When we say recommended for this walk, it’s for the sheer novelty of an era gone by, when trekking and mountaineering was guts, resolve and glory without an over emphasizing reliance upon gizmos and technology. It was pursued, achieved and accomplished with finesse, with complete eye for detail, human acumen and experience of being in the outdoors. This came in with its rewards and that is how most trekking routes were explored and mountain peaks scaled.
In the absence of roads, trails came into prominence traversing the bridle paths of the natives used for commuting and trade from village to village. Most trekking paths are thus defined and over the years what once used to be resting spots saw the spots as favored for making dak bungalows. In Himachal these Dak Bungalows (rest houses) are 12 kms apart on the old routes (sometimes 8 and 15 kilometers too) and located at the most exquisite of destinations.
One such trekking route which explores the bridle paths of yore is this trail which connects Sarahan (famous for the Bhimakali temple) with Nichar. Now that a road (NH 22 renamed NH 05) is also there, in earlier days this route would also connect Narkanda with Sarahan (via Baghi, Khadrala, Sungri, Bahli, Taklech, Daranghati, Kashapath, and Sarahan). This is the vintage Hindustan – Tibet road. From Sarahan the trail would continue towards Wangtu and Tapri, on the banks of the Sutlej and then ascend to Urni (very steep overlooking the Sutlej valley) towards the cliffhanger village of Roghi, followed by Kalpa. Kalpa would mark the beginning of the Kinner Kailash range and in those days one trekking would progress deep towards ‘The greater Himalayan range’ via Rarang, Jangi, Kanam, Pooh, and Namgia and finally cross over the Shipki La into Tibet. This is also the shortest route to approach the revered ‘Maansaraovar’ lake in Tibet, the eternal abode of Lord Shiva and the origin of our rivers – The Sutlej, The Indus, The Ghagara (important tributary of Ganga) and Brahmaputra respectively. The Sutlej enters India just before Khab where it meets the Spiti River. Did you know – The deep gorges of the Indus, the Sutlej, and the Brahmaputra clearly indicate that these rivers are older than the Himalayas.
Getting back to our trek, ‘The Dak bungalow trail of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh’ here is a little excerpt from Harish Kapadia which he shares in his book.
‘We reached Sarahan (2165 m) via Shimla. The ancient Bhimakali temple was livened up by its backdrop, the view of Gushu Pishu (5672 m) and Srikhand Mahadev (5222 in). We started our trek of Sarahan from Chaura, a little ahead on the national highway to ‘Climatic. The 14 km to Rupi village (2350 m) took six hours and we settled down at, what someone had called, ‘the best rest house in Kinnaur’. Going through the register was revealing. The first entry logged was on 12 November 1915. H.M. Glover (a contributor to early Himalayan Journals) and Mrs. Glover had stayed here from 22 to 26 October 1916. Their article on the trip appeared in the H.J., Vol. II. G.D. Kichingam was another famous forester who had stayed here in 1922. N.D. Jayal, District Commissioner, Kinnaur, and his wife had paid Rs. 2 for their stay in 1961. In red ink below his entry it said ‘Re 1 refunded by Money Order for excess paid’. Capt. W.F. Chipps had stayed here many times between 1920 and 1930. The charges were 50 paise for officials on duty and Re. 1 for others. Now they are Rs. 10 and Rs. 75 respectively. The only entry, relating to mountains was by B.B. Negi (11 July 1974). “Met team from Calcutta ‘The Trekkers’. Deepak Sanan, the then District Commissioner’s entry here was on 22 October 1992, and below that another entry slyly stated ‘On confidential duty’. We entered our names in the visitors’ book on 14 May 1993 and went about our non- confidential work’.
