Himachal Diaries, Day 1, March 5, 2016:
The way I have experienced it, the climb to Shaali Tibba has six stages. The first stage starts where the last house in the village stands vigil and goes up through a comfortable dirt-road up to a clearing on a little rolling hill- this is the last point till where a car could be driven if the trail is not wet.
Stage 2 begins at this spot, and there is an immediate gear change in terms of degree of difficulty since the path from here is on a slightly stepper incline, but it’s a pretty level-path nevertheless and if you take your time and amble up, you are unlikely to raise a sweat.
Stage 3 – the incline gets steeper for a stretch and then opens up onto a rough stone and mud path through rocky and green terrain. This gives way to Stage 4 which is up an even steeper path (it’s all about steeper) into deeper jungle with many side-trails that could lead you astray and generally marked by a continuous ascent up through dense foliage- when you climb this part alone, you kind of tend to stumble up in a dazed hope than any real enthusiasm. But till this point you always have a view of the general area of the peak somewhere above you.
This is followed by Stage 5 which is a turn beyond the side of the mountain and into forest terrain around the mountain with no visual of the peak, just an endless trudging straight and up and up and straight till you start wondering if you are going anywhere at all or just round and round.
Then suddenly after all strength has left you, you encounter an even steeper stone path that zigzags its way ever upwards and you start climbing because there is a sense that the peak is near there somewhere up ahead and just when you can’t do any more, you emerge onto a gentler path leading up to a small temple, get fresh energy and smile and realise it’s not Shaali temple, which is just ahead, just being a relative term as in “it might as well be on the moon”, since this is where Stage 6 begins.
Stage 6 is a series of ‘gentle-walk-across-rolling-hill-followed-by-a-steep-climb” till you reach a jagged rocky ledge (pass it without a thought of jumping onto it, you won’t be able to jump back – I should know being stupid enough to jump onto that ledge and lying there praying for a helicopter), another walk in a rolling hill, and then the final steep climb over a narrow mule trail across jagged rocky ledges and slabs of rock-face. At one point here, you are on the edge of the world, with no idea what’s around the bend… and around that bend is the final gentle walk to the gate of the temple.
Of course, beyond the temple gate, you have to climb a series of concrete steps straight up the final hill to the Peak. You may be tempted to pay your respects from the Temple courtyard given those steps.
The first time I climbed this peak in 1993 with my #Sacket brother, #DharmeshRathod, the final stretch was mostly a mule trail or a goat trail and we did scramble up many places on all fours. I have walked to this peak thrice, and each time in a different season and once utterly alone for the entire 5 hours. I cherish each experience for the sights, sounds, and how it made made me feel.
For young climbers or experienced Trekkers or those local to high mountains, the Shaali Tibba hike may not pose a great challenge, but one should not underestimate the journey. And if you take the time to talk to the wind, the deodars, the mountain lizards who follow you, or the high-mountain goats and cattle or the Silver Langoor, the deep jungle crickets and sundry other birds and flora, it is an experience that may linger insistently enough to draw you back to Shaali again and again. And if you keep an eye out you may just spot or even come up close and personal with the Himalayan Eagle.
The March 2016 hike was challenging since it was in winter and since the weather kept changing throughout the hike, and we were mostly climbing through a wet drizzle accompanied by a chilly wind, with temperatures around 7-8 degrees Celsius. Now am looking forward to another walk maybe in the monsoons…