OUT AND ABOUT: Serendipity can throw up surprises. Due to a landslide in Spiti, a bunch of adventure lovers changes its plans, and voila! falls in love with two valleys of Himachal Pradesh
While we're tossed around on craters (big enough to swallow a herd of elephants!) on the road from Shimla to Narkanda, the phone rings ominously with the bad news — Spiti has been closed due to rain and landslides.
And, this puts the brakes on our plans of driving on one of the most spectacular roads in India — the circuit from Shimla to Manali along the Old Hindustan Tibet Road till Sumdo, and then across the rugged landscape of Spiti, from Kaza to Manali.
But, there are landslides on both the Kaza as well as the Manali sides, and trying to get there's a bad idea; we must improvise.
A day gained
Thankfully, we are welcome to stay at the Banjara Retreat in Thanedar for another night. The day is spent going up to Hatu Peak and walking around Saroga forest. The latter turns out be very interesting — we walk amidst alpine trees, learn fascinating facts about local fauna, spot dried cicada shells, and, most of all, get to taste intensely flavoured and delicious wild raspberries.
Since we can't go to Spiti, we decide to go to Sojha and then head to Sangla. Sojha lies five km after the Jalori Pass (between Shimla and Manali), and the drive up to Jalori turns out to be a stunning experience.
The road from Sojha descends into the Tirthan Valley, and we reach the Himalayan Trout House in Nagini. It's located by river Tirthan, teeming with brown and rainbow trout.
Rise to the bait!
The eight of us sit with fishing rods by the river, waiting for the fish to rise to the bait — with three rods and in 90 minutes, we catch four. Unfortunately, two of them are below the required size, and we let them go, the other two are for lunch — grilled with garlic and butter! The delicious lunch is complete with home-baked bread.
Sangla is our next destination. We're tempted to curse — the roads are marred by the hydro-electric project work — there are more construction shanties and drilling machinery than mountains; the Sutlej running along is a dirty brown… Thankfully, all these fade into oblivion once we leave Karchham, and the drive towards Sangla. We drive along river Baspa, which, like the Tirthan, is clean, clear and wild. Our place of stay is six km ahead of Sangla. Sangla is lovely — the constant roar of the river on one side of the camp, and towering peaks on the other three — it's a balm to city-frayed nerves.
Chitkul, 20 km from Sangla, is a must visit, and the road to Chitkul crosses a rather fast-moving stream at Raksham; getting through on our vehicle is quite an adventure!
But, the Raksham walk takes the cake. The four-hour walk starts at Raksham 10 km ahead of Batseri village, covers the river, and comes back to Batseri, on the opposite bank. We walk through pink wildflowers, dense forests, cross the river twice, and reach high-mountain ledges to watch the raging river far below. The best part is there are just three hard climbs (about 12 minutes each), and in between these climbs, the going's mainly on level ground.
Okay, we did not do Spiti, but, we had a wonderful time in two valleys of Himachal Pradesh — the Tirthan and the Baspa.