Normally I take my own sweet time to pen down memories from various journeys. Sometimes a post that I share now may stretch back even to a few years! After all the fun lies in sharing secrets hitherto safely confined to memory. And yet, there comes a experience, out of the blue – that has to be shared as soon as possible… Welcome to this tranquil place called Barot Valley.
A basic google search had revealed that there were two ways to reach Barot from Delhi, and both would take roughly the same amount of time. One route was via Mandi and the other was via Jogindernagar. We chose the shorter route which also has better connectivity of HRTC buses, Volvos and private Volvo buses too, and reached Mandi in the wee hours of the morning. So roughly, Delhi to Barot should take approx. 13-15 hours after changing various buses.
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At Mandi Bus Stand, locals asked us to get into any Baijnath/Kangra bound bus to reach Ghatasni (the point where the road bifurcates for Barot Valley). We were about to order aloo paranthas and chai at one of the dhabas at Ghatasani when suddenly the Baijnath to Barot/Badagran bus appeared. It was 8 am and the dhaba wala advised us to board this bus because the next bus would be directly at noon. The bus grumbled on uphill hairpin bends and passed dense devdhar forests enroute the towns of Jhatingri and Tikkan.
Among the other attractions that had finally made this trip happen, I was also keen to explore the possibility of the trek to Bada Bhangal. Only time and weather would tell, how much of the valley I was able to explore!
Trekking to Rajgundha
After crossing Barot, the scenery became even better as the road led to many small villages in the valley, like Kothi Kohad and Badagran (also called Badagram.) The road ends at Badagran and trekking trail to Bada Bhangal also begins from here. Ominous looking clouds gathered overhead as we ate basic breakfast before beginning the hike to Rajgundha. The dhaba owner Rakesh had told us to find the caretaker of the Forest Rest House (FRH) in Rajgundha and arrange a stay there as his acquaintance.
After losing our way at the beginning of the trek many times, we walked along the green fields parallel to the pretty Uhl river. Rajgundha village lay on a higher elevation across the Uhl river and we were looking for a bridge to cross the same. Our joy knew no bounds when we spotted a Gaddi shepherd with his flock of sheep and goats along with the creaky looking bridge. Badagran is a part of Chota Bhangal region and a signboard nearby the village denotes the same.
It was a hardy ascent after crossing the bridge and that meant we took a total time of just less than 3 hours to complete the trek to Rajgundha. A trail to the right from the bridge led one to Plachak and beyond to Thamsar Pass to reach Bada Bhangal. It had began drizzling and Rajgundha felt cold with a clear view of the snowy mountains. We had no trouble finding the caretaker who agreed to give us the biggest cottage for a paltry sum!
After a tasty lunch of local potatoes, dal and chapati we went walking along the recently functional road (read : dirt track) that connected Rajgundha to Billing (of Bir Billing fame). A red roofed structure also functions as a Guest House in Rajgundha. It is a pretty village with old homes, terraced fields and lovely green meadows. Although, that may change quickly as more and more tourists make their way to Rajgundha through the recently built road from Billing.
There were a few cyclists and backpackers staying in tents. The rain clouds finally burst in a huge downpour. When it eventually stopped pouring in the evening, it was realised that the unbearable chill in the air was the result of fresh snowfall on the mountains and Thamsar pass. Our joy knew no bounds when we were invited for a bonfire by cyclists from Ludhiana. Dinner meant sitting by the wooden chula and enjoying hot rajma chawal and chapatis.
Comfort is always welcome in any setting, and the wooden room at the FRH kept us warm and the working geyser was a welcome addition to the bathroom. We woke up lazily and went back to Badagran in bright sunshine with the village folk asking us to come back in the winter again! This time we walked through the village and were promptly invited for tea and conversations. 3 Himachali boys gave us a lift in their gypsy to Barot and it was a fantastic drive with the lush green landscape for company.
Cost : 320 Rupees for the Stay.
Staying at the Forest Rest House in Swad (Swar) village
After the cool and splashing car wash on the other side of the Uhl river, we walked to the Lamba Dug bridge in Barot and waited for the bus to Lohardi. The road was lined with small dhabas and restaurants touting trout fish as their speciality. Trout fish abound in the waters of both the Uhl river and the Lamba Dug and angling permits can be procured with an official in Barot. There’s a trout fish farm too near the PWD rest house where one can buy trout fish by the kilo.
