Conversations with nature

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The four-hour drive from Rampur, a bustling large town along the Sutlej river to Jibhi, is one of the most spectacular drives that I have done of late. The area seemed refreshingly untouched by the rampant tourism that seems to have overrun many areas in Himachal and other Himalayan states. The previous day saw us in traffic-jammed Reckong Peo, luckily only for a short lunch break, and later for the night in the chaos that is Rampur.

A good part of the four-hour drive to Jibhi from Rampur is along a narrow tarred road that hugs the mountainside with the most scenic views of small mountain villages enroute. The route to Jibhi is via the 10,000 feet plus Jalori Pass, which connected Shimla and Kullu in the past.

Jibhi, like many other small villages in Himachal Pradesh, is now on the rural tourism map of the state. The state government has, over the past two years, promoted the idea of rural homestays and has helped local villagers to develop infrastructure in their homes to accommodate tourists. We stayed with Lalit and Leena, a young couple who run the Om Shanti Guest House. Lalit, a native of Jibhi, decided to try and earn a livelihood through opportunities that tourism presented. He organises treks, according to the inclinations of the groups that visit him, which range from hardcore ones in the buffer area of the Great Himalayan National Park to daylong ones around Jibhi itself.

It is the latter kind that we had to opt for, due to the fact that our arrival in Jibhi coincided with that of torrential pre-monsoon showers. We did a four-hour trek to the nearby Chehani Fort on the only clear day that we had. We climbed above Jibhi, past small villages, and then through a reserve forest with large pine, oak, rhododendron and a few chinar trees. While I scanned the area intently for a forktail (a bird found along mountain streams and one that I have not seen till date), we spotted other avian species — the magnificent Himalayan griffon, the beautiful blue-capped rockchat, the verditer flycatcher, the plumbeous redstart and the red-billed blue magpie.

The Chehani Fort itself was as fascinating as the trek that took us there. The fort comprised two tall structures made of stone and wood that stood at the end of a village.

The fort is believed to be built around 1450 by Jagat Singh, the king of Kullu. The fort is now maintained by the local community and is used as a temple to house Shringa Rishi, the local deity.

If you enjoy quiet moments like watching birds, insects or the bubbling waters of a mountain stream, if you are not seeking the pleasures of a typical upmarket resort, and if you want to trek through pristine areas, then Jibhi and the nearby villages are the places to be.

First published in Deccan Herald

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