It had become sort of boring to talk about trekking or hikes and use the word ‘mask’ in the same breath. While living in Kasar Devi near Almora in Kumaon, Uttarakhand we had gone for an unplanned short hike from Jageshwar to Vridhh Jageshwar. Of course there were unknown walking trails in the jungle everyday in Kasar Devi, and on a trip to Munsyari it was a sharp ascending hike to Khaliya Top that reminded me of days past. While living in Raison for the past 3 months, we went on a nice hike to Kaisdhar and once to LamaDugh from Manali but both these were planned hikes and didn’t score high on our adventure quotient.
Once the rains started in the latter part of July, the humid weather became more pleasant but there was still that characteristically sticky weather that deterred whenever I thought of a hike. Also, there was also the small matter of me ending up with an upset tummy after excess consumption of plum and then pears. There were minor hiccups with apricots and peaches but that is just me at my best – eating fruits like only I can do! With the added incentive of being in an orchard at Yuthok Homestay, it would have been surprising if I had remained sober and not given in to temptation of the fruit trees in my vicinity.
My friend and Yuthok House host, Rajeshwar Thakur had mentioned Mahling Day Hike and Rani Sui Lake but both those required prior planning and that ensured we struck them off our ‘plan’. One fine Saturday morning when we were having chai, Thakur mentioned that we could walk to Jana … Yes, we could walk to Jana directly from Raison. It sounded perfect; because of the fact that we wouldn’t have to catch a bus or drive anywhere but could start walking straight after breakfast at home. Of course, there was the small matter of it being an entirely uphill hike and the fact that there was no well-marked trail.
A comfort factor that ultimately settled the decision was the presence of locals on the hike from Raison to Jana – locals own orchards along the trail and have houses along the trail. That meant we could ask for help in case we ended up losing our way. So, we had an extra tingmo while eating breakfast and packed a few apples and pears for the hike. We had estimated that we would take about 5-6 hours to reach Jana village since the locals take about 2 hours. Our worst-case scenario assumption was that even if we get there by 4-430, the popularity of the waterfall at Jana would mean there would be plenty of chances for us to hitch a ride on our way back.
So, at 1030 we started walking from our orchard home in Raison and crossed the bridge in Raison Bazaar to make it to the other side. The breeze felt nice in the cloudy weather but soon the sun would be out and we would be huffing and puffing for every step. Anyhow, we ascended the first shortcut and got to the main road. While we were sipping chai in the morning, Thakur had indicated the electric pole from where we were supposed to start hiking to Raugi village and then Jana village. There were 2-3 groups of locals sitting by the side of the road and waiting for the bus.
Not to miss a chance, I went and spoke separately to the 2 groups and one group pointed to the start of the trail to us and told us that we should only ask for the trail to Jana village. I posed all the possible questions to them and got the information that the trail crosses many houses and there is nothing to worry about; if we went through Raugi village it will just take longer; that the trail will keep climbing and there will never be a straight patch. As soon as we started ascending, the humidity factor came into the picture. The sun was out after only 3 turns and we couldn’t have been happier to be walking amidst a pine/deodhar forest. There was a nice trail in the jungle and like always the first 30 odd minutes were a little difficult. Sweat trickled down my face and my tee-shirt was wet in no time.
We figured that it could get very tiring if we continued this way and therefore decided to enjoy the shade whenever we got a chance. On the way, we met a gentleman catching up his breath in the shade and munching on (still) raw apples. I asked him about the way and he confirmed that there was only one trail to Jana and even if we missed the trail in a few places, the presence of homes and people working in the orchards along the way would ensure we had little chance of getting lost. I thanked him and we too sat in the shade; it was a sort of a vantage point and we enjoyed a grand aerial view of Kullu Valley with the lush greenery and clouds floating around and Beas river meandering through the divine setting.
The break got us thinking rationally and we were clear now that we needed to rest every 10 minutes. After all, hikes are meant to be enjoyable and if all we are thinking of is reaching the destination, then we need to do things differently. The gentleman we had met was unsure about the distance / time taken till Jana but remarked that we won’t take till 4 pm to get there. We were overjoyed to cross a section full of apple trees and ripe mariposa plums waiting to be picked. A local lady was in quite a rush and was speaking on the phone on the downhill walk; I figured she would have all the answers and politely queried her if the same trail would continue to Jana village? She put the phone on hold, gave us 2 mariposa plums and told us that we need not change the trail anywhere and that we would anyhow reach Jana village by about 2 pm.
We were overjoyed with this piece of information and it seemed the weather gods also started to become a little favourable when the sun was covered by clouds. It was a welcome change and hiking just became more pleasurable when we figured that we could actually relax and not get unduly worried about reaching Jana and then making our way back. We crossed a number of houses to our left and right on the way up and noticed that we left Raugi village to our right. Since the idea was to make it to Jana village we didn’t bother asking about the way to Raugi village.
As we continued on the trail, we encountered a newly cut road on different corners but it was totally a dirt road and there was no vehicle to be seen. I had to rely on past experiences and remember that a walking trail would always be visible where the previous walking trail ends and even if it was faint we would continue and later realise it was the correct path. We went on an incorrect trail 2-3 times halfway to Jana village but were lucky that whenever we felt like we should retrace our path and turn back, a house was always seen and they would guide us on the correct path.
So it was close to a village called Dhama that we met a gentleman just chilling in the shade. We had only half litre of water left and it was only 30 minutes past noon; I asked him if there was a water source nearby? He offered to fill the water bottle from his home since the water source was quite a distance away. I walked with him and was super happy to see grandma at a wooden home and cauliflower freshly picked from the fields. Grandma scolded me in her own sweet manner and suggested that we must rest for a while to avoid the sun that had just come out!
