Himalayan Journal vol.05
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (Lieut.-Colonel B.E.M. Gurdon)
    (HELLMUT DE TERRA Tale North India Expedition)
  7. KULU
    (A. P. F. HAMILTON)
    (Captain G. C. CLARK)
    (G. A. R. SPENCE)
    (Lieut.-Colonel KENNETH MASON)
  14. NOTES



The Saraj tahsil of Kulu extends from the Beas valley in the northwest to the Sutlej valley in the south and south-east; it is bounded on its north by Kulu proper, and on its west by Mandi and Suket States. Through it runs the Simla-Leh road, which crosses the Sutlej at the Luhri bridge, fifty-three miles from Simla, climbs up to the Jalori pass, and eventually reaches the Beas Valley Motor road at Oot Behari (or 'Out', as the local people prefer it) at mile 104 from Simla. The tahsil is divided into two more or less equal halves by a spur of the Sri-kand-dhar which gradually dwindles from 18,000 to 10,000 feet as it runs south-westwards; the Beas side of this spur is known as Inner Saraj and the Sutlej side as Outer Saraj. Across this ridge the two main passes are the Jalori at 10,286 feet and the Bashleo at 10,750 feet, the latter being the route followed by a rougher track connecting Kulu with Rampur-Bashahr on the Sutlej.

Although Saraj is neither so popular nor so civilized as the main Kulu valley it is a most interesting country with a charm of its own. The marches nearest to the adjoining main valleys pass through hot, bare, and unprepossessing tracts at about 3,000 feet, but above this there is a pleasant mingling of terraced fields with patches of pine and deodar between 4,000 and 8,000 feet, beyond which there are vast stretches of rather gloomy fir and brown kharsu oak running up to the alpine pasture-lands of the hill-tops. Saraj lacks the grandeur of the eternal snows, for most of it is clear of snow in normal winters by April, and it is only towards the heads of the Tirthan and Sainj nullahs in the higher ground of the Sri-kand-dhar, where the great snow peaks are near neighbours, that snow lies late. To compensate for this there are many fine vistas to be had of the snow ranges of Lahul, Spiti, and Bashahr.

The people are a friendly but indolent lot, inevitably in debt to the local bania and with little interest beyond their flocks and fields, and an occasional 'beano' at their local fairs. Their religion is a crude animism; each village has its debta, often of quite handsomely carved deodar-wood, while each nullah and hill-top has some sort of spook inhabitant called a jogni. One of the features found in most villages is the magnificent old deodar group around the debta’s temple, many of the trees being four or five hundred years old. Although such groves are not actually in the keeping of the Forest Department, every effort is made by the forest officers to preserve them, and in some cases these old giants are now standing knee-deep in a sea of young forest which has come up in the restocking of felled areas.

In spite of many official efforts to encourage fruit-growing and the creation of some very successful government orchards, it is curious how indifferent the local people are on this subject, for apart from the very inferior semi-wild apricot, very little fruit is grown by the villagers. Unfortunately for the commercial development of fruitgrowing, the recent increase in postal rates has completely killed any chance of a postal export trade in fruit, and it is presumably for this reason that the Salvation Army Fruit Farm at Ani has recently been sold to a local landowner for a ridiculously small sum; a sad end to thirty years of devoted labour in this out-of-the- way spot.

With a rainfall of about forty-five inches, half in monsoon rain and half as winter snowfall, the climate is an exceedingly pleasant one with a less persistent monsoon and a more bracing cold weather than in the outer foot-hills. Snow lies heavily above 6,000 feet from December to February, the Jalori usually being passable early in March, though in 1932 the snowfall was so scanty that neither the Jalori nor the Bashleo were closed at all. From March to April and from October to November are undoubtedly the most pleasant periods for touring, although the whole summer until the break of the monsoon rains is also very good.