Two old men were also waiting for the bus to Lohardi and assured us that even though the bus was late, it will definitely come. It had started drizzling in the meanwhile and we were quite hungry having only had aloo paranthas in the morning. Yet, we couldn’t even order chai for fear of the bus coming and we being stranded with hot cups in our hands! Swad village is also a part of the Chota Bhangal region.
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We jumped into the bus when it finally came at 3 pm, the bus driver and conductor were the same from the previous day. It felt like a homecoming of sorts when we were given seats in the front of the bus and exchanged pleasantries. The Lamba Dug had considerably more water than the Uhl river and the scenery felt incredibly beautiful. A few camping resorts with colourful tents passed us on the road just after leaving Barot.
The distance from Barot to Lohardi is 6 kms and the bus took around 20 minutes to cover it. It was still pouring steadily when the bus pulled into Lohardi village’s minuscule bus stand. We were accompanied by the two oldies who took us to a dhaba. Conversations over chai and omelette meant they let in the secret of the FRH of Swad village to us. We were told that the FRH was the best place to stay and I noted down the name of the caretaker.
The rain duly stopped and we crossed the bridge over the vociferously flowing Lamba Dug after Lohardi to start on the mysterious trail through the jungle. It was splendid to walk among old devdhar trees and a fragrance also spread through the forest. We were told that this forest path was a short cut to the Forest Rest House and around 2-3 kms away from Lohardi.
After slipping and almost falling many times due to the slush, we finally reached Swad village and asked for the whereabouts of the caretaker. The FRH comprised of pretty wooden huts built by the British during the 1930s. After some searching and finding, we finally found the caretaker who granted us a room. We were relieved to have found a place to stay at the potentially risky hour of 530 pm.
We couldn’t believe our luck with the old world hospitality. The light was just perfect to click pictures of the Scandinavian looking hut surrounded by a row of colourful roses. Our cottage had a wooden roof and was warm and cozy. The caretaker Pradeep ji has been serving at this very FRH for 33 years and went about efficiently with his duties. Our evening tea with Parle G biscuits with a view of the snow clad mountains has become a part of my legendary memories.
I had bought some Lingdu (Local Himachali vegetable) and locally grown zucchini and Pradeep made it to perfection for dinner. The weather was just perfect and we felt like explorers of yore staying at this FRH and walking the nearby trails. We enjoyed walking to see the old houses of Swad village and interacting with villagers over invitations of chai on a relaxed morning. The villagers told us that a lake called Dan Sar lies somewhere between the snowy mountains.
There is another trail from here that goes to Bada Bhangal. For a short while we flirted with the possibility of hiking to the next village called Bijling, but gave up on the same after realising that there was no FRH after Swad village. After a hearty brunch, we descended by a different trail to the power project site. Ominous storm clouds thundered on the opposite side even as we walked to Lohardi, safe in the knowledge that I had experienced one of my most fabulous stays ever!
Cost : 480 Rupees for the Stay.
Life in a Timeless Village – Lohardi
I had liked Lohardi village when we passed it on the way to Swad and had decided that a stay here would be fantastic. There are three homestays in the village and few others are coming up too. The Lamba Dug rushing by paints a pretty picture and is the crown jewel of staying in Lohardi (also called Luhardi).
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Life here is all about strolling around in the one street town, making friends with the 3-4 dhaba wallahs and enjoying conversations over chai. Unlimited thalis for 60 Rupees are for the taking and rajma of Barot valley and Chota Bhangal region is highly regarded. There are a few shops in Lohardi making traditional shawls on a local handloom called Khaddu. I nearly ended up buying a beautiful designed shawl for Rs. 1100/- rupees but had less cash on me and decided to let it be for another day.
My most memorable instance of staying in Lohardi was walking past the village and sitting on the banks of the Lamba Dug. There would be a stray horse or two that would come roaming around and gave me some fine photography opportunities. Most times I would leave my dslr camera in the room and while away my time aimlessly roaming around.
Dark clouds on the mountains higher up meant that rains were a constant companion in Lohardi, that only swelled the waters of the Lamba Dug further. It was a pristine blue-green stream and in one entire day I was pleasantly surprised to find no other backpacker around. It would later turn out to be an even more surprising situation, especially when the guest houses at Barot mentioned that around 20-30 cars had to be refused rooms due to a sudden tourist rush.
