himalayas, clothed in white in a winter shawl, under a clear blue sunny sky! Giving in to my urge of getting out at Shoja to click some landscape pictures, we took a short pit stop!
The hamlet boasts of a few houses perched on terrace fields,their doors and windows opening up to wondrous views of the magnificent Himalayan ranges. Shoja also has a couple of home-stays and lodgings and looks like a perfect getaway from the now touristy Jibhi. A few minutes later, driving through steep snow kissed roads we landed at Jalori Pass, a high mountain pass at an elevation of 10800 ft amsl, that connects Shimla district to Tirthan. Owing to its not so high altitude, its open mostly all around the year. The Pass also has two or three Chai shops with some snacks to eat.
We decided to trek up to Raghupur fort first since this was shorter as compared to Serolsar Lake. (3.5km as compared to 6 kms) After asking the driver and a local tea shop for directions all four of us started our hike up to Raghupur, just like old times in Bhutan. It was after ages that Dasher and Haachu ran around unleashed chasing birds, rolling over the Himalayan meadows, taking a million detours yet leading us on trails like Sherpas. Being early morning, we found ourselves to be the only ones trekking up to Raghupur. After half a km of down slope on the main road, we hit the serene jungle trail. The trees swayed and the winds hummed to the tunes of nature. The dense forest cover occasionally gave way to open spaces in between giving us views like never before. ‘How incredible must it be on the top’ i thought to myself. About 40 mins later, we hit this patch of ice which was an up climb. While the boys moved forward, i took baby steps here for it was horribly slippery and my trekking pole could not dig in. Dasher and Haachu turned around to give me a look “ oh come on woman…hurry up..stop walking like an oldie..we’re missing out on a countless smells’!
As pretty as the snow might look, it does have a villainous side to it as well 😛 After crossing the patch we figured the trail ahead was going down throughout! Ummm have we faltered again…While Tee and I kept playing the blame game during one of the beach treks we did in Gokarna this vacation, i couldn’t get myself to do that here! It was way too cold to fight with the husband 😛 and the boys followed him everywhere ( i would have been singled out by my male chauvinistic family :p ). We realized the trek was about climbing up. If after 45 mins were still going down that means were up to no good. Tee and I decided to head back half way and find a trail that’s going up. And i’m glad we did. Another half an hour later we were on top. A meadow stretched out across and a gradual climb lead to the fort ruins. Raghupur is situated in such a strategical way that it gives you 360 degree panoramic views of the Dhauladhars and the Himalayas as well. A maze of blue mountains criss crossing each other stood their engulfed in haze and shining under the bright winter sun. It looked unreal. I wanted to count the number of ridge lines but they disappeared into each others beings. I scribbled these lines in my head…
Those contours so inaccurately i drew long ago as a kid
Standing on that rock, rewinding i mow open the lid
I had only sketched them in my drawing book
Along with a sun and house with a rickety fence and a flowing brook
So one day i climbed to see what laid beyond
Only to find plenty more like they all shared a bond
Looks like i drew them wrong all this while
If only i could reach that shelf with my drawing file!
While the other side one could see the magnificent Dhauladhars, stretching out till infinity! Haachu ran along the fort ruins and Dasher followed Tee. A small stone chortan stood beside looking down at the valley. It took me back to those countless hikes i did in Bhutan. I remembered how my guides there told me to offer anything from leaves or flowers on the chortan and so i added another stone to the chortan, leaving my mark behind. I couldn’t thank Raghupur enough for all the magical moments.. Especially the ones our boys had, rolling in the snow, running around with no constraints like there were no tomorrow! While on our way back to Jalori we met a couple of warm villagers who were walking down to their village. On asking the lady about her village, she told me to tag along with her. I told her we were off to Serolsar now and i learnt that the wrong trail we took actually goes down to their village called Naati! I wish i had some more time on hands for i was so tempted to give her company to her hamlet! Sigh!
