Names of some places strike the mind as mirages. Not because they might be difficult to reach physically, but rather due to the fact that hardly anyone from the mortal world has been there. And hence when unplanned wanderers like me happen to inadvertently land in obscure and little known hamlets like Gada Gushaini, it is almost certain that the resulting stories be quite epic. Keeping in mind my self-designed responsible tourism policy, even though I visited Gada Gushaini in May 2017, this post is only being written in June 2019.
This particular trip (with Travellingslacker) had already served some tantalising destinations like Shangarh; and after spending a lovely day or two in Batahad hiking to the nearby village of Galingcha and trekking to Bashleo Pass it was quite serendipitous of us to find ourselves in Gada Gushaini. In hindsight it seems quite frivolous that we got to this tiny village with no information about a homestay. I had known about the PWD Rest House but as luck would have it, its roof had collapsed and the PWD Rest House of Gada Gushaini was closed for extensive repairs.
I had first heard of Gada Gushaini in 2014 and had initially confused it with Gushaini (of Tirthan Valley fame). It was while I was on a stroll in Jibhi in the nippy month of October; two roads bifurcate near a bridge – One on the left continues straight and ascends to Ghiyagi, Shoja and onwards to Jalori Pass and beyond to Rampur Bushahr – while the one to the right goes to Bahu, Gada Gushaini and reconnects the known road at Chhatri and further to Karsog / Janjehli. A signboard at the bifurcation had piqued my curiosity but Gada Gushaini would have to wait since I quickly forgot all about it.
Anyhow, I kept returning to Jibhi / Banjar Valley, Tirthan Valley and Sainj Valley numerous times after that but I could never head on that elusive-looking road to Bahu & Gada Gushaini (Also GadaGushaini). The Gods must have really willed it this time. Anyhow, the reaching part to Gada Gushaini was an adventure in itself.
When ATMs caused us to be almost Penniless
We were put up in a cozy homestay in a village where the road in Tirthan Valley ends, Bathad which is located on the banks of the Flachan Nallah which the locals referred to as Flachan Valley. Before sleeping, it was decided that we will try to catch the first bus of the morning leaving for Gada Gushaini from Banjar. Also, there was the small matter of withdrawing money from an ATM. We had less than 1000 Rupees between the two of us and like all journeys in remote areas, it was imperative that we have the requisite cash with us before boarding the bus from Banjar.
We woke up at 630 and caught the 715 bus to Banjar. There was no traffic along the way as we crossed sleepy Gushaini and reached Banjar bus stand before 830 am. The Banjar to Chhatri bus was scheduled to leave at 10 am and therefore we had ample time to eat breakfast and withdraw money from the ATM. We started walking towards Banjar Market in search of an ATM and saw that the PNB ATM was still closed. We asked around and the locals suggested an SBI ATM; it was just a 2 min walk and we reached there. The first signs of worry were felt as the SBI ATM in Banjar was out of cash and hence we were unable to withdraw money.
Nevertheless, we decided that to have a quick breakfast at some dhaba and then move to Jibhi to withdraw money from the (always working) SBI ATM opposite State Bank of Patiala in Jibhi. We spotted a reasonably crowded eatery ‘Seraj Dhaba’ in Banjar Market and rushed to occupy the two empty spaces in the dhaba. Like usual mountain breakfasts, we asked for tea and aloo paranthas and gobbled down 2 paranthas each since the plan for the entire day was uncertain and a full stomach is always better than an empty one!
I don’t remember the exact scenario but we spoke to the dhaba owner about a functioning ATM and while conversing we ended up on his roof and the mention of Gada Gushaini came up. It was highly coincidental that his son Hemraj was in Gada Gushaini too and since we had no idea about a Homestay in the hamlet we took Hemraj’s number from the dhaba uncle. Dhaba uncle called his son and told him to help us if need be. He convinced us to not hesitate in asking for help for a homestay in Gada Gushaini and asked us to call his son as soon as we got down from the bus. We thanked him and rushed out to find a working ATM before beginning our journey.
