After yesterday’s night of revelry, I wake up to the sound of heavy thunder and lightning rending the night skies. I thank my stars that I have a solid roof over my head as I duck my head back under the warm blanket in Krishan’s shop.
I am not carrying my tent for this trek and the prospect of being caught in a torrential downpour in just a bivy sack and a sleeping bag is not very appetising. The heavy rain means that my plan for an early morning start has come to nought. Krishan, his wife and I chat over endless cups of sweet tea, discussing their aspirations and debating life in a city versus life in the wilderness. The rain relents around eight AM and when I step out of the shop, the first thing that I notice is a fresh sprinkle of snow across the Dhauladhars. As the weather clears, I thank Krishan and his wife for their love and affection, ruffle their lambs and kiss Sheru goodbye. Krishan gives me a list of recommended tea shops along the way. His wife, on the other hand, worries that I am walking alone, and asks me to send back word via any shepherd that is headed back to Bakluddu.
The trail from Bakluddu to Parai Gothe is a “stinging, water power” route. In the next hour, I am stung twice by nettles and I see gurgling streams make three gushing waterfalls along the way. Nettles are hardy little buggers and they line this trekking trail, waiting for an unsuspecting trekker who displays even an inch of uncovered skin.
I reach the first bridge over Binwa stream in an hour. Along this bridge, there is a trail that leads down to the stream and on to a rocky cove with a small pool. From where I stand this rocky cove looks like a perfect place for skinny dipping. Nevertheless, my self-preservation instinct soon kicks in when what seemed like an innocent looking cove is littered with cow carcases. I realise that this is probably a watering point for a leopard. My feet automatically go into a double-speed march, as I beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the trail. So much for discovering off the trail places ala ‘Lara Croft’.
Twenty minutes later I cross a longer wood and concrete bridge. This is where one goes from ‘true left’ to ‘true right’ of Binwa Stream. This is also the first of three crossings across Binwa Stream on the Jalsu Pass trek trail. Here on the bridge, I met a couple of locals with their livestock who confirm that the cove is best left alone.
|The wood and concrete bridge over Binwa Stream|
Most people 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 (Dhar translates to ridge) is an easy 2 hours from Bakluddu. The ‘pushers’ from Sukuru and Bakluddu have camped overnight at Khodtru and are drying their clothes at the tea shop. I decide to give the tea shop at Khodtru a miss and thankfully this was the last I saw of this merry bunch. Khodtru has three sad looking tea shops and a temple along the trail.
Nevertheless, all is not lost. This seemingly dreary place is a stepping stone to something much better. Just after the tea shops, there is a cleft in the hill. 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 its path 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.
|The trail between Khodtru and Parai Gothe|
Parai Gothe is the last teashop stop before Jalsu pass. Krishan has recommended Jhumpi and his wife’s tea house at Parai Gothe. He is 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 tempt me to spend a night with them. Yet, the time is only a quarter to twelve and my feet were itching to explore more this beautiful trail. So I compromise by settling down for an early dal-chawal (rice with lentils) lunch washed down with a cup of sweet tea. During lunch, Jhumpi mentions that a group of well-behaved trekkers from Delhi had stayed with him a couple of weeks ago. It heartens me that this is a group of acquaintances from Musafir’s WhatsApp group that I subscribe to. Ashish, one of our ardent and regular readers is 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.
|A ‘trangri’ or a makeshift wooden bridge|
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, I take a lot of photo detours and made slow progress (almost two hours) to Jalsu Pass base. By this time however, 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 wraps itself around me, I sit along the trail debating this dilemma. Meanwhile, two Gaddi (shepherds) who have just descended from the pass tell me that the weather is sunny upstairs and suggest that I should ascend while it lasts.
|Covered in deep mist, should I climb Jalsu Pass?|
Now anyone who treks in the Himalaya knows that a pass crossing after 12 PM is pushing your luck. This thought sticks with me as I power my way all the way up to Jalsu pass in just over an hours. Just as the Gaddi had said, the weather opens up as I approach the cairn temple at Jalsu Pass. It is half past four and I decide 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 Gaddi flock to this route.
|Gaddi praying to the cairn temple at the top of Jalsu Pass|
At half past five, it starts to get cloudy again, and it is time 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 and dingy affair. It is also a meeting point for all the shepherds in and around Jalsu. I do not recommend staying here if you are looking for a quiet place. However, I am too late to carry on till Yada Gothe, my planned night halt. A couple of locals catch 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 congratulate me on outstanding speed for a city dweller and it feels good to know that I can 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 progresses, the group of Gaddi gets bigger. Alcohol bottles are drained faster and the jokes and boasts became larger. Songs were sung till about one AM when everyone passes out in a drunken stupor. Joginder & I arrange limbs and manage to fit eight people in the shop as we fall down on our beds for the night.
|Descent to Joginder’s tea stall (in centre) from Jalsu Pass|