Trek Down Memory Lane Through Great Himalayan National Park – World Heritage Site

Itali Titli area of Great Himalayan National Park

“Itali-Titli Tiyari dali; Yanne bhi bhali, syane bhi bhali” is a local saying in the very undeveloped and intensely wild area that I trekked with my friend Payson Stevens from 20th to 28th September 2018. The conversational meaning of this saying is that there are flowers of Tiyari (a local plant) in an area called Itali-Titli which are very pleasing to make a very tough trek easy for the young as well as the old. Payson had been the guiding spirit behind this trek to celebrate my retirement from the Forest Service. We have worked together for the biodiversity conservation of the Great Himalayan National Park/GHNP (the site of our present trek) since 2000 when Payson came to my office (Director of the Park) to contribute to nature conservation in his wife, Kamla’s country (she is from Chandigarh, living in USA for many years with many excellent publications to her credit). The trek was also to celebrate our 18 years of friendship which has resulted in the successful inscription of the GHNP as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

View from Dhel Ridge

Payson turned 73 in April 2018 and me 60 in the same month of 2018. Both of us have been preparing for this trek for more than two months. I was climbing from my residence in Khalini (a low-lying area of Shimla) to the Ridge (about 1500 feet climb). Payson was building his stamina by doing similar climbs around Ghiyaghi village near Banjar (Kullu district) where he has constructed a lovely house “Behta Pani” in 2003 (though Payson and Kamla live in California, USA, they spend May to October months each year in this Indian home).

Dhel Panorama

Our first two days of trek went very well with lots of sunshine, cool breeze of high altitude forests of fir-spruce and oaks. Before embarking on this trek, we had studied satellite maps for the weather conditions. Accordingly, a thunderstorm was expected on 23rd September which came a day early on 22nd when we were to negotiate the most wild and strenuous part of the trek. In words of Payson, we were on a sheep trail “with incredible major storms blasting and sublime beauty in between”. The whole experience gives me goosebumps as I think about 22nd September long march (more than eight hours through the incessant rains and chilling storm) among the jumbled and disarray mountains between Marani and Dhel.

View from Dhel Meadow

Though I have crossed from Tirthan to Sainj several times, we were taking this route (through Marani meadow) for the first chance. This very demanding/testing but rewarding trek brought in excitement of being through the cold of rains and storm. Most of the trek is above the tree line. Yellowing of ferns, plants of various colours appearing from crevices and rock faces (Berginia, Androsace or rock jasmine, Paraquilegia) present a very fine natural mosaic. The stunted & gnarled Rhododendrons of high altitude, Junipers and roses intermix with numerous variety of herbs and shrubs. In times of the fury of nature, this vegetation and scenery en route (nicely depicted by the Itali-Titli local saying) was a great companion to keep our spirits high.

Camp at Dhel meadow

Arrival at Supakhani (a local deity, Kaali Avatar) on the edge of Dhel meadow (3737 m alt) was some solace. At least, the path from here to Dhel Patrolling Hut (about four km) is not jumping from rock to rock (as we had been doing through the day), but a decent Gaddi (shepherd) trail. The rains were not letting up, the firewood being wet did bring some comfort but with lots of choking smoke in the Patrolling Hut. Nine porters, Payson and me were accommodated in two tents (quite comfortable even during rains) and the Hut. We were here for three days and four nights.

Sunset in Tirthan Valley

After about 36 hours of continuous raining (22nd to 23rd evening), the sun God put up a very gracious appearance on 24th noon. Quickly, our porters arranged for a very luxurious shaving and bath. As we progressed from Dhel Hut to Dhel Jogani (a local deity), the inevitable rainbow appeared in a nearby V-shaped valley with a very magical charm and beauty: indeed, nature has her own ways of testing and rewarding. Rejoiced to be there. 25th was a sunny day, all-around so verdant and refreshing, awash with various shades of greens, browns and reds. The fresh snowfall on surrounding mountain peaks provided a silvery white backdrop. The evening was nature’s presentation of a dazzling moon (full moon or Purnima) at about 8 PM, a sight without an equal that will stay with me for ever. The next morning was without a speck in the sky. The panorama of layers of mountains visible from the ridge, about 50 meters up Dhel Patrolling Hut was breath-taking. Though I have seen it for many times, the freshness after rains and all that we had gone through was very special, exceptional and overwhelming. Jai Ho GHNP.

Itali Titli area of GHNP

26th AN, we shifted our camp to Bharad Nala, a beautiful site, quite popular among the shepherds (bharad is local name for sheep). A stream flows through the site with gurgling and very happy sounds to make us feel cheerful. The six km walk from Dhel to Bharad was very relaxing and alleviating. Next day we trekked to Shakti village to be with the new Park management. We shared our experiences with Director GHNP, Mr Ajit Thakur and DFO Abhilasha. Mr Thakur promptly informed the local newspapers about our well-beings (we learnt that the rains and storm had caused havoc in Kullu and Manali). 28th was a 14-day trek upto the road-head of Niharni. The after-noon trek was again through the rains, a reminder of the earlier days of this nine days adventure.

Dhel Panorama

Thanks a lot, to my friend, philosopher and guide, Payson for his very cheery, jovial and good-natured comments. His suggestion of my retirement celebrations proved very exciting, thrilling, and exhilarating. I will always cherish the date of my retirement which was 30th April 2018, the Buddha Purnima, a date which denotes Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and death (mahaparinirvana). Feeling blessed to retire from my job and proceed into the next phase of life on a date so significant in the life of my Guruji, the Buddha. Mangal Ho.

Sanjeeva Pandey with Payson Stevens at Dhel Ridge
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