Hatu Peak: From Canterbury Tales to a Tourist Den.

The nomadic cattle-herds like this one are usually muslim gujjars with long henna dyed hair and big turbans. They have large herds of buffalos with whom they travel across Himachal looking for newer forest pastures to graze in. (sanjay austa austa)

The nomadic gujjar minds his flock of buffaloes in the Hatu Hills.

Published first in the Deccan Herald. 

As soon as my jeep clambered to the top of Hatu Peak(3400mts), I felt  a disquieting pang. I knew I had shortchanged the mountain.

I had  first climbed Hatu as a toddler with my 65 year old grandmother on foot. We had made the steep 10  kilometer or so ascent to Hatu  from our orchards deep  in the valley. Along the way we met relatives  who became fellow travellers, all of us heading up for   the  Hatu festival (celebrated annually around June 20th as per the  Hindu calendar).

 On this  yearly  Hatu trek we would see the apple trees disappear and the rhododendron,   deodars, spruce, and pines  take over. We had to cross a wide swathe  of a thick coniferous forest to reach the summit. Those days the jungle still had some wild animals and our elders pointed  out to their dens in the overhanging cliffs.   No one saw any predators  but fanciful stories about them kept us close together in single file.

There were trickles of glacial water pouring down the mountain sides  from which  grandmother taught us  how to cup our hands and drink without wetting ourselves. There were wild mushrooms in the dank, loamy forest floor and  we got our lesson in picking the good ones from the bad. There were ancient   stops  were everyone rested, exchanged food  and  gossip and then having rested walked with greater zeal on the thin strip of the leaf-covered path   to Hatu.

Deodar Forests are dwindling now what with rampant deforestation. Forests are being cleared to make way for apple orchards. (sanjay austa austa)

Deodar Forest

A trip to Hatu was indeed Canterbury tales comes true. It was, a veritable trekkers paradise. Unfortunately today it’s   difficult to distinguish it from the numerous tourist dens that litter Himachal’s hinterlands.

What transformed Hatu from an idyllic picnic spot into a crowded summit, was the six kilometer asphalted road constructed right to the top.  Now you can zip up to the peak in less than 20 minutes from Narkanda ( the nearest town).  The road is surprisingly well made for a hill road in these parts. Contractors have been known to do a shoddy job of the roads here and after a few years the thin layer of tar  erodes away  leaving huge pot-holes.  You have to  just get on the Narkanda –Baghi road to see for yourself.

But the order for the Hatu Road came right from the top. Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, a man  given to all  manner of religious ceremonies and rituals doesn’t miss his annual visit  to the Hatu temple. Walking up the steep mountain was out of the question for the CM who is now pushing 80 and revered as a Raja by the locals. So  hence the smooth, flawless Hatu road.

Hundreds of trees were  put to the axe and a road carved out for this stately pilgrimage. The devastation in  Uttrakhund in 2013 has shown what such brazen deforestation and construction can do. Hatu Road is one such bad reminder.

The road to Hatu

In summers, when Hatu Peak receives its maximum rush,  there is clutch-plate burning  jam on this road. The road though well made, is narrow and if a vehicle comes from the opposite side  it takes a lot of backing up before you can cross  each other.  Despite these troubles most tourists prefer to ride it out in their cars. The locals, have no time to make the climb either.  For any religious ceremonies, they make their way up in their powerful  4wd equipped SUV’s with the sacrificial goat, the cooking pots and pans and the priest in toe.

But there are always handful of enthusiasts who make the fascinating  trek to the peak. And the trek is rewarding for it takes you though a dense forest still rich in  high-altitude trees. There are gurgling glacial streams, nomadic shepherds,  wafting smell of wild mushrooms,  just as in my grandmother’s trekking days.

Hatu is the highest peak in the area so once you reach the top, on a clear day, you are rewarded, with 360 degree awe-inspiring  view of snow-capped Himalayan peaks . There was a small ancient temple at Hatu, possibly of historic value, but in a show of reverence and  with a typical  disregard for history,  the locals demolished it to make way for a newer  bigger temple a few years ago, all with the blessing of its devout patron- the CM Virbhadar Singh.

The tiny rain shelter at the other end of the Hatu peak has thankfully remained untouched and its from here that you can see the orchard valley’s of Kothgarh , Thanadar, Baghi and Ratnari.

From here you can also see the  effect of wind erosion on three gigantic rocks below. The locals of course know them as the Pandav Bhim’s chulla. Along the shaded flanks of these rocks,  you can still find winter’s snow till as late as June, depending on how heavy the snowfall was that year.

Hatu Peak (3400 meters). (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Hatu Peak.

How to get here.

Hatu is 66 kilometers by road from Shimla and eight  kilometers by road from Narkanda.

There is a six kilometer motorable road to Hatu but its advisable to leave the cars behind and take the wondrous trek to the top.

Wind erosion on rocks at Hatu Peak, Himachal Pradesh. (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Wind erosion on rocks at Hatu Peak, Himachal Pradesh.


Apples may have transformed the economy of the area completely but its been the same for these shepherds for generations. On the road to Hatu Peak � Himachal (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Apples may have transformed the economy of the area completely but its been the same for these shepherds for generations. On the trek to Hatu Peak


4 Responses to “Hatu Peak: From Canterbury Tales to a Tourist Den.”

  1. Gurpreet Singh Tikku says:

    Loved the Write up Sir….. felt as if I am Trekking my Way up to Hatu Peak

    Reminds me of our Town leaves and how we 11 year olds dodged through the khudds to reach the mall from BCS!!

  2. Vir Rawlley says:

    Sanjay, such tales abound across the hills. In the early 60’s Nainital was a fairy tale, today different. It is just that, inspite of such horror tales, I have immense faith in humanity, and that persons like you share and hence educate us, we become wiser. It takes courage to make a stand, and courage requires sacrifice. Children’s admission, medical bills, electricity, vegetable prices, petrol, etc are all situations where we can make a stand. Eg Arvind Kejrewal refused to pay his electricity bill, and others too because they refused to pay to nurture the corruption monster, so their electricity was cut off. Now this takes courage. The Himachal CM did what most any person would do today, make his life easier. He scaled the ladder of power and harvested whatever he wanted and could. He did not have the courage to walk up or decide he could not any more. Why make the road ? Because the Himachal CM is a “coward”. Why ? Because he is scared if he does not have his darshan he will loose his position. A truly powerful man, say like Gandhi, would never find the need for such theatrics. Regrettably, we as a Society, nurture people like Virbhadra (comical he has this name as this road building simply shows that he is the complete opposite ), and as long as we do, we are well and truly screwed !

  3. Manjunath Shenoy says:

    Sensitively written article Sanjay Austa! You so obviously love your state and miss your old stomping grounds.

  4. Gaurav Jain says:

    I visited in Nov 2009. At that time, there was some construction going on there. I think that’s the time it was destroyed. The memories are still fresh. It’s sad that these relics of past won’t be there for future generations to see.

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