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Lohardi felt like it was lost in a time warp of its own. Everyone seemed to know everyone and life seemed quite simple, especially in the absence of a mobile network! I have promised myself to come back in the winters and see how pretty the Lamba Dug seems then, in a white landscape.
Barot – Multhan – The touristy joys are worth it
After the rigours of exploring different regions, we finally decided that it was time to enjoy travel with 3G connectivity. We boarded the bus from Lohardi and decided to alight at the camping resort just before reaching Barot. We had liked the location of this particular place and earmarked it to give it a try. It was close to Lamba Dug river and seemed like a perfect place to sit and relax.
We were quoted a very high price for the tents and decided to walk to a homestay in Barot instead. Also, I was feeling a bit feverish and it was best that I stayed warm. I was genuinely surprised with the chill in the air even in the month of June. We were hopeful that since it was a weekday the crowds would have thinned. At first glance Barot felt like a popular destination for families from Punjab and there were many PB numbered cars and SUVs to be seen.
We tried to find a homestay on the other side of Uhl river, called Thandi Golai. At first when we saw cars heading past, our chests were puffed to think that we were going to find all empty rooms! How wrong was I, in fact the 3-4 homestays on this side had no room at all and we were forced to cross the small bridges and move over to the Multhan side of Barot. I liked the FRH which was at the far end near the last of the few guest houses, but the caretaker there denied entry because it was pre-booked.
We had no luck with the PWD rest house either which was booked by visiting government officials. There were hardly any rooms available at the various homestays and guest-houses even at the Multhan side in Barot. We decided to have lunch first and ate a lovely meal. It was decided that in the worst case scenario, we would just go back to Lohardi. My fever was getting worse and in the nick of time, sanity prevailed and our good fortune ensured a river facing room was found!
Over the next few days we would go to the railway line in the forest that was built by the British for the Shanan (Shannan) power project, walk to the reservoir and the dam numerous times, marvel at the picture perfect scenes of the roadside cafés with the pristine colour of water in the background. The British had made this reservoir back in 1925 using a trolley system and the Kangra Valley Heritage Railway was also originally constructed for the power project.
We had found a ramshackle dhaba where a lady made the best chai I’ve ever tasted. And once when all the eateries were out of aloo paranthas, another lady at a tattered wooden dhaba agreed to make it; our joy was multiplied when the paranthas turned out to be lip smacking good!
If this was the touristy side of Barot, then I can safely say I was loving it. Some locals also told us that a trolley sometimes runs the 12 km trolley distance from Jogindernagar to Barot and that it was possible to enjoy a ride, but I could find no specific information on the same and the plan was shelved. It was indeed a very steep railway line climbing on top of a mountain, as seen from Zero Point. We stayed at a cute homestay on the Thandi Golai road later and on another walk wished to visit Jharwad village, that the road leads to.
A short climb brought us to the tranquil sight of the Pashakot temple in Barot and that reminded me that I missed finding out more information about visiting Hurang Narayan temple that was somewhere near Jhatingri and Tikkan. Even after having aloo paranthas everyday for breakfast, it was heavenly when we sat under a dense tree on the banks of the Uhl river and Negi aunty kept serving us the best aloo paranthas ever made! With generous helpings of butter and curd, they tasted divine.
Facts and Practical Information about Barot Valley :
Technically located closer to Mandi, Barot Valley is largely divided between Kangra District and Mandi District. Barot is the largest village/town in the valley and is comfortably perched at an altitude of approx. 1800m. The local name for this entire region is Chuhar valley (also spelled as Chauhar Valley). Access to Barot is possible throughout the year (except a freak huge snowfall that blocks the road).
Barot is serenely situated on the banks of Uhl river. Distance from Mandi to Barot is around 65 kms and takes roughly 2 hours and thirty minutes in a bus. Distance from Jogindernagar to Mandi is only 40 kms and takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to cover in a bus. The roadtrip is very pleasing and has incredible landscape views on offer.
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Barot Valley is a fabulous destination to explore on a weekend/long-weekend from Delhi and backpackers and budget travellers should roughly budget for costs of Rs. 700-1000 per day for all the experiences that I’ve mentioned here. The weather in Barot Valley is quite pleasant in the summer and understandably colder in the winter. Temperatures in June were from 15 degrees to 28 degrees in various places, Rajgundha was the coldest among the places mentioned.