After a not so satisfactory solo winter trip to Spiti, I had to make a sort of hurried escape from Kaza. The sole bus during winter – Kaza to Reckong Peo hadn’t made the journey on the previous day because of the extreme cold. Bad weather was forecast for the next few days and I was in no mood to get stuck in Spiti. A shared sumo ride had resulted in me reaching Rampur at 5 o’clock in the evening.
As Rampur neared, I realised that instead of going by the Narkanda route to Delhi, I could take the Jalori Pass route and go to Shoja or Jibhi instead. Even though the sumo ride and my exertions in Spiti had been tiring enough, I still boarded a bus to the sizeable town of Anni on the Jalori Pass route. There had been very little snowfall that year and Jalori Pass was open for traffic. A cold breeze put me in a deep slumber as the bus wound past Sainj. The bus people woke me up when the bus reached the last stop of Anni at around 8 pm.
Lights glittered from the numerous shops as I walked on the main road, locals informed me that 3-4 hotels were only a short walk away. Sleep came easily that night, in a cozy 400 Rupee room after a fantastic dinner. Next morning I understood that bus services across Jalori Pass were closed due the winter season. Shared sumos running from the main taxi stand going to Banjar, Kullu and Mandi were quite packed and there was no room for me.
Also check : The fairytale of Gushaini & GHNP
After a mixture of walks, hitched rides and other adventures; I finally reached Khanag village around 11-1130 am. A sunny day had progressed to become gloomy, and chilly air greeted me at the 2-3 dhabas on the main road in Khanag. The villager’s homes and PWD Rest House were a short walk away. Little kids played beneath the tall pine and devdhar trees. Rain duly arrived after stormy clouds had threatened to play havoc.
A fortuitous shared ride in a sumo got even better when I noticed that rain had turned into snowflakes on the steep climb to Jalori Pass (3100m). The adventurous streak inside me was well and truly alive when I asked the sumo guys to drop me at the top of Jalori Pass in the midst of a fierce snowfall. What follows next was the stuff of dreams.
I walk inside the dhaba where I usually have food at Jalori. A cup of warm chai is quickly summoned. There is no other tourist here. The snowfall appears even more beautiful when seen from inside a warm kitchen! The dhaba owner and his friends tell me I am crazy and that I should have gone in the sumo. Instead, I go out and begin to jump and sing and shout in the snow. There are enough warm clothes on me, plus the hat is doing an excellent job too.
The entire valley has turned white, visibility has become poor as the snowfall becomes heavier. I can’t believe my luck, another glass of chai is called for to celebrate. A broken down small bus stands right opposite to the dhaba. It reminds me of the bus in ‘Into the Wild.’ There’s an eerie lifelessness around it, especially with the black and white colours due to the snow.
The snowfall has abated, I take out the dslr and go on a short stroll to click a few photos. Within no time, the flurries increase again and I have to scamper back to the dhaba. Jimku, the cook at the dhaba thrusts a plate of steaming hot Rajma chawal (lentil and rice) on the table. The aroma is delicious and I’m quick to ask for a second helping. I’m delirious with unexpected happiness in the pleasant surprise of a snowfall.
At around 2 pm, I decide to go out again in the receding snow. Two or three cars are now waiting at the top of Jalori pass for the snow to stop so that they can cross over to Shoja safely. I go towards the temple braving the cold wind that is blowing from the open valley on that side.
It proves to be rewarding, a sheet of white covers the ground, snow blankets the trees and white mountains are visible in the far distance.
The hide and seek game of the snowfall continues for some time and few more glasses of chai accompany the chatter in the dhaba. The rumour is that Jalori Pass will close because it may become too dangerous to cross for vehicles now. Although they also say that this snowfall is not too much and will melt within a day or two, effectively making the pass open again for vehicular traffic.
Life appears to be absolutely still when the snow flakes stop falling. It also means I have around 3-4 hours of daylight to make it till Shoja (pronounced Sojha). Chai and food at the dhaba costs around 100 Rupees. I pay the money to Jimku – thank him profusely, haul my backpack and set about walking to the nearest village of Shoja that is around 6-7 kms away.
The path is pristine and white, the pine trees give a very Christmassy feel with powdered snow hanging on their branches. I slip numerous times but am lucky to not fall. There is no wind, I can only pay attention to the sound of my thumping heartbeat. A sudden thought briefly crosses my mind, what if there is a wild animal in the woods? Thoughts like these ensure that the speed of walking has suddenly increased.
When Shoja was only 2 kms away, snow on the road had almost melted away. Just when I thought it had turned out to be a nice and easy walk, it suddenly started raining. A car ride came just in the nick of time, I was dropped near the PWD rest house in Shoja.
The views from Shoja were quite spectacular that evening, the clouds had decided to put on a visual extravaganza. I walked near the shops and homestays in Shoja, only one homestay appeared to be open. Shoja (2600m) is much higher than Jibhi and understandably colder too. At around 530 pm, there’s a pick-up jeep thats heading to Ghiyagi, I jump in.
While it was snowing on top of Jalori Pass, it rained incessantly in the lower reaches giving the valley a charming shade of green. I literally dance-walked the short distance from Ghiyagi to Jibhi and immediately headed to the cheap homestay where I had stayed earlier. The affable chachu at the nearby dhaba would later appease my hunger with tasty Siddu (traditional Himachali dish) and ghee.
Also read : Reminiscences from a two day snowfall
When I look back at that wonderful day, I am chiefly reminded of two things :
- How changing circumstances necessitate a quick thinking mindset, even though I was a solo traveller on my journey – I am glad I took the risk of walking to Shoja. We usually never regret the things we try and do.
- Moral of the story :