I pull up one of the spare chairs in the small patch of grass in the courtyard of the Forest Rest House at Dodra (2564m). The intriguing folkways of Kwar still occupy my mind. For me, there is a fresh excitement related to any trip in the Himalayas. For pure delight what can equal a day’s walk or trek out into a fresh landscape? With eyes shut I can conjure up a picture of every day’s journey I have so far made in this Himalayan sojourn; I can even recall every bend of the narrow lanes of Kwar. On such outings even the most common object is of fascination; every viewpoint, every plant, bird of beetle. And for this reason, it does not worry me if the locals stop and stare at the mad visitor in me.
It is a bright sunny day and the air is softly caressing the tall woods. The bubbling and loudly hissing sound of my portable electric tea kettle portends a warm morning. Mangal’s associate in the agriculture department who hails from Dodra is expected here anytime now. Just as Mangal in Kwar, he will guide and accompany me through this side of the valley. Dodra and Kwar do not have any of the clichéd tourist attractions to put it in the same bracket as other hill destinations. Apart from raw village life and folkways, what it offers is an uninhibited rendezvous with nature to fuel a process of self-discovery, oblivious of time.
Curled beneath the eastern ramparts of the Himalayan state of Himachal Praddesh, broods a hidden corner surrounded by unexplored forests in a lesser visited valley. The picturesque valley of Dodra Kwar lies folded between scenic Baspa Valley, the steaming jungles of Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, the mountains of Kanatal above the Tons Valley and the heritage Valley of Pabbar. Remote and mountainous, local spirits and demons thrive even as the devtas are appeased by the blood of sacrificed beasts. The hidden valleys and forests of this absolute goldmine of flora and fauna, provides sanctuary to a fabulous array of exotic and alarming creatures. Specie that villagers fear the most includes the Himalayan Bear, which prowl along the wooded ridges and sometimes through their fields.
The FRH is located a little above the bus stop point of Dodra. The caretaker, who hails from Dodra, comes to the two-roomed hutment only when asked to do so. The key of the FRH remains with the owner of the only dhaba located at the bus stop down below. This morning when I landed at the dhaba for a cup of tea and to enquire about the whereabouts of the caretaker, the owner instead handed me a bunch of keys. I later gathered that this has been a normal practise here and whenever a traveling official or government servant needs a place to crash for the night in case of emergency, this coordination comes handy. Besides, the dhaba is the only place to get an easy meal in Dodra. The FRH has no kitchen of its own. The FRH at Pujarli as well as the PWD RH at Kwar both have working kitchens but the caretakers would still want you to eat outside. Here I am presented with no option but to eat outside.
I am particularly wary and mindful of my eating habits at Dodra primarily because someone at Kwar had warned me not to eat at any place or home except for this dhaba. As per the local lore in the valley, outsiders don’t eat in the houses of Dodra for fear of the food being poisoned to please the spirits. The man at Kwar (name withheld) told me that the incidents of poisoning one’s food (bish) occur only in the village of Dodra in the entire valley. Despite my obvious keenness, I do not discuss this issue with the dhaba owner, Rameshwar Negi, a local only.
The dhaba owner, an unruffled oldie also told me that a couple of school teachers, who were on their way to Shimla, had stayed here the night before to hitchhike up to Rohru, on the other side of the Chanshal. He adds that due to its remoteness and connectivity – despite the recently carved motorway – the Dodra Kwar region proves to be a nightmarish posting for the government employees of the state. In the bureaucratic parlance, a transfer to this region is oft-called a political punishment. During winters, to reach Shimla, the district as well as state headquarters for the valley, one has to trek till Naitwar to catch a transport till Dehradun in Uttarakhand. The bus then reaches Shimla via Chandigarh and Solan. Providing a connect between the Pabbar and Rupin Valleys, the Chanshal opens only for a few months after the snow is cleared off the Pass in summers.
After an hour of wait, Vikas is finally at the FRH. We then depart for the village. Now attached with the agriculture department on contract, Vikas has previously worked with a popular trekking agency active in the Rupin Valley. As we approach the narrow lanes of the village, Vikas introduces me to his former colleagues who are now engaged on the popular Rupin Pass trek that culminates at Sangla in the Baspa Valley. The trail is not only very scenic but is moderate on the activity scale. As we had seen this morning, while returning from Kwar, the character of the Rupin is more of the nature of a torrent than that of a large voluminous river. As it descends the slopes of Rupin, the river takes fall in several spots to reach the valley floor. As the river rushes over rocks with a clamorous noise, few of such falls are over 100 ft that exhibits heaps of white foam.
