Next morning, I take it rather easy initially but as I leave the Rest House, I gingerly manoeuvre my vehicle to climb the narrow dusty bumpy motorway to Chanshal (3784m). The air outside is fresh but every descending vehicle, load carriers mostly, whips a cloud of dust along. It is already nine. The sun beams are streaming onto the Pabbar valley which is now enclosed by high hills. The road changes bank at village Tikri. After the Tikri bridge, the narrow paved but potholed road steadily climbs for the next 10 km to reach Shiladesh, where multiple marketing agencies are working day and night to make the best out of the remaining few days of the apple harvesting season. Until few years ago, the tarred road existed up to Tikri but now Shiladesh is the point after which it’s all stony but slight wider. The settlement of Larot is still couple of kilometres away. I take nearly two hours in reaching Larot (2620m) from Sandasu. But that’s okay, taking notes and making photo-records does take time. Being a travel writer is totally different than being on a holiday.
By writing about the rarer corners of the Himalayas, travel writers are somewhat responsible for taking the veil off a secluded land. More writing means more advertisement. The Himalayas offer thousands of kilometres of rugged kutcha tracks for rallying through its valleys, forests, along its mighty rivers and over its famous passes. The concern of vehicular exhausts polluting the virginal peace of the mountains is a sour matter. But then there is a lot to be said regarding the use of a vehicle to reach the lesser visited portions of the Himalayas and get an access into the hidden cultures and geographies. Responsible travelling requires us to have a heart with respect to every aspect of environmental health. This calls for a special empathy for the ecosystem as well as the cultural traditions that have grown out of it. Visitors and locals grow together and a sense of this living relationship is what Himalayan travel ideally ought to inspire. This thought makes me even more responsible as I negotiate the slopes ahead.
Just a kilometre ahead of Larot is the teashop at Shagulta. The wanton destruction of hills is yet to reach in this area. The pit stop marks the end of habitation as the road enters a dense forest belt. Hereafter, the road length to Chanshal is spanned over 15km of forest and meadow drive comprising 13 hairpin bends. My vehicle is in first gear ever since I crossed the bridge at Tikri. With not a single trace of civilisation around, I am elated to feel the old world charm of a Himalayan drive as I enter the magnificent forests of Chanshal. The climb is steep. A Tata Nano (sounding like a tractor) is struggling hard to climb. The driver stops to let its engine cool after every bend. I am a trifle surprised to notice logging and cutting of trees in this notified dense forest cover. A worker informs me that the cutting and felling of trees is very selective and is being observed by the concerned departments of the state government.
I stop to savour the view of the valley I have just crossed. Water is oozing out of the mountain face and cascading down in the form of small streams. Topped with some icy peaks, the Sangthar Ghati and Durgi Ghati Range is in full view. The mountains and sky are playing out the overtures of a perfect landscape. The stunning panorama of the glorious array of snowy and rocky peaks surrounding the Sangthar and Durgi Ghatis with dense green valleys below under a deep blue sky is heavenly to say the least. The overpowering scent of dense forest is the heady factor that gives me pure and instant untrammelled joy. In addition to the peaks, the pulsating blueness of sky and the wildly intoxicating tang of fresh grass is the benison of hillsides of energetic alpine foliage shining bright under the sun. Rarely has my soul experienced such a sensually unrestrained pleasure. Six kilometres before the pass, I leave the treeline to enter a vast grassy wind-swept face of the Chanshal Range.
With a few more photo-halts, I am atop the pass after driving for about five hours from Sandasu. Once again, I get down from the vehicle. The panoramic display of the icy Himalayas is truly captivating. The sweeping mountainscape encompasses magnificence as well as beauty. Here everything is on the grandest scale, fragments of fallen rocks of immense bulk, hurried from the peaks above, and vast impending cliffs fringed with dark forests, and topped with mountains of indestructible snow, appear on two sides; vast meadows spread on rounded ridges encircled by verdure, and marginally populous villages encircled by fields and orchards towards the valley floor that hardly attracts my keenness which, at the moment, is devoted to minutely observing the Great Himalayan Show.
Some emergency equipment of road workers is parked near the crest of the Chanshal Pass (3784m). Despite the fact that I am venturing into a relatively unknown territory, I am in no hurry to descend the pass which has been infamous for landslides. With every passing hour, the intensity of sunlight changes enabling me to capture different perspectives of the same landscape. Later in the day, I begin my descent towards the Rupin Valley. The motorway becomes slightly narrow. The shaded patches on the road are still slushy. A teashop welcomes me to the treeline. Ahead, the road passes through a dense forest before reaching village Dodra. It is getting dark but I still opt to continue with the same pace. As I exit the forest belt, I wonder over the amount of Himalayas, the pass has induced in my senses a while back. The green valleys full of floating mist, white clouds against a crisp blue sky, the eternal snow of the Himalayas, smoke drifting up from the valley floor, the smell of logs and fresh-cut wood, the resinous smell of the conifers, the damp smells of foliage in the forest of Gods; everything is going to be forever etched in my mind.
The Chanshal Pass is nearly 50 km from Rohru in district Shimla. The distance between Chanshal and Kwar is 42 km. Separated by the Rupin, Dodra and Kwar are 22km from each other.
Best time to visit: Autumn
Travel Lure: Panoramic views and sylvan charm
Accommodation: Very limited at Kwar, Dodra, Larot and Chirgaon