The game list includes bharal, tahr, gooral, serow, barking-deer, musk-deer, black and brown bear, and panther. The bharal are of the smaller Cis-Himalayan type, and no head over twenty-two inches can be expected. Gooral, with horns up to seven inches, are common, but tahr are getting scarce from continuous poaching. The serow is also difficult to get except when it can be run into deep snowdrifts. The birds include the five Himalayan pheasants-the kalij being the commonest-black and hill partridges, chukor and an occasional snowcock. The bird-shooting is of course confined to the winter months, and any form of shooting in these hills is strenuous and entails a lot of really hard work. The fishing is rather less strenuous and more suitable for those who can get away only during the early summer. The Tirthan and the Sainj both contain brown trout and barbel for some ten or twelve miles above their junction at Larji, and the Beas at Oot also has small mahseer. The Saraj trout are much smaller than those in the larger Kulu streams but give very fair sport in May and June after the larger glacier-fed rivers have become too muddy for fly-fishing. Fishing and shooting licences are issued by the Civil Sub-divisional Officer, Kulu, at Sultanpur, and cost Rs. 20 per month for fishing, Rs. 5 for small game, and Rs. 30 for big game.

The quickest approach to Saraj is by the Beas valley road, either by motoring direct from Pathankot or by the Kangra narrow-gauge railway which takes the traveller some eighty miles farther through the foot-hill country to Baijnath. In either case a night's halt at Baijnath is generally necessary, continuing by road next day through the picturesque town of Mandi and up the rocky defile of the Beas. The road transport through Mandi State is unfortunately a monopoly, and like most monopolies it is, as Mr. Sellars would say, CA bad thing'. We were warned that the journey by motor-bus was cone of the best cures known for a sluggish liver but apt to make a weak heart still weaker'. This we found to be strictly true but our informant had said nothing of the awful weals and bruises we contracted from the unkind and uncushioned framework of our particular chariot!

Beyond the motor-road the traveller is dependent on mule transport as there is no stage-to-stage organization for providing coolies. Mules can best be obtained through the tahsildar at Sultanpur, the current rates being Rs. 1-4 per day, with half-rates for halts; a warning may not be out of place that the Kulu pack-ponies usually provided do not carry nearly as much as the Simla mules, and only two maunds per animal should be reckoned on. The main roads are well supplied with bungalows, but as the ownership of these is divided between various authorities a schedule of ownership may be useful to prospective travellers:
Jalori Pass Route
Stage Distance Rest-house Permission from
Luhri 13 m. (Narkanda) Civil D.C., Simla
Ani 12 m. ,, ,, Kangra
Khanag 10 m. ,, ,, ,,
Shoja 7 m. ,, ,, ,,
Jibi 5 m- Forest D.F.O., Saraj, Kulu
Banjar 5 m- P.W.D. S.D.O., P.W.D., Kulu
Larji 12 m. Civil D.C., Kangra
Oot 2 m. State Dewan, Mandi State
Bashleo Pass Route
Rampur 30 m. (Narkanda) State Dewan, Bashahr State
Arsu 7 m. P.W.D. S.D.O., P.W.D., Kulu
Saharan 8 m. Civil D.C., Kangra
Bathad 8 m. P.W.D. S.D.O., P.W.D., Kulu
Bandal 6 m. Forest D.F.O., Saraj, Kulu
Banjar 6 m. P.W.D. S.D.O., P.W.D., Kulu
There are also two other good bridle-path routes from Khanag:

Khanag to Ani
Takrasi 9m. (khanag) Forest D.F.O. Saraj
Paneo 9m. ,, ,, ,,
Ani 9m. Civil D.C. Kangra
Khanag to Luhri
Chawai 10m. (Khanag)

or 5m. (Ani)
Civil D.c., Kangra
Dalash 8m. * -
Luhri 7m. Civil D.C.Simla
* Old Dak Bungalow now used as a school.

