Siraj Valley Trek
The Siraj Valley Trek starts at Gada Gussain (Gadagushaini). The road to Gada Gussain branches west from the Banjar-Jalori road in Jibi village. Jibi is a hamlet, 182 km from Shimla. I spent the night at a guest house in Ghyagi. Being a half hour’s walk from Jibi, getting there in the morning was not a problem. At Jibi, I found out that there are only two daily buses to Gada Gussain. One of them was scheduled to leave an hour later. Knowing that the bus would catch up with me, I decided to walk a distance along the road.
The road climbs up in a series of switchbacks through pine and deodar forests and local villages. Attempting shortcuts, I didn’t notice that the switchbacks had ended. Hopelessly lost, I retraced my path, only to find that the bus had already passed by. My only option was to keep walking.
Siraj Valley Trek Guide
The road to Gada Gussain branches west from the Banjar-Jalori road in Jibi village. Jibi is a hamlet, 182 km from Shimla. I spent the night at a guest house in Ghyagi. Being a half hour’s walk from Jibi, getting there in the morning was not a problem. At Jibi, I found out that there are only two daily buses to Gada Gussain. One of them was scheduled to leave an hour later. Knowing that the bus would catch up with me, I decided to walk a distance along the road. The road climbs up in a series of switchbacks through pine and deodar forests and local villages. Attempting shortcuts, I didn’t notice that the switchbacks had ended. Hopelessly lost, I retraced my path, only to find that the bus had already passed by. My only option was to keep walking.
Late afternoon, while still an hour away from Gada Gussain, my luck turned. My walking companion, a local villager, flagged down a pickup truck. I happily jumped in. That short ride, standing in the rear of an open truck, will remain etched in my memory forever. The truck hurtled over rough gravel at great speed, throwing us all over the place, testing our arms and sockets to their limits. I was happy to get off without any injuries!
Gada Gussain is located in a beautiful valley with a stream. The PWD guest house stands in the midst of a green carpeted field at one edge of the valley. What a beautiful property! One look and my heart was set on staying there. The chowkidar readily agreed to give me a room. He also helped me find a guide, Roshan Lal. Roshan, a small farmer, willingly stopped his current store painting job, midway, to accompany me to Jalori. However, my quiet evening was spoiled by the arrival of two brothers. They were wholesale merchants from Mandi, who had come to procure vegetables. A call from their PWD engineer contact in Mandi had got them the best room at the guest house. They promptly commissioned the chowkidar to cook mutton. As the evening progressed, they became increasingly drunk and boisterous. Even my attempts (over several hours) to get them to reveal the secrets of the wholesale vegetable trade proved futile. The dinner that they greatly enjoyed was a disaster as far as I was concerned. The mutton of the local goat was too tough for my city-bred jaws.
Gada Gussain (2,285 m) to Jalori (3,045 m)
The next morning, Roshan Lal arrived at 6 am. After a short walk to the edge of the field, we launched into a steep climb. Soon, we got a bird’s eye view of Gada Gussain. Its pretty, grey, slate-roofed houses beautified the view. An hour later, we walked through the village of Alwa. The locals were already at work, preparing fodder for storage for the approaching winter. We now saw rows of mountains, each taller than the previous. The colors ranging from dark green of the coniferous trees in the foreground to the bleak white of the jagged snow peaks in the background. I could not identify the individual snow peaks. The broad sweep ranged from Rohtang Jot of the Pir Panjal in the north, to those of the Shrikhand Mahadev range in the east.
At 8.30 am, we stopped for breakfast at a clearing. We had climbed over 500 metres without a break – something I could do only because Roshan Lal carried my backpack. Regaining my breath, I absorbed the landmarks. Madhupur fort, sitting on a ridge to the south-west. Raghupur fort, on the other hand, was a speck on a treeless hill rising across a deep valley. Raghupur fort lay on our route to Jalori Pass. We would get there without descending into the valley that was separating us along the line of sight. We would simply stay on the current ridge, which circled around to the fort.
When we resumed, the climb became more gradual. Just above 3,000 metres, we entered a beautiful oak forest. After a half hours’ walk into the forest through gradual ascents and descents, we got our first glimpse of meadows. Emerging from the forest, we passed a beautiful meadow that lay in a depression below us. It was surrounded on all sides by oak trees. Locals call it Kunala Thatch. It was an idyllic setting to camp in, but we had to remain content by just clicking a few pictures.
We stopped at the edge of a long rectangular field that had still water and paddy-like grass. Roshan Lal identified it as the Pandavo ka khet. Apparently, the Pandavas, during their exile, camped here one night and planted the rice. People at a nearby village woke up to the sound of barking dogs and the Pandavas had to leave in a hurry. It was the magic of the Pandavas’ presence, however, that could make paddy grow at these heights. But they say the paddy will never yield rice because of the Pandavas’ abrupt departure. We were now not far from the fort. I could catch glimpses of it on the hill top, right behind the field. But it still entailed a climb of 200 meters. The top of the hill was a giant meadow, bereft of any trees. Normally, it would be an easy walk up a 45 degree slope. But after walking for nearly six hours, my legs were ready to buckle under. Half way up, the slope was interrupted by a depression that hosted a lovely little pond. The water reflected the hills and clouds. A couple of young boys, barely in their teens, were keeping an eye on their cows grazing below.
