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A visit to Himachal's Tribal Belt

A visit to Himachal’s Tribal Belt:
Narkanda, Sarahan and Kalpa

Having visited a number of places in Uttarakhand, we decided to focus this time on Himachal Pradesh. We browsed through almost all the places in Himachal Pradesh through internet and we found the tribal belt to be the most attractive one. We had about 10 days time to spare before our daughter’s school reopened on 3rd of July. We wanted also to experience our first ever air travel and the Air Deccan just opened cheap tickets from 1st of July for the Delhi-Shimla sector. So the plan was to go to Shimla by Train. The plan was first reach Kalka and then catch the toy train to Shimla and coming back to Delhi by flight. This way we thought we could enjoy the travel in addition to Himalayan spectacle.

As soon as I could buy the flight tickets on-line, the rest of the program fell in line. Himachal Tourism has on-line booking of their Holiday homes/hotels and very soon the confirmed bookings were made and we were set to leave Delhi on June 22nd night by Howrah-Kalka express leaving Delhi station at 10.30 p.m.

For me it was a hectic schedule as I was out of Delhi for 4 days to Bareilly and SatTal, near Nainital on professional duties. I got only one day in-between two tours. However, I always welcome any number of visits to the hills.

On 22nd June, 2007 we left for Delhi Station about 9 p.m. and reached at 10.00 p.m. The Howrah-Kalka mail was already on the platform and we found our compartment and berth and settled comfortably. But the train refused to move. I felt little bit hot in the compartment in spite of Air conditioners running. Having left the decision to the authorities, we went for the night’s sleep. Probably the train started after 2 hours behind schedule. In any case, we found ourselves in the morning 5.30 at Kalka Station. The connecting train, the Shivalik Express was awaiting our arrival. This train is a beautiful one having big glass windows and a carpeted floor. Except a few flies and little bit of mouldy smell, the rest was wonderful. Three things I liked in this train travel, the vegetation along the route, the tunnels it was passing through and the little cute stations where it stopped.

We reached Shimla station around 11.50 a.m. and took a cab for the Holiday Home run by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC). This Holiday Home is well maintained and services are excellent except the rates are little on the higher side. After our lunch and rest we went for a walk. To reach the Mall road, the famous shopping area, we had to take two lifts @ Rs. 7/-. These lifts are run by HPTDC for the benefit of tourists. The crowd was so much that even walking was difficult. On the Mall road all kinds of vehicular traffic are banned. Most of the eating joints were overflowing with people. There is a Church just above the Mall Road standing like a presiding deity of Shimla. We went to Scandal point to book our bus ticket from the HPTDC office for Narkanda. We thought instead of taking a regular bus from the Bus station, it would be better and comfortable if we took the bus run by HPTDC. This idea costs us dearly. We had to pay twice the fare to Narkanda and back to Shimla. This was not told to us by the staff there although we told them our itinerary. Of course, paying that extra fare was compensated by three stopovers - Green Valley, Fagu and skiing area at Narkanda and the tour guide informing us of the geographical statistics and other related information.. We reached Narkanda just at the right time for lunch. As we had a booking at Hotel Hatu, we took our room and had lunch before we went out with other passengers to the Skiing ground. This ground is about 1 and half km. away from the Hotel. Narkanda located amidst thick green vegetation by the NH 22 at a height of 2715 meters. The Hotel Hatu is about 200 meters off the Highway at a higher altitude. During the summer months this hotel is fully booked and I saw a number of families who came there without reservation had to be turned away. Of course, if you are driving towards Rampur or Kalpa, you can have your lunch at this hotel. It maintains a reseasonable standard in hospitality.

We came back to hotel around 3.30 p.m. and we needed rest for some time. About 5 p.m.it was time for tea, I went down to the lawn and ordered for a cup of tea and let Shivani and Krishna rest for some more time. The thing I like most in a trip is to sip a cup of tea sitting leisurely on the lawn looking at the valley and the sky. Here you can feel the silence while the time stands mute only the chirping of birds can be heard now and then. The cool breeze soothes your innermost being and you are lost in nature’s beauty.