We chatted for a while; it was a fun conversation when I could barely understand what grandma meant when she spoke in her Kullvi dialect but she was so kind she gave a cauliflower and waved us goodbye! I have kind of missed these random encounters on the road that were so often a hallmark of my travels. The gentleman showed us the way to the main trail to Jana and informed that we should hardly take 1 hour to reach Jana village from his home. The distance from Raison to Jana village by road is 31 Kms and here we were walking by the classic old trail that was the only way of reaching Jana before the road was built.
We crossed some confusing sections on our way to Jana village and just as we thought we would lose our way again, we met a local who was collecting dried leaves in a bag to be used as a warm bed for the cow. I gave him an apple from our orchard and he started leading the way for us. Just as we made a final ascent and saw the houses of Jana village in front of us, it was about 120 pm and we couldn’t believe our eyes! We had covered almost 6.5 kms of steep uphill climb in less than 3 hours. The local reminded me that there are 2 temples in Jana village, one is an ancient temple and another is the recently built one that is on the way to the Jana waterfall.
The ancient temple reminded me of the visit to Jana village in 2014. There were a few concrete houses visible at the start of the village close to the road-head. A number of villagers had gathered near the road and were loading a camper with fresh cauliflower packed in boxes. We made a small conversation and they were astounded to hear that we had walked from Raison! The locals congratulated us and said that nobody does that anymore. With a spring in our step, we entered the lush greenery of Jana village.
After crossing a few newly built houses, we were amidst huge wooden homes that were at least 100-200 years old. Jana village boasts of some of the oldest houses in Kullu Valley. The locals were very welcoming and it was with a happy surprise that we saw an ice-cream seller in Jana Village. Young and old alike were eating away at the ice-creams and the seller was happy with the rousing business! It reminded me that there may not be an ice-cream shop in the remote villages of Kullu Valley but development and roads mean the ice-cream guys come to the village itself! A few elder men were still wearing their smart woollen jackets and trousers and I felt as if my old travels never ended. I had a nice conversation with them maintaining a safe distance and it just felt so normal to forget about the pandemic at hand.
We walked to the new temple made of wood that turned out to be so huge that I couldn’t even capture it in the phone camera. I ogled at the richly carved doors in wood and clicked a few photographs. The weather was simply perfect with a thick layer of cloud over the horizon and the green fields looked stunning with the fog in the background. We had got to Jana village well before our estimated time and looked forward to a yummy lunch at Mani Ram Dhaba at Jana Waterfalls.
We kept walking and joined the main road to Jana Waterfall after one final sharp ascent. On the way a few locals that I spoke to said that other dhabas had also come up and that everyone served similar fare. I had heard a few accounts that suggested Jana Waterfall had become a very popular place even for the locals. It was fun to walk on the dirt road through the dense forest that remains one of my favourite forests in the entire Kullu Valley. As we reached the waterfalls, I saw one Sachin Thakur dhaba at the start. To its left, there was a trickling small waterfall and I instantly rushed there to wash my face with the cold water and feel refreshed.
The owner Ramesh Thakur was taking a walk outside and over a short conversation congratulated us on hiking up from Raison in such a short time! It was a fun conversation and while we were walking to Mani Ram Dhaba, the honesty with which Ramesh Bhai said that his food is better made me do a u-turn and we were sitting at the other dhaba instead. I had spotted a tempo traveller at Mani Ram Dhaba that of course had a better location right beside the waterfall but the instinct had spoken in favour of Sachin Thakur Dhaba.
Ramesh Thakur’s wife laid out 4 bowls of accompaniments on the table – desi ghee, jaggery powder, green chutney and home-made lingdi ka achaar (fiddlehead fern pickle). The thalis for the other table for local tourists who came after us was served quickly and we were told that the food is being made fresh for us as I had requested Ramesh bhai that we are in no hurry and that good food is our only criteria! We relished the thalis that were laid out in front of us – makki ki roti, sarson ka saag, kadhi, rajma, locally grown red rice, and poppy seeds siddu. Since we had eaten perfect siddus every other week at Yuthok Homestay in Raison, we asked for an extra makki ki roti in exchange of the Siddu!
The food turned out to be incredibly yummy and I thanked Ramesh Thakur and his wife numerous times. The jaggery powder mixed with ghee was a deadly combination to be eaten with the makke ki roti. The rajma, kadhi and sarson ka saag were excellent too and the lingdi ka achaar was a nice surprise. The siddu was a little spicy and with the spicy green chutney gave a nice kick! Ramesh Thakur was generous and only took 300 INR for the 2 thalis, less than his usual rate. He said because we had walked all the way from Raison, we were entitled to a discount! I took a few photos of him and the dhaba and promised to share the review for prospective travellers.
The dirt road looked very beautiful in the mist and we debated for a while if we wanted to walk a bit ahead and feel the calm but since it was a Sunday there would be no return bus from Jana in the evening. That was reason enough for us to think about returning even if it was only 3 pm. We started walking back to Jana village and kept a timeline for ourselves that if we got a ride till Naggar village, we would go back by the road but if we didn’t get a ride in a vehicle, then we would hike back to Raison from Jana village.
As luck would have it, we walked all the way back to Raison. The downhill hike was relatively easier and we were back in the orchard home of Yuthok Homestay at about 5-515 pm.
Memorable hike if you are living in Kullu Valley for a long time and want to see an old village!