Jalori Pass: Don’t Give This A Pass

jalori
The Jalori Pass

ANANDA BANERJEE  stops by at quaint Himalayan villages and  finds a crazy mix of  people, legends and  unique architecture while  trekking to the Jalori pass

It’s unique how the transit economy has changed the face of Banjar, a small, Himalayan town in Kulu district, a trekker’s halt before the Jalori Pass. At 10,800 ft, Jalori is the nearest mountain pass from Delhi, approximately 600 km away, and  features on every adventure tourist’s map. And Banjar has all the city goodies that you will ever need ahead, if  you are out camping or fishing. There’s a non-functional traffic light lost in a maze of advertisements, signaling the  need to assemble and park there.

Narrow streets fork out from it, almost wriggling their way through overstocked shops that would seem to tumble off any moment. But it is when locals smile at you with a genuine warmth in between their chores and play guide that you know that the long arm of civilisation is yet to have them in its grasp.

local architecture
Chehni Kothi, the towering 1,500-year old castle.

A few turns from the cloistered local market and we drop suddenly into wide scenic vistas of rolling mountains and rich terrace farms, each a different shade of green, as if the signature of the farmer tending the soil. Nature seems to be in harmony with a happy people. Giggling women pass by with firewood, their nimble-footed grace putting our hefty strides to shame. Our trail snakes up to Jibhi amid flowering rhododendrons nestled in between towering pine, oaks and deodars. In between Banjar and Jibhi, a small walk takes us to Chehni Kothi, a towering 1,500-year old castle built with stone slabs and wooden beams.

It was once the fortified residence of Rana Dhadhia, the erstwhile king of Kulu. It used to be 15 storeys high but after the earthquake of 1905 only 10 floors remain. The ground floor has a bigger spread than the upper floors which recede a little with each level to look like a conical temple spire. It may look sturdy but given its age it is quite  fragile, especially the balconies. But it sure makes for a spectacle, one that you feel great about discovering. Locals tell  us that the Chehni fort even has a 400-metre escape tunnel, which is now closed and a Krishna temple.

temple
The local market and a temple

However, it is the Shringa Rishi temple at Bagi which is most visited for its intricate woodwork and pagoda style. Rishi Shringa is considered the patron deity of the Banjar Valley, which locals say, is his tapa bhoomi. He was the chief priest at the Putreshtiyajna of Raja Dasratha, a ritual for the birth of a son, after which Lord Rama was born. Legend has it that his retreat was so tranquil that sages and hermits from all over made the valley their own.

As word spread, people from far away places (Kulu, Manali and Mandi) began to visit the valley. They brought with them their goats and sheep to graze. Slowly, as people realised the valley could offer them all that they needed, they began to settle in the area. The first rulers were the Maraich people, who were reputed to be over three metres in height. Later, the region came under the control of the Thakurs and then under the rule of the king of Kulu.

According to fables, people found a pindi (sacred stone) in the forest of Skeeran. A mythical talking tablet, it urged every bystander to put it in a temple. The villagers did build a temple in the Skeeran forest but finding it hard to travel there, they built another temple of Rishi Shringa at Bagi village. The deity is made of brass and stone and is seen riding a chariot.

The best part about a Himalayan trek is the quaint charm you discover between villages. Jibbi is a decent village with a few shops and a good eating joint on the main road run by a lady from Delhi who is married to a local and has some amusing stories to share. Don’t miss out the gharat installed in the backyard of the house. It is something one doesn’t see around these days and is a marvel of village engineering. See a few foreign faces at Jibbi bazaar.

sheeps
A meadow at the pass

From here on, each small turn on the mountain road takes us higher and higher. On the near empty roads, we are occasionally met by young herders, tending their flocks of sheep and children returning after a day well spent in school. Later, we come face to face with a group of mountain bikers hurtling down at us in their fluorescent outfits.And contrary to my expectations, all are my fellow country men. A healthy sign that young India is slowly graduating to adventure sports.

We stop at the village of Ghayagi by a rustling brook to cool off and quite by providence meet Payson Stevens. He is a remarkable man, who divides his time between Del Mar in California and this mountain village with his author wife Kamla Kapur. He has followed two parallel tracks in his career, one as a NASA scientist, another as an artist, designer, writer, conservationist and filmmaker for over 30 years. He welcomes me to his beautiful house and over a cup of tea and mango cake  discusses the many issues concerning the Himalayan environment. Like damming of the rivers that was changing  their flow patterns, disturbing the fish and eventually drying them up.

locals
A board proclaims Ghayagi as the mini-Switzerland of India

One can see a glimpse of Jalori pass from here and it does not take too long to reach the top as well. This small loop  of a road, at over 10,000 ft, was in the British Raj a key link between Shimla and Kulu. As a connecting corridor, it is not devoid of human intervention. A temple and about a dozen small shops providing refreshments line up the ridge, one even deciding to rename the pass with its carpet green meadows and wandering herdsmen as the mini Switzerland of India.

village gods
A marriage procession.

