It’s an uncommon feeling when you wake up to a breath of fresh air gushing through your face after tiring overnight journey in the bus from Delhi to Kullu Valley. But that is the moment when you leave all the fuss behind and enter a different world altogether. Heavy monsoon here will not jam the traffic and sweating will not stain your office wears.
To enter the Tirthan Valley one deboards the Manali bound bus at the beginning of Aut tunnel (which itself is a 3km long masterpiece carved underneath a huge mountain), 20 kms before Kullu town. From here a local taxi or a local bus will take you along Tirthan River to Great Himalayan National Park’s guest house at Sai Ropa, and then to beautiful village Gushaini where you start to feel the wilderness in your feet and thrill in your nerves. Here on, you might want to worry about the world that you left behind, miss the pizzas that fattened your tummy, search for mobile networks, but it’s not long before you forget all this. Soon you find yourself in the orchards decorated with apples, apricots, almonds, persimmons (Japani Phal), streams of fresh water along your way, and fields lush with the cereals and vegetables that have touched sky high prices in the city where you belong. So be assured that for next few days you are going to be the richest man, as well as a free bird.
Sunrays steer through the only window pane to wake you up for another beautiful day. Today it was going to be a tough climb that takes us from 2100m to 3100m in 5-6 hours. Since we were the first group on the trek route this monsoon, the undisturbed grasses had grown quite tall to hinder our way. Since there was least danger of being lost on the only trail, we left the campsite before the support staff was ready to move on. Though we thought our pack was good enough to fight through the tall grasses, we were proved wrong within a few minutes of walk. It became difficult to find the trail hidden under thick bushes, and climb at the same time. We took our first break to wait for our support staff and then resumed with their help. The cliff came out to be longer and steeper than our imagination, and with half the group being to hills for the first time, it was harsh. That moment when we felt that we could choose a better place.
But the best was yet to come! After walking for more than 4 hours, a flurry of clouds that engulfed us meant that we had almost made it to the top. A few heavy steps and we could see the Shilt hut hidden in the thick sheet of mist, sheer beauty!
We were welcomed by a thunder storm followed by heavy rain. That should easily be the coldest moment of the trek. Inder unfolded his portable kitchen which literally had more stuff than my kitchen back home. At 3100m now, he prepared Adrak Chai (Ginger Tea), and served homemade “patode” with it, beat it!
As it kept raining, the boys enjoyed playing cards sitting near the stove and along with it, travel tales of our guide. Hearing to his interesting wild anecdotes, it sounded to be the world’s best job, and I am full of envy for that. Time passed quicker than we could realize and it was time for well deserved dinner. About how it tasted, I should let you know that our cook had earlier served at a star rated hotel in Amritsar, before the mountains called him back for rest of his life. After it stopped raining, tents were tied down by clearing a thick layer of thorny bushes flourishing on our campsite and we were all set to spend our night under the clear sky, brightest stars and moonlight.
When we woke up to the shrilling chirp of a strange bird this morning, it seemed to be alarming us of another strenuous day ahead. We got ready to leave before sunrise and today’s destination was Rakhundi Top(3600m).
The first hour of the journey was comfortable with little variation in the altitude. It seemed to be pretty much like yesterday’s journey before the Monals started to maneuver in the sky. The monals filled a new energy in us and excitement doubled up to get a closer look. We started to look out for monals on each and every branch of the trees in this bird country. They did not disappoint us and it was a dream come true to be able to see so many monals for the first time.
As we crossed Chhordwari, here too the problem was thick bushes multiplied to the steep ascent across the gorge of the naala that we were about to follow till the top. As we moved towards higher reaches, the view of the mountains around us became more prominent and attractive, every hill offering a complete trek in itself.
We proceeded further with caution and finally made it to Rakhundi top. The inexplicable view at the top was breathtaking, with so many clouds around that they seemed to be completely filling the valley. As we offered prayers at the temple atop, Inder got busy collecting rare alpine herbs found only above a certain altitude. After spending the best time here, we were willinglessly forced to descend to be able to make it back to Rolla in time before it starts to rain. But rains rushed down sooner than expected and we ended up Day 3 walking in rain for almost all of the day. There couldn’t be a better way to end the rainy day than a bath in the Tirthan, drench your senses till they feel numb!
On the last day of a memorable trek, excitement is still far from subsiding. Add to that a mother leopard’s morning walk leaving behind it’s footprints along our way back home, apprising that all wasn’t over yet. As we reached the entry gate of the GHNP, a young group of Yoga enthusiasts camping over there was wary of a baby leopard’s cry in the jungle last night, lose your breath! Hopes were alive to be able to see a leopard but they never got fulfilled. Soon we ended up in Gushaini as apple loaded trucks blew their horns to wake up a pack of boys lost in a four day long dream.
Like a dessert after a wonderful meal, we decided to walk along the smooth paved road rather than board a taxi. The road laden with apple orchards and lush green maize fields lead us to the Sai Ropa waterfall.
What a wonder hidden in the unending folds of the Himalayas! As you try to unzip your cameras, the waves of water in the air wetting you head to toe warn you to keep them shut. A beauty, camera shy. A bath here relieves you of all the pains and bruises that occurred after a few tough days.
A perfect end to the Independence week with wild animals, wild spirit and a few wild people whom I met over those four days. Among them, Panki ( an avid trekker, birder, photographer and above all a nice human being) who runs Sunshine Himalayan Adventures company with help of local NGOs can be reached at 09418204666. Having explored the GHNP hundreds of times, he is a one stop solution to all your travel queries and arrangements in the region.
For more information on how to reach and what to do while in and around GHNP, you can reach Great Himalayan National Park Director Office, Shamshi at 01902-265320.