Fall in love – with Shoja in the Seraj Valley (Himachal Pradesh)!
Shoja – Still Undiscovered By Many
The thickly wooded mountainside, densely populated with conifers – deodhars and toosh – characterize the beauty and uniqueness of Shoja or Sojha, as the forest department would insist. Unending slopes of emerald forests, without even an intruding cottage! Verdant and pristine, nature at its most alluring!!
Shoja, a small village at 8750 feet, is a breathtakingly beautiful part of Himachal Pradesh in Seraj Valley (India) – still undiscovered by many. It is accessible both from the Shimla / Narkanda side (NH22) and from the Mandi / Kullu-Manali side (NH 21).
A friend had visited Shoja and Jalori Pass on a day visit from Kullu. He fell so much in love with the place that he wanted to stay on but had to return because of other plans. The next year we were lucky to be there on an extended visit staying in a cedar wood guesthouse with forests adjoining it.
The mornings in Shoja were particularly invigorating and to imbibe and enjoy the experience you must certainly take a pre-breakfast walk – just stroll around, walk up to the meadows, or perhaps take the pathways into the jungle. Look around, enjoy the thickly wooded hill-slopes – we had never seen so many deodhars clustered together over such a vast area, right upto the tree line; starting from the bottom as far down or up or sideways or deep as you can look. This is what, all would agree, characterizes Shoja. Conifers rising up from the ground upto 11000 feet – slopes of majestic cedars, in various hues of green, mesmerizing your senses.
The first morning, we explored places nearer the guesthouse down the jungle pathway. We came to a lovely meadow with a small, quaint cedar wood temple. The meadow (almost private as if just for us) on a hilltop, is ringed by deodhars, and has a 360 degree view of the vistas around. It is a pleasant and soothing place. There is also a waterfall further on.
We would love to be back here in June–July when the blue irises would be in full bloom. We were told that the sight can be magically spectacular. Perhaps relax in one of those small green clearings, with a picnic lunch and a book which has been waiting to be read for the past ten years.
Jalori Pass – Breathtaking Vistas
From Shoja we drove 5 kms upto the Jalori Pass, at 10500 feet. The almost hair-raising drive was more than worth the effort. Even though it was September, we were rewarded with a clear view of snowclad peaks beyond the lovely Seraj Valley, above the wooded hill-slopes (another mountainside we have fallen in love with). The metalled road from Jalori Pass leads down to Sainj and Shimla, across the Sutlej. We, of course, opted for the jungle trails. One trek leads to Raghupur Fort and the other to Serolsar Lake.
Raghupur Fort – Ancient Citadel
The remains of the ancient Fort are located at an altitude of approximately 11700 feet. It is about a 3 kms trek from Jalori Pass and takes an hour and a half on foot. Just below the fort are beautiful meadows from where, we were told, the views of the Himalayan Ranges (stretching till the Dhauladhars) are absolutely breathtaking.
Serolsar Lake – Hypnotic Ambience
We didnot have time for Raghupur Fort but the Serolsar Lake trek which we did was great.
It was an easy 2 hour, one way hike, 5 kms into the jungle. It was beautiful with exciting views along the way. The path was a bit steep for the initial 15 minutes after which it leveled off and then was a comparatively easy walk shaded by oak trees.
The lake, also known as Saryolsar, itself was small but in a beautiful location. Cradled by rolling meadows on all sides, high up in the mountains at 10500 feet, it was an idyllic spot for a cottage. Rakesh Kumar had one there! A small, quaint little dhaba up at the lake. For those who want to camp overnight; they can get hot food, sleeping area and a roof over their heads. A tea-stall trek!
Many get fascinated by Serolsar Lake and the sloping meadows around. We were lucky to get a romantic rainfall with a light hailstorm while having lunch at Rakesh’s Dhaba up at the lake. It was a hypnotic ambiance – raindrops dancing on the lake’s surface, a light mist floating across, trees and meadows washed afresh, clouds floating across the skies and a panoramic view of the valley.
As the rain carried on we decided to start back for Jalori Pass. Amit and Sid, whom we met at the lake were trekking further up. For them it would be a 54 kms round trek through jungles and mountains with three night halts in the middle of nowhere. Hard core adventure indeed!
Back at the Guesthouse
As we returned, we were welcomed with hot tea followed by a crackling bonfire. The day wound up with a good wholesome dinner and a dreamless sleep.
Oh yes, we tried to catch the sunset from the Retreat but since it had been raining, we got some great cloud formations in interesting hues instead.
Besides walks and soft treks, Shoja offers options of trout fishing – 33 kms back from Shoja at Larji in the Tirthan River. The nearest town is Banjaar, 18 kms from Shoja with a fairly large market.
Shoja is certainly a great location for nature lovers.
Note: It has been some years since we visited Shoja. If things have changed, please write about them in the comments section.