The money gods seemed to have different ideas though and both the ATMs we went to in Banjar were out of cash. It was 940 and we hitched a ride to Jibhi with the aim of catching up with the Banjar – Chhatri bus that would only leave at 10 am. I was certain that the State Bank of India ATM in Jibhi would be working and would dole out cash but it really seemed like a wretched day as even this ATM was out of cash. I tried asking at State Bank of Patiala but got an unsatisfactory answer. We quickly counted the cash both of us had and it totalled around 800 Rupees.
On difficult journeys, there are one million reasons and situations that could result in adjournment of the trip but sometimes you have to make do with what you have, trust your gut and just go catch that bus!
With nothing else to do, we sat near the bridge of Jibhi near the bus stop and waited for the bus to arrive. The weather was quite hot and the humidity made it a difficult time for us. Anyhow, the Banjar to Chhatri bus finally arrived and was filled choc-a-bloc. There was no chance of finding a seat and even standing space was at a premium. The bus took a right turn from Jibhi and the road was a dirt track snaking through a towering pine forest. It was quite a struggle to keep hanging on to our backpacks with the bus swaying on the winding road in the vertiginous valley.
A human being can struggle for a bit but when he looks out of the window to ogle at the mind-blowing scenery all the troubles become irrelevant and you quickly forget about the heavy bag, the seating (non) space and begin to ultimately revel in the raw joy of travel.
The distance from Jibhi to Bahu is only 10 kms; we passed some pretty homestays and guest houses in tiny hamlets and villages. The road takes a sharp turn in Bahu village and a lot of people get down from the bus. We get a place to sit as the bus continues towards Gada Gushaini; the road and scenery getting prettier with every passing turn.
We roll into Gada Gushaini at 15 minutes past noon and all the romanticism and expectations of a paradise come crashing down. The first look of Gada Gushaini is a dirty town with dhabas on both sides of the road, shops selling essential goods, a liquor store and hordes of people clamouring around the road. It is like our hearts have been shaken empty. How on earth did we build this excitement about Gada Gushaini by listening to locals?! Before we could think anything, the bus was already gone and the difficult task of finding a homestay began.
I was aware of the PWD Rest House in Gada Gushaini as a staying option and we asked for directions from the locals. PWD Rest Houses are almost always located in picturesque locations and the one in Gada Gushaini was no exception, situated in a gorgeous green meadow. We were excited with the prospect of staying in this beautiful old structure. We began our search for the caretaker and were promptly informed that the PWD Rest House is undergoing repair right now because the roof had caved in and hence it is not possible to stay there.
We tried to look at the positives – the weather had become cloudy and the temperature was pleasant; we were not hungry courtesy of the ample breakfast and it was only 1 pm so we had plenty of time to figure out a homestay. Gada Gushaini was not so bad after all, it was set in a hollow bowl and surrounded by pine and deodhar forests with scattered streams and rivulets. A few curious locals stared at us and upon asking we were told that there is no homestay in Gada Gushaini. We were perturbed and surprised by this information and started walking in one direction of the village.
There are shops and houses that comprise the tiny market of Gada Gushaini and just as we have seen for ourselves that there is indeed no homestay in the village, an epiphany strikes us and we call Hemraj (Dhaba uncle’s son). He is in Gada Gushaini and we tell him we are near the shops; he quickly comes around and tells us there is a newly started homestay in Gada Gushaini and connects us with Khem Raj Rana.
Khem Raj Rana – The Saviour
In come Khem Raj Rana, our saviour that day and the guy instrumental in making the trip to Gada Gushaini a success. He tells us that we would be the first guests to stay at the homestay. We are overjoyed just with the fact that we have a roof over our heads for the day. And this was even before we had seen the homestay!
Khem Raj Rana led us to a modern looking building; the ground floor served as a school and the first floor was a properly built home with a living room and 2 bedrooms. Our joy quickly turned into despair upon seeing the bedroom as it was spacious with all the modern amenities while reality hit us that we barely had enough cash to survive let alone live in fancy homestays!
Khem Raj Rana was surprised when we thanked him profusely and indicated that it wont be possible for us to pay the astronomical price that we were certain he would ask and therefore wouldnt be able to stay at the homestay in Gada Gushaini. After all, it was a fabulous homestay with huge space, and all facilities with a working bathroom and a geyser.