The sunlight was available till 7.30 p.m. and I thought in the hills it gets dark early! About an hour later Shivani and Krishna came to the lawn and also had tea. In the meantime, other families also joined. There was a young girl who had two rackets and a shuttle cock but no one to play with her. So I played for sometime and then a few more members joined her. We took a walk around the Hotel and we planned to trek to the Hatu Peak next day. The night was cloudy so we could hardly watch any starts. After dinner I had a walk on the lawn while the clouds invaded our hotel and covered the whole area under its wings. By the time we went to bed it was 10.30 p.m.

In the morning we had a quick bath and got ready for breakfast around 8 a.m. It was drizzling but we were determined to trek to Hatu peak located at a height of 3400 meter and about 8 k.m. away from the Hotel. We carried some sandwich, biscuits and water and rain coats in case there was a downpour. As we left our Hotel and came onto the road, a dog followed us. Sometimes it went ahead and waited for our arrival. In one place on the way we stopped for a while and the dog came back and looked at us to see whether we were coming or going back. The weather was wonderful neither very cold nor warm. The clouds hovered around us and gave us company all along the route. We could hardly see a few meters away. So our walk was slow. At times we had doubt whether we were taking the right path. But the dog leading us ahead on the same route did away with our doubts. Now and then we would stop to take a snap or two. On the way, we came across a water spring and we drank the water. It was so sweet and refreshing. Krishna (my wife) was doubtful about it’s quality but was convinced when Shivani (our daughter) and myself drank this water and appreciated it’s quality. In the midst of natural surroundings you feel one with the nature and enjoy it’s beauty and quietness. You very well understand what you miss in the crowded cities. One remarkable thing we noticed that someone had already marked the road every 10 meters so you know how far you have trekked. In the meantime we could see only three tourist cars bypassing us and we could not see any other trekkers. However, finally we could make it to the top. The view from the top could have been breathtaking but for the clouds covering the entire area disappointed us. Of course, the views we had on the way were sufficient to compensate this loss.

At the Hatu peak, we met Mr. Balyan and his family and they offered us a ride back to the Hotel. This ride gave us a definite relief from the strained legs and saving on time but it took away the opportunity to trek through the winding forest path once again. By the time we reached the hotel, it was time for lunch and we too were hungry. After little wash, we joined others in the dinning hall. Unlike in cities, clothes do not get dirty here and almost no sweating and you always feel fresh and clean. After the lunch was over, we needed little rest to soothe our overstrained body. Around 4.30 p.m. we all got up and refreshed ourselves with tea. Many a guests sat on the chairs leisurely on the lawn provided by the hotel. We too joined them. We discussed about children’s education and how alarmingly morality of people in general was declining.

In the evening we went for a walk along with two more families up to the Circuit House. We found the Circuit House was in a better location than our HPTDC hotel. All the four sides are open and lawn in front and back. It also had a clear view of the Himalayan Panorama. Of course, in the hills every location is unique, every corner is beautiful and every view is attractive. The breeze that blows across is an elixir indeed. These hills have a connection with eternity and in comparison we human beings are of recent origin. Mountains and hills have been here before our advent on earth. Perhaps these will continue to dominate the landscape even when we would be gone.

By the time we came back to our hotel, the sun had already set deducting another day from our life span while adding another day’s experience. So silently a day passes away from our life that it does not let us feel a day’s loss as if infinite number of days are ahead for us. This is the illusion we live in.

We continued our discussion with the families about the experiences of each one of us had on our visit to hill stations. Mr. Balyan told us that he had been to Kelong, Kaza and Manali with his family before coming to Narkanda. Their next program was to go to Chail. He drove all the way from Delhi to all these places and that too without any confirmed reservation of accommodation! Really I should say that he is an adventurous person while we moved out from home only after full reservation in all the places on our itinerary. I personally like to hear and read travelogues of places I already visited or plan to visit some time. As we had to leave next day for Kalpa in the morning we reluctantly parted company and spent some time in arranging our rucksacks. After finishing our dinner, I went out for a walk while Shivani and Krishna went to room to watch their favorite serial. By 10.30 p.m. we all went to bed. So this was the last night we spent in Narkanda. I summed up in my mind our visit here and found the trekking to Hatu Peak to be the most enjoyable and exhaustive one.

