Sarahan: Because travel is all about the journey…

Road Trip By Brian Norton |

The thrill of journeys begin when it is all dark outside and you hit the road at the brink of dawn, waiting for the celestial body to rise like a crimson ball in the sky. And so we left Chandigarh before sunrise, en route to Sangla Valley, which according to many travel bloggers was achievable in one day. A few kilometres of drive out from Le Corbusier’s beautifully designed Chandigarh and you enter the rugged territory of the Himalayas. The roads are well built but fall short of that uninterrupted gliding experience with the excesses of human population and traffic. After a few hours we stepped out in the morning chill for breakfast at the charming HPTDC a few kms before Shimla. When no one responded to our hunger calls there, we decided to settle for a ‘desi’ dhaba meal right across and what a real delight it was with mouth watering aloo paranthas.

After this short break we continued our journey, looking at our environment, unable to see undisturbed stretches of greens. In our last few trips to the Himalayan terrains, we have observed a phenomenal growth of commercialisation and construction that is slowly removing all the natural jewels of the ‘Himalayan beauty’, like the Alpine meadows, the deodars and replacing it with glass and cement concretes. The promise of Spiti Valley, the distant land away from hoarding consumerism of cities, felt even more becoming at this point. Moving away from the concretised silhouette of Simla, the vistas opened up intermittently to green carpets.

The drive through the tall pines of Narkanda Valley painted some memorable sights. We stopped briefly for lunch at an indescript place, and by evening were moving towards the dusty township of Rampur. The sun rays were slanting already. We didn’t want to continue in the dark so decided to break the journey at Sarahan, which was a bifurcation, rather a detour from from National Highway22 , which we realised only the next day. Until now we believed Sarahan was on the way to Sangla Valley.

As we turned towards Sarahan, in amberish light of the setting sun, the roads become narrower, adorned with tall wild grass and flowers. Ahead was a small water fall, camouflaged with rocks and wild trees. Suddenly we spotted a colony of yellow billed blue magpies, that were trying to escape our gaze . The sight of the birds was so exciting that we all jumped out the car like little children who had discovered a treasure. We had no bookings at Sarahan, as we originally planned to reach Sangla, which was still a good 6 hours away.

We realised that there are no hotels in Sarahan, excepting a HPTDC property, at a beautiful location, but poorly kept and over priced rooms. We decided to stretch the limbs and refresh ourselves over tea, and find out about the PWD guest house close by to camp the night. And so we did. The PWD guest house was a charming little colonial style bungalow, enticing from the exterior with very basic interiors. But decent enough for its price and a one night sleep. The care taker was a reticent but warm person who agreed to cook us a meal if we shopped the essentials from the market. There was a strong chill in the air by now as it was dark and temperature had dropped by a few degrees. We took a short walk through the small market place near Bhimakali temple, dotted with veggie shops, medical store, essential goods corner, not your bustling bazaar, but a grid of winding little uphill streets, with fading lamps, street mongrels and an occasional 2 wheeler. Away from light pollution we could see starts shine in the night sky. Our dinner was amazing with home-made style chicken curry, potato & cauliflower ki subzi, fresh salad, hot chapatis and rice!

We were warned not to step out towards the compound of the house as its the route a local leopard takes. We were excited to spot the leopard, but too tired to keep watching from the window.

After the blissful meal we quickly huddled into the bed, to wake up and see our first sunrise in the Himalayas.

Driving next to the River Sutlej. This beautiful river has its source near Lake Rakshastal in Tibet, the 1500 km journey ends at Bahawalpur, Pakistan.

 

Come winters, the leaves drop their chlorophyll, turning a gorgeous red, before they fall away altogether. This is the tree’s way to protect itself from the harsh winters.

The roads around Kumarsain, Himachal Pradesh are surrounded by tall Deodars, and teh sun filtering through these is almost hypnotic.

2650 metres above mean sea level!

Parathas and eggs are what will be offered at most breakfasts and who’s complaining!

Rich blue skies. These roads are a delight!

View from our breakfast stop.

Deodars (Cedrus deodara) the original trees of the Himalayas. Forests full of Deodar or Devadāru trees were the favorite living place of ancient Indian sages and their families who were devoted to the Lord Shiva.

The alpine light is crisp and clear, creating very contrasty shadows.

And the endless curves and rich natural environment make driving a pleasure…

Passing through Shimla. Once a quaint hill station, it’s now a congested city.

Another view from the breakfast pit stop. Note how these beautiful mountains form catchment area for the valley’s rivers. We need the forest cover to retain the water security and ensure the hills do not erode in the rains. As is seen from this image, a lot f the forest cover is already gone.

 

Closure to Sarahan, we lose much of the traffic and congestion. These Himalayan (Fairy?) Grass keep us company.

The never ending beauty of these roads…

A river runs through it…

Is that a poplar?

Just ahead of Sarahan we crossed this quaint bridge. The woods on the right had at least 10 Yellow Billed Blue Magpies (Urocissa flavirostris).

Finally… Sarahan. These gorgeous local flowers glisten in the setting sun light.

We found a night’s shelter in this PWD Guesthouse in Sarahan. This parking lot space is supposedly the route for a local leopard.

Beautiful beautiful wildflowers…

We woke up early morning to see this beautiful view of the first rays of the Sun embracing these mountains…

A little while later, as the sun rises higher, we can see the glaciers on the mountains. a couple of decades ago, we are told, the snow covered much more of the peaks…

The Bhimakali Temple is an iconic structure housing the “Kuldevi” (The presiding deity of the dynesty) of Bushahr Kingdom. The Bhimakali Temple is noteworthy in that it contains both Hindu and Vajrayāna Buddhist statues and decorations which reflect the trade through here between India and Tibetan regions through ancient Indo-Tibetan Road. The traces of old Indo-Tibetan road still passes through Shalabag near Sarahan. It also shows Kushan influence in its architecture and possibly some of the images in it are Kushan (c. 1st to 3rd centuries CE).

The Bhimakali Temple in Sarahan is one of the 51 Shakti Peeths. The village, called the Gateway To Kinnaur, is known as Sonitpur in the Puranas. It was summer capital of the Bushahr Kingdom.

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