Of these bungalows possibly the most inviting is Jibi, which is at 6,100 feet and perched on a little knoll in the Jibi Nala bottom, entirely surrounded by fine stretches of forest. For some miles above Jibi this nullah is one of the most delightful little glens I have met outside the Perthshire Highlands, and is certainly one of the gems of the outer Himalaya. Shoja at 8,500 feet is another charming spot, slightly marred by a squad of bugs which descend from the roof timbers as soon as they smell a human traveller! Ani, Larji, and Banjar are all pleasant spots in the cool of the year, but are not places to linger in overlong when it is really hot, though in the summer season they are no worse off for house-flies and the thrice accursed potu fly than are the cooler bungalows and camping- grounds of the higher forest belts. For the guidance of those who have not made his acquaintance, the potu specializes on raising black and exceedingly 'itchy' pimples on one's knuckles and knees. Paraffin smeared on the skin keeps him off for a little, and I am told that the country sarson ka tel (mustard oil) also helps, but the ordinary run of anti-fly oils is quite useless against this venomous little grey devil.

To the geologist Saraj is interesting in showing all the gradations from the shales of the outer Kangra hills to the solid granites of the Sri-kand, with the intermediate stages of schists and quartzites, and a little limestone in the Sainj valley. To the botanist the various altitudinal belts contain much of interest, culminating in a wealth of alpines in the higher meadows, which are at their best from late June till August. I have seldom seen such carpets of the blue Iris nepalensis as fill every glade in the damper pine and deodar forests from six to eight thousand feet, and we made several excellent meals off wild strawberries, blackberries, and yellow rasps in June. Saraj is the meeting-place of many botanical species from east and west, for the drier hills of the Punjab and North-west Frontier have many plants which do not occur farther east, while the eastern Himalayan zone of Nepal and Sikkim with its wealth of shrub rhododendrons, and orchids has representatives which penetrate only as far west as the Sutlej watershed.

Of the many beautiful flowering shrubs to be found here the fragrant white Jasminum officinale, several pink Indigofer as, and yellow barberries are ubiquitous; the yellow of the 'strawberry tree (Cornus capitata) and the pale pink feathery bloom of Albizzia Julibrissin are both at their best in the wild gorge of the Tirthan beyond Bandal; and the heavily scented cream-coloured Syringa Emodi, and the pale purple Rhododendron campanulatum flourish near the Bashleo pass. The herbs in the woods and pastures are legion, but a few stand out in retrospect as highlights; the handsome white Paeonia Emodi and the yellow-green orchid Liparis paradoxa of the damper spruce and deodar woods; the Gypsophila and purple clover of the glades in forest plantation areas; the Geraniums and Anemones of the lush meadows; and the tawny Lathyrus luteus and purple Thermopsis of the higher pasture-lands.

From the forester's point of view Saraj is a happy hunting-ground, for in spite of the widespread damage caused by the non-co-operators' incendiary fires of 1921 which ruined many square miles of fine blue pine and deodar forest, these woods are as well stocked and as efficiently managed as many of the well-known demonstration forests of Europe. The villagers of Saraj are well supplied with wood for all their household needs, but over and above this there is a large export trade in railway sleepers which are sawn up where the trees are felled in the forest, carried down to the nearest stream by hand or by ropeway, and floated down the side-streams often with the aid of elaborately carpentered slides, and thence by the main river to the sales depots away in the Punjab plains.

To the keen climber many of the Saraj hills will be found rather tame, but the Beas-Sutlej watershed at the head of the Sainj, Tirthan, and Girchi valleys contains some magnificent rock and snow peaks. Where the sources of these streams adjoin those of the Parbati and Pin flowing northwards and of the Bashahr-Pandrabis nullahs of Kandrad, Ganwi, and Kut going south to the Sutlej, there are still some interesting glaciers to explore.

The Bashleo pass, with the bridle-path climbing from Alpine meadow through 'Kharsu' oak

The Bashleo pass, with the bridle-path climbing from Alpine meadow through 'Kharsu' oak

Bahu ridge from Blajdhar,	Note the intimate mixture offorest-land and terraced cultivation from 6,000 to 8,000 feet

Bahu ridge from Blajdhar, Note the intimate mixture offorest-land and terraced cultivation from 6,000 to 8,000 feet