15 Jul 2014. Early morning… the place looks divine! The mountains look down at us from their imperious heights cloaked in wisps of ephemeral clouds as if wondering what new creatures have wandered in?? The rush of the river is heard right in the tents, so furious is the current…
There are flowers blooming everywhere. There are huge swathes of beautiful yellow blooms, more captivating as they seem to be haphazardly flourishing without the predictability of a manicured garden. These are Evening Primrose I am told. They have a lovely mild fragrance… also known for their therapeutic properties. There are profusely flowering wild rose bowers and daisies and many other flowers I know not the names for!
The camp is surrounded by orchards of apples, pears and apricots. In fact, the entire valley seems to be one big orchard. In these idyllic surroundings I wander down to the river to find most of the group already there taking delight in the splendorous sights!
A delicious breakfast complete with a variety of homemade preserves and relishes later, we are all off to Chhitkul, the last village in this valley towards China border.
The route to this village trough the fabulous Mastrang Valley is mesmeric to put it mildly! Every few yards, we stop to marvel at a gurgling brook, some picturesque bridge, a quaint hamlet tucked away round the corner or just the unfolding panorama of snow clad peaks with lush green terraced fields in the foreground and the beautiful Baspa flowing beside it. Heaven!
There are streams crossing the road many times and the vehicle splashes through those freezing waters. We stop at one such crossing and spend time just enjoying the gentle murmur of the crystal clear waters and the predominantly rocky landscape with a carpet of fresh green grass under it. The serenity of the place is a balm to the harried urban soul.
As we near a hamlet, two women hail us for a lift. We oblige them. They are a Grandmother – granddaughter pair off to the fields. They grow Ogla which is buckwheat which will be harvested in early September. These areas have only one four month growing season in the year. Rest of the time it is too cold and snow bound. At this time, there is frenzied activity of sowing, growing and harvesting before the quiet of the cold months sets in. The women alight near their fields and we move on.
The HPPWD Guest house is on the outskirts of Chhitkul. The road meanders through the village of a few houses and some new guest houses which have come up for tourists and then into the fields beyond.
Birds are hyperactive all around. A cacophony of birdcalls is heard, each individual vying for a higher perch to call from and a louder decibel level than its rival. A vast flock of Fire fronted Serins alights at the field nearest the car. We are mesmerized! I have dreamt of seeing this beautiful bird and always dipped on it. Not only are they found in this place, they are locally very common, in their scores at any given time! But this is only near Chhitkul, not lower in the valley near say Raksham or Sangla. I guess altitude has a lot to do with it. Chhitkul is at 3450 meters and Sangla at 2680 metres though only 24 kms away. A big difference!
There are the ubiquitous Rosefinches calling from the tree tops with nothing but procreation on their minds! The Yellow billed Choughs are gliding and catching the wind currents to circle the fields from high up. The White Wagtails are numerous. A Vareigated Laughingthrush peeps out of an apricot tree and there are Rock Buntings everywhere. And all this without moving an inch!
The drive down to the river is a very steep path full of loose stones making driving difficult. The breathtaking vistas though make up for any other inconveniences many times over!
We realise that time is flying and we need to head back. Pooh is our destination for today. We have to leave Banjara camps post an early lunch so we can enjoy the ride to Pooh without having to go tearing round corners and zipping all the way there.
We turn back but not before I promise to come back with definite time for bird watching too. This is just a recce trip and we’ll be back for a more leisurely stay sometime soon. The drive back is quick. The valley widens out substantially as we cross Raksham and towards Sangla. The Baspa snaking along surrounded by orchards and small dwellings is one charming picture.
Back at the camp, lunch is served. The cool fresh mountain air and the jaunts of the morning have whetted our appetites and everybody tucks in with gusto. Not only has the location of this setup been fabulous, but the food has been marvellous. A place one can just relax in without any requirement for stepping out of the premises.
The wheel barrows are out and the staff comes around collecting the larger pieces of luggage. We troop out to the parking and settle into the designated vehicles. Before departure, Doc calls all the help and some from the other camp nearby and does a proper half hour presentation of the dos and don’ts for AIDS prevention. Hopefully it is of some value to them.
And then we are off… destination Pooh!
The journey continues…