Call of the Himalayas – to Shoja, Jibhi

Leaving behind Tandi I spent a few days in Shoja, another village above Jibhi. It was a little sad to leave Tandi, but moving on is what I am good at. Looking forward to a more exciting tour I started my journey from the treehouse village but took a detour to Shoja, via Jibhi.

Highlights of Jibhi

A rather commercialised tourist spot, Jibhi, is brimming over with hostels and homestays by the river. Jibhi houses many cafes on either side of the river where you can simply rest after a hectic trek, or read a book under the shade of the pine trees, or gorge onto some delicacies while watching the river flow by incessantly.

The Pushpabhad river which meets Beas further ahead, however, is not very clean. The area being quite populated and frequented by tourists, do not be surprised to see kitchen waste or plastic bags and discarded beer bottles in the river bed, or tucked away in between the boulders. Tourists are not very responsible here. Despite the occasional garbage, it is pleasant to sit by the river and spend a lazy afternoon. The serenity one can bask in while lounging on a bolder and watching the river flow by ceaselessly is an incomparable feeling, and nothing can dim the glory of this feeling, not even the disgusting beer bottles on the side.

I stopped by Hope café, a rooftop restaurant that provides a nice view of the river with the new friends I met at Tandi while trekking to Jalori pass, for some steaming hot momos. The place is famous for Trout dishes, so if you find yourself lucky to visit in the season of trout do not hesitate to try out the dishes.

After spending the entire afternoon by the river, watching birds, clicking photos, and playing around with the water we decided to get some coffee and cake. On the way to find another café, we came across a fruit wine store, that captured the heart of one of my friends. Having purchased a bottle of red wine we visited Jungle Valley café and tried some of their homemade pastries with coffee. While the hot beverage comforted the body to deal with the outside cold, the sweet chocolate tart comforted my soul.

We said our goodbyes outside this café and went our separate ways – my friends to Aut to board a Delhi-bound bus and I to The Hosteller in Shoja. The uphill road to Shoja leads the way to Jalori pass and Raghupur Fort.

Highlights of my stay Shoja

On the way, I could hear the gurgling sound of the river fade away to a more quiet meditative white noise rarely disrupted by chirping birds. Here, other than the mesmerizing view of the mountain ranges I also found specks of intact snow from weeks ago by the side of the road.

The Hosteller is a great place to meet like-minded travellers and have some interesting conversations. You might learn about more places to visit, unheard of dishes to try, and more means of travel to save your money. The night sky here is far supreme more than what I had seen in Tandi, and this place is undoubtedly an excellent location for stargazing. Although a lot cooler than Jibhi or Tandi, you’ll fancy wanting to stay up till the middle of the night just to watch the night sky light up with the dazzling diamonds while you might as well not be able to feel your legs in the cold!

The hostel is located on one side of the road, while the other side overlooks a crop field on the mountain slope. You may want to spend your day sitting by the road or on the field with your laptop and work in the sound of silence basking under the golden sun. I did see a fellow hosteller spend his days working in the fields (on his laptop of course).
I spent a day walking down to Jibhi with my roommate (a steep 7km trek downhill – works well if you skipped your leg-day workouts) to visit the Jibhi waterfalls. The road passes by a village called Ghiyagi where we stopped for some tea before heading on to Jibhi. We stopped at Shingri Vatika, a restaurant and homestay run by an elderly couple and here’s where I discovered the Himachali dish called Siddu. I ordered one for the next day with high hopes.

Jibhi falls wasn’t an awe-inspiring location, but the little stops we made to admire the river, the blooming cherry trees or the picturesque houses on the way were worth the long walk. However, all the joy started to evaporate when the reality of walking back 7km uphill set in. It was too late to wait for a bus, and our only hope to escape walking was to be at mercy of any car passing by.

I had never hitch-hiked earlier, and although it seemed like a risk I was willing to take it. My roommate and I were both adult, independent and working women solo travellers. Starting from the waterfall we started to walk faster hoping to reach our destination before it gets completely dark. Thankfully a car stopped to offer us a lift till Shoja, and we eagerly obliged. Over some fine conversation about the village, the weather, the beauty of the mountains and very apt music we reached our destination quite soon and hassle-free.

Although The Hosteller had their cafeteria, we decided to drop by another café a few hundred meters ahead – Firgun. It offers a breathtaking view of the valley below, and a starry night sky above. Sitting for some snacks and chai in the warmth of the Bukhari inside I noticed that most of the travellers here were working on the go. Having finished my food I decided to head back to the hostel and get a warm shower. But I was warned of the pitch-black road back to the hostel and was asked to switch on the phone torchlight and play music to not be scared.

I laughed to myself, I have never been scared of the dark. But it was wise to take the advice of locals, and so I started alone in the dark. It wasn’t until about a few minutes that I realised that I was completely alone in the road, and there was no speck of artificial light to be seen 360 degrees. I was surrounded by this engulfing blackness of the night – it was surprisingly very soothing. And then I looked above – what I saw made my heart flutter with immense joy and excitement.

One could not differentiate the sky from the land without the million white dazzling dots. It was a piece of art, only too large to fit a canvas. Stars of all sizes, it seemed, had captured the sky. Countless constellations, small clusters of stars, individual bright twinkles filled the black sky and reminded me of the magnitude of the universe. This sight took me back 14 years when I had witnessed a similar sky during a trip detour to Jairambati-Kamarpukur in West Bengal. I don’t know how long I stood there gazing at the sky, undisturbed by any passing vehicle, or man-made noise – I was just there, alone in the dark, soaking in this winning sight. I sensed sudden happiness brimming over me as I developed a more bouncy swag to my otherwise straight walk, and started playing Avicci’s The Nights to match my rhythm at the moment.

The following day I befriended a hosteller and we drove to Ghiyagi to try out the siddu I ordered the previous day. During the trip, we made another friend, a biker from Tamil Nadu, with whom we trekked down to a place discovered by locals called mini-Thailand. Well, it was not worth the hype, but undoubtedly it is a serene spot to sit and have a hearty chat with your friends or pose for some photos between the two large boulders with the seemingly stagnant pool of water from the river. We went further towards Jibhi and ventured into the cafes on the other side of the river before going back to the hostel.

The staff at The Hosteller is not only friendly but caring. Seeing my eagerness over trying a local dish the previous day they offered siddu to me that night for dinner, and I could not be any happier. Gobbling on a new favourite, I went out for a walk in the dark again. I could not have enough of that night sky in Shoja. While many are scared of the dark, some love the quietude, beauty and focus that darkness brings with it.

I imagined myself from the gaze of the sky, from the point of view of someone up there: far below I might seem to them like a tiny dot trotting around in the pitch-black mountain-stretch as I walked to and fro with my phone torch-light on. Oh, the feeling is overwhelmingly beautiful. I could not help but hum “Aao huzur tumko sitaron me lein chalun,” to myself, only hoping for my (imaginary) man to be there to enjoy the moment with.

I was to start for Sainj valley the following day. Waking up late, I missed the bus but had the company of the staff and fellow hostellers at the cafeteria to brighten up the waiting time with stories and travel tips till I boarded the next bus till Larji.

To be continued…


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