My Travels through the Himalayas – IV (Simla to Chanshal Peak)

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Woman in her Apple Orchard, Shimla District

The town of Simla is only a few kilometres long, but Shimla district is a large one and includes some very high peaked mountains towards the eastern side, which are good for apple cultivation. The best apples in Himachal are grown in Kinnaur, but the apples from Shimla from the slopes near Rohru are the second best in quality amongst the Himachal apples. These apples are huge in size, full of juice and maroon in colour.

When I was in Simla, I was sharing my office with a scholar from Shimla district, named Balkrishan, who owned large tracts of apple orchards. He used to gift me cartonfuls of apples during the apple season and since I was staying alone there, I was not able to finish all the apples. Eventually, I had to distribute these apples to family and friends!

Once, Balkrishan invited us to see his apple orchards in his village in Shimla district and also to climb on top of Chanshal peak, a 14000 ft high mountain near his village. Apart from Balkrishan and I, our team comprised of Prof. Bapat from the previous post and his three friends from Karnataka, and Dr. Joseph Bara, another Fellow who hailed from the hills of Ranchi in Jharkhand in Eastern India.

Driving through Shimla district, we began to see some apple orchards on the lower slopes early in our journey. These apples were not as good as the ones that grow on the Chanshal slopes, but we were excited to see the apple orchards! We got down and climbed on the slopes to look at the apples. A modest and aged village woman was the owner of these apple trees. She came with her young boys to talk to us. People in the mountains of India are always very good-natured. She offered to take us to her house for lunch and to give us some cartons of apples. But we politely declined and opted to only taste some apples there itself. She was quite excited to get herself photographed.!The picture above shows her with the two boys in her apple orchard.

Kharapatthar

The route to Chanshal went through Kharapatthar, where I had gone to see the first snow of my life. This time we were travelling in the non-snowing season and hence, there was no snow and the slopes were covered with lush green vegetation. It’s a rather strange experience to travel through the mountains in different seasons – the landscape keeps on changing and one can’t identify a place as the same through which one has passed before. We stopped for lunch at Kharapatthar at the Himachal Tourism guesthouse.

Goddess Temple at Hatkoti

My team this time wasn’t interested in going up to the temple and Giriganga tank. So we started further on to go to Hatkoti. This is a small place in the valley of the swift flowing Pabbar river, which is a tributary of Sutlej.

There is an old and popular Goddess temple at Hatkoti. The main shrine is built in the traditional Himachal style in wood with intricate carving. There are some smaller shrines built in stone and their style points to a date of around 8th-9th century CE. I invited Dr. Joseph Bara to see the temple with others and he went inside to have a look.

Last time I had come here when the evening was beginning to fall and moonlight was shining. We had spent some time by the river then. But this time, Balkrishan wasn’t much interested in staying on after seeing the temple. So we drove on and decided to stop some way down the riverbank, rather than at Hatkoti.

Balkrishan (standing) and Joseph Bara (sitting), by the Pabbar River

We drove on from the river and decided to spend the night at the guest house at Chirgaon, just before Chanshal. The next morning we drove for the Chanshal mountain. The road up the slopes was a muddy track and damaged at many places. There was a small streamlet running from the peak down the slopes, making the tracks even more turbid. On the way up, we saw village women slowly walking up the high mountain, sitting on the way to rest. When there was no road, villagers from one side used to go up walking and then descended on the slopes of the other side – this was their way of commuting, crossing this 14000ft mountain which lies between villages on its two sides.

Mountains seen from Chansal Peak (14000ft), near Rohru in Shimla District

As we went up this mountain, we could see the vegetation changing with increasing altitude. On the lowermost slopes, there are small stepped-fields cut into the slopes, to grow red coloured paddy on these stepped fields. Going further up, one can see large-leafed trees. On the higher slopes are the orchards of very fine and large apples. The owners of these orchards welcomed us and gifted us a carton full of huge and maroon, juice-filled apples! Further up, pine trees grow. After the level of pine trees, cedar trees (Deodar) grow. After the range of Deodars finishes, there is grassland covering the rocks. On the highest level, there is not even grass, only bare rocks, which get covered by snow in winters. Around the Chanshal, one can see the peaks of Greater Himalayas in distance.

