Already high from the impact of the raw folkways of Kwar, I was back at my room in the afternoon. The village was briefly blanketed by a cloud of mist in the morning today. Now with the clouds having boiled up from condensation, the valley wears a dreamy look as though it was kept under wraps in the morning. The cloud layer has completely vanished by now. A majority of the olden houses are built using deodar wood. With the lifting of mist, the already fresh air becomes filled with the resin smell of deodar.
Being the peak of grass cutting season, both women and men are working frantically with their short-handled sickle to cut grass for winter fodder. Up here, their schedule is busy at any time of the year but now they will soon have to start harvesting the kharif crop and simultaneously cut whole hillsides clear of lush grass. The tough season of winters is just around the corner. The overpowering scent of newly trimmed hay is the heady factor in making me feel that this is a place of pure unrestrained joy. As I lay down on the small patch of green grass in the courtyard of the rest house, the caretaker offers me some ginger tea. He is aware that I have missed today’s afternoon meal as well. Sipping the hot sugary tea and nibbling biscuits, I soak up the afternoon sun. A sense of contentment grips me.
There is something in the Himalayan air – especially in autumn season – which according to me is conducive to both passion and romance. The warmth of the bright sunrays turn my mind to journeys those taken and those never done. Thinking of my travel fantasies, this time my mind wanders to a road expedition along the ancient GT Road from Kolkata to Peshawar as well as the Great India Road Trip and an extended sojourn in the North East India. With me being lost in oblivion, my gaze suddenly catches on a bird of prey. A Himalayan griffon vulture is soaring high in thermals. I collect my camera kit and try in vain to make a photograph. The barrenness of the Rupin range overshadows the colour of the bird.
I try to make a sense of the geography of the valley. The river Rupin is not visible from the spot where I am standing. The level space at the bottom of the valley is inconsiderable; being usually not much broader than is sufficient for the passage of the river. On its both sides, the small level spots on the mountain faces are laid out into orchards. Generally, the arable land is scattered in narrow slips interspersed with incredible woods of pines and deodars. In between, the terrain is covered with green sward and countless varieties of loveliest wildflowers; there are clumps of forest and beds of juniper here and there, but the inclination is occasionally gentle, mostly ruled by sheer rocks which are exposed in most parts. The uppermost green belt forms the pasture lands, where shepherds tend their flocks in summer. These verdant meadows reach to above 4000m and are crowned by mountains covered with eternal snow or sterile peaked masses of granite. The snowline is not visible from the village clusters of Kwar as well as Dodra.
Cultivation is abounding and thriving with grains, vegetables, orchards or apricots and apples wherever a slant in the terrain is observed. Extensive orchards and fields are possible in the middle portions of mountain faces here; after which the mountains rise rapidly at an angle of 60 to 75 degree; and are thickly wooded. The forest belt on both sides extend to the treeline; but owing to the moisture content, such is the crumbling nature of the terrain in some parts, that prodigious masses every now and then give way with a horrid crash, overthrowing the trees and leaving nothing behind but a wreck of naked rocks, devoid of vegetation. Landslides and slips are very common and so is the availability of water. The pasturage here is not as abundant as on the right bank of the river a little downstream. Beyond the pasturage on the left bank towers the white summit of the stupendous Himalayas.
The scenery of this valley partakes in grandeur as well as beauty. From my vantage point, I can see the transition from the inhabited terrain to the forest line, from forest line to the tree line and from tree line to the snowline; the mountains of indestructible snow are invisible from here. What is most common is a solitary house with a small piece of cultivation or a few orchards attached; that seldom attracts the eye of the observer. As we had been observing for the past few days, people have devised their own pastimes on account of rigorous climate, mountain-locked isolation. They spend long wintery nights by relating traditional stories. Singing and dancing is the hallmark of almost all auspicious occasions. Locally brewed liquor finds its consumption to maximum on such occasions.
The plan for the day was to climb down to the village of Pujarli and hike back before the sundown. Mangal presents an excuse at the last moment and the caretaker has to hold the fort in SDM’s absence at the rest house. I immediately arrange my stuff and head towards the village of Pujarli. Returning from their primary school, a few enthusiastic school kids join me on the marked trail that begins just next to the rest house. Descending the slopes of Kwar, Kitrawadi is the first settlement that I reach where the kids bid me bye. I enter the premises of the main temple of the village. The vantage point offers a comprehensive view of the Pujarli flat ground along with the Kwar Jakh temples as well as the settlement. Cascading down the slopes, the blue-white waters of the Rupin adds to the beauty of the landscape. The entrance to the temple, marked by numerous trophies and game wins, is locked. With nobody in sight, I begin my descent towards the Pujarli flats.
The Gurkhas lost badly when they attacked the valley of Dodra – Kwar. The locals overpowered the armed Gurkhas and caught them off guard in their sleep at night. It is claimed that the armours of Gurkhas, seized that night, are kept on display at the Kitrawadi temple. For visitors and outsiders, entry inside the temple is seldom possible. With much ease I descend the narrow lanes of Kitrawadi to reach the Pujarli flats. A motorable track that branches off the Dodra-Kwar motorway just before Kwar, reaches the settlement of Pujarli. The picturesque little hamlet of Pujarli is situated on a slope with houses rising one above the other, and the Rupin valley head looming large over the horizon. Orchards are abundant here. The settlement is already full of afternoon hustle-bustle. With no local to give me a company, this time I am considered a total tourist. Curious eyes follow me till the temple complex.
As I reach the temple site, a young man, who was earlier sitting idle in the complex, comes forward and instructs me not to enter any of the three temples. “And you cannot get the permission either”, he adds. I ask for the temple priest and the maali, a conduit for the devta, the chief deity of Kwar Jakh. “No one is around at the moment”, he responds. Later, I gather that one has to prove his caste before entering the temple premises. Even Raja Virbhadhra Singh, the Chief Minister of the state, who enjoys considerable respect among the locals, pay his obeisance by remaining outside only. Whatever be the reason, the temple belongs to locals only. But it must be said that the temple architecture of Dodra – Kwar valley is a thing of beauty to behold. Perched on a platform, the exquisiteness and clarity of the wood craft can take one’s breath away.
The valley experiences very heavy rain and snow fall which forced the architects of the temple to construct wooden structures to protect the devotees from cold; the slanted roofs provide these intriguing structures with a long life. These temples are not only the focal points of its religio-cultural activities and beliefs of the peoples, but also the veritable repositories of the religio-artistic expression of the art of the people. The wooden carvings of temples are different than those of the residential complexes. The carvings on houses depict designs of flowers, branches, trees or birds; whereas, the carvings on temples showcases deity and devils, monsters, animals, snakes, war scenes, etc. With rich floral devices, elegant verandas and pierced panels, the temples are a true masterpiece of the local wood-craft. A small detached balcony adds to the perfection. Round it hangs a fringe of wooden drops, which often produces a soft jangling in the wind. As is noticeable in the newly constructed as well as under construction houses, the wood-craft is still alive and thriving in the valley.
The village of Pujarli is at a 2km of hiking distance from Kwar, which is 42 km from the Chanshal Pass. A narrow motorable road to Pujarli branches off the Dodra-Kwar motorway a few kilometres before Kwar. Separated by the Rupin, Dodra and Kwar are 22km from each other.
Altitude: 2400 m
Best time to visit: Autumn
Travel Lure: Culture and sylvan charm
Accommodation: Very limited at Pujarli