Just off the road, which bends downhill and on course towards Shimla, I come across a wedding party and its accompanying band with drums and long-stemmed trumpet dragons, struggling to carry their wares down. The arrival of the party stirs things up as it means good business for the locals. Then there’s a lone rider, a German on his solo trip, who zooms down past the shiny brass without so much as casting a curious glance. Chasing a Himalayan record is most important. There’s space for everybody, the fast and the furious, the lonely and the rowdy. For the pass to the heavens is open for all.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Raghupur Fort: Raghupur welcomes you with snow-capped peaks. This picturesque site, located at approximately 3,540 m, has an old fort built by the Kulu king. The fort is surrounded by wide trenches with a small pond inside. The walls of the fort are marked by bullet holes from sieges. There is a good camping ground here as well as fantastic views of the Outer Seraj valley.

Sareul lake: Sareul is a small lake (or a large pond) located at about 3,050m. This lake is tranquil and known for being the seat of local goddess Budhi Nagin. Pilgrims walk around the lake, pouring an unbroken line of ghee. This is good camping ground with small caves to explore. The area is surrounded by dense forests interspersed with meadows of wild
flowers.

Lambhari Top: At 3,600 m, Lambhari offers beautiful views of the Himalayan peaks. Additionally, there is an abundance of effective ayurvedic/naturopathic plants growing in the area, including Kauri, Patish, Losar, Talshi, Chunkari, Tangul and
Dhupnu.

Sakiran Top: The Skirandhar ridge leading to Lambhari offers beautiful views of the Himalayas at Sakiran. There is a beautiful temple of Rishi Shringiji.

GETTING THERE

By Air
You could fly down to Bhuntar Airport, an hour-and-a-half from the Tirthan Valley.

By Rail
If boarding train from anywhere else in the country, you may bypass Delhi and stop over at Ambala (8 hours by road
from the Tirthan Valley) or even continue to the railhead at Kiratpur (7 hours).

By Road
To get to Tirthan (550 km from Delhi) one must turn off from Aut, just before the Pandoh Tunnel an hour before Kulu on  the Manali highway from Chandigarh. From Aut it is 26 km of a pleasant drive along the river via Larji to Banjar. One of the most popular ways to come to the valley is the air-conditioned Volvo bus which can be availed opposite Imperial Hotel on Janpath, New Delhi at 6 pm. It stops for dinner enroute at about 9.30 pm and reaches Aut about 7 am.

This article also featured on The Pioneer.

The writer is responsible for the authenticity/originality of the content and HillPost holds no responsibility on this account.

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7 Comments

  1. says: NITYIN

    I traveled on this stretch in the year 2008. I had posted the details on my blog, Crossing the Jallori Pass. The following lines have been lifted word by word from my blog.

    Jibbi is a decent village with a few shops and a good eating joint on the main road run by a lady from Delhi who is married to a local and has some amusing stories to share. Don’t miss out the gharat installed in the backyard of the house. It is quite something which one doesn’t see around these days. Marvel of village engineering. See a few foreign faces at Jibbi bazaar.

    I bet this author has written this post with a shoddy cut and paste method. I doubt, if the author ever stopped at the joint and have simply copied from my blog. This amounts to cheating and copyright violation and taking content from my blog post and terming it their own work.

    Here is a link to the Google cache about my post http://74.125.93.132/search?q=cache:kF9q2vQASvEJ:nityin.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/crossing-the-jallori-pass/+crossing+the+jallori+pass&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

    I believe My Himachal has simply posted this write-up and does not have any knowledge about the content lifted from my blog post. Least it can do is publish my comments, tender an apology from the writer and dump the writer and the article for good!!

    1. Nityin,

      The words from your blog and those of Ananda Banerjee do overlap at the point cited by you in the article here.

      Since the article was published by The Pioneer, we took it on board on its face value.

      Surely no verification was done to check the issue you mention.

      We trust contributors to adhere to the originality of their content, unless of course it is a press release that requires information dissemination among our readers.

  2. says: Avnish Katoch

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    Nityin:

    Lines were removed because even though Ananda did not respond to our mail early, but it appeared a clear case of infringement and we thought it best to remove the offending lines.

    However the delay in putting out the comment is regretted.

    Since you felt so strongly about it, we put the offending lines back on the post and let the writer do his own explanation, which he has.

    Below is the reply I received from the writer:

    Dear Avnish,
    Yes you are right. What ever happened is very unfortunate and
    embarrassing. My sincere apologies. Jalori was meant to be a small
    write up to highlight the place for tourism. I am enclosing my
    original draft which was worked upon by others. There is a separate
    section of editors who pad up, rewrite and increase the story length
    for editorial and design purposes.

    As this has been printed with my name I am very embarrassed and
    apologetic. I have taken up the issue with other colleagues as written
    to you in the earlier email. I am very upset with this issue as you
    are also.

    Please do convey my apologies to all concerned people. All this has
    all happened unknowingly and not meant to hurt anyone’s sensitivity.