Joseph Bara on Chansal Peak (14000ft)

Some 1000ft below the peak, we stopped the vehicle as it couldn’t go further. A road was being constructed here and large blocks of sharp-pointed rocks were laid out on tracks, making it difficult to walk over. But the vehicle was not able to go on, so the only way was to walk up this difficult path. After a while Balkrishan found a jeep and went in that vehicle till the point where the grassland started. For about 500 ft above this point, there was no road. We only had to walk up on the grassland.

Prof. Bapat was suffering from spondilitis, so he decided not to walk up the sharp-pointed rocks. He and his three friends from Karnataka stopped about 1000ft below the peak. Balkrishan being a Himachali, didn’t have any problem climbing the last 500ft of grasslands, since he had got a lift over the sharp-pointed rocky track. After a while, I too got a lift in another jeep going uptil grasslands range.Β  From there, I made my slow trek up the slope till the top, stopping many times on the way to take breath. This was because of my asthmatic condition, which made it difficult for me to climb this 500ft of almost vertical gradient. Finally, I made it with difficulty. It was really an achievement for me to climb this peak, as my asthma doesn’t allow me to go for strenuous activity.

The most sturdy and physically fit person in this trip proved to be Dr. Joseph Bara. He had grown up in the hills of Ranchi, which are not quite tall and majestic like the Himalayas, but he had a practice of climbing slopes since childhood. He made the tough walk over the sharp-pointed rocky path and then climbed up the top of the peak without any difficulty – even more easily than Balkrishan had done!

What is Balkrishan Photographing from Top of Chansal Peak?

Me of Course! (Chansal Peak, 14000 ft)

After spending some time there, we descended from the top, picked up the remaining members of our team who had stayed behind and started for Balkrishan’s village near Rohru. We stopped on the way to have lunch in a small town and finally reached the village called Kainchi.

Villages in the mountains can be quite small – sometimes comprising of only half a dozen houses. By that standard, Balkrishan’s village is quite large – it has about 40-50 houses. Of course the alignment of the houses and the orchards is vertical – along the slopes. This means that in order to visit his house and orchards, we had to walk down the steep slopes and again climb up while coming back. After climbing Chanshal, I was not in the condition to do any more trekking up the slopes. So I excused myself and stayed behind in the vehicle, while the others went down to his house and saw the orchard.

This was a great loss to me but my health didn’t permit me to do any more trekking up the slopes. Starting from Kainchi, we stopped at Sungri village guest house to have a splendid dinner arranged by Balkrishan for us! On the way he showed us the Goddess temple near his village which is made of wood and dates to the mediaeval period. It’s a tall, wooden structure made in the Himachal style.

Goddess Temple, near Rohru in Shimla District

From Sungri, we drove back to Simla, reaching late in the night. The road was damaged and very narrow in many places. Throughout the Himalayas, roads are not in the best condition. Hence, one has to be very careful while driving. There are sharp curves and bends along the slopes which the driver has to negotiate all the time. There are usually no railings on the roads which are made at thousands of feet of height. Building a road at these heights and in the tough surroundings itself is a difficult task. Keeping them in shape through heavy rain, snowfall, avalanches and landslides is even more difficult. Hence, one should always take a sturdy vehicle like the jeep while travelling along these roads. Everytime we reached back to Simla, we felt we got a lease of life.

Come back for the next post – Simla to Rohtang Pass.

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Comments
19 Responses to “My Travels through the Himalayas – IV (Simla to Chanshal Peak)”
  1. Floridawaves says:

    This is a great post! Thanks.

  2. RAMAN SINHA says:

    Fine this is your journey through Himalayas bur Archana dont you think Every journey is a inside journey also?

