Leaving Khajjiar in its serene slumber we reached Jammu
We didn’t really leave Khajjiar till we left Khajji Nag temple behind. The first sighting of Pir Panjal snow range created a pulse of excitement in both of us Tukai and me, no doubt about it. The excitement remained with us. We knew beforehand that snow range could be seen from Khajjiar in clear days. As our lake ground was walled off by tall trees, perhaps snow range sighting won’t have been possible from there at all. But now we were with the snow view. My friend assured us that it will remain with us till Jot pass. That made us happy. Always on the lookout for a still better view, we had to make my friend stop the car time to time.
Though the elevation of the snow range was low and it was far away at the horizon, one always wished to bring the desired object nearer.
The range didn't have very high peaks; on an average altitude of the peaks being 21000 feet. In Himalayan scale that is not respectably high at all. But the range had its strengths. It maintained kind of unbroken wall all along the northwest to southeast horizon.
Long jagged white capped wall
I had seen much more majestic snow views of Himalayan peaks elsewhere in the past. But here the lack of apparent grandeur of the snow range was compensated by the dark green rolling hills and the tall trees in the foreground. There was a trace of primitivity and wilderness in the environment that appealed to me. Practically no traffic on the road enhanced this feeling.
Lonely road engulfed in green
The empty road lay still like a tape. Rising from the ravine down below tall trees touched and enfolded it; all healthy deodars with dense foliage—near Khajjiar the trees retained health and radiated verdant green.
The road was a beauty. It was nearly deserted, rising and falling at steep gradients on occasions. While the small car banked, the green hillsides also rolled over—mile after mile, with us not talking at all—just drinking in the moving scene. It was pleasure for us, though not for my friend—driving was long and strenuous on this road.
Later I found the distance from Khajjiar to Jot pass shown as 18 kms. Perhaps my friend had taken a different route for showing us his beautiful Himachal hills as long as possible, for, we were told, after Jot pass it would be only downhill to the plains. It took us, including frequent halts, not less than three hours to reach Jot pass, the highest picnic spot in Himachal.
All along the way, Pir Panjal range didn’t leave us. After a bend it would suddenly show itself through the trees, so beautiful!
Glaring white snow peaks through tall green trees
And like small children we repeatedly would try to capture its beauty and remain ever insatiated.
Gradually the trees thinned, wide patches showed up on the faces of the hills, and the ambiance turned drab and bare.
The brightly colored dresses of the village women walking from a village nearby made a stark contrast to the drab brown bare earth of the hills.
Himachali women on their way home
Perhaps they would go down the faintly visible zigzagging track to their village in the valley below. Sparse traffic go by this road. Perhaps one or two buses ply throughout the day picking up waiting passengers all along the way.
As I watched the sloping roof houses on the hillsides for some time, it occurred to me from what I had seen of these village houses—all looked very new and clean. These were not really like any other poorer village in our country.
At a point on the road while looking through the window to the valley on the left, I requested my friend to stop the car again. From right to left the hillsides were dotted with sprinklings of small hut-like houses all with apparently brand new shining roofs.
Hillside dotted with shining tin roofs
When I looked nearer, it looked not at all like a conventional village to me. The terraced fields were neatly laid in gentle steps. A steel colored tall power tower stood proud but incongruous amidst the greens. Most of the houses had shining new tin roofs—perhaps it snowed in these parts during winter and every year after winter they needed to repair the roofs.
A neat Himachali village
As I looked left I found all hillsides with such shining dots. This seemed to be a particularly favorable place and men had chosen their strips of ground to set up homes and cultivated terraced lands across the gently sloping fertile hillsides.
Villages spread all over the hillsides in the valley
What surprised me was the apparent sufficiency and affluence of the villages. I voiced the question to my friend. What he told me had been the most significant piece of information that I had absorbed during our whole trip. He told us with a satisfied smile, “All Himachal villages have three basic things—drinking water, electricity and road.”
