This is part two of Jalsu Pass Trek Log. Read part 1 here.
After yesterday’s night of revelry, I woke up to the sound of heavy thunder and lightning strikes rending the night skies. I thanked my stars I had a solid roof over my head as I ducked my head under my warm blankets in Krishan’s shop.
I had decided against carrying my tent on this trek and the prospect of being caught in a torrential downpour in a bivy sack and a sleeping bag was not very appetising. The heavy rain meant that my plans for an early morning start had come to a nought. Krishan, his wife and I sat chatting over endless cups of sweet tea, discussing their aspirations and debating life in cities versus life in the wilderness. The rain relented around eight am and as I stepped out, the first thing that I noticed was a fresh sprinkle of snow across the Dhauladhars. As the weather cleared, I thanked Krishan and his wife for their love and affection, ruffled their lambs and kissed Sheru goodbye. Krishan had provided me with a list of recommended tea shops along the trail. His wife, on the other hand, worried that I was walking alone, asked me to send back word via any shepherd that was headed back to Bakluddu.
The route from Bakluddu to Parai Gothe is what I reckon to be a “stinging, water power” route. In the next hour, I was stung twice by nettles and I had seen gurgling streams making three gushing waterfalls along the way. Nettles are hardy little buggers and they make it a point to line this trekking trail, waiting for an unsuspecting trekker displaying any bit of uncovered skin.
I reached my first bridge in an hour from Bakluddu. Just after this bridge is a trail that leads down to Binwa stream and on to a rocky cove with a small pool. From afar this rocky cove seemed like a perfect place for skinny dipping. Nevertheless, my self-preservation instinct soon kicked in when I saw that my innocent looking cove was littered with cow carcases. I realised that this was probably a watering point for a leopard. My feet automatically went into double speed march, as I beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the trail. So much for going off the trail discovering new places ALA ‘Lara Croft’.
Twenty minutes later I came to a larger wooden and concrete bridge where you go from ‘true left’ to ‘true right’ of Binwa Stream. This is the first of three crossings across Binwa Stream on the Jalsu trek trail. Here on the bridge, I met a couple of locals with their livestock who confirmed that the cove was best avoided especially at sunrise and sunset.
Most locals living in the Himalayas often wonder why someone would give up a relatively cushy city life and come visit their remote corner of the world. It’s difficult for people living in the Himalayas to contemplate that someone would walk the mountains for no purpose other than to enjoy them.
“Why are you going there, there is just hills and mountains to see there” — is a remark I hear often and it amuses me to no end.
Khodtru Dhar (ridge) is an easy 2 hours from Bakluddu. The ‘pushers’ from Sukru and Bakluddu had camped in Khodtru and were drying their wet clothes at the tea shop. I decided to give the tea shop at Khodtru a miss. This was the last I saw of this merry bunch and I was only too glad to see the last of them. Khodtru has three sad looking tea shops and a temple along the trail.
Nevertheless, all is not lost as this seemingly dreary place is a stepping stone to something much better. There is a cleft in the hill just after the tea shops on Khodtru ridge. Stepping through this cleft brings forth a scene so vibrant and picture perfect that it feels like you’ve entered fantasy trekking world. A gurgling mountain stream cleaving through huge boulders. Green hills reaching up to touch the snow-capped Dhauladhars. I didn’t realise it then, but in retrospect, the trail between Khodtru and Jalsu Pass base is the highlight of this trek.
Parai Gothe is the last teashop stop before Jalsu pass. Krishan had recommended Jhumpi and his wife’s tea house at Parai Gothe. He was not wrong. Jhumpi runs a tidy, well-maintained shop with homely food. Jhumpi’s wife will fuss over you and make you feel right at home. The only thing this shop misses is a fluffy, battle-scarred guard dog. Jhumpi and his wife’s hospitality tempted me to spend a night with them. Yet, the time was a quarter to twelve and my feet were itching to explore this beautiful trail. Before leaving I decided to settle down for an early dal-chawal (rice with lentils) lunch washed down with a cup of sweet tea. During lunch, Jhumpi mentioned that a group of very well- behaved people from Delhi had stayed with him a week or two ago. It heartens me that this was a group of acquaintances from Musafir’s WhatsApp group that I subscribe to. Ashish, one of our ardent readers was also a part of this group and trek ( Ashish on YouTube ). Jhumpi’s shop is the perfect place for an overnight stay if you intend to cross Jalsu Pass early the next morning.
Just after Parai Gothe, one crosses the Binwa stream a second time over a ‘trangri’ (makeshift wooden bridge). With my stomach sated and my soul singing at the beautiful mountain scenery around me, I took a lot of photo detours and made slow progress (almost two hours) to Jalsu Pass base. By this time low-lying clouds had decked the mountain tops around me and I was mentally debating whether I should continue on over Jalsu Pass or bivouac in a shepherd shelter at its base.
By this time low-lying clouds had decked the mountain tops around me and I was mentally debating whether I should continue on over Jalsu Pass or bivouac in a shepherd shelter at its base. Jalsu Base is the third and final crossing over Binwa stream. It is 750 vertical metres to Jalsu pass from its base and it takes the locals around two hours to complete this climb. As fog closed around me, I sat along the trail debating this dilemma. Meanwhile, two Gaddis (shepherds) who had just descended from the pass told me that the weather was sunny upstairs and suggested that I should ascend while it lasted. Spurred on by their suggestion, I decided to make a power dash up to Jalsu Pass and on to the tea shop at Jalsu Gothe.
Now anyone who’s ever been trekking in the Himalayas knows that a pass crossing after 12 is pushing your luck. This thought stuck with me as I powered my way all the way up to Jalsu pass in under two hours. Just as the Gaddis had predicted, the weather opened up as I approached the stone piled (cairn) temple at Jalsu Pass. It was half past four and I decided to stay at Jalsu Pass for an hour in quiet contemplation. Jalsu is unlike any other pass across the Dhauladhars. It is flanked with sprawling meadows on either side covered in lush green grass and flowers. This is a stark contrast to rocky, slate covered passes and it is no wonder that Gaddis flock this route.
At half past five, as it started to get cloudy again, I decided to head down to Joginder’s tea shop at Jalsu Gothe, a quick 25-minute descent from the pass. Joginder’s shop at Jalsu Gothe is a small dingy affair. It is also a meeting point for all the shepherds in and around Jalsu. I would not recommend staying here if you are looking for a quiet place. However, I was too late to carry on till Yada Gothe, my proposed night halt. A couple of locals caught up with me at Jalsu Gothe. They had been an hour behind me at Bakluddu and Krishan had asked them to keep an eye out for me. They congratulated me on an outstanding speed and time for a city dweller. It feels good to know that I could match their walking speed in their own backyard.
“Khudla paani pakhla manu o dar lagda (turbid waters and strange people cause fear)” — Gaddi Folk Song
As the evening progressed, the group of present Gaddis got bigger, the alcohol bottles were drained even faster and the jokes and boasts became larger. Songs were sung till about one am when everyone passed out in a drunken stupor. Joginder & I arranged limbs and managed to fit eight people in the shop as we hit our respective beds for the night.