Thanks Paul for sharing your list of exotic destinations in Himalayas. The Majestic mountain series of Himalayas had always been the prime attraction for the travelers around the globe. I also traveled there significantly but I always returned back with a frowning curiosity and a desire to return back. This year, I was more inclined to explore some less traveled, lazy, laid-back, calm and pleasant destinations of Indian Himalayas. Trekking in higher ranges is always inspiring but not very suitable for solo independent travelers. I am up to high altitude trekking but affording a guide, trekking equipment for my solo trip is quite heavy on my budget. Anyway, my friend Paul had traveled India extensively and even wrote a book about his travels so I counted on him to figure out my bucket list…dropped an email to Paul…
Himalayan Oak Forest Near Jalori Pass
Paul returned back with a comprehensive mail about various destinations he has been to but His love towards Jibhi was quite evident in that message. I can’t count how many times he recommended me Jibhi and even drafted the entire route, public transport etc. It took me a while to absorb such an elucidated reply. ….Long thing short… Jibhi became my first destination from that list…
Jibhi is a scenic hamlet in Banjar Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Jibhi can be approached from Chandigarh-Manali Highway. There is a small detour in right just before the tunnel at AUT. You need to take that road following the river and head further till Bajnar. Banjar is some 27 km from AUT and well connected with private busses. Jibhi is another 8 km from Banjar town towards Jalori Pass.
Beas River near AUT
Banjar Valley Himachal Pradesh
An overnight journey in a semi-deluxe bus from Delhi took me to AUT. The small town of AUT lies just after a long tunnel on the highway. After getting down at AUT, I caught the connecting private bus to Banjar. Banjar is some 27 km from AUT and took me an hour to reach there. During day time, you can also get direct bus to Jibhi from AUT. Banjar is a typical Himalayan town grown in the middle of lush green valley surrounded by alpine meadows. Small water streams merge into a bigger stream flowing beneath the valley. Quite lazy, serene and picturesque settings it offers.
Chaini Village Banjar Valley
Later after one hour, I caught another bus from Banjar to Jibhi. Bus was so badly packed that I had to climb up to the roof to get myself a place. It was a remarkable job by bus driver to ply uphill on the narrow road passing through the Banjar town which only accommodates one vehicle at the time.From Banjar onwards, the route is quite steep and greener. I enjoyed the every bit of my journey on the roof top of the bus.
Sightseeing and day treks from Jibhi
Larger version of the map: http://thinkingparticle.com/image/sightseeing-and-day-treks-jibhi
After arriving at Jibhi, It was not very difficult to find Rana. Paul strongly suggested me to contact Rana and mentioned him as an early explorer of Banjar Valley. Guest house run by Rana was fully occupied with a Russian group but still he accommodated me in one of the basic room. Despite of the sleepless night, I was very eager to interview Rana and to get myself drenched with his knowledge about this part of Himalayas. Just after taking bathe in the water stream flowing behind the guest house, I spent some 2 hours interviewing Rana. He did an incredible job of exploring Banjar valley, setting up guest houses, compiling the history of Banjar valley, outlining the trekking trails, exploring unknown villages, ancient temples etc. most importantly he had been doing this since last 20 years. He was also involved in various initiatives for saving environments against dam constructions etc. …truly an unknown hero of Himalayas… Finally he gifted me a self compiled map of the treks around Jibhi…. These treks are moderate and can be done independently….
Sharingi Bagi Temple
Chaini Fort Trek/Sharingi Bagi Temple trek: Chaini Village is popular for some ancient structures those are inspired from Chinese art and archeology. Chaini Village can be reached as a 3-4 hour trek from Jibhi. The trek starts from a point called Chiladhar which is some 4 km from Jibhi on the way to Banjar. There is a little diversion to Sharingi Bagi temple from Chiladhar so you can easily notice that. Sharingi Bagi temple is another major attraction which lies on the mid way. There is a well outlined trail till the temple so I could easily make it to the temple without inquiring to anyone. The trail passes through small villages, cedar forest, apple plantations, and thin waterfalls etc. After spending an hour at temple, I started to trek further towards Chaini Village. Despite of the priest’s directions, I followed the wrong trail uphill and reached to another hill. However I got the first glimpse of Chaini village from that neighboring hill….. Declined back and then hiked again…. Finally after passing through apple gardens and wheat fields, I made it to Chaini Village.
