Cold, blustery winds blow as the bus drops me outside Aut tunnel on the Delhi-Manali highway. I haven’t envisaged May to be this cold. It is the unearthly hour of 6 in the morning and the HRTC Volvo is right on time after leaving Delhi ISBT at 7 last evening. The only souls around are two construction workers sleeping in vehicles. I am hoping for a bus to take me to Banjar, the biggest town in Tirthan Valley.
No bus comes, but a truck carries me across the Larji Hydel Power Project to the town of Larji. I am already concerned about the lack of warm clothes even though April is about to end and the rest of the country is grappling with a heat wave. I’m overjoyed eating aloo paranthas with a steaming cup of tea at a dhaba at Balichowki. A mixture of truck and bus rides brings me to Banjar.
Two years ago, I was at Banjar and Gushaini had beckoned like a faraway dream. A bus failure had ensured I went to Jibhi instead. This time, I hop into a bus passing the prettily built complex at Sai Ropa along the way, the valley keeps getting smaller as the bus conductor shouts ‘Gushaini, Gushaini’ just before a small bridge on the road.
It is an ever so small village on the banks of the roaring Tirthan river. There is a mud road that goes to Pekhri village that lies in the Eco-Zone of Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). I see the beautiful waters of the river on the other side and decide to ditch a homestay on the road and try to bargain my way to cheap accommodation by the serene waters.
A typical day in Gushaini
It is a pretty location with lots of greenery around, cattle graze happily, a stray dog snoozes, some guests are preparing to leave with a big smile on their faces. There is a happy vibe here, three tents with attached bathrooms have been laid out on a raised platform and look comfortable. There is a pebbled path which feels like a luxury in these rustic surroundings. I’ve come to Gushaini to spend the entire summer and am mightily surprised to see stable and fast wifi internet.
I ask for a tent to be pitched as close to the river as possible; and the young owner Atul, obliges. There are two huge rooms made entirely of devdhar wood, but they turn out to be too costly for me. The sun is out and the waters are inviting. The caretaker decides to try his hand at fishing and promptly shows me one within no time (Trout fishing is a successful activity here.) The water is freezing cold and feels heavenly. I get used to it after spending some time in the river and actually begin enjoying the bath.
The freshness that I feel is incomparable. I am on top of the world and happily start typing a story on my laptop. A lovely breeze blows, the sweet sound of this pretty river seems like music to the ears. Birds visit me intermittently and sing sweetly. Clouds rise above the forested mountain peaks as the wind picks up speed, I gently fall into slumber only to be risen by small fruits falling on my head.
Dark clouds have gathered above, causing the weather to become furiously cold – I realise I’m in the midst of a peach, pomegranate, apple, pear and apricot orchard. Those little fruits are green (not yet ripe) apricots. I decide it is time for a stroll and also to collect my permit for entry into GHNP which is available at the office at Sai Ropa, 5 kms before Gushaini.
There are hardly any vehicles on the road which is flanked by tall pines on both sides. The scenery appears magical when sunlight makes its way creating golden hues on the lush green growth. The aroma of nature is irresistible, a local joins me on the walk and accompanies me all the way till the GHNP office at Sai Ropa. I am informed that it is a Sunday and that the permit won’t be issued, but I can still trek and that the permit can be managed at Rolla.
I chat up with some villagers regarding treks in GHNP and the locals suggest that I should not venture alone into the park as the trails are not well defined and villages are few and far between. I always adhere to what the locals have to say; they are always right. I catch a bus on my way back and meet a locally famous pop singer. Gushaini is a small village and half the locals already know me.
The caretaker serves me tea in a fairytale setting; it has just started drizzling, I sit with my feet dipped in the cold water and wonder about the simplicity of life in these lesser known parts of the Himalayas. There is still some time left to soak in the wonder of faraway lands as I read stories from Karakoram Himalaya in ‘Three Cups of Tea.’