    –Ananda Banerjee.
    ————————————————————
    A non descriptive, non functional traffic light lost in the maze of
    advertising signposts on a narrow fork, overlooking the bustle of a
    busy tourist town intercepts us. We have reached Banjar, a small
    Himalayan town in Kullu district in the state of Himachal Pradesh,
    teeming with people clothed in local hill attire going about in their
    daily chores. Further we ask for directions for our destination;
    Jalori Pass which at 10800 feet is the nearest mountain pass from
    Delhi approximately 600kms away.

    With a little maneuvering we negotiate the narrow moufisil streets
    where shops of various shapes and sizes seem to stumble out and
    likewise within a few blind turns we drop into the wide scenic vistas
    of rolling mountains and manicured step cultivations, each step
    different in varying hues of green as if a painter has meticulously
    shaded them if not from some stray pages of pantone green. Welcome to
    the Seraj Valley.

    The mountain road snakes up to Jibbi amidst flowering rhododendrons
    nestled in between towering pine, oaks and deodars. In between Banjar
    and Jibbi a small walk takes us to Chehni Kothi, a towering 1500 years
    old building constructed with only stone slabs and wooden beams. It
    was once the fortified residence of King Rana Dhadhia, the erstwhile
    King of Kullu. When constructed it was a 15 storey high fort but after
    the earthquake of 1905 only 10 floors remain. The ground floor is
    bigger in area as compared to the upper floors thus giving it a
    conical form. As with many old and heritage structures this one is no
    different and one should tread with caution while exploring from
    within. The Chehni fort as it is now popularly known has a 400 meters
    tunnel (now closed) as well as a Krishna temple.

    Each small turn on the mountain road elevates us higher and higher. On
    the near empty roads we are occasionally met by small herders tending
    their small flocks of sheep and children returning after a day well
    spent in school. Then on another turn we were accosted with a group of
    mountain bikers hurling down at us in their florescent outfits.What
    was surprising that all of them were my fellow country men. I wondered
    when did India graduated to this from its cricket addiction.

    We stop at the village Ghyagi by the brooke to meet up with Payson
    Stevens. Mr. Stevens is a well known artist and conserationist who
    divides his time between Del Mar in California and here in this
    mountain village with his wife, the writer Kamla Kapur. He has
    followed quite a few tracks in his career – scientist, artist,
    designer, writer, conservationist and film maker for over thirty
    years. He welcomes me to his beautiful house and over a cup of tea and
    mango cake discusses the many issues concerning our environment. Later
    we go up to the studio to see his ongoing series of paintings which he
    is painstakingly finishing for an upcoming exhibition in Delhi. The
    paintings revolve around the great Himalayan national park, a part of
    pristine forest and ecosystem that he has campaigned for since its
    formation in 2000.

    After biding goodbye to Stevens we drive to Shoja another small hamlet
    perched higher up where some local entrepreneurial guest houses offers
    the occasional wandering tourist a chance in peace and tranquility who
    all wants to avoid the summer crowd in more known hill stations. More
    notable here, than perhaps elsewhere in Seraj, is the peculiar style
    of architecture of many of the older houses. The upper storey of these
    old fashioned dwellings appears to be merely an open work frame so
    designed for the storage of hay during winter months.

    One can see a glimpse of Jalori from here and it does not take too
    long to reach the top as well. The small pass is not devoid of human
    interventions. A temple and about a dozen small shops provinding
    refreshments line up on top, one even claiming the mini Switzerland of
    India. Such platitude is unforgiving and I wonder when our natives
    will grow up to appreciate the gift of motherland.

    We park amongst a few other waiting tourist taxis and stroll in the
    chill mountain air. The Sun places hide and seek amongst an over cast
    sky which dampens my view of the long stretch of rolling mountains.
    Just off the road which bends downhill and on course towards Shimla, a
    rolling green meadow dotted with sheep fills up the Blue-grey mountain
    back ground. I come across a wedding party and accompanying band with
    drums and gramophone cylinders awaiting a lift down. as for their
    numbers seem to have had made quite an impact on the cash boxes of the
    shops out here. As I aimless wander soaking in the panorama another
    mountain biker, this time a foreigner lands up on his solo trip, no
    sooner than he arrived that he zoomed down not even spending a minute
    or sparing a glance. I reckon he must be here quite a few times and is
    hell bent to improve his record timings. I managed to take a couple of
    photographs in between though and I carried out my obsession with my
    new digital SLR till the weather packed up and it began to rain. My
    walk to the ruins of the Raghupur Fort was cut short as the rain
    intensified with hail. There was no other choice but return to the
    jeep and wait for the weather gods to calm before we could even move
    an inch to descend to our hotel below.

  3. says: Vijay Srinivas

    In every countries around the world, nature has provided them with beautiful and picturesque places, and India is no exception. But now the point is, how do people maintain them.
    If people dont throw garbage in the streets, they dont spit and relieve themselves in public places, cattle are not allowed to wander aimlessly in the streets causing traffic jams and cowdung issues, and if the roads are smooth and well maintained here as well, etc etc, then these places also can be called Mini Switzerland.

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