This summer, unlike other summers, we didn’t go on our customary 2-week holiday. That’s because, we moved bag and baggage from Mumbai to Gurgaon, just when the days were getting oppressively hot. By the time we managed to get rid of all the cartons in our house, stack away all their contents in the wardrobes, and get the basic support staff to get our lives functional again, we were brain dead! We needed to run away to some place where we didn’t have to do anything, where the everyday ‘settling-down’ issues would not hound us. We zeroed in on Sojha, a remote hamlet in the hills of Himachal Pradesh — is about an 8 hours’ drive from Chandigarh.
How to go to Sojha?
We took the morning Delhi-Chandigarh Kalka Shatabdi and reached Chandigarh at around 11am. Hopped into the taxi we had pre-booked and set off immediately for Sojha, taking the Chandigarh-Rupnagar-Bilaspur-Mandi route, and stopping at one of the many dhabhas along the way for lunch before heading off again. By the time we had reached Mandi, the sun had set. Not wanting to take chances, from there onwards, we kept calling our hotel in Sojha for directions and reached only around 9.30 in the night.
Welcoming whole-heartedly the slight cool night after the furnace-like heat of the plains, we had a quick simple dinner before hitting the sacks to sleep off our road-exhaustion. And woke up next morning, fresh and eager to walk in the hills with clouds and blue irises as company. With that, started our hills hopping of the next three days…well, literally, for we only walked and walked in the vales covered with blue irises and laden apple and pear trees…
Warning: Do not venture into any of these hills if you expect regular tourist spots. For, they didn’t have them. We weren’t looking for them either. These hamlets, rich in their streams, valleys, stone houses, flowers, orchards, farms was just what we were
In the Kullu district, some 90 kilometres from Mandi, the nearest town, we made our base here at the Banjara Camps, at their wooden lodges overlooking the valley. The view from inside the lodge and outside it was such that I declared I wouldn’t go trekking that day. A bright, beautiful morning with the leaves, grasses almost shining, birds scampering around, everything around so crisp and fresh, I decided to plonk myself here and there with a book, along the path of the sun for the whole day…The others could do whatever they pleased – and they played with the dogs, some table tennis under two apple trees, some loitering to chase butterflies, catch ladybirds, while the grandmother made herself endless cups of tea as she studied the vegetation and compared it with that of her home in Shillong.
Later in the evening, after lunch and a quick nap, we trekked up the nearby hills, discovering newer types of moss, ferns, wilderness…So, we basically, got our souls back into our bodies…
From Sojha, Jhalori Pass is about a drive of 30 minutes. Park your car near the base of the hill that has a mandir and few tea and snacks shops. Walk down towards the first bend of the road and hop into the hilly terrain. The morning was overcast when we went, and despite setting off even before breakfast, we couldn’t beat the clouds. We trekked up the hill in about 45 minutes and reached a big clearing that must be a meadow, but was enveloped by the clouds. It had also started drizzling slightly…we tried to look for shade, there was none. From there onwards, our guide told us, it would be a trek of another 20 minutes to reach the Raghupur fort. We decided to not go for it, since we didn’t have enough umbrellas or raincoats.. Instead, we sat down in this abandoned structure, dug out the sandwiches, juices and fruits from our bags, quickly devoured those and headed back to the base of the hill before the rains came pouring down.
On a good day, the hills offer brilliant views of the Himalayas, Dauladhar and the Kinnaur ranges and valleys, and is a trek you must most definitely undertake.
This has been one of our most memorable treks in recent years. Located at an altitude of 2000 meters, the village itself is said to be 1500 years old. The trek from the base of the hill to the village takes about 2 hours and is a climb past fruit orchards and farms. And stone houses. Struck by the beauty of these lovely houses from another era, and their orchards teeming with laden apple, plum and pear trees, we stopped a number of times to chat with the villagers about their indigenous ways of farming. Thus chatting, and looking down at the beautiful valley we were leaving behind, we sighted the Chaini Kothi village. And were awestruck by it. Two majestic towers, built of stone and wood, surrounded by stone houses, stand tall, very tall against the hill claiming their supremacy. Upon reaching the little village, you are delighted by the stone houses, their courtyards, and then of course the two towers which are temples. Outsiders are not allowed inside the temple. We didn’t express any desire looking at the steep wooden staircase that led to it. Instead, we requested our guide to get us some chai…but since they don’t have any shops there, our guide, from Chaini Kothi himself, asked an acquaintance if he’d make us some tea. He did! And with that, we had some basic hot glass of tea at one of the best locations in the world!
Walking back to the base of the hill was faster but painful for the knees.
The beautiful Tirthan river meanders through the Tirthan valley. On a bright, sunny day, all that you’d want to do here is walk along the river, or sit by its side, or watch the village-women work in their farms, or catch trouts. Well, at least attempt to catch trouts. The hubby and the daughter tried doing that – they had carried their ‘state-of-the-art’ fishing rod that had been bought online before last year’s Alleppy trip. Sadli, neither in its debut, nor this time in Tirthan, did luck favour the duo. The river gushes down too fast, they claimed. I was content watching them try from every rock, angle, location. Till after two hours, they gave up 🙂 And decided to go to the government fishery to buy some fishes – they wouldn’t go back empty-handed, no no!
Remember, you need to get a permit from the Fishing Department in Tirthan before you can cast the rod in its river. They charge Rs 100 per person for a day-long permit.
While in Tirthan, pick up some local honey. This is also where you can buy some nice Kullu shawls, socks at extremely reasonable rates.