This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels to the beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh. We had been trekking inside the tranquil and breathtakingly pretty Great Himalayan National Park for the past 4 days. We had seen it all – Sun, Rain, Fog, Snow & thoroughly enjoyed our first tryst with camping. (Trekking the Great Himalayan National Park, Part 3 -A clear morning at Shilt & descent back to Rolla)
Even though my descent from Shilt had been marred by my knee troubles rearing up again at the wrong time, we had managed to reach the camping site just inside the park gate without any bodily harm. We woke up on our last day of the trek and I gingerly woke up and stepped outside to see how my knee was doing. We still had 7 km to walk that day before we reached the town of Gushaini and I wanted to complete it on my own two feet.
Luckily for me the knee had recovered to a large extent even though it was far from back to normal. We freshened up as the team got ready to dismantle our tent which had been home for the past 4 days.
The team had once again prepared an excellent and filling breakfast. We had surely gained weight on this trek owing to the superb food being served to us daily for the past 5 days. Agreed it wasn’t exactly gourmet cuisine, but when you are camping in the Himalayas and you get a different vegetable and a different lentil dish to go along with piping hot rotis and rice, it is nothing short of luxury. We had also been eating a delicious fruit called “Japani” by the team that we had never eaten before. Before we finished our last plate of “Japani” and Apples that morning I remembered to take a photo – Who knows when I’m ever going to see a ” Japani” again!
We then completed all the paperwork formalities as we would be leaving the park after breakfast. With a full tummy and a prayer for my knee we left the park after taking photos with the team, without whom it would not have been possible for us to experience this beautiful place!
We started our walk back to civilisation slowly but surely. It was a sunny day today and at least we did not have the added complication of rain to compound my problems. As I have mentioned in my first post (Trekking the Great Himalayan National Park, Part 1 – The long walk to Rolla) the walk from the gate to Gushaini is a relatively level one. But when you have a bad knee even the slightest of downslopes feel like a gorge. Our pace was much less than what it was on the way in but the emphasis here was not on speed but rather on not falling down.
We trudged through the muddy parts in the shaded side of the valley where the effects of the rains from a few days back was still seen. The sunny dry parts were relatively a breeze and we walked back to Gushaini in 3 hours, which wasn’t so bad! For the last 1/3 of the way we had a huge dog walking with us. We have had dogs accompanying us on walks all over India – from the Jungles of Neora Valley to the hills of Matheran. So it was good to have canine company here too. Soon we were in Gushaini and the dog sauntered off on its on merry way after posing nicely for a photo.
Seeing that bridge across the river to town brought a sigh of relief. We had completed our first camping trip successfully. The better half visited the temple in town before we bade goodbye to the team (who had reached Gushaini an hour ago ) and Keshavji who had been an excellent guide. A car waiting for us would take us to the ” Eagles Nest” homestay where we would be spending the night.
We had decided to stay with the Marchals on our last day in this part of Himachal Pradesh before we ventured on to the more known Capital city of Shimla. While booking the trek Hema Marchal had shown me photos of their homestay and it looked like a beautiful place to relax after the trek. Keshavji had also praised the house and the views from it while we were returning back so I was eagerly looking forward to it.
We drove on past Nagini where we had stayed on our first night and turned past Banjar to a peaceful narrow road. We drove on till the road came to an end and a rocky path lay ahead. A short climb later we saw Hema at the gate waiting to receive us. She showed us to our room and we took our first bath in 5 days. I must not have showered for so long ever, the hot water after 5 days of camping felt like heaven & a layer of grime came off me and left me refreshed.
We had not eaten our packed lunches that Keshavji had given us and Hema warmed the parathas up for us and we had ourselves a hot lunch. Here I should mention the special garlic pickle that Hema had made & that I almost finished half a bottle of, in my one day stay.
Lunch done we spent the rest of the sunny afternoon lazing around on the house terrace which has some spectacular views and chatting with Hema.
The house also has a sheltered balcony on the other side with even better views over the Tirthan valley and the snowy peaks beyond. The views fully satisfied what I had expected from the house.
Soon the sun set and we went back inside the house and to our room to rest for some time. Stephan was back in the evening and he showed us the videos and photos that he had taken when he had accompanied us to the gate on the first day. He also showed us the public awareness videos and initiatives against forest fires taken by Himalayan Ecotourism. On a lighter note it was great watching Marchal Jr request his favourite song, “Papaoutai” and then listen to it in rapt attention. It’s a song I don’t understand one bit, but it has a catchy beat and I still catch myself humming it from time to time.
Dinner at the Marchals was a wonderful mutton curry for me and beans & palak paneer for the better half. It was a perfect end to a great day of rest and conversations and we slept soundly on a real bed after 4 nights in a sleeping bag.
We woke up the next day to find the skies cloudy and overcast. We were supposed to drive to Shimla next day via the Jalori pass which is a high altitude pass and can get slippery for vehicles if it snows / rains. So we had everything crossed hoping it didn’t rain. Thankfully it didn’t!
The early morning was spent by me on the balcony facing the Tirthan valley as it had beautiful skies for photography.
I always carry my 300 mm with me everywhere. It is a habit that I have never regretted and today that wasn’t going to change. After having my fill of the skies I put on the 300mm and was photographing buntings in the distance. In a few minutes I heard something rustling in the trees in the homestay. It was a Great Barbet that was foraging its breakfast.
Soon it was joined by a rustling in the bushes underneath. This time it was a pair of rusty cheeked Scimitar babblers. These are birds I had never seen so it was a joy seeing them so close by.
Soon it was a competition for attention between the two and I found myself shifting my lens from one to the other. The Great Barbet then came out and sat on the wire giving me a beautiful shot.
After the barbet and babblers went away I found myself listening to the typical tapping noise made by woodpeckers. In a tree just across the road was a beautiful scaly breasted woodpecker and it obliged me with some typical woodpecker poses.
The tap of the scaly breasted woodpecker was later replaced by a tapping a bit further away. This time it was the grey headed woodpecker. Though I have seen this bird at very close distance at a birding hide in Sattal, seeing it and taking photos in the wild is a different experience altogether.
Soon it was time for me to end my impromptu birding session as it was time to have breakfast and leave for Shimla. So I winded up my gear but before that I had to take a photo of the beautiful flowers that lined the homestay walls.
Hema had made delicious omelettes with toast and apple pudding. Needless to say I ate some more of the garlic pickle one last time. Soon it was time to bid our wonderful hosts goodbye. Our hired vehicle had arrived and we picked upper luggage and set off for the next stop on this trip – Shimla.
Enroute to Shimla we stopped at the Jalori pass which had fresh snow from 2 days ago and some beautiful views of the mountains. The better half likes snow and it was the perfect place to stretch our legs for a while and take in the view.
Rockyji, our driver and guide for the next 2 days was kind enough to take a good photo of me and the better half. After stopping here for a good 15-20 minutes we set off for Shimla again.
The journey to Shimla would take us 7 and a half hours including a stop for a delicious lunch at the HP tourism hotel at Narkanda. This small little hill station has a wonderful location & I hope to return to it for a longer stay some day.
We would spend the next two days in Shimla but the memories of our time in the Great Himalayan National Park – our first night in a tent in a sleeping bag, experiencing snowfall on top of a mountain, the never ending rain at Rolla, the beautiful views on offer and most importantly the hospitality extended by the people at Himalayan Ecotourism; these would last forever in our memories.
At Shimla we would be staying at the wonderful Sunnymead estate, a place I now rate as one of the best I have stayed at in India. But that is a story for another post, some other time, some other day.