Snuggled comfortably in an armchair, I finish my second cup of ginger lemon tea. Dark clouds hover over a sunny day, and soon enough, a drizzle turns into a downpour. As I sit there looking at the raindrops caressing the pine leaves, I am lulled to sleep by the pitter-patter.
An hour’s drive away from the Great Himalayan National Park, the virgin village of Jibhi will never fail to offer you the solace you are seeking. With all the trappings of a hill station – the idea of cool comfort, far from the sweltering heat of cities – Jibhi in Banjar valley in the Kullu district, is slowly climbing up the ladder of popularity. Jibhi provides a great base for hiking, fishing, or just enjoying the outdoors. There is no sign of commercialisation, yet. Wander off a trail and you will probably find yourself facing a secluded waterfall or a stream.
Towards the sacred lake
On my first morning here, I hired a cab to drive me up a serpentine and treacherous road to the beautiful Jalori Pass, perched high up (an altitude of over 10,000 feet) in Himachal’s Karsog Valley. This high mountain pass is also the prelude to a beautiful hiking trail towards the tranquil Serolsar Lake.
Here, I started my walk over a ridge overlooking bare mountaintops, and eventually entered an enchanting oak forest. After arriving at the clear waters of Serolsar, I sat down with no particular agenda. And as I vegetated for a while, I watched the water reflect the torn clouds drifting in the blue canopy above.
On my way back, I fell into conversation with a local who told me about another beautiful hike to Chehni Kothi. The hike would be steep, he said, and gauging the mood of the weather Gods, could also be muddy. But the chance to witness the region’s most enthralling piece of architecture had me saying yes in no time.
A towering sentinel
It is possible to drive to this place, but I chose to embark on a four-kilometre hike instead. Trudging along a thick coat of deodar trees on a mountain slope, I arrived at the fringes of a village and finally caught the first glimpse of the towering sentinel.
This tower temple of Chaini is the tallest standing structure of its kind (45 meters) in the entire Western Himalayas. It survived the devastating 1905 Kangra earthquake, although it ended up two upper storeys short because of the shocks.
This type of temple tower is a rare example of Pahadi architecture, notably in the Kullu and Kangra districts of Himachal Pradesh. Situated in isolation within these Himalayan ranges, the builders of these temples developed construction methods of kath-kuni, a traditional architecture that makes use of locally available wood of Deodhar and Kail trees with stone. In the absence of cementing material, the structure becomes non-rigid, which dissipates stresses developed in the structure during earthquakes, thus preventing large-scale destruction and loss of life. The thick walls act as insulation and keep the interiors warm during cold. Moreover, all materials are easily available and do not deteriorate, thus saving on wastage.
In pursuit of trouts
Jibhi houses India’s most well-kept secret fishing camps. As soon as you set foot here, you’ll be welcomed by a host of posters and signboards for angling tours.
The gurgling streams of Banjar and Tirthan valley are famous for rainbow and brown trout. The Himachal government classifies the Tirthan River as an angling reserve, which means that it does not allow any hydro power project on this river to maintain its rich aquatic biodiversity.
It’s easy to procure a fishing permit, once you make friends with the locals here. It gives permission to enjoy fishing in a 45 km stretch of the river. For amateurs, they’ll bring you up to speed with the basics of angling, and if you fancy a fresh catch for dinner, the lessons are totally worth the time.
Of hidden streams and mountain trails
Jibhi is a walker’s paradise. You just need to take a look at the hand-drawn maps at any guest house or hotel, illustrating the area’s walking trails – a canvas of verdant woods, endearing little bridges and so many rivers and waterfalls that you’ll lose count. Myriad birds sing in the slopes, littered with villages that unveil a warm and unique rural culture.
On my last evening here, I woke up to a carpet of wild iris that had bloomed earlier, and decided to take another walk. While following a trail through tall pine trees, I traced my steps down a slope, when a meadow with a river came into sight. I raced to it like a child, and when I found a seat atop a boulder, I sat there for hours, watching time flow past me in the frothing coolness.
The Kullu Manali airport at Bhuntar Town (50 km south of Manali) is the nearest airport. Air India and some private airlines have regular flights. From here, it’s a two-hour drive to Jibhi.
During the summer months (Mar-May), the temperature in Jibhi is pleasant, and rarely goes above 30°C. Autumn (Oct-Nov) is also a good time to visit, with temperatures ranging between 15°C and 25°C, with a slight nip in the air.