Journeys in Himachal Pradesh - Part 2: the Pabbar Valley

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December 1st 2014
Published: December 5th 2014
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The Palace at JubbalThe Palace at JubbalThe Palace at Jubbal

The Maharaja just ruled this local area between Shimla and Rohru
We had picked out the Pabbar Valley because it looked not too high and hence not too cold. We also though it was remote and yet offered the opportunity to drop down to Renuka Lake and on to Rishikesh without returning to Shimla. It was clear that it was not in the big Himalaya. That could wait for Nepal.

The mainstream Shimla tour operators were not really interested and pushed the higher Kinnaur valley. We found Wohoa India on the internet and they seemed to offer a package fit for us; cheaper, focused on the Pabbar valley and said to commit any spare profit to woman's empowerment projects in the area (I am not sure they had any 'spare' profit).

As with all things Indian it did not work out quite as planned and boy have had some journeys with our support team of three: Ladit, the driver; Deepak, the English speaking guide and Dilip, the cook cum house man. We had some great adventures with them.

First, we were met by Deepak near our hostel and we walked to where we were meeting Ladit and the car. It was only a
The brand new temple at Devidhar villageThe brand new temple at Devidhar villageThe brand new temple at Devidhar village

It had taken three years to build
question of how small it would be. We should have guess it would be a Susuki Alto. 80% of cars in Himachal Pradesh seem to be local Jeeps or Susuki Altos. So off we set for the Pubbar valley with the rucksacks jammed in the back shelf and the boot, Jane and I in the back and the two guys in the front seats.

After 10km or so when we got to the main road to the Pubbar valley from Shimla the road surface disappeared and that was pretty much the last we saw of it for the next five days. This main road was not much better than a logging track in places. It was strewn with road building gear left by the Chinese company who failed to deliver on time - 10 years ago! Since then the political parties have been bickering and consequential nothing has been done. The dust was appalling. The car bumped and bounced along at speeds of 10 to 20 km/hour when nothing was coming the other way. I learnt to duck my head so I did not get bashed on the car's roof.

The scenery was set
200 year old carvings on the older temple in Devidhar200 year old carvings on the older temple in Devidhar200 year old carvings on the older temple in Devidhar

The carving show stories from the ancient Hindu texts.
for the next five days. We drove along windy roads clinging to the hillside as a river valley disappeared below us. The 80km to Jubbal took over six hours. It peaked at 2800m. Jubbal was our first stop to see a magnificent summer palace of the local Maharaja. It was built in the late 1800's using the design of a French architect and seems to be still in good condition. It is used as local government offices and we were not allowed inside. It would be a great tourist attraction. First they need a road to get there. The local Himanche restaurant did prove to be a good lunch spot.

We finally got to the Pubbar valley and the gateway town of Rohru in darkness and picked up Dilip who was waiting there having taken the bus from Shimla along the same road. We then drove on up the valley and after a further 10km turned North up the Chanshal valley. All we could see was a scattering of house lights on the hillside. We stopped by the lights of a roadside liquor store. We were there....or at least this was as far as the car could
Jane on the balcony of the house we stayed inJane on the balcony of the house we stayed inJane on the balcony of the house we stayed in

The picture shows the style of how how houses in the village were built. The stairs came up through a drop lid on each balcony floor.
go. Dilip lead us down a dark steep rough path to a gully. We continued down, packs on our back, then turned between houses to get to a house at the edge of the village of Khasa. The house was the family home of Dilip's boss, Angi. The family lived mostly in Shimla where they had a resort hotel and where Dilip worked most of the time.

The house had electricity and no running water except in the squat loo block across the courtyard. We had the upstairs room and the others slept downstairs. We all slept on the floor and Dilip cooked on the floor downstairs.

Dilip was amasing. Nothing was too much trouble. He bought us chai in the morning to tell us the hot water was ready. Hot water was heated in a plastic bucket using a twist of wire on a stick with both ends stuff in a socket. We were warned never to put our hand in the water with the heater on as we would get a shock!

It wasn't unlike what we had experienced in Buldana 25 years.

Dilip was a excellent cook. We had stuffed parathas for breakfast and chapatis, daal and veg curries in the evening. All breads were made fresh from scratch each meal. In the evening we also had the local rice. It is called 'Lal Chawal' or red rice. It is relatively short grain, has a pink colour, lovely flavour and is only grown in this area of the Himalayas. Nearly all is consumed locally.

The nights were clear and cold and thanks to sleeping bags and numerous blankets cum duvets we were plenty warm enough.

The next morning we drove to the village at the head of the valley, Devidhar. We were shown round their new temple. Lots of preparations were underway for an important village festival happening on a thirty year rotation in January. The temple was decorated in a characteristic 'Doghre' style by craftsmen from the neighbouring Kinnaur valley. One was there on the ground carving an end post. The temple was dedicated to a local goddess, Durgha as well as Shiva.