Shimla – Theog – Narkanda – Hatu peak – Jobagh – Tani Jubbar – Rampur – Gaura – Sarahan
Catching up with National Highway 22 early morning we head on to Narkanda 2708mts. nestled amidst Sub alpine forests of fir and birch, and also serve as a winter Ski Resort. Further up the road, begins the climb towards Hatu Peak. 3200mts. the highest peak in this area well known for its grand views and the Hatu Temple dedicated to Goddess Hateshwari. The Alpine meadow of Jobagh is a twenty minute walk from here. Musings thereafter we continue on to Tani Jubbar a small hamlet by a lake side in the middle of the Apple Country of Kotgarh and Thanedar. About 60% of Himachal Apples are grown here. We zig zag our way through the apple country to the Sutlej Valley below and reach Rampur 924mts. the seat of the erstwhile Bushahir Kingdom. Magnificent view await us as we go on uphill towards Sarahan via Darang Ghati and Kinnu, the road which in earlier times used to be a shepherds trail. Crossing some spectacular cliffs enroute we reach Sarahan at 2040mts. the gateway to Kinnaur and famous for its Bhimakali Temple and the Majestic views of the Srikhand Peak 5230mts. and Gushu Pishu 5670mts. of the Srikhand range. Sarahan is the base for the annual Pilgrimage to Srikhand Peak.
Sarahan (2165 mts) – Chaura (1800 mts) 13kms
The first three Km out of Sarahan lie along a motor road, till one crosses the shoulder of the steep bare ridge falling to the NH a little beyond Jeori. Now begins the walk along the old HT route, traversing around the semi-circular bowl of Badhal, the last village of Shimla district. The Sutlej lies far below, as the next ridge called Manotidhar is approached. Standing on this divide, a short detour from the main track, one looks into Kinnaur. Over 900 meters below, strung out along a thin ridge, is Kafour, the first village of Kinnaur. Descending from Manotidhar, through a mixed forest of Pine, oak and rhododendron and then past fields, orchards and a young Deodar thicket, the Chaura forest rest house is reached.
Over a hundred years old the Chaura rest house is small however comfortable. In a nearby grove of blue pine, jungle pheasants come in to roost in the evenings, cuckoos call in the oak and horse chestnuts and it feels good to put one’s feet up on the railings and stare across the steep, rocky slopes topped by thick spruce forests, on the other side of the river.
Chaura (1800 mts) – Taranda (2240 mts) 9kms
The second day, just out of Chaura is Saundhar. This ridge offers the first view of the Kinner Kailash on the old HT road. Local legend has it that the huge rock above was at one time home to mighty serpent, which devoured unwary wanderers. It seems a peaceful enough place now and school children, reciting lessons at the primary school just above the path, dispel any such terrifying visions.
From Saundhar, the next ridge, Thindeoring, is clearly seen and just across this the Taranda rest house, an 8 Km walk, curving around the Chaunda Nullah, before Thindeoring is reached from where it is a climb to the rest house which like others on the Old HT route is more than 100 years old.
Taranda (2240 mts) – Ponda (1800mts) 8Kms
It is a short walk to another landmark rest house on the Old HT road on the third day. Beyond Taranda, the older HT road takes off from the rest house, through Deodar, Pine and Oak forest and winding around the hillside, descends sharply to the Solding stream. The more frequently used 1930’s path lies below the Taranda fields. Below are the Taranda cliffs, an impressive stretch of rock walls falling straight down to the Sutlej, 600mts below. Across the Sutlej, the Kamba cliffs complete the picture of a narrow impenetrable gorge. About 300mts below the HT road is the NH. Gouged out of sheer rock, its construction is an engineering marvel of the late 1950’s. The 1930’s alignment, hewn out of the same rock with chisel, crowbar and hammer, is no less a feat of its time. Less than an hour out of Taranda, the track takes a sharp right, away from the roar of the Sutlej and into the valley of Solding. The Solding rivulet has two tributaries which join up just below the village. After crossing them, there is a steep ascent to the Ponda – Bari link road and then a little over a Km along the Motor Road, lies Ponda rest house built in 1886.
Ponda (1800mts) – Nichar (2200mts) 8kms.
Ponda to Nichar is another 8km along a motor road, past the village of Kangosh and through the dense deodar forest belonging to Sungra Maheshwar. Amidst the forest, the temples of Maheshwar and his lesser acolytes flank the road on either side, lending to the scene the quiet air of a Greek temple retreat. Nichar, one time headquarters of the upper Bushahir forest division, boasted one of the most impressive deodar stands in the Sutlej valley a century ago. Andrew Wilson, an Englishman traveling the road in 1873, wrote admiringly of trees with 12 meters girth; however the present forest is only an abbreviated shadow of this former magnificence. After completing the trek you can drive back to Shimla.