Its been over 12 times now that I have traveled to Barot and every memory of the place still resonates. There is something which makes me go back to those forests again and again. It could be the sound of the river, the smell of the deodar trees, the sights of the village and simple mountain life, the touch of the ice cold water, the taste of the trout of the Uhl river, all my senses bathing in the purity and serenity of Barot, a small village on the banks of the River Uhl, within walking distance of the Nargu wildlife sanctuary.
They say that traveling is the cure to most of our eccentricities and phobias. I cannot say about eccentricities, however surely I can understand phobias. Candidly sharing, I get scared in cars/jeeps, motorcycles while traveling on roads with scary cliffs hanging on the side, and somehow strangely I can never get over this phobia. There have been two or three instances when I have actually managed to jump out of the car door, with the driver braking in utter dismay coupled with confusion and disgust. I sheepishly admit to those moments. The drive to Barot was one of them. Not that it is dangerous or scary, however my habit of pressing my brake foot hard in my navigator seat looking at the cliffs and distant mountains got the better of me and when we pulled over to the cliff side embankment to take some photographs I jumped out of the car thinking we had rolled over. I ignored that moment and just giggled, knowing I had just fooled myself again. The road to Barot branches off at Ghatasni on the Mandi – Jogindernagar road. It climbs for the first 14 odd kilometers through small villages and forests of Chir pine overlooking the Jogindernagar and Kangra valleys. And suddenly, the Chir pine is replaced by Deodars (Himalayan Cedar). It happens so suddenly that we do not realise its time to take out a warm summer jacket, and enjoy the fresh breeze blowing through the Deodars. That could also be one of the reasons I keep going back to Barot. When we were being raised as kids in Shimla, I often heard one uncle say about the constant charm of Shimla. “It’s the Deodars” he used to remark with his eyes looking up at the forest cover “They keep calling you back to their fold”. So driving through the forest, ascending on a narrow road we reach Jhatingiri, a small village on the road to Barot. Its good to take a break here for a warm chai uplifting your spirits and enjoying a short walk. The locals inform us of two Palaces which used to be here some years ago now defunct. However the palaces didnt matter as long as we were told of a nice walk into the woods. The path is used by locals to descend to Ghatasni and takes about an hour and half. I decided to walk some part of it and yes it was great. A singletrack meandering through a forest, some 7 kms and perfect for mountain biking. With these thoughts I turned back. For the adventure lover and for those who love driving in the mountains; the drive from Jhatingiri to Barot is a thrill. Cliffs hanging, the road descending, the river Uhl flowing about 1500 feet below, I chose to turn the music off and concentrate on the road. We descend to reach the bottom of the valley and start our ascent again. Here one road branches off to Tikken and Barot is very near. We can see the first glimpses of the Nargu Wildlife sanctuary and even though it is late afternoon, the forest cover being thick, only some rays of the sun get by on the road. We continue on the road and I put my music back, the curves and the trees rolling by in perfect unison to the rhythm of the music.
Barot is an Idyllic setting. Sometimes it reminds me of Children paintings – Mountains, Sun, A river, Forest and a house. Yes, Barot defines that innocence. Mainstream tourism has not yet made inroads here; a blessing! and there are just a few options to stay. The PWD rest house is remarkable and other options include a few home stays, a forest rest house and a few guest houses. The river Uhl has trout in its waters and there is even a Trout farm in Barot. The locals will cook Trout – Mandi style and trust me, it’s delicious. Barot is also known for the winch trolley. Now no longer in use, the haulage trolley in old times used to ferry people from Jogindernagar to Barot over the mountains in just a matter of hour and a half. The total distance of 40kms from Jogindernagar covered in just 12 over the Haulage trolley. The winch was a part of the the Shannon power project commissioned by the British Col Betty in 1924.
Barot is also the gateway to The Nargu wildlife sanctuary, home to the himalayan wild cat, leopards, ghoral, black bear and the state bird of Himachal the western tragopan or Monal. On a certain visit in October 2012 we had run into a pair of Leopard cubs right in the middle of the drive to Barot. We halted to see what they would do, and there it was; their mother staring right into us through the windshield. We quietly rolled up the windows and waited, our hair already on its strands and behold ! in a matter of just a few seconds the family vanished into the forest. A visit to the sanctuary is worth it and spending a few days there will certainly take the city life out of your system. You can hike up to Thaltukhod and Silbadhwan and stay at these places.
The road further up Barot leads to Baragram in the Chotta Bangal valley. Treks from here lead to Rajgundha pass from where one can hike to Billing, famous for Paragliding. These are the remotest corners of Himachal and the natural beauty is unspoilt, perfect for a quiet getaway. The more adventurous and having more time can hike over the Bara Bhangal valleys to Kullu. There is also a high altitude panoramic lake at an height of 14000 (4150m) feet known as Dianasur lake where holy journeys are started during August and September. Lord Hanuman is believed to have stopped over this place while killing an evil witch.The route to this lake requires a little experience in trekking.
As I write this I am already buzzing with so many memories of the place. I am sure one of these days I am going to head out again towards Barot and lose myself completely within me, may try and write a song this time or may simply sit on a rock by the river and soak in the sunshine, or even possibly go into the forest and put life together in tune with the song of the birds.