We finally reached the fort. It was basically the ruins of a boundary wall of stones and a small temple. Not counting an ugly pilgrim shelter of recent date. At 3,200 meter, this was the highest point in the trek to Jalori Pass. It was indeed a great location. The fort commanded its approaches from all directions. I stopped to absorb the grand panorama, the green carpeted mountains playing with the clouds. I could see the road snaking up from Shoja, far below, past the structures at Jalori pass. The descent to Jalori took us just 45 minutes and we were there before 2 pm. Over lunch, the thanedar at Jalori evinced keen interest in my trek. I learnt that I could stay at a tented camp at Jalori and then find someone to guide me to Khanag and beyond. But the anticipation of a tasty home-cooked meal at the Ghyagi guesthouse made me head back. I took a lift with the Kullu SP back to Ghyagi. I returned to Jalori the next morning by bus, losing valuable time.
Jalori to Khanag via Saryolsar Lake
My first target this morning was Saryolsar Lake, 6 km away. I got off to a brisk start with a backpacking couple from Israel. The level trail went in the opposite direction to Raghupur. We shortly passed the tented camp mentioned by the thanedar. A pleasant walk through the woods for two hours got us to the lake. It was a small lake, fenced all around, with a concrete walkway around it. A pretty little temple stood at a height. The walkway was stained with oil and a strong smell of ghee. It was only later that I found out that the temple and lake were dedicated to Budhi Naagin, the local Goddess of ghee. A practice associated with worship here was walking around the lake and pouring ghee in an unbroken line. While drinking tea at a dhaba above the temple, I met my guides for the next stretch – a young local couple, who had come to pray at the temple. Khanag was just a small detour for them. They graciously agreed to do some extra walking to help me out. For the first part, the walk was through forest area. It then entered cultivated areas. During the descent, a vast panorama opened before us, with hills, valleys and far-flung settlements. We negotiated many trails going off in different directions. I would have certainly been lost without my guides. An hour and a half later, we reached Khanag and said goodbye. My trek ended at Khanag rather abruptly. Khanag has a well-located and comfortably furnished PWD guest house. This is the only place with a toilet facility. As luck would have it, a landslide blocking the road to the south of Jalori had brought a PWD repair team to the area. The engineer at the guesthouse flatly refused to entertain my request for a room, although I was convinced from the caretaker’s demeanor that rooms were available. A bus to Ani, followed by another to Sainj, allowed me to spend the night in a decent budget hotel looking out on the Sutluj.
The secret to ascending any trail lies in building your cardiovascular endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Ideally, you should be able to jog 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Start slow and increase your pace everyday. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too. Strength This is another area you should work on. You will need to build strength in your muscles and in your core body. You can do some squats to strengthen your leg muscles. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Apart from this, you can add planks and crunches to your work out.
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek. Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
No, stuffing it all in isn’t the right way to do it Packing a backpack correctly saves precious time that you might waste trying to find your things later. It is wise to spend some time on learning what really goes into packing a backpack.
What should I pack? On a trek, you only get what you take. Something as simple as a forgotten matchbox can cripple your cooking plans throughout the trek. So, it’s essential to prepare early and prepare well. To begin with, make a checklist. While shopping, remember this thumb rule – keep it light. “Every item needs to be light. This ensures that your backpack, on the whole, stays light,” says Sandhya UC, co-founder of Indiahikes. Balancing out heavy items with light ones isn’t going to have the same effect as having all light items. “Always opt for good quality, light items,” says Sandhya.
How much should my bag weigh?
“Your backpack for a weekend trek should weigh between 8 and 10 kg,” explains Arjun Majumdar, co-founder of Indiahikes, “To break it down, your tent should weigh around 2.5 kg, your sleeping bag, around 1.5 kg, and the ration, stove and clothes should constitute the other 5 kg.” The best way to plan is by concentrating on the basic necessities – food, shelter and clothes. Gather only those things that you’ll need to survive. Do not pack for ‘if’ situations. “That’s one of the common mistakes that people make – packing for ‘if situations’. It only adds to the baggage that you can do without on a trek,” says Sandhya.
One good way to go about it is to prepare a list of absolute essentials. Start with the most essential and end with the least essential. That way, when you feel you are overshooting the limit, you can start eliminating from the bottom. Another tip is to be smart while packing clothes. Invest in light. wash and wear fabrics. “Replace a sweater with two t-shirts,” adds Sandhya. Layering is the mantra when it comes to trekking. Refer to Sandhya’s clothes list to pack smart.
How to pack The thumb rule for this one is to eliminate air spaces. Make sure that everything is packed tightly, especially clothes and jackets, as they tend to take up maximum air space. Put in all the large items first. Then squeeze in the smaller ones in the gaps. This ensures minimum air space. A good way to pack clothes is by using the Ranger Roll method.
Where to pack Bottom Sleeping bag: Make this your base layer. Sleeping bags tend to be voluminous, but do not weigh much. They’re perfect for the bottom of the bag. Tent: Just like the sleeping bag, even tents are voluminous and light. Keep the tent poles separately and place the fabric at the bottom of the backpack. Middle Heavy jacket: Roll up the jacket in a tight ball and place it in the middle of the backpack, close to your back. The middle region of the backpack should always have the heaviest items. You can store other things like ration or mini stoves in the middle. Other clothes: Roll other clothes and place them in the remaining space, to fill air gaps.
Top Water: Water, although heavy, needs to be easily accessible. So put it in the top most region of your backpack. Medicine box: This is another component that you wouldn’t want to be scavenging for when in need. Poncho: It could rain at any time in the mountains. So, ponchos should be accessible easily. Also, having a waterproof poncho at the top of the backpack provides additional waterproofing to items in the bag.