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BAROT, an Unsung But Glorious Weekend Destination in Himachal Pradesh

Angling, Trekking, Camping & More

I am sure that except for puritan angling enthusiasts many seasoned travellers would struggle to geographically place the Barot Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Well, Barot is a hamlet, by the banks of river UHL, frozen in time which one can reach if one travels in a time machine! The other way is to drive from Palampur-Joginder Nagar towards Mandi and take a diversion from Ghatasani. A piece of advice-GPS is not very successful in this area so donít shy away from pestering passersby and helpful shopkeepers for directions.

After driving through lonely serpentine narrow roads, disciplined terraced fields, and thick cedar forests for 30 kms and crossing the most obscure villages like Jhatingri and Tikkan, one reaches BAROT, a village at an altitude of 1819 metres, which lays forgotten in sands of time but have one of the most unique pasts I have ever come across.

 
The Bridges of the Barot County
The Glorious Golden Wheat Crop Shines through the haze and green
   

PsssstÖ BAROT has a PAST

Way back in 1925, British officer Colonel Betty saw hydroelectric potential of the UHL river and thus came up the reservoir of the Shannon Hydel Power Project, possibly one of the oldest in India. In order to facilitate the transportation of the construction material for the project a haulage trolley was set up to connect Joginder Nagar from Barot. It also served the dual purpose of transport for the local populace till 1975 as Barot didnít had a road link.


The trolley has since fallen in bad times and is presently non-functional. A pleasant walk along the river will take you to the site of once magnificent haulage trolley track which is now covered in flower beds. In fact, you can find remnants of the track all around Barot. It is a marvel to see the steep ascent of the trolley track and it really must have been one hell of an adventure to ride atop it.

Someone has also uploaded a haulage trolley video on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDiCj8UvUWo

BAROT: My Birthday Gift

Since both, my husband and I are travel junkies, we often gift holidays to each other. Barot was the result of my husbandís research for my birthday falling in May. We started from our home in Dharamsala post lunch and reached Barot by around 6 in the evening.

The roads are a little bumpy but the scenic landscape all through more than makes up for it. However, donít expect great dhabas or eating places on the way. There are some basic tea shops catering to local villagers. One exception was Trekkerís Nest (Restaurant & Hotel) in Joginder Nagar, which also organizes treks under the guidance of trained mountaineers from Joginder Nagar to Barot, Bada Banghal, Kullu, and Manali. In fact, they have a lovely camping site right next to Uhl river on the outskirts of Barot.

Reaching Barot was like entering a different time zone, maybe 1970s. The small shops, kuccha roads, women collecting firewood, people dragging a drunk family member home (a lovely saying for the hills is: Surya Ast, Pahadi Mast), and the buzzing village square which seemed to be the centre of activity.

Mainstays are Homestays, Rest is Resthouses

The place has 4-5 simple, basic, affordable, homestays (from Rs. 600-900) and some government accommodation (Forest Dept., Punjab Power Dept., and PWD). It is difficult to get online bookings but one can book homestays telephonically. For Government accommodation one has to send prior request via fax. Alternatively, after reaching Barot try to sweet-talk the caretaker. Room occupancy status and your convincing skills may just fetch you a room there (a bottle of booze for the caretaker might also tilt the scales in your favour).
 
Homestays
PWD Rest House

We stayed a day in the KK Negi Homestay and shifted to the Forest Rest House the next day. Negi Aunty (as she is popularly known in the area) is a local politician and therefore highly informed and resourceful. Just reach her and she will arrange your accommodation, will tell you about the topography, what to see, where to eat, and where to go for day treks. Interestingly, the areas on either side of the river belong to two different districts-Mandi and Kangra. So, we stayed in Mandi, and for dinner walked over to Kangra crossing a rickety, wooden make-shift bridge. We came back the same way and slept peacefully listening to the soothing gurgling sound of the river barely 15 feet away.

Barot offers the most glorious mornings you will ever experience. On a clear day the river and valley just look resplendent. We took a late morning walk at around 8 and it was nice to see people going about their daily chores-children going to school, womenfolk cleaning the houses, and men going for their work. You can keep walking the riverside endlessly but our stomachs were growling so we came back to Negis for a Maggi n Toast-Omelette breakfast.

You Donít See Barot, You Feel It

A late Morning Walk with my Hustand

   

When the Road Ends, Start to Trek
When we asked Negi aunty over breakfast over where we can go, she suggested that we could go for a day trek towards Chhota Banghal, the last village to have road connectivity. So, a lovely drive to Chhota Banghal ensued, full of roadside streams and visuals to die for. How we wish we had a better camera to capture all this.

The road keeps getting narrower and you end up wishing that you donít cross any four-wheeler which is bigger than a Maruti 800. The road ends at Chhota Banghal village. We walked through the village onto the hilly terrain to reach the lovely meadows which are used by villagers to graze the cattle. A word of advice- carry your food and water as it is not a ďtouristyĒ trail bedecked with kiosks selling ďPepsi and MaggiĒ.

Catch Me if You Can: If Wishes were Fishes

Off late, Barot has become popular as an angling destination. There is a trout breeding farm that releases fishes in the Uhl river. The Uhl river is supposed to be teeming with trouts-both rainbow and brown.

Chhota Bhanghal is an old-fashioned Hill Village

 

However, as ant fishing enthusiast would know, angling is easier said than done. Novices, if they wish to have a shot at trouts, should come accompanied with somebody who has knowhow of the pursuit. Also, please do get your own gear as there is only one local shop that sells some very-very basic fishing gear and we found it closed because the owner was attending a fellow Barotians retirement party. In fact, the entire village had congregated for the party making the environment festive. Just like the old times! So, donít wait and do time travel to BAROT and revel in nostalgia.

Info Snapshot

How to Reach: Take a diversion on Palampur-Mandi highway (NH 20) to Ghatasani, 14 km from Joginder Nagar and 35 km from Mandi. Public buses ply from Mandi, Jogindernagar and Palampur. Nearest railway station is at Jogindernagar, terminus of the narrow gauge railway line connecting Jogindernagar to Pathankot. Nearest airport is at Gaggal, 15 kms from Dharamsala.

Co-ordinates: 32°2?11?N 76°50?51?E

Where to stay: 4-5 Homestays including Negiís , Sachinís. Government Rest Houses on prior request
Where to eat: There are 3-4 basic restaurants. They offer trout in season and will not mind cooking your catch of the day.
When to visit: Visit in summers if you want respite from heat. Come in winters to enjoy snow.

Contributed By:  Pallavi Khare, pallavi22_gzb@yahoo.co.in

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