01-Oct-2005 -- Indian Explorations
Whilst studying for a Microsoft professional qualification in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India, it came to my attention that there is a confluence just 20 Kilometres away. This seemed like a very straightforward jaunt, so I visited the tourist information centre in Shimla and asked for a map. Oh dear… The only map of this area available to non-Indian-military users was a not-to-scale drawing of towns with lines drawn in between. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be straightforward after all.
Along with my fellow student, Uwe Sollner, and with the help of the staff of Koenig-Solutions, our training school, we set the day and booked a taxi. We were set…
The day dawned and was perfect – there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it didn’t seem too hot. We met our rather bemused taxi driver and set off – GPS on the dashboard and a rough idea of which towns we needed to go towards. We had reasoned that the confluence lay somewhere to the East of the road between Kunihar and Dharampur, so we set off for Kunihar. About 15 Km short of Kunihar, the GPS told us that we were just 6Km from the confluence, and there was a junction signposted Neri that seemed to go the right way, but our taxi driver insisted that this wasn’t the way to go. He managed to convince us that we must go to Kunihar, despite the fact that he had no comprehension of what exactly we were doing. For some reason we agreed, and we set off again.
We reached Kunihar and found the road to Dharampur, the final leg of our terrifying and perilous journey with our homicidal driver! The GPS started to count down slowly as we careered round hairpins South. As we got to under 4Km from the confluence, we started noting the roads that headed East – any one of them could be the correct one to take, but with no map, we’d have to use intuition and trial-and-error.
At 2.5 Km to go, we found a likely looking road and took it, but this quickly changed from tarmac to dirt to impassable – even for crazy taxi man! We decided that with just 2.2 Km to go, we’d take to foot – how hard could it be?
The path took us through a small ford and round a small hill – past a lizard I thought big enough to be a crocodile – and presented us with a fantastic, and totally unwelcome, view. There was a valley between us and the confluence. A deep valley. This is, after all, in the Himalayan foothills. Down we went, the track left behind, following a tiny “sheep trail”. We reached the valley floor, crossed over the river there on some conveniently located stepping-stones and looked for a route up the other side. This proved somewhat daunting as the other side was very steep and seemed very high. The temperature was also much higher than it had been in Shimla as it was now midday and we were approximately 1400m lower.
Our initial route saw us following a small stream up a re-entrant, but after 800 metres, this had become impassable without a machete. Attempt two was a non-starter as it was an incredibly steep scree slope. Just as we were losing hope of finding a way up, we spotted what appeared to be a trail halfway up the hill. We traced the likely route of this path and found the start – we were off again.
This path was punishing – relentlessly steep with surprisingly little shade from the sun. As we go to within 800m of the confluence, we suddenly heard a growling, and a Rotweiler-mongral appeared on the path ahead of us. It really didn’t look too keen on us, but as we formulated an escape plan, a local woman appeared and called the dog off. In our best Hindi, we thanked her, and she gestured to us that we should follow her. We did so, all the while being barked and growled at by the original dog and another that appeared from the bushes ahead. She led us to her house at the top of the hill, and called her husband out. They kindly asked us to sit – something we were very grateful for – and the appeared to ask us what we were doing. With no common language – apart from “Hello” and “Thank you” in Hindi – we tried to show them the GPS and tell them that we were going 600m “over there”, but this left them looking baffled! Eventually, after it became clear to the couple that we were insane, the man pointed to another path, fortunately heading roughly towards the confluence, and said “Bus”. We were off again, and the distance was reducing with every step. After one more wrong-turn, we found a dirt road that led to within 130m of the spot. All that remained was a comparatively simple cross-country to find the confluence on the slope of a small hill. Success!
This confluence is almost reachable by road, but this would require local knowledge or a military-class map of the area. Our 4.4Km (as the crow flies) trek took us just under four hours to complete and saw us climbing around 800m vertically. It was, however, a fantastic opportunity to see some “real” Indian life, away from the tourist trails.