Khem Raj Rana assured us that we could pay whatever we liked and asked us to just stay put and not bother about the lack of cash. We almost had tears of happiness in our eyes when he told us he will take us on his bike for a trip around the region. He mentioned an interesting fact as well; Gada Gushaini was divided into two parts – half in Kullu district and half in Mandi district and the stream flowing through the village was the dividing point!
Khem Raj was well versed with tourists as he owned a restaurant in Arambol, Goa. He mentioned the name as Orange Sky restaurant and I told him I vaguely remember a place named like that near Double Dutch in Arambol. He asked us to walk to the bridge in Gada Gushaini while he got the bike.
It began drizzling as soon as we started our ride and from the warm weather of Jibhi, we shivered in Gada Gushaini when the cold wind made its way through our jackets. The road was in reality just a mud track but the scenery was incredibly beautiful and we reached a place called Chaach Galu (Galu means a low-altitude pass in local Mandi dialect). Many times during the ride I felt like we would be thrown off the hero honda splendour and onto the dirt road when the bike groaned on uphill climbs due to the weight of us 3 souls!
Chaach Galu pass connected these two valleys and a signboard suggested there was also a small hamlet here by the same name. The population of Chaach Galu was mentioned as 21 people.
The weather was bleak and while the rain had stopped, the occasional pitter patter continued. Khem Raj Rana led us for a short ascent through pristine landscapes to reach the actual top point of Chaach Galu pass. We could see for miles from this vantage point. We could see Jalori Pass and Raghopur Garh Fort from the top of this pass while treading in purple wildflowers.
The nearby views were clearer and we could see lovely terraced farms with homes with colourful roofs dotting the landscape. We hiked back to the road at Chaach Galu when it started drizzling heavily and had tea at one of the stone dhabas that was open. Khem Raj Rana knew about our ordeal with cash and didn’t embarrass us and paid money to the chai guy.
After spending some more time savouring the views from top of Chaach Galu pass, we started on our way back to Gada Gushaini. The drizzle continued steadily and the road had become quite slippery; Khem Raj Rana was an expert with the bike and we reached Khauli village safely. The setting of Khauli village by the stream was very pretty and we decided to go around for a walk. The rain had freshened up the greens and everything felt very soothing.
We ambled back to Gada Gushaini around 5 pm and came across a lovely meadow with horses grazing on the green grass, two streams flowing and a water chakki (ghrat) built in a stone structure. We were very hungry at this point and Khem Raj came to the rescue by bringing a siddu each for us (with ghee) from a local dhaba in Gada Gushaini. It felt indescribably tasty and did its job of filling our stomachs. Khem Raj Rana had some work at a nearby relative’s home and asked us if we wanted to come too. Not to be outdone, we climbed on his bike and roared, yes!!
We were in Alwa village at the temple of the locally powerful deity Bhumasi Dev. When the drizzle started again, the relatives offered us ginger tea and that made us immensely happy. We returned to the homestay to see that the electricity had come back and charged our phones. There was sporadic internet connectivity in Gada Gushaini which enabled us to connect with the outside world, put out some updates on social media (without divulging the name of the place) and carried on with our lives.
A stiff breeze blew across Gada Gushaini in the evening as it got colder and colder. Clearly I had not envisaged this major temperature change and would have struggled even more if not for the cosy and comfortable homestay. Dinner was served at 9 pm and tasted delicious; I tried to find words to thank Khem Raj but couldn’t. Instead, he got a glass of Sur (local alcoholic jaggery based drink); it was very potent but I managed to finish it. We put our hands together, thanked Khem Raj Rana with all our heart and said goodbye for the night.
We had been extremely lucky that day and were still not out of trouble. With a prayer on my lips, I dozed off – it had been a nice but tiring day owing to the uncertain weather and it was imperative that we have a good night’s rest to get out of Gada Gushaini the next day. After all we barely had 600 rupees in our pockets combined and we needed to get to a functioning ATM as soon as possible. The bus from Banjar to Chhatri seems like our perfect and only alternative of getting to a sizeable town – Janjehli. Locals inform us that Janjehli will definitely have a functioning ATM.