It is impossible to imagine such stupendous buildings in a small village like Chaini which lies on an inaccessible hill and not well connected from any town. Out of 4-5 ancient structures, the five storeys Jibhi fort is the most impressive building. Indigenous people also reported that top 2 storeys fall down in an earth quake. I can imagine how tall it would have been before that calamity.
Ancient Buildings at Chaini Village
Everyone in the village was surprised to see me taking photographs of those abandoned yet spectacular architectures. Rocks used in the foundation of this fort are not found in this region hence its early development is still a mystery for archeologists. I roamed around the village, talked with locals, climbed uphill to take some clicks. It was a delight to visit Chaini and I enjoyed every bit of it……an unknown settlement in the middle of rich nature, culture and archeology...
Chaini Village from Top
While descending back, I could not restrain myself following my usual instinct and I fall in for a girl weaving in her balcony. Like always we passed glances… followed by a cryptic expression… a moment of thoughtlessness and a sudden burst of serendipity…
Transcript at Chaini Fort
The same route in reverse and I was back to Jibhi after some 5-6 hours of trekking back and forth. You will rarely get to see snow-capped Himalayas from Jibhi. It’s at a moderate altitude so generally pleasant through-out the year which makes it one of those places where you extend your stay and desperately hopes it as forever. Jaipur (lower Jibhi) is blessed with 3-4 guest houses, couple of provisional stores, wine shop and vegetable stalls. These guest houses offer high end Swiss cottages to very basic cheap accommodations affordable for backpackers. If you are carrying your own tent then just pitch in anywhere along the river bank.
Unripe Apple near Chaini Village
It was dusked already and everyone was shutting down for the day. There are no restaurants in Jibhi so you will be completely dependent on the guest house’s kitchen for your meals. Like any other hippie’s settlement, all of these guest houses serve orthodox Chinese, Mexican, Italian dishes (Pizza, burgers etc). It was a setback when I ordered an Indian Thali with Chapati and I never repeated this order during my entire stay at Jibhi… Finally a rigorous day was concluded with a bit of scribbling and contemplation…
Jalori Pass Banjar Valley
Next morning (Jalori pass and Sarehul lake): Though Jalori (3120 meter) is not among high passes of Himachal Pradesh still it is quite significant as it connects Shimla to Manali via Banjar Valley. Jalori does not witness heavy snow fall so it is generally open through-out the year. To be honest, Jalori was the only attraction of my visit to Jibhi but later I got to know about so many hidden treasures of Banjar Valley. From Jibhi, the first bus to Jalori departs at around 9:00 AM in the morning and takes around 2 hour to reach Jalori pass. Traveling in a bus carrying passengers double to its capacity and plying on such a steep road was indeed an exciting and profound experience.
Sarehul Lake and Temple
Sarehul Lake trek: Sarehul Lake is some 6 km from Jalori Pass. Sarehul Lake and temple are highly revered among locals of Banjar Valley. Hundreds of pilgrims follow this trail to offer their prayers to the main deity. Pilgrims circle around the lake and drops Pure Desi Ghee on its periphery. Trek to Sarehul Lake is majorly flat with some steep patches in between. It takes around 2 hour to make it to Lake from Jalori Pass. I never anticipated this number of trekkers along the route. Most of those were from neighboring villages and were visiting the temple to celebrate a festival.
First view of Sarehul Lake
Trail passes through dense patch of Himalayan Oak forest dotted with small segments of grassland. Hillocks around the lake offer incredible view of the valley and snow capped Himalayas (though peaks were barren during summers). Most of the pilgrims pitch in their tents around the lake for overnight stay. Basic accommodation facilities are available at Sarehul Lake. Surrounded by thick forest, Sarehul Lake is relatively small but blessed with picturesque settings.
View of Banjar Valley from Sarehul Lake
Last bus from Jalori Pass to Jibhi departs at around 2:45 PM so I started back after spending less than an hour around the lake. Frequency is so sparse that you will rarely get a seat in the bus while traveling on this route. After returning back from Jalori, I directed headed to the river and take a refreshing dip. In my personal opinion, the thirst quenching riverbed is one reason to visit and revisit Jibhi. Rana suggested me many other treks around Jibhi those can be done independently. I have included a detailed map of those treks. I made up my mind to extend my stay at Jibhi as long as I can and I did….but finally the day came and I had to return back to the pseudo reality from the paradise of my own… With heavy heart I said goodbye to Jibhi to continue my journey of life….
On the way to Sarehul Lake