Like most of us, even I began my search to one of those lesser known places to travel. I was purely on the lookout for some place with greenery and which would take you closer to mother nature by all means. I wanted to escape from the concrete jungle of a metropolitan city to a lush green forest.
The Sahyadris was a good option, but my thirst remained and further research brought out this hidden gem, Jibhi. The name itself had grabbed my attention, a quick Google search for pictures added on. And hence I made up my mind to head to Jibhi, which is located in the remote valley of Himachal Pradesh.
PC: Binny V A
Without much delay, I booked tickets to Kullu, since it was the closest airport and then planned to reach the place by road, which is around 60 km from the Bhuntar Airport. The first sight that I saw as I was reaching my destination was wooden houses, which are a few storeys high and perched in clusters on the elevated slopes.
The Ancient Architecture
The ancient architecture of Himachal Pradesh's Banjar Valley is striking. The serpentine carvings and the beam supported balconies blend very well into the landscape. The small hamlet of Jibhi is not very known to travellers but it offers many camps and guest houses from where the area can be explored.
The mountains surrounding Jibhi are filled with pine and cedar trees. It is around an hour away from the Great Himalayan National Park. A short drive from the picturesque Jalori Pass, Jibhi forms an excellent base for those who would love to go for hiking, birding, fishing or simply enjoy outdoors.
I arrived at my guest house, with no agenda just to laze around the place. As I was picturing the stay, the sight of hand drawn maps grabbed my attention, the maps illustrated the walking trails of the area.
Jibhi is place which known only by the word of mouth. People come here on the lookout of experiencing a taste of mountain life without the ornamentation of a hill station. Although, the place is a low key tourist destination, it brims with a lot of possibilities.
My first walk was a four km stroll through the village of Chehni, along with my guide. A thick coat of deodar trees covers the mountain slopes around the small hamlet, which show clearly that there has been only very little change over the time.
Walking amidst tall pine trees, we reached the fringes of the village and I was arrested by the first sight of its tall watch-tower. The structure is five storied which dwarfs the houses surrounding it. The tower is supported by a brick wall and reinforced with timber logs.
The tower has a secret tunnel underneath it. We reached for a steep flight of stairs that are carved out from large pieces of wood and peeked inside the tower which is now a Yogini's shrine. The tower is a very rare example of the Pahadi architecture which is seen in the Kullu and Kangra districts of Himachal Pradesh.
I was informed that the builders developed a construction style in which timbers and stones are placed in layers and interlocked, which helped them to withstand environmental constraints. This method enabled the Chaini tower, which is at least 40 m high to stand tall for centuries and also survive the Kangra earthquake of 1905.
Opposite the tower, is the ruins of the crumbling Chaini Fort that is also built in a similar style. The fort is now a Krishna temple. On the other side of the tower is a storage house which contains the religious artifacts of Shrinfa Rishi, who is the presiding deity of Banjar Valley.
The Holy Lake
A beautiful and steep inclined drive from Jibhi to Jalori Pass, takes you through treacherous twists and is an adventure in itself. The drive was a prelude to tow the hiking trails which cut off in opposite directions from the top of the pass. One goes through the Seroyul Lake, and the other takes you to the ruins of the ancient Raghupur Fort.
The Seroyul lake trail is a gentle 5 km hike, which begins by crossing a ridge that overlooks the bare mountaintops popping out of the green lower ranges and then through a beautiful oak forest. At a meadow en route, I decided to sit by the side of a pond which was surrounded by broken peaks along with a bundle of clouds over me.
After all the walking, we finally arrived at the clear waters of Seroyul. The lake is considered to be sacred, which also has a small shrine on its banks. On our way back we came across the afternoon mist which had covered the forest in a grey coat. There was a surprising quietness in the forest with the sunshine gone.
The Ruins Of Raghupur Fort
The ruins of the Raghupur fort was just an excuse for me to hike up to get a bird's eye view of the Seraj Valley. The 4 km trail from the Jalori Pass to the ruins of the fort walls gently descends through the thick forests before heading for a steep ascent and then for a long walk through the open meadows.
The mist followed us into the evening with its dull skies and masked views dampening the walk. The skies opened up just in time for the beautiful evening light to wash out the dull views of the landscape. Though the 18 km long hike to Seroyul and Raghupur had been tiring, I spent the last leg of it jumping along a rainbow, motivated high.