In the morning after a quick breakfast and clearing the dues with hotel, we walked of about 100 meters away to the bus stand. The bus stand shed was crowded and major part of it was occupied by the buffalos and smell in the air was like a cowshed you experience in villages. I found people were least bothered of the smell and they were in their usual mood. After waiting about half an hour two buses bound for Kalpa came around 8.30 a.m. We boarded the bus wherein we could get seat for all of us. The bus waited for another 20 minutes before it moved on. The journey to Kalpa is via Rampur, Recong Peo and then Kalpa. It reached about 6.30 p.m. The route along the Sutlez river was precariously beautiful. There were a number of Hydro-Electric power stations being built thus making the road more rough. There were a number of water streams we saw coming down from the upper reaches. The bus stopped for lunch at Jeori. Jeori is the place from where the road to Sarahan about 17 kms. at a height of 2100 meters. The only problem we faced was that we could not get a decent hotel for lunch neither at Rampur where it stopped for quite a while nor at Jeori. We managed with fruits and sweets. Another thing which we felt absence of was cleanliness. Perhaps cleanliness is not in our blood. Unfortunately, we do not give it a priority and we are very casual about cleanliness. I think our nation will really progress only when this cleanliness will be a part of our nature. It is not due to lack of resources but it is a poor mentality we are satisfied with. This must change.

The bus dropped us at Kalpa bus stand at 6.30 p.m.. We really did not know where the HPTDC Hotel was. The conductor pointed his finger up in the hill which will be, I presume, about 200 meters above the road. We were already tired by the whole day’s journey and now we had to carry our rucksack up there. We felt that the conductor played a trick on us. He could have very well dropped us at a parallel road to our guest house that would have made our walk a bit easier. Perhaps he could not resist a little temptation of harassing the tourists, I guessed.

However we trekked upward and finally reached our Hotel. It was so tiring. After reaching our destination when we looked at the mountain range of Kinnaur-Kailash, all our exhaustion evaporated and instead a feeling of exhilaration ran through our body. It was such an excellent view and the cool breeze took away all our feeling of dissatisfaction. We sat unmoved looking at the gigantic mountain range. The hotel ‘Kinnaur-Kailash’ where we had our booking is also an excellent structure built keeping in view the tribal architecture of the place. As soon as we were allotted a room with three beds having a row of windows through which we could see the mountains, we felt as if we were transported to a heavenly abode. Although it was getting dark slowly, still we could clearly see the natures’ splendor around. The moment I opened the windows, the cool breeze flooded the room with chill air. I felt our coming all the way from Delhi to this remote corner of Himachal has not been in vain. With a cup of tea from the hotel and some biscuits which we carried with us, the evening was perfect. After some time, the sky became cloudy and it covered the mountains for a while. When the clouds moved away, the moon became visible bringing with it a mystical touch of night. The stars glowed from the far away horizon making our place like an island away from human habitation.

It was time for placing order for dinner and it was done by Krishna over intercom. After a hot water bath, we went out for a walk. As it was a moonlit night, walking along the road was a wonderfully pleasant as the road was deserted. We saw another small hotel by the road side. But our hotel ‘Kinnaur Kailash’ is beyond comparison. The location, the architecture, the rooms with wonderful view, the Restaurant is more than a five star hotel because the view you get from the restaurant, and the rooms, I think a very few places in the world can offer that. We could not stay out for more than half an hour as the cold breeze slowly turned into strong wind while the moon continued gliding through the clouds. After having our dinner we had to go back to our room to protect ourselves from the strong chill wind. In the room we switched off the lights as the moonlight flooded the room with its romantic silvery light. We could still see the Kinnau-Kailash range through the glass window as if you were watching it in a dream state. Shivani opted for the single bed which was close to the window where the moon gave her company till she fell asleep.