Though Dasher and Haachu were far more charged than us, we decided to leave them behind in the car for unlike Raghupur, the track to Serolsar looked busy. Being the new years eve There were quite a few people hiking up to the lake that day which kind of put me off. But then again, i too was a part of the mob right! About 5 kms from the Jalori Pass and situated at a height of 3199 metres, is the lake surrounded by the thick alpine forests. The broad kaccha track gradually narrowed down to a hiking trail, hugged by pine trees creating a cool shaded ambiance throughout! The trek is real easy and not trying to flaunt here but we took 55 mins to hike one way while we were told minimum 2 hrs! And that actually has to do a lot with the fact that i did it with the husband who wanted to race up and back without taking frequent stops and revel in the beauty around! Argghhh! But then again i wasn’t really complaining, even after doing another trek just before this for the boys were waiting in the car and the guilty parents didn’t like them waiting tor us too long! Also because the trail was crowded and it was unlike the other hiking experiences we’ve had before, the kinds i don’t prefer! There were some trekkers playing loud music on their speakers, yelling around ‘ Dilli Waalo Apna Josh Dikhaon’! And dancing around and i know there’s nothing wrong in any of these doings but i somehow believe in respecting the place and doing right things at right places! I’m sure there are ample of places where one could yell around and listen to blaring music and dance around! Why turn the mountains and forests into an open club or lounge! ( call me old, i don’t care ;/)
After doing that marathon with the husband, i decided to lie down after reaching the lake while he wandered around the lake clicking pictures of the landscape and of some girls who asked him to click them and who apparently called him uncle ( reality check 😛 ) We had rajma chaawal in one of the shacks on our way back on the trail, ( i picked out rajma and left the rice)
The Folklore about Serolsar
There’s a temple of Budhi Nagin ( Snake goddess) next to the lake. It is said that the lake is very deep and the Nagin lived in a golden palace at the bottom of the lake. One day a Brahman from the Shoja village drowned himself and Budhi Nagin saved him, allowing him to stay in her palace for three years. Three years later on return to his village, he was repeatedly asked where he’d been to which he reluctantly revealed the true story. He died there and then and any of his descendants when tried going to the lake, either met with accidents or perished eventually. This family has a house in Shoja.
There are options of staying available around Serolsar. One can even take tents for camping as there’s a meadow half way on the right while going towards the lake. Though it would be rude to call the lake average for I’ve done treks to some gorgeous lakes before both in India and Bhutan but for a good day trek it does fit the bill!
On our way back home, we gave a lift to three hitchhikers from Delhi. They came to Tirthan for just two days yet saw pretty much a lot of places. I like how even from their hectic schedules, they managed to take out time to travel to places like these. And even while their way of traveling and the places they covered were off my interest radar, but i instantly developed a liking for them for they traveled to many places in Himachal and Uttarakhand utilizing their weekends and whatever offs they had.
That night, while the world partied, welcoming 2019, the four of us snuggled in our blankets, sipping on some gin in our hip flasks, letting Kenny Sebastian humor us and later sleeping on the quietest yet the most fulfilling 31st Dec!
DAY 3 in Jibhi
We were moving to Banjaar today ( closer to Tirthan). But before that i had to tick off one thing off my list in Jibhi. Sitting by my huggeee bedroom glass window, i couldn’t help but stare at this green window framed house across the roaring river, hugged by apple orchards on all sides. A tiny bridge connected our side of the valley to this village called Tandi that looked somewhat unaffected by the hustling touristy town of Jibhi!
A few minutes later, giving in to my curiosity, i shed off my fancy beret and boots and quickly got into my hiking shoes. 40 mins later, i was at this green window house with two old ladies entering the porch just when i got in as though they knew i were coming to call them on.
I happened to ask them if they were sisters, and pat came the reply from the older one telling, she’s the other ones mother in law. She had a haughty yet an innocent smile on her face that later turned out to be just another reason to fall in love with her.
After telling them about my whereabouts they asked me to sit and have Chai with them. I told the old lady that i don’t take tea. She was like ‘ Sharaab Peeti Ho Kya”?
Conscious of being judged as ‘bigdi hui ladki’ (spoilt girl), i told her ‘of course not’!
To which she retorted, “pahaado mein toh peena zaruri hai, thand nahi lagti kya”?
So here i was talking to this 80 years old woman who never went to school, carrying off that septum piercing with all her grace and asking me to drink with her in this unheard village of Himachal. And i for a second was trying to be someone else but she all this while, at the fag end of her life, was as real as she could be!
She later talked about how their place evolved with just two houses in the village to this entire touristy settlement and how Jibhi metamorphosed into yet another crowded tourist destination in Himachal.. I couldn’t stop imagining the valley sans the concrete spam and the grandma then!
On being asked to pose, she instantly took the scarf off her face and tried standing straight for a bit. And once again, in the middle of nowhere, a random wrinkled face, pulled me out of my thinking norm in ways i had never imagined! Things that mountains do to you!!
TRAVEL INFO ON JIBHI
- One can drive up to Jibhi from Chandigarh/ Delhi either via Mandi Route or Via Shimla ( through Jalori Pass). The Mandi route is better though. its a total of 250 kms taking about 6 to 7 hours. We drove through Hamirpur …Mandi…before Aut Tunnel, take a right towards Tirthan…its about another 30 kms from here. Buses go till Aut. Hereafter one needs to catch a local bus or cab.
- Jibhi, Tirthan, Shoja, all these places have ample of home stays and lodges. fret not if you haven’t booked your stay before doing an impromptu trip. Accommodations there are readily available.
- Trekking, Angling and other outdoor activities is the best way to utilize time here.
- Things to see here : Sharingi Bagi Temple, Chaini Fort Trek, Serolsar Lake and Raghupur Trek from Jalori, Dak Runners Trail Trek, Village Hopping, Jibhi Waterfall