The Exotic India Himalayas & Lady Penelope Chetwode

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I am reminded of yet another who was unable to repel the lure – Lady Penelope Chetwode. Her initial ill-disposition towards India when she arrived in the late 20s (her father was the British Commander-in-Chief) swiftly disintegrated in face of the youthful and towering charm of the Himalaya. Accompanied by her mother, she undertook a mule trek from Shimla to Rohtang via the Jalori Pass at 10,500 feet. The photo below could well have been the view she encountered when she approached the Jalori for the very first time in 1931.

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View from Jalori Pass

Lady Penelope returned to the region many a-time including once in 1963 when she retraced her earlier ‘pony-ride’ through Narkanda, Ani, Khanag, over the Jalori before descending to Banjar, Aut, Kullu and finally up to Manali and the Rohtang. No doubt she would have gotten a hot cuppa ever so often along the way at the many dak bungalows she halted at en route. Today, visitors will also chance upon the welcoming sight of Shan-e-Jalori (one of two shacks selling tea, kadhi-chawal, Maggi and the works) crowning the Pass.

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Shan-e-Jalori

The descent from Jalori to Banjar goes past Shoja (short detour). For long an idyllic Himalayan hamlet that many escaped to for respite from metro madness. And even though it is now experiencing its share of ‘concretising’, it is still one of the most picturesque villages of the Seraj region. From where I was looking on my own visit, it would have been no different from what the intrepid Englishwoman would have seen of other villages during her many excursions.

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Shoja village

The bountiful Shringi Vatika, however, is more recent in vintage. Owned by a garrulous lady – Pammi Aunty to all – and her laconic husband, it has been feeding and housing visitors to and from Jalori Pass for a while now. Typically, on a day-trip when ascending from the Banjar or Tirthan valley, you will place your order on the way up and find a freshly prepared, mostly delish meal awaiting your return. While it would appear to the uninitiated that you’re spoilt for culinary choice; I suggest you stick to local fare. The sidoo is divine; the frightfully bitter nettle soup is explained away as a French recipe.

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Pammi Aunty’s bounty

Lady Penelope made a longish detour while returning from her jaunt in 1963. She wound her way up to the sulphur springs at Khirganga in the Parvati Valley, before choosing a different route to return to Shimla. This time around through Goshaini in Tirthan, and over the Bashleo Pass which descends towards Sarahan and Rampur on the banks of the Sutlej. Her travelogue, Kulu: The End Of The Habitable World, is a vivid recounting of this adventure.

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Heaven is a place on earth, yes? Tirthan.

She continued to visit the region well into the 80s, often leading tours to the place she came to dearly love and know as home away from home.  Her last trip was made in April 1986. She passed away reportedly around Dim village near the Jalori while helming one of her groups. Another version suggests she may have died in Khanag. Where, set in the garden of the colonial-era rest house, a memorial tablet in black granite honours her deep affection for the Himalaya.

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Rest house, Khanag

As for you, dear Peeved Mountain-loving Reader, I sincerely hope you will get that chance real soon to cut loose from whatever is keeping you from your love.

Puneet Sidhu
Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu, travel enthusiast and the author of Adrift: A junket junkie in Europe is the youngest of four siblings born into an aristocratic family of Punjab. Dogged in her resistance to conform, and with parental pressure easing sufficiently over the years, she had plenty of freedom of choice. And she chose travel.

She was born in Shimla, and spent her formative years at their home, Windsor Terrace, in Kasumpti while schooling at Convent of Jesus & Mary, Chelsea. The irrepressible wanderlust in her found her changing vocations midstream and she joined Singapore International Airlines to give wing to her passion. She has travelled extensively in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, South Africa and SE Asia; simultaneously exploring the charms within India.

When she is not travelling, she is writing about it. Over the past decade or so, she has created an impressive writing repertoire for herself: as a columnist with Hindustan Times, as a book reviewer for The Tribune and as a contributor to travel magazines in India and overseas. Her work-in-progress, the documenting of colonial heritage along the Old Hindustan-Tibet Road, is an outcome of her long-standing romance with the Himalayas.
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