  3. Floridawaves says:

    Raman,
    I agree with you. You are absolutely right that every journey is an inner journey as well.

  4. Archana says:

    Hi Raman,
    Thanks for your comment. You are very right that every journey is an inner journey as well. Besides, life itself is a journey which teaches us many things.

    In my inner journey through the Himalayas, I was awestruck with the beautiful, dangerous and bewitching terrain of the Himalayas. I understood how insignificant humans are in front of the vastness of the Nature and how much undue importance we give to ourselves because we haven’t come across this vastness of nature. I also saw the immense potential of humans to struggle against the dangers of nature and to survive against all odds in the most difficult terrain. Human civilisation has survived and prospered only because of this daunting nature of the humans. We need to preserve this civilisation, but we also should realise the necessity of giving space to all creatures and ecological formations. This planet is as much theirs as ours.

  5. Archana says:

    Hi Floridawaves,
    Welcome to the blog!

  6. manchitra says:

    That was a nice trip i loved the lady and her children in the apple orchard. i also liked your friend taking photo from the top of the peak.

  7. Archana says:

    Hi Chitra,
    Thanks for your comment. Do come for the next post, which is more adventurous than this one.

  8. Floridawaves says:

    I like best the mountains around Chanshal Peak. πŸ™‚

  9. Archana says:

    Thanks, Floridaves! Come back for the next post – coming soon.

  10. balkrishan Shivram says:

    Being a native of Himalaya – things like snow mountains, small roads/paths,orchards etc.- i am experiencing with it since my childhood. Thanks for your concern for Himalayan beauty but don,t present native’s life the way British chroniclers in 19-20th century did so as to enable readers to make comparison between their own and Indian culture.

  11. Archana says:

    Hi Balkrishan,
    Thanks for your comment. It is true that you don’t get enchanted by the natural beauty of the mountains as we plains people do – in that sense we ARE very much like the British chroniclers of 19th century.

    Our enchantment with the mountains is very similar to YOUR enchantment with the big cities – you get excited by the big shopping malls, dazzling lights, crowds and big restaurants when you visit Delhi! These are just the features we find maddening and we go to the mountains to escape from them. I can say to you, don’t get attracted by these features of the big cities – they are normal and there is nothing attractive about them – we are used to them since childhood! 8)

  12. Floridawaves says:

    It is interesting to see how people find the lifestyle and the landscape of the OTHER as attractive and they see their own lifestyle as “normal” and want to get away from it! πŸ™‚

  13. Archana says:

    Floridawaves,
    That’s very true. I remember when on this trip we stopped at Chirgaon guest house to spend the night. Balkrishan wanted to take us to the reception hall with false ceiling and dim lights as one sees in a big hotel. But we were more interested in siting by the fast flowing Pabbar River on the banks of which this guest house was built! We had really got away from the false ceilings and dim lights of city hotels to the mountains, but he wanted to get away from the natural surroundings to the urban environment more representative of the plains.

  14. GR Bapat says:

    Dear ArchanaI am enjoying reading about your trips in Himachal. I seem to be a part of most of these trips. Looking forward to reading about Kinnaur and Spiti. regards,
    Bapat

  15. Archana says:

    Thanks, Prof. Bapat, for your comment.

    Yes, we were two people at the IIAS always willing to travel in the mountains, so we ended up being part of the travelling team most of the times! πŸ™‚

    Wait for the post on Kinnaur and Spiti.

  16. Floridawaves says:

    I too wait to read about Kinnaur and Spiti! They are amongst the most exotic places in Himachal.

  17. Abhay RAwat says:

    Planning To Build A 3 Star Hotel In Hatkoti..very soon………

  18. Aditya says:

    Exciting

    description of Chanshal.!!! ..i have gone till canshal pass only..
    I found one thing for correction- that pabbar is tributary of tons river (joins at Tuini ), not of Satluj. 😊

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