Next day (June 26, 2007) we planned to take a walk up to the suicide point, deepest and steepest incline in the world from where one can see down below the Sutlez river flowing like a fine thread. After finishing our breakfast we headed towards that point. On the way we came across a big Dewdar tree. Its trunk is so big that even 6 people would find it difficult to hold it with stretched hands. I surmised its age would be around 1000 years. Next to this tree we saw another small hotel - by name ‘Golden Apple’. This hotel attracted me with its cozy corner and it had a telescope so it was written. So we went in to sit there for a while. The green lawn with a few chairs was enough for us to enjoy the cool breeze and the ‘Kinnaur Kailash’ range in front. The gentleman in charge of the hotel turned out to be a Bengalee. Krishna was interested to see the facilities available there, the kind of rooms and dinning space etc. My interest was to sit silently in a chair and sip a cup of tea/coffee while watching the Mountain range. As there was some cleaning work going on in the kitchen, we had to be satisfied with

3 glasses of apple juice @Rs. 10/- per glass . I must inform all my readers that please consume as much pure apple juice as possible whenever you visit Himachal Pradesh. These are fresh and tasty and the rate is very moderate and available with all hotels/restaurants. The ‘Real’ juice that we get elsewhere is no match with juices made in Himachal Pradesh.

Finding someone from Bengal, Krishna started a conversation with this gentleman from ‘Bajbaj’ He was saying about the occupancy level at the hotel, and how he has been working there for the last 2/3 years. While he showed her enthusiastically the rooms, he also said that gets about three months leave from January to March every year to go home. Later on I also joined with them to see the rooms. The rooms were airy and had excellent views of the mountain range.

After about half an hour we continued with our walk up to the suicide point. Yes, the deep gorge below is mind boggling. We could see the road below along with the Sutlez river. One interesting phenomena which we watched was that a strong wind possibly more than 100 kms. per hour was rushing from below to the mountains above with deafening sound. Strangely enough it was covering only 2 meters stretch and beyond that point there was no ferocity of wind. My daughter said it could be trade winds - travelling from high pressure area to low pressure area. We also met there some road maintenance worker, mostly aged ladies. They said that the wind has been blowing all the time. We found them to be happy and satisfied in life. Krishna clicked her camera to freeze their picture with myself and Shivani. We promised to send them the copy of the picture. We have yet to do that. On the way back & forth we could see the Apple Orchards. All the apple trees are laden with small apples and we were told that these apples would ripe around August and are exported. In Delhi too we see these apples but are very costly for our budget.

After lunch, we retired to our room and to have some rest. Only one irritating factor that bothered us was ‘flies’. They are not one or two, they are in hundreds. They get into your room, in the dinning hall. They are everywhere. In fact we have invaded their land and we are intruders but now they have become unwanted, the original inhabitants of the land! Around 4.30 p.m. we asked for tea. We also observed that a new family occupied one of the cottages on the ground floor and we were on the first floor. The newcomer was looking for a band aid. I told my daughter to give him one from our stock. How thus our conversation started. The gentleman from Gurgaon, near Delhi seemed to be a VIP at least he was behaving that way. He was criticizing our politicians, bureaucrats, organizations and what not. I was told his daughter was working with Microsoft. Krishna also joined in our discussion and she was emphasizing on the positive side of life. Some how, our friendship did not mature further because we lost common ground of understanding. However, his daughter became friendly with our daughter and they could spend some time together.

After finishing our tea we went down to the market area and also visited a Buddhist temple. The people here have features like Tibetan and of very quiet nature. There were also a few foreigners who have been living there for some time, possibly in spiritual pursuit, I surmised. Kalpa is a place where you could view the Kinnaur-Kailash range from any point. That evening the mountain range took a golden hue. It was marvelous. Slowly the twilight turned into darkness and the moon already present in the sky became brighter. The landscape of Kalpa is dominated by the Kinnaur-Kailash range. This domination is so overwhelming that nothing else really matters as if only Kinnaur-Kailash exists. Breathing deep into fragrant air and delighting the eyes with beauty of that area, we

slowly turned back our steps towards our hotel in that moonlit night.
After returning to our room we had to plan for our next day trip to Sarahan. In fact, we wanted to pay to flying visit to Chitkul, but the exorbitant rate of hiring a car discouraged us to go ahead with this plan. In stead we stuck to our earlier plan of catching a bus for Sarahan. On enquiry we found there are two buses ply on the route just below our hotel around 8.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. While we were taking our breakfast we saw the 8.30 bus was just passing by. However we could catch the second one at 10.30 a.m.