Not only among the current mountaineering fraternity but the Dodra Kwar to Sangla trail over the Rupin Pass has always been popular. Before the advent of the bridle path, the HT road through the Satluj Valley, many travellers and traders preferred to enter Kinnaur via the Baspa Valley. Traversing the middle Himalayas, this could be accomplished through a series of passes. Just as the pioneer explorer of Kinnaur, Alexander Gerard, preferred the Buran pass to crossover from the Pabbar Valley, Lady Canning, the then Vicereine of British India is said to have trekked over the Rupin Pass on her way to Chini in 1860. It has of course been a preferred route for local shepherds as well.
By now we are in the middle of the village Dodra. In comparison with the village of Kwar, the settlement of Dodra looks more rustic. Barring a few houses, most structures retained the traditional wooden design of the valley. With roof slates shining bright in the sun; from a distance, the entire village looks to be occupied by houses which are made of wood. Howsoever cramped though it may be, every structure seems to get its little patch in the valley under the sun. The small settlement of Dodra has more temples in comparison to a fairly large village of Kwar. We visit all the temples one by one. Just as the case in Kwar, I am denied an entrance inside the main temple.
On the other side of noon, a shift in the weather happens. The sun is directly above the valley; and we are in the midst of cold green woods below the village. The trees are increasingly moru oak, arising out of a sunless ground of dense foliage. The stillness of the forest seems held in a place by the unbroken, ceaseless chirping of birds. Tips of tall trees catch some sun. Filtered by their thick leaves, the light that falls on the ground is dark and green. Light is not favourable but I still make a few photo records.
If one comes to Dodra Kwar as a tourist to make merry or for luxurious vacation, he may well be entirely disappointed by the complete nonexistence of such options. Forget the social photographs. Of course, there are heritage temples but that’s about it. One could probably visit these and take a walk around the entire settlement in less than thirty minutes. Save for a single shop selling items of basic necessity, there is no bazaar or a café to hangout. But then what a casual glance would observe is its distinctive culture, belief and architecture. Having observed the geography, village life, architecture and costumes, etc. from close quarters in Kwar, I wanted to get a sneak into the temple life and structure. But then outsiders are seldom allowed inside. With separate temples meant for different castes, adherence to the caste system is duly observed.
The main temple of the village is Dodra Jakh. Just as Kwar, the cult of Jakh devta dominates this village as well. The Dodra Jakh devta is the collective chief deity of villages Dodra and Chohara. The devta spends two years in Janglik and Kinnaur and returns to Dodra in a procession, in which a member from each household participates, every third year. The Jakh is considered to be the supreme God of this valley, where nothing can be done without his consent. This is precisely why the concept of Devtantra was strictly observed for administrative as well as judiciary purposes till a few years back. Just as Prajatantra (the authority of the people) or Rajtantra (authority of the King) functions elsewhere, Devtantra (authority of the Gods) functions in Dodra Kwar. These days, the Devtantra is no longer observed for administrative or judicial issues but for social issues, it still calls the shots. In olden days, the Devtantra solved most issues and the system suited the people as well as the harsh terrain where it was always difficult to govern for any kingdom.
To conclude this series, I’d say that my sojourn in the remote valley of Dodra Kwar had almost all essentials of a Himalayan exploration and travels. Beautiful landscapes to mysterious folkways, food habits to house architecture, agriculture to adventure; just about everything qualifies for it be explored by intellectuals, adventurers and travellers alike with a much deeper interest. With this thought, I’d request each one of you to constructively devour Himalayan adventure, discovery and knowledge to realise love with your inner self. I have tried to sum up my sojourn in this hidden world to the best of my understanding. If you still have any query left in your mind, please feel free to ask. Email is the best way to reach me.
The village of Dodra is 21km from the crest of the Chanshal Pass and 22km from Kwar.
Best time to visit: Autumn
Travel Lure: Culture and sylvan charm
Accommodation: Very limited at Dodra