I looked at the valley and expressed my wish, “It seems nice and peaceful. With the basic amenities available,” I paused, not to shock my friend all of a sudden, “Can I build a small house here and settle down after my retirement?” He looked at me with smile on his face and eyes, “No, you can’t do that. No outsider is allowed to purchase land in Himachal. But why would you build another house? I have nearly finished my own house just under the shadows of Dhauladhar in Dharamshala. I will keep a room permanently assigned for you to come any time you wish. That’s a standing offer.”
I knew him to be a serious person and it would certainly be a pleasure to stay with him in Dharamshala. I told him so. No doubt about it. But would I ever? I knew myself. There had rarely been any person with such high inertia around!
“We have nearly reached Jyot,” announced my friend. After a turn, a few buildings appeared by the side of the road—only a few, not many. Parking the car my friend went into a hotel in search of food. Our food preferences taken, we were free to roam around. Preparing the meal would take some time. My friend took up a seat inside the hotel—he must have become a bit tired by now.
Tukai went walking. I went up a flight of stairs towards the local viewpoint at the top of a rise.
Viewpoint on the top of a rise, Jot pass
Hilltop viewpoint in Jot pass is the highest spot, all other places nearby looked to be below me. Pir Panjal view was clear, unobstructed by anything. Looking down I spotted Tukai coming back from a walk in the nearby woods.
Taking a walk in the woods
Nice place for a walk. No pollution, lots of trees, good open view on one side—what more would you desire!
Soon Tukai joined me at the top. It felt good to stand on top. Specially when you’re with one of your dear ones. Tukai posed for his photo with Pir Panjal as a backdrop. You certainly need such pictures when you are young.
Far ahead wisps of dirty clouds hovered above the glaring white snow crown of Pir Panjal. Nice contrast.
Wisps of dirty clouds gathering
Shadows fell over the white peaks. To me life of clouds would always remain a mystery—how they suddenly take birth and how do they vanish all of a sudden, specially in the mountains—I would never fathom!
“Come down. Food is ready,” my friend called from the hotel. I peered down. A small white car stood quietly. Still further down right across the road would be my friend standing at the open door of the hotel.
Bird's eye view of Jot pass
“Coming,” I shouted looking down towards the hotel. This had been the highest point on the route. It must be snowing here during winter, and the houses sprinkled all around the hill slopes must be Jot pass town itself, I thought. With a last look at the jagged white wall far ahead, I started on my way down.
Pir Panjal Himalayan range from Jot pass
After a modest meal we decided to start for Jammu straightaway with no further delay. It was already quite late. Though the road would continuously go down from here, the distance to be covered was long. We would reach the plains near Pathankot; till then moving at a fast pace won’t be possible. And Pathankot would still be at least another eighty kms further ahead.
It was past midday. As we moved ahead and down, our interest in the surrounding scenic view waned; the hills became barer with ever thinning trees. It is always a mild surprise to me when I think of how time stretches when you have nothing interesting to focus your attention on. Boredom on the road may be unwelcome for the passengers, but it is always an enemy to the driver of the car. I felt my sympathy reaching out to my friend. He drove on silently.
Not long before we reached the plains, we had to face a sudden obstacle on the road. On this stretch the road was under repair with heavy machinery parked by the side of the road. A veritable flowing river of lambs and goats coming up the road engulfed us. The car couldn’t move an inch forward for some time.
River of lamb and goats
One man walked ahead and the other brought up the rear. We patiently waited till the tail of the herd could be seen. As we started to move slowly through the thinning herd, the solidly packed procession of lambs and goats passed us with calm faces.
Packed and disciplined procession
Looking at them I thought, if only I could become one of them with no worries for the future, totally depending on the two men in charge—the masters.
On the plains evening descended, and then night fell. The car streaked ahead through the night towards a small bubble of light, warmth, food and company—our home in Jammu.
Far behind up in the mountains, Khajjiar lay dreaming in the lap of its mother.