The day started well. As I was waiting for the bus, I finally got an opportunity to click a yellow-billed blue magpie that has been eluding me since the start of this summer trip. The picture wasn’t clear as my basic lens was too slow to capture a bird in flight. But I knew that this will be a day of visual orgasms.
Also, this was the day of the HRTC strike. So, not HRTC buses were running that day and the private buses were overcrowded. I got into one of them at Jibhi but left it at Shoja. The distance was around 8 kms but the bus negotiated some steep ascents at every turn and climbed from 1800 metres to 2600 metres. Jalori Pass was 5 kms away and I thought I could manage the rest on my own and got down at Shoja.
I have always felt that I missed out on a lot of good views while commuting from one place to another. Since I travel on public transport, I cannot stop them at will. I spot some great frames but the vehicles pass by quickly and the points where they stop turn out to be invariably disappointing. That is why over the years I have formed a habit of leaving the bus a few kms before the destination, and walking those stretches in search of better views. Such decisions have served me well before at diverse places such as Sangla and Satara.
Coming back to the present trip, I’d been noticing these shrubs of Iris around Jibhi and Cheni Kothi. The flowers had dried up already and so I was wondering if I’d mistimed the trip. However, the same flowers were in full bloom near Shoja, a few hundred meters higher up. I saw them as soon as I left the bus.
As I walked past Shoja, more and more of them became visible. Entire slopes of the mountain on both sides of the road were witnessing a violet avalanche. I spent the next couple of hours slowly moving forward and clicking pictures. Forgive me if these ones seem repetitive, but I could not decide which one to post.
Interestingly, this stretch of Iris lasts only for a couple of Kilometres, as you can see from these milestones. Ferns and wild roses take over after that. Shoja is around 5 kms from Jalori Pass and in the Iris season, even the milestones looked photogenic, except the last one which for some reasons was defaced and uprooted.
It took around two and a half hour for me to reach Jalori. There was temple and a few dhabas. Way too many visitors had gathered around them and it did not look to appealing to me at all. I was already satisfied with the previous stretch and due to the strike, I was more or less sure that I’ll have to walk back the whole 12.5 kms back to my homestay in Jibhi.
There were two short detours from Jalori top, Serolsar Lake (5 Kms) and Raghupur Fort (3 Kms). However, after various permutations and combinations I felt that I will not be able to cover them that day. But I wanted to do something more before returning. So, I started climbing the faint trail along the rolling hill behind the temple. The hills were pretty smooth, bereft of big trees but full of tiny wildflowers. After climbing for a while, I noticed a small shrine at a distance.
Some local visitors were returning from the same shrine. They waved at me and pointed me towards another shrine higher up. I kept walking for a while and reached another unmanned shrine. But after that point, the trail was going noiwhere. The weather had also worsened and it was threatening to rain. I clicked as many pictures as I can and started returning slowly and reluctantly.
The lower hill had turned into a cowtopia by the time I returned. The cattle here looked much healthier than those in the towns, grazing on the wild herbs and flowers. I also noticed some Rhododendron trees (if I wasn’t mistaken). So, I guess in spring, these hills would be having a reddish hue.
While returning, I did get a bus, apparently the same one that left me at Shoja. However, by that time I’d made up my mind to test my endurance to its fullest extent. So, I ignored it and kept walking. It was around 5.30 by the time I reached Shoja and the sun had reappeared. Vast fields of cauliflower, wheat, potatoes, and other vegetables along the slopes looked pretty colourful and they seamlessly coexisted with dense, coniferous forests just beyond their boundaries.
It was around 7 pm by the time I reached Jibhi. I was still feeling upbeat however the next morning I realised the extent of stress that I’d put myself into. Also, I learnt from the locals that this route is being upgraded to a National Highway, I wonder if this will remain the same after a few years! But let us keep the mood upbeat for the time being and not get into those depressing parts. And what about that bird? Yes, I finally managed to get less disappointing pictures the next day!