15th May 2015, Friday…Day (1) Jia (Badsar) to the First Shop at 4 km
During the summers of 2015, me and my wife decided to spend some quality time in the lap of Himalayas. We rented a one room set comprising a bedroom, kitchen, toilet cum bath and a commun veranda in Rakkar, a village near Dharamsala. After spending about a month’s time my wife went back home in Amritsar to take care of her ailing father and also to help our son in studies.
The plan to trek to Adi Himani Chamunda temple had been cooking up in my mind since ages. My friend from Patiala Mr Sanjeev Puri had once narrated his fascinating story of trek to the temple with his family. He had told me how difficult and beautiful it was and how they faced a storm at the temple during the night.
I was alone at our summer home in Rakkar and the wifey was away to Amritsar and the devil in me began searching for some mischief and found these thoughts lying dormant in my mind. So one fine morning, on the 15th of May 2015, I took out my Lal Ghora (red glamour 125cc) and rode to Dadh, a very happening place near Chamunda Devi Temple. Since it was the last major town before the trek, I bought some dry food and other stuff from the market.
There are two main trek routes to Adi Himani Chamunda. First, the more popular one, begins from the Chamunda Devi temple itself and passes through the village of Jadrangal. The second one, the less frequented one, begins from Kudan, a village near Jia.
From Chamunda Devi Temple I rode to village Kharti and met Mr Vijay Puri, the incharge of school at Kharti, whom I had met few days earlier while roaming around in the area. He told me to park the motorcycle at the school and also gave me reference for stay at a shop on the way and at the temple.
At 52, a retired banker, I was solo in the trek. Although I have had a moderate experience of trekking during my younger days, I was not feeling all that well for the last few years. I had found trekking to Chandratal lake solo in 2014 very tiring and lately had a fall while descending from a small hill near Rakkar. Stiffness and back pain was a routine matter these days.
Since my desire to see snowclad dhauladhars up close from Adi Himani Chamunda temple was very high, I thought to give it a try. After parking the bike at Kharti school, I slowly began walking towards the point from where the bridle path begins.
It was around 12.30pm and the initial part of the trek passeed through a cluster of pine trees and went round and round and the gain in height was gradual.
After climbing the first hill, the climb became very steep. I was stiff, breathless and found it very difficult to climb. There was hardly any level walk, place to sit and rest. Since it was uphill all the while and no level path, standing still was tough too.
From the height gained I knew that my progress was very slow. I had thought that I would reach Adi Himani Temple by evening and would stay for the night at the temple. But going by my progress and body behavior it looked improbable.
I continued though. Few times I thought of abandoning the trek and returning back. But that is not who am I known for. Kept on walking slowly but steadily. By that time I abandoned any thought of reaching the temple and decided to break for the night wherever I found a shelter. I had a sleeping bag tucked inside my rucksack and the people passing me by, confirmed that I would find shelter somewhere.
However, the local people going to the temple seemed to be having fun. Most of them were in groups and were carrying their own cooking and sleeping material. Some of them began in the afternoon and would stay in the ‘tapris’, the abandoned shepherd shelters.
Majority of the people hiking to the temple were young boys. More than the pilgrimage, they looked to be in picnicking mode. After selecting a particular ‘tapri’, they would clean it and then put mats on the floor and spread blankets for sleeping. One ‘tapri’ could accommodate 15-20 people together.
Some of them then went for collecting dry wood for burning fire and cooking. Fire was made on the make shift ‘chullahs’ and food of choice was cooked. They were carrying all the raw material for cooking and drinking. They then sang songs, gossiped, made merry while sitting around wood fire.
They planned to walk to the temple early morning, return back and have another session of picnic near the same ‘tapri’ before leaving for their respective villages the next day. The boys told me that they visit the temple every year. I met few other pilgrims too but hardly any females.
Water, food and shelter is a problem in the trek. There are one or two water points before the first shop. It is available at the first shop as well but beyond that water is not available throughout the trek. So it is advisable to carry water as per your needs and refilled at the first opportunity.
There is no accommodation available throughout the trek. There are few shelters at the temple which can accommodate 200-300 people. Mattresses and blankets are provided to the pilgrims. These shelters are very basic though.
After climbing steep trek, huffing and puffing, a green clearing was a kind of relief for me. I took a little break here and met a gaddi shepherd, who encouraged me by telling that the first shop was not very far away.
A little later, I saw a snake creeping across the trek. Its sight scarred me a little. Evening was setting in and I was alone. From this point onwards, my eyes were constantly focussed on the trek to see if anything like that was crossing my way.
Finally reached the first shop at around 5 pm. Evening was setting in. I was dead tired, no way I could walk further. A young man Ajay was at the shop. The man who owns the shop had gone to his village in Jia. I asked weather I could stay in the shop. He replied in affirmative.
The shop was in fact a makeshift shelter for shepherds and run by a man from village Jia. It is very basic and can serve only tea, biscuits, namkeen and magi. Food can be cooked on order. The shopkeeper uses powder milk for tea. Accommodation is not available at the shop. The owner sleeps inside the shop and has extra bedding which can accommodate a person or two.
I had a choice to make. I knew if I decided I could go down in an hour or so or otherwise I could stay for the night at the shop and decide further course of action the next morning.
The atmosphere around was pretty good. Sun was setting and the sky had turned magical. Snowclad mountains were bathed in pinkish purple hue. Boys were playing and the ‘tapris’ around were abuzz with activity.
Some boys arrived at the shop to buy some provisions from the shop and fill water from the water source near the shop. The solar light pole outside the shop was illuminating.
Looking at the atmosphere around and guessing that I am in for a newer experience, I decided to stay. Ajya cooked the meals and I went out to savour the evening atmosphere. Spent the whole evening walking around, gazing at the sky, the mountains and watching the birds fly back to their nests.
Soon the sky got lit with twinkling stars. Kangra valley was illuminating with lights as well. It felt as if the sky has gone upside down and the land and the sky were merged and were one. There was a small grassy meadow in front of the shop, walking and sitting in silence in the meadow was an amazing experience.
Ajay asked me to come in, the meals were ready. He had cooked maggii and chapati for me. I could not eat much though, might be because I was too tired, otherwise also I am not a big fan of maggii.
Ajay spread a mattress on the flour and gave me a blanket as well. I had my sleeping bag too. A little while later, after meals, Ajay put his mat on the other side of the shop and went to sleep too.
Soon I heard the snoring and I knew Ajay was fast asleep. It did not take long before I was asleep too, the first time in life, sleeping inside a makeshift shelter in Gaddiland….!!!