The bus station of Recong Peo is a picturesque one, very quiet, clean and you have the impressive view of the Kinnaur-Kailash range. From this bus station we had to buy a ticket for Jeori on the way to Rampur. The travel to Jeori, the same route we had taken earlier from Narkanda to Kalpa, was a precarious one. A little mistake on the part of the driver would plunge us into the waters of Sutlej. We also saw how the road was laid out through the mountain ranges. It is really a great engineering feat no less than an artist who chisels out a statue from a stone. At Jeori we had to take a diversion. As soon as we reached Jeori after about 3 and half hours journey from Recong Peo, we got down from the bus and walked a few yards, we found a jeep was going to Sarahan. They asked only for Rs. 60/- for 17 kms. We immediately boarded it. The driver was good and on the way he stopped near a fruit laden tree and got us some apricot, a kind of soft and sweet fruit. The jeep was continuously ascending like our journey from Thal to Choukori in Uttarakhand and the air was turning cold. We paid the driver Rs. 100/- although he asked for Rs. 60/-. This extra amount was given in recognition of his honesty and good driving. The name hotel ‘Hotel Srikhand’ is kept to match with the Srikhand range that is seen from the hotel lawn, restaurant and also from the rooms. The skyline is dominated by the Bhimkali Temple and high mountains on the Eastern side and the Srikhand range in the North. This place is also quiet and has wonderful greenery every side. I liked to sit on the lawn looking at the Srikhand range and the gorge below cutting short the lawn. While the cool breeze blows mildly, the sun warms you up, you enjoy the warmth of the sun looking at the seemingly infinite view before your eyes; you feel being one with the nature. This being with the nature what I enjoy most. We reached the Hotel around 4.00 p.m. and we opted for a room with a balcony. This cost us a little more than we planned for. However to get little more of the nature, we do not mind paying a little more. As we settled down for the next two days, I took a bath to be ready to sit in the lawn and watching the nature around that place. With a steaming cup of tea and at a 22 degree temperature sitting in a lush green lawn, I quietly sat looking at the far off mountains while the cool breeze kept company. In the meantime Shivani and Krishna also came out being ready for a walk to the Temple. After finishing our tea, we just walked a few yards to the Bhimkali Temple. The structure is very impressive. We were told that this temple used to be property of the Royal family of Veerabhadra Singh, formerly Chief Minister of the State, but now it is run by a Trust. The temple area was clean and well managed. Although I do prefer the Himalayas to Idols of gods or goddesses in the temple as they look so puny before the mighty Himalayas. However, I do not want to play with the sentiment of others, I follow the regular custom of the place.

In the evening we took a walk along the main road but there were no lights on street and we turned back to our Hotel when it started drizzling a bit. This drizzling turned to a heavy shower later on. The temperature went down further to 18 degree. After early dinner we watched a TV program and went to bed around 10 p.m.

Next day morning, after breakfast, we went to pheasant breeding centre to see the Monal bird. We went up from the back gate but could only have a view from a far off point as it was closed being a breeding session at that time. We also tried through the front gate but it was closed. There lives a saintly man just by the main gate. We sat there for a while. There were few foreigners as well. They wanted to learn Pranayama and meditation. So for the Swami they were good clients. However, we got the Swami’s blessings and sat for a while in the quiet Temple area and bade good bye to him.

In Himachal specially at Kalpa and Sarahan we saw people were wearing a special colored cap. So we wanted to buy a few of them. We met a gentleman on the way back who was also wearing a cap (Topi). On enquiry with him he took us to the tailor who makes them. So we got two genuine caps - one is called Kulu Cap and the other one is Kinnaur Cap. We thanked him for his services.