Clouds are floating when I wake up at the early hour of 6 am. It is a surreal scene when I open the window of the room, the terraced fields are shining and the air is so fresh I feel I could burst into a song anytime! I have a quick hot water bath and by 730 all of us are ready. The weather is clear and the rain has finally stopped. Khem Raj Rana decides to drive us to Bahu village to show the majestic Baloo Nag Temple and Sheshnag Temple near Bahu. We know that he has come into our lives as an angel and happily continue on our journey.
It has been decided that we must return to the homestay in Gada Gushani by 11 am to pick our bags so that we wont miss the bus to Chhatri. After all it is not good to take undue advantage of the goodness of Khem Raj Rana just because he has been super helpful to us. The stunning meadows and temple of Bahu deserve a separate post. Since we were in no condition to make demands, breakfast proved elusive and the walks in Bahu proved to be beautiful yet tiring.
It was a lucky break to have chai at a tiny dhaba on the lovely road near Bahu village. The weather had taken a turn for the worse as the sun disappeared and was replaced by clouds. It gave the surroundings a mysterious feel when sunlight filtered through the dense deodhar forest with mist floating all around. We first visit the Jalpa Mata Temple in Gada Gushaini before reaching cold, cold Bahu.
Baloo Nag (Balu Nag) Temple is located on a diversion and the path is very rough even for a two wheeler. I remember hearing about an authentic homestay in Bahu run by an enterprising Prakash Thakur. Bahu is a heritage village with proper stone and wood houses with stone tiled roofs. Someday I’d like to return and stay here for a few days to enjoy the joys of pristine nature that this region offers. We walk and get to the meadows; passing a small lake where another temple is located. The meadows are flanked by huge deodhar trees with big trunks; I momentarily dream about the photographs from Yellowstone in USA.
There are many shrines and statues in the meadows in Bahu village. Our mind is preoccupied with the ‘how to thank Khem Raj Rana’ for his graciousness bit. Another chai on the way in Bahu. The growling stomach is demanding food but we are feeling ashamed of taking advantage of our precarious situation. After reaching Gada Gushaini at 11, there is still time for the Banjar – Chhatri bus and Khem Raj Rana offers to get us some breakfast. We decline his offer and lie that we are not hungry at all.
To make it easier, we count our money in front of him – it is 590 Rupees and pay him 400 Rupees. After uttering a million words of thanks to Khem Raj Rana we take his leave and start walking towards the road. The rain gods decide to let loose one last time in Gada Gushaini and I realise it feels even colder on an empty stomach. We try to hitch a ride to save money but there isn’t even a single vehicle heading our way.
The bus finally comes, we ask the conductor to give us tickets for Chhatri. Out of the 190 Rupees we have in total, 88 are charged for the bus tickets. We make sure that we get the 2 Rupee change. Who knows on this day even 2 Rupees might make the difference. Jita (Travellingslacker) produces a parle g biscuit packet from somewhere and I almost snatch my share of the biscuits!
To prolong the misery the bus stops as soon as we get our tickets. It is a lunch stop at the dhaba in Khauli village. We have no money to eat and loiter around the bus stop. I get candies with the 2 rupee change and we laugh heartily at our crazy adventure! Locals are pleased to see tourists in the region and ask us many questions, the sun is out and we warm up our bodies while mingling with them and getting information about how Gada Gushaini would be in the winter. A car passes us but since we have already paid for the tickets we decide to let it go lest we get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Apparently this is the only bus of the day to Chhatri and perhaps our only way of getting out of here.
The bus roars back to life and goes through a pretty forest section and sharp hairpin bends to remind me of Pangi Valley. We rushed to the majestic Magru Mahadev Temple after reaching Chhatri and were highly disappointed to learn that the Chhatri to Janjehli bus has already left at 130 pm while the Banjar – Chhatri bus reached at 215 pm. We are in a fix; a bus to Karsog (45 kms from Chhatri) is stationed but we don’t have money to pay for the tickets. We start walking on the road to Magru Gala – Janjehli at around 245 pm. It feels like a lost endeavour to walk on this long 20 odd km journey with our backpacks.
When the ATM in Janjehli spews out cash in the night, we do a happy dance on the street. It is a celebration for Himachal Pradesh; definitely ‘Dev Bhoomi Himachal’, cuz even the humans are Gods here.