They also shown us around a small village museum which specimens of different plants and crops. It included poppies used for treating
From the balcony of the apple orchard hut From the balcony of the apple orchard hut From the balcony of the apple orchard hut

The summit of Chanshal is just visible in the far distance
babies stomach ailments and keeping lorry drivers awake on long journeys.

The village elder showing us around had a characteristic hat from the region with a green side on it just like Dilip wore at all times. Green was for the Congress Party, we were told. Maroon was for Modi's BJP. All the hats we saw in the village were green. Apparently the Congress party had made a hefty contribution to the cost of the new temple!

Besides rice and vegetables the crop that pays for the big houses is apples. They are everywhere. The owners of the house where we were staying had three to four hundred trees scattered in three plots in the valley. All the cultivated land including the orchards is terraced because the valleys are so steep. Dilip led us up to one orchard and the house/hut he lives in during apple picking season in July and August. We had great views across the valley. We tasted some apples (Dilip called them Royals, Goldens and Spurs) and they were very good.

The industry is sustained by employing migrant Nepalese workers. They come in twice a year to do pruning and picking. We do not know how low the pay is but one local restaurant owner boasted he paid his Nepalese man £15 a month to make chapatis.

The orchard house high on the valley side had one room. There was no loo block. The kitchen was a low roofed shed next door with an enclosed fire one end for chapati making and no chimney. It was a long way from Delhi!

On the way home one family invited us for chai. He worked at a central restaurant in Shimla and came home occasionally to see his wife and children in the valley.

The next day the plan was to climb the highest peak in the valley, Chanshal. It was roughly 10km as the crow flies, was 45km by road and took 3 hours driving over the rough tracks to climb to 3600m. At one point ice flowed over the dirt road. We piled out and with a push the car got across. Did I mention that the back tyres had no tread whatsoever.

The five of us climbed the last four hundred metres to the
Dilip making ChapatisDilip making ChapatisDilip making Chapatis

Note his 'Congress' hat
summit. At the top we shared bananas and satsumas. Dilip was finally persuaded to borrow my pack-jacket as he only had his resort suit on. At 13,000 feet we could feel the altitude even though we had been at higher altitudes for some time. The view of the snowy Himalayan ridge North of the Kinnaer valley was stupendous. Eagles floated below us in the thermals. Choughs fluttered and chirped around us.

It was another 3 hour journey through the dust back home.

On our last day in Khasa we walked into the village. There was a village meeting in the temple (all men) and they invited us to see inside. It was a surprisingly bare room with a sacred box in one corner and poles for carrying it around the village during festivals. Earlier we had been invited to a neighbouring house by the women. They fed us snacks and showed us the children's English homework which looked very neat.

All these interactions did not real expose us to some of the real issues of rural life in India. Apparently the caste system still holds sway and the women are seen as little more than physical labour and son bearers. A lot of the development work is centred around women's empowerment. The Indian government does have a programme to try and get a road to every village. Many of the roads we drove on did not exist ten years ago.

We ended the day visiting an important Shiva temple in Hatkoti, getting a red forehead mark in the process and staying in a grotty guesthouse in the town. We were up early the next day as we had a long drive down the valley to Renuka Lake. It typified all the journeys we had done in the region to date: spectacular views of the valley and terraces below, very little tarmac, odd towns to use as a chai or lunch stops and bump after bump for nine hours.

Lalit had proved to be an excellent driver on the terrible roads. Deepak was also an informative guide with good English. It turned out that he lived with his Mum in Shimla. His sister had been a well paid notary and had emigrated to Calgary, Canada with her family to work as a Maths teacher. When not guiding he took local orders from pharmacies for Ranbaxy. He had spent two years studying in Bangalore as a pharmacist. We are happy to recommend them all.

Our last 10km to Renuka Lake were the first consistent tarmac we had seen for five days. It certainly left us with a series of journeys in the Pabbar valley we won't forget for a long while.

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


At the summit of Chanshal with the high Himalayas in the backgroundAt the summit of Chanshal with the high Himalayas in the background
At the summit of Chanshal with the high Himalayas in the background

4000m/13,000ft Dilip, Jane, Lalit, Deepak, Jeremy
Heading downHeading down
Heading down

Dilip has my coat on
The village temple at KhasaThe village temple at Khasa
The village temple at Khasa

Village members wanted a photo!
The Pabbar Valley The Pabbar Valley
The Pabbar Valley

You can see the road on the left of the valley
A classic view in the regionA classic view in the region
A classic view in the region

A town, a temple and a Himalayan backdrop

29th May 2017
A classic view in the region

Pabbar valley
Thank you very much for sharing your wounderfull experience with us. It's really great, I hope you enjoyed your journey.

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