Dinner is served in the dining café and is simple yet fabulous, as only hill food can be. The vegetables are fresh and locally grown, the caretaker and Atul rustle up a meal worthy of being called classy. Rain thunders down creating mellifluous sounds on the tin roof. Electricity decides to take a breather. Finally when the downpour stops, the weather clears up, there is the fresh smell of petrichor.
I’m happy and content, it is time to sit on the huge rocks by the river and watch the stars cover me as a blanket. A combination of light, roaring waters, warmth and birds rouse me sharp at 6. I am fresh as a fiddle and raring to go and explore the territory around this little paradise.
Trekking in Great Himalayan National Park
1. Rangthar Top – The trail head to Rangthar begins at Pekhri, which is accessible via an 8 km long winding road criss-crossing fruit orchards with numerous hairpin bends. The pretty wooden village of Lagcha is halfway on the non-stop uphill climb and the entire walk takes around 4-5 hours to reach the lovely green meadows at Rangthar. Our camps are surrounded by mountains on all sides and have an almost 300 degree view of the Himalayas. Shepherds come with their flocks of sheep and goat to make this a memorable reward for the sharp incline. Rangthar Top lies in the ecozone of GHNP and is 7 kilometres from Pekhri and one does not require a permit for Rangthar.
There is no water source at Rangthar Top. Porters carried water from a waterfall that was an hour’s walk from our camping site. Another scenic add-on could be Marauni Top which is another 3-4 hours uphill climb from Rangthar.
2. Rolla – Inside the entry gate of Great Himalayan National Park(GHNP), Rolla is located in a narrow valley by the Tirthan River and is a great way to spend the night before advancing further to the 3100m high Shilt Hut. The walk to Rolla is mostly flat along the Tirthan River and passes through dense green forests with views of villages clinging to mountainsides. Rolla is 9 kms from Gushaini and roughly takes 4 hours.
A great alternate to camping at Rolla is the campsite at Talinga which is bang on a flat green ground adjacent to the roaring Tirthan River. There is a hanging wooden bridge that goes to the funnily named villages of Talinga & Shalinga that completes a pretty picture. The campsite at Talinga is hardly two hours from the bridge at Gushaini.
3. Lambri Top – A dirt road goes to the pretty village of Sarchi, which is 19 kilometres from Gushaini. Sarchi is located high above in the mountains and is a base for the climb to Lambri Top. The hike passes through pretty forests to the village of Jamala which is a steep one hour climb from Sarchi.
Lambri Top has mesmerising views of the entire Tirthan Valley. It is a lovely place to camp with uninterrupted sights of greenery.
4. Bashleo Pass – This is a pass that leads you straight to the village of Kullu Sarahan. The trail head begins at the last motorable village of Batahad (8 kms from Gushaini) and is a six hour climb through lovely green meadows and forests to the pass which is at 3277m. Batahad is a very pretty village with an old world charm, I was shown the apple orchards here and was spellbound with the beauty.
After camping near Bashleo Pass, it is a short downhill 3 km walk with gorgeous views of the Sutlej Valley while descending to the village of Kullu Sarahan.
5. Camping at Saryolsar Lake – Saryolsar is a prettily located small lake, a 6 km trek through beautiful oak and cedar forests from Jalori Pass. The waters of the lake are crystal clear and there is an old temple too, near the lake. It is a great way to get initiated in the world of hiking for the beginners and camp in the midst of nature at comfortable altitudes.
A worthy add on to Saryolsar Lake is a hike to the nearby Raghupur Fort, with 360 degree valley views that stretch as far as the Dhauladhars.
I completed the 3 day trek to Rangathar, Talinga in GHNP with Himalayan Eco-Tourism. Their guides, porters and cooks are locals and are really helpful people. Their contact number is 098164-23344, 098160-91093.
The wonderful and affordable riverside camps at Gushaini are run by the wonderful Atul Sharma of Tirthan Himalayan Adventures and he also organises the above treks. His contact number is : 094189-42744.