So, this autumn, I finally managed to cross the Chanshal Pass, the last remaining major pass in Himachal for me and it had been eluding me for a decade. Various external issues made sure that I enjoyed the trip less than I should have and I also had to cut down my ambitions by visiting only one village of Dodra. Nevertheless, I managed to tick this one off my list.
For those new to this old blog, the Dodra-Kwar region has been on my radar for many years and I consider it one of the most exciting offbeat regions of Himachal still untouched by mass tourism. I already have a travel guide on Dodra Kwar, written by another guy who visited it after I suggested this region. However, visiting the place myself was important and after many failed attempts, I finally decided to cross the Chanshal and reach at least one of these villages.
A Difficult Beginning
As has been the trend with my change of circumstances post-pandemic, I found it difficult to get going as I returned to the Himalayas after a long gap. For some reason I was not feeling well, probably there was an internal fever which led to severe muscle aches as I reached Shimla via Delhi. I took an off-day in Shimla but there was minimal improvement. In such desperate situations, I usually do exactly the opposite of what people suggest. So, I decided to move on the next morning, challenging my constitution to face the heat and recover. I left my hotel around 9 AM and reached Tutikandi ISBT. Although I hadn’t enquired about the timings, it was perfect as I saw a bus to Rohru about to leave just as I reached the bus stand. I got a window seat too and the bus started moving.
The last time I took this route back in 2017, the road was under construction and was a dusty nightmare. However, this time it was a smooth ride and we reached Rohru within four hours crossing Theog, Kotkhai, Jubbal, and Hatkoti. With all the aching muscles, even walking seemed difficult and I somehow managed to find a cheap lodge which charged an exorbitant INR 700. Everything has become expensive in recent years. The glory days of below-poverty-line travelling are gone!
So, I was here before in 2017 and it is hard to explain how I failed back then. At that point, Rohru seemed somewhat sleepy and depressing. The usual touristy vibe that can be felt in most of the Himachali towns was sorely lacking here and the dingy bus stand looked straight out of the 1980s. I spent there two nights, and visited the Hatkoti Temple, but never felt like taking a bus to more remote areas from that bus stand and instead, I decided to take a perilous bus ride to Uttarakhand as I had some business at Rishikesh. I started from Rohru to Hanol, visited the temple, missed the next bus, and then walked to Mori, at the edge of Har ki Doon, along the Tons River, carrying all my luggage. The next day I reached Purola and then Dehradun. I don’t know why I did that, I have no photographs from that stretch and I wish I return to that area and that style of mindless travelling someday!
Anyway, this time Rohru looked different or maybe last time I judged it too soon. First of all, there is a new and shiny HRTC bus stand further off the town and the old one has vanished into thin air. There were huge numbers of new hotels, fancy restaurants, and bars. It seemed that the town was going through an economic boom. I even noticed several bars but decided to have a drink only if I succeeded next day
Chanshal Pass: A Friendly Rickety Ride
The next day, I felt marginally better and so, I decided to move on. The bus arrived on time but the road beyond Rohru belonged to a different era. The slow progress gradually became frustrating as every small stretch took a lot of time. We crossed Chirgaon and Larot as more and more people hopped onto the bus.
There is one interesting thing I must clarify before going further. The elevation of the Chanshal Pass is around 3700 meters, which makes it a bit lower than Rohtang Pass. However, some online sources has mentioned it as 4500 meters. This is why, even I was a bit careful as an elevation of 4500 meters means almost perennial snow like Sach Pass. However, as the bus finally reached the Chanshal top pretty quickly, and there was no sign of snow or even mist, I can now verify that the real elevation is indeed around 3700 meters. The bus stopped here for a while and I could click some photographs. Some distant peaks were visible on the horizon on that clear autumn day. This stretch offers nice wild blossoms during the summers and monsoons but I was a bit too late for that.
At Dodra Village
Eventually, the bus descended from Chanshal crossing a densely forested patch and entered Rupin valley. We finally reached Dodra at around 4 PM. Most existing accounts mentioned that the bus never managed to reach before 6 PM due to difficult road conditions, so I was happy with this progress. The bus stopped in front of a dhaba called Negi Bhojanalaya, where I ordered some tea and food. This dhaba has been here for many years. Established by a certain Negiji, this has provided refreshments and shelter to many travellers. Negiji is no more but his wife and other family members have kept it running. I had information that one can also stay here but was not sure about the facilities. However, soon I noticed a newly built house behind the dhaba. It has a series of rooms, with a common western bathroom at the end of the row. She charged INR 800 for the room, which was a bit more than I expected. However, as I have mentioned already, days of shoestring travel are gone!
This region is still a part of Shimla district but it is a long way from the city of Shimla. Nevertheless, new telecom towers have been set up recently and internet connectivity was perfect in Dodra (and also in Kwar as I was informed by the locals). The best part was that a distant slope visible from my room had amaranths blooming among the greens. It was also the perfect time as it was facing west and was illuminated throughout the evening. I finally took out my bulky zoom lens which is a pain to carry in such trips.
The next morning I woke up to a glowing sunrise. I had made up my mind to return to Rohru with limited days in hand. Visiting Kwar would have taken one extra day and I was not in good shape for serious hikes etc to explore beyond the village. The same bus would return from Kwar in the morning and reach at around 10 am. So, I took my time walking around a bit (I felt much better that morning). The two targets in my mind included a quick walk around the village and a close look at the amaranths.
First I took the path behind the homestay that went directly to the village. It is a typical Himachal village on the mountain slope where new concrete structures are cropping up in between the traditionally delightful wooden structures. There is one big tower temple on the edge and most people seemed busy with household work. The main deity in this region is Jakh Devta and so, the temples are mostly dedicated to him.
After spending some time in the village, I walked a bit towards the road as I had already spotted Amaranths there from the dhaba. As it turned out, they were in full bloom and I was also getting good views of the village from here. Amaranth is nowadays being exoticised as a superfood but it has been used in remote mountainous areas since ancient times. I happened to reach the peak of the blooming season, which explains the red patches all over the valley. I asked the lady at the dhaba about it and she told me that they would be harvested after a few weeks, They used amaranth to make rotis by mixing it with flour and also make laddoos of it mixed with jaggery.
The Long Return
The bus from Kwar arrived at around 10 AM and the return journey started. However, the return was going to take longer. I have seen multiple accounts of this route by other travellers, who have pointed out the unpredictability of this bumpy stretch. I had reached Dodra very easily without facing any of these issues but the return finally showed the true colours of the stretch as the bus suddenly broke down around Larot just after crossing the Chashal.
the driver sent words for mechanics but they were going to come from Rohru, that too after finding some transport. So, we ended up waiting for 3-4 hours but thankfully there was a shop offering tea and instant noodles to save the day. Eventually, the mechanics arrived, repaired the bus and started again. The local passengers had left by then by securing lifts in private vehicles. I could have done it too but I wanted to see how long it takes. EVentually, we reached Rohru at night and I was the only passenger left. The driver and mechanics even stopped at Chirgaon for some Sprite and Lays party that they also shared with me. SUch small celebrations are required when life is tough. I took inspiration from them and after reaching Rohru and getting a hotel room (I finally located the same hotel where I had stayed in 2017), I also celebrated this minor victory by visiting one of those new bars in town.