We came back to our hotel and after a little rest we went for lunch. The restaurant could be called a hanging restaurant. Sitting there you could have your food and watch the nature around. It is really strategically located for the lovers of nature.

After tea at 4.30 p.m. with other guests at the lawn we went to the Temple once again to take a few snaps. Krishna was happy that she could take to her hearts’ content a number of pictures of the temple. We also enquired for the next day’s bus for Shimla. There were a number of buses every hour. The 12.00 O’clock bus would directly go to Shimla. The other buses would go up to Rampur from where we needed to change for Shimla. There was also a small hotel run by a Bengalee gentleman but it was no comparison with the Hotel Srikhand where we were lodged.

After dinner also I sat in the lawn looking at far off invisible mountains. The breeze was so soothing that you feel asleep by its touch. We went back to our room to keep our rucksacks ready for the next day’s journey and went to sleep.

Next day we thought of catching the 10 O’clock bus but we got delayed. In fact it was difficult to leave that beautiful place. So we wanted to stay as long as possible. It was a sunny day and after some rain last evening the surroundings looked so pretty. However we had to move as we had our booking at Shimla that night and next day flight to Delhi.

The bus journey was uneventful till we got stuck on the road near Narkanda. There was road widening work going on and a few rocks were being blasted by dynamites. We were halted by the road staff for about 1 hour. In the meantime clouds started gathering and it covered our roads and the visibility came to almost zero. Our driver was a seasoned one. He continued driving through the clouds. Even the mountains next to the road was not visible. Now and then the clouds moved off and the sun became visible. It was a hide and seek play with the clouds. When we reached outskirts of Shimla it was already dark. The driver continued to drive with the same speed. I must appreciate his skill in driving. Around 8.30 p.m. we were dropped in Shimla at HHH junction. Our HPTDC hotel also called Holiday Home is just few yards from the junction. At night Shimla looked very pretty with all lights on. We reached the hotel and got our room and quickly had wash before going for Dinner.

I booked a cab to go to Jubbar Hatti (Shimla Airport is so named) for next day morning at 6.30. The flight departure time was 8.30 a.m. I also requested the staff to wake us up at 5.00 a.m. As it was already 10 p.m. we went to bed.


Next day early morning I got up and made myself ready for the journey. I had a cup of tea by the time Krishna got up and let Shivani sleep a little more. By 6.15 a.m. we were all ready. The cab man came little late around 6.50 a.m. As it was our first experience to catch a flight, we were little tense about the cab. The airport is quite far off from the Shimla City about 22 km. Anyway we reached in time and checked in. There was elaborate security checking. Krishna found a nail cutter which went missing about 20 years back as her handbag was put through a checking machine. It located an object inside the handbag. Physically she could not lay her hands on it but the computer was showing it. Finally she had to tear a layer of cloth inside and there lying the nail cutter!

We were told that the Shimla airport was newly built and there was only one flight to Delhi. The airport was very clean and we enjoyed every moment of our waiting. By 9.00 a.m. announcement was made that the flight from Delhi was about to land. It soon landed and came very near to us, only a few yards from the waiting room. I must put it on record the wonderful behavior of the airport staff. They were so nice and cheerful in doing their duty. Soon our luggage was loaded onto the flight. We were also requested to proceed to board the flight. It was a very wonderful feeling. Just a few days back I told Krishna that I would get her two wings to fly. She asked me to give me those two wings. Here they are and very soon we were flying in the air with two wings! It took just 1 hour to reach Delhi. From the plane we could see the highways, the Shimla hills became so small and we were above clouds. Sometimes some patches of clouds would just pass by. We had sandwiches in the plane each costing Rs. 50/- but it was very tasty. The cabin crew who was making the announcement also showed us how to tie the seat-belt, distributed the sandwiches and collect money for it and also collected the garbage, said ‘thank you’ to all while we were alighting at Delhi Airport but all the time smartly doing everything.

Once again in Delhi we descended amidst heat and dust, a straight fall from the heaven, literally.