31st Dec 2012, Monday……Ludhiana-Narkanda-Jalori Pass-Shoja 389km
It was hush of the night.
Temperature outside was below freezing point. Hard black ice was scattered all along the pitch dark muddy road. Shadows of giant conifer trees were looking like huge prowling monsters. There was an abandoned sign board mentioning availability of tented accommodation in the middle of the jungle 750 meters away.
We were standing at a height of 3120 meters above sea level. My red car had just arrived here after climbing a steep muddy road barely, huffing and puffing at first gear. We were staring at a ghost like place with closed, abandoned shops. No sign of living soul nearby and this board cautioning the driver of steepest gradient and most dangerous curves along the road.
It was not the kind of place I had promised my wife on the eve of new year eve of 2013. While most of my friends were partying at best of the nightclubs and hotels in my city, dining at the most delicious and wholesome cuisine with beer and whisky, we were here at an abandoned place, freezing cold, no electricity and no soul around.
I had lured my wife into it. I had told her that our new year eve will be different. I would take her to a long and beautiful drive and to a place, which she would remember rest of her life.
My wife loves pets. Initially we mistook took this sleeping white beauty as some white bear resting after wholesome meal. On closer look we found him to be a Gaddi Kutta, a mastiff type mountain dog found in northern India, especially states in the western Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kashmir.
The multi-talented Gaddi Kutta is widely used by local shepherds, mostly Gaddis (a mountain tribe) and are reputed to be strong enough to repulse attacks by snow leopards, and to have the intelligence to herd stray sheep and goat back to their pens.
At Least there was some solace for me as I saw my wife come out and play with this giant dog in the middle of wilderness. To my surprise he reciprocated with a solemn look and wagging tail.
Early on in the morning, we began our journey at around 9am from Ludhiana to welcome new year. My wife had packed breakfast of aloo ka paratha and achar alongwith some other stuff in our lalpari. My son has grown up now and does things as per his liking. He chose to stay back and spend time with his friends and computer.
We drove along sidhwan canal till Neelon, then turned right to Kurali and on newly laid Siswan-Baddi road to Pinjore. At Pinjore we joined NH-22 which connects Chandigarh-Shimla highway. There was a bit of a traffic at Pinjore and Kalka to Parwanoo. From Parwanoo onwards the drive was wonderful.
At Kandaghat we turned right towards Chail-Kufri, my favorite road.
The road from Kandaghat to Chail-Kufri passes through Chail Sanctuary which has plenty of wild citizens like ghoral, kakkar, sambhar, red jungle fowl, khalij and cheer pheasants. The road is surrounded by chir pine and gigantic deodars. There are a number of famous resorts on this road as well.
As usual, there was huge rush at Kufri, a potato research centre, picnic spot and famous venue for winter sports like skiing. Shimla is close by. Most of tourist come to the place for a day’s picnic and pony ride. A woman with a python approached us for a photo op for Rs.20-, which we politely refused.
Landscape from Barubagh
Kufri till Luhri through Fagu, Theog, Narkanda, Kumarsain, the drive was very pleasant with wonderful views of snow clad mountains. From Kumarsain there is a steep pleasant descent into Sutlej valley.
Fruit laden Thanedar and Kotgarh slops look wonderful from the spot. At Sainj the road branches off to the left to Luhri and after crossing a bridge over river Sutlej at Luhri we entered outer Seraj region of Great Himalayan National Park.
We had not pre booked our stay for the night. More so because I always look to stay at a new place every time and also as per my mood at that moment. Having been with me for the last 22 years, my wife has also become use to.
Till the time we reached Jalori Pass in pitch darkness, we did not discuss about our stay for the night. I knew most of the guest houses in the area shut down during winters and off season even then I was sure I would find one.
We drove down for about 5 km on a steep descending road, in first gear, to Sojha. Stopped the car at a square near few houses and knocked at Raja Guest House. No one was around. It looked as if it was midnight and the entire village was fast asleep.
Got onto the roof, got around everywhere, no one was present. Noticed a phone number on the board of the guest house. Called the number, somebody picked up. Requested him for room. The gentleman on the phone was owner of the guest house.
He told us that he was not available in Shoja at that moment and that the guest house was closed due to winters and that we should go further down and check at Jibhi. If we won’t find accommodation there…call him again…he would then make some arrangements……such a nice gesture.
Drove down few kilometers further and saw shops closed everywhere except one through which some light and sound was coming out. Knocked at the door. A tall handsome gentleman with big smile opened the door. On being asked about food and stay…he smiled and asked….come in.
Had great time thereafter. The name of the place was Shringi Vatika Ghiyagi and the gentleman who opened the door was Mr Manohar Lal…owner of the place. Rest of the things were taken care of by his wonderful wife Mrs Pammi.
There were only two of us in the entire cosy wooden guest house besides the hosts that night. After drinks, yummy food and bone fire…the murmuring sound of the stream flowing in the backyard was the only audible sound in the silent dark night other than the creaking of frail wooden bed we were on.
It was 31st Dec 2012 night and luckily I was able to keep my promise. The memories of that night have become everlasting moments of our lives and we cherish it all the time while sharing with our loved ones……!!!