It starts to drizzle the moment I get off the bus at Utrala. The drizzle turns into a lively torrent and I duck furtively under a dhaba roof. Standing under the roof it occurs to me that “crossing Jalsu pass without being caught in rains is just next to impossible”
|Jalsu Pass in an outlier in the Dhauladhar with its numerous meadows and easy approach|
Fortunately, Utrala has two dhabas and a Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) canteen where one can seek shelter without being coerced into buying something. Nevertheless, it is already noon and as I wait, I decide to splurge on a diet of dal-chawal (lentils with rice). A “diet” is a fixed price plate of ‘all you can eat’ food. One can unashamedly go in for seconds or even thirds. Diet is a boon for all trekkers because we are a hungry lot. The dhaba is a homely mom and pop run affair. The parents are desperately trying to keep their young kid indoor while the kid wants to go out in the rain to sail a paper boat. The downpour relents at 1430 when I hitch up my rucksack and camera bag, bid goodbye to my hosts and start walking towards Jalsu Pass.
The Dhauladhars have a peculiar topography. Although mostly composed of granite, the flanks of the range exhibit frequent formations of slate (often used for the roofs of houses in the region), limestone and sandstone. Ascending from any side is a difficult affair, given the near-vertical incline ~ Wikipedia.
Yet, Jalsu Pass with its easy approach and rolling lush meadows exhibits none of this ruggedness. Locals, shepherds and trekkers regard this as the easiest and the most languid way across the Dhauladhars. It is also the westernmost pass across the Dhauladhars that links Kangra and Chamba districts in Himachal Pradesh.
The Jalsu Pass trail starts as a metalled road at Binwa Power colony in Utrala and winds its way through the colony, over a bridge to just before a power station. Before the power station, a wide pony trail bifurcates from the metalled road and leads uphill to your left. A half-hour walk from the power station brings you up to the Binwa reservoir. The reservoir is a man-made water store with an accessible watchtower. Water from Binwa stream is stored in this reservoir and then flushed down to turn turbines and keep the HPSEB cash registers ringing. | | |:–:| | Binwa reservoir on a rainy day |
Along the reservoir is Raju Thapa’s well-stocked tea shop, the first of its kind on the trail. It is a potential overnight stay if you reach Utrala late in the evening and can’t find a room at the HPSEB Rest House. Locals refer to this as the ‘The Sukuru Tea Shop’, which is hardly ambiguous since this is the only tea shop in Sukuru. I met a group of young lads at the shop led by a smart alec pusher named ‘Monu’. They were high on weed were ‘tripping’ across Jalsu for some sweet leaf. Monu tried to sell me some from his stash but I told him that I preferred better and more processed ‘stuff’. Once he got ‘pushy’, I bid him a polite adieu.
After the Utrala reservoir, the trail cuts a straight line across a series of switchbacks. The switchbacks were conceived as a part of the grandiose government plan to construct a road link from Utrala to Jalsu and beyond. There was a lot of talks and a lot of money spent on surveys, and yet the plan remains just that…a plan.
It is imperative that you stick to the trail rather than be tempted to take the less steep yet longer road. This is because, in the end, the road doesn’t link with the trail. Since I had ventured onto the road for a photograph, I spent a good 30 minutes trying to find a shortcut from the road-end to the trail. After bushwhacking and getting nettle stung for thirty minutes I gave up and retraced my route to the original trail. I had hoped that experience would make me wiser trekker one day but apparently, today is not that day.
To cut a long story short, follow the trail, don’t try and create your trail where there is none.
After losing over an hour and a half to my trail debacle, I made quick time. After the steep initial climb, the trail eases out as you get close to Bakluddu. Stark, stony Dhauladhars peek over the green hills at this point. Bakluddu is two tea shops along the trekking trail. One of these ingenious shops is constructed under an overhanging boulder. It is a unique sight.
|Tea shop under the boulder is a unique sight|
The other shop is a routine stone and wood hut, run by Krishan and his wife. I met ‘the pusher’ and his merry gang again at this shop. They had overtaken me while I was ‘lost’ on the well-marked trail. Krishan discretely suggested that I should spend the night here in Bakluddu, instead of continuing to Khodtru and Parai Goth as I had planned. The time was four PM and I wanted to be rid of Mr Pusher and his merry men. Therefore, I decided to spend a night at Krishan’s shop. After the merry gang had departed for Khodtru, Krishan and his wife adopted me for the night and treated me as one of their long lost relatives.
My tea shop selection criteria are quite simple. I prefer shops run by women or a couple because it is usually cleaner and has better food. If the shop has a dog, then it is extra brownie points for that shop. In this case, the shop met both of my criteria. A dog called ‘Sheru’ and an earthen, clean floor.
|Sheru the guard dog in Bakluddu|
Despite the recent ban on the religious animal slaughter in Himachal Pradesh, it is still a common and prevalent practice. Krishan had slaughtered one of his goat kids this morning as an offering to the local deity and he was anxious to share the bounty with his friends and family. Late in the evening his friends, Gurkha from the other (boulder) shop and relatives crowded in his shop and relished the meat amidst great revelry. A clean bed was laid out for me on the floor, blankets provided and the five of us with 3 sheep and a dog settled down for the night.
|The trail from Utrala to Bakluddu with the Dhauladhars towering up top. At Bakluddu.|