District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
Altitude – 2508 Metres
Part of Treks:
A village whose history is disputed between being settled by nomadic shepherds who found the land flat enough for cultivation and of people from Bengal fleeing big floods a few centuries back (and hence the attempt to explain the name Bhangal), Bada Bhangal is a land like no other. It can probably also lay claim to being the remotest village in Himachal by a distance. Surrounded by mountain ranges on 3 sides and a deep river gorge on the 4th, there are 3 popular ways to reach Bada Bhangal.
- Up along the ravi gorge from Chamba district - the path leads through the villages Dhardi and Khanar and is said to be quite dangerous with a narrow path staring over the Ravi gorge. The fear factor of the path is accentuated by a 60-70 year old story of a girl who slipped and was stuck in bushes, too far from the path to be roped out and too high from the river. Eventually, her family, realizing that they could not help her anymore but also did not want her to wait for a painful, slow death in the bush, shoved a huge rock over the precipice, which threw her into the torrent below, giving her instant death. This path is popular only amongst the villagers for use during winter because the high mountain ranges are snow laden.
- Over the Thamsar Pass - the most popular trail for summer and a trekking trail sparingly used. Connects Bada Bhangal to Chhota Bhangal (areas like Bir, Barot etc) where most Bada Bhangalites own land and houses. Landslides are common on both sides of the pass, as are fascinating views and high lakes.
- Over the Kaliheni Pass - mostly a shepherd trail and used by trekkers, rarely ever by villagers. Connects Bada Bhangal to the Beas valley near Kullu and Manali. Known for old and large glaciers, flowery meadows, excellent camping grounds and wild streams.
Old timers say Bada Bhangal had a king of its own about a century back. The king ruled over the areas of Chhota Bhangal as well. However, he was outmanouvered by the king of Mandi and Bada Bhangal was annexed into Mandi. At this time, the king's family fled to Bada Bhangal and a lot of villagers today claim descendence from the king. It is perhaps partly right as well given the large average land holding size. One man I met, by his own admission owns over 10 square kms, including fields and forest land. In more recent times, there was reverse migration towards Bir for buying land closer to 'civilization'. There have been some admirable efforts by the government with year long rations at subsidized rates muled all the way over Thamsar; a hydel power project exclusively for the village installed with equipment transported in a helicopter, sponsored by the Sai Baba foundation; a middle school which runs April to November and the winter shift in Bir. A road has also been sanctioned along the Ravi gorge from Chamba, as has been an ambitious hydel power project over the Ravi river.
Despite all this and more, Bada Bhangal retains its old world charm. Visitors in the village are greeted with smiles and curiosity, treated with respect and children line up to get photographed. Not a day would pass without a traveller getting a freebie for eating. Buttermilk, kidney beans, apples, fresh milk or corn flour, nothing is lacking and nothing is held back. When I stayed there, Jango mentioned 'We could live in Bada Bhangal for a month without having to buy rations.' This is coming from a man who has been here 4-5 times, experiencing the same hospitality over and over again for 25 years.
As I have trekked over the last one year, the one feature of my travels has been lack of expectation. I dont expect villages to look a certain way, I dont expect treks to offer me something specific. Whatever comes is welcome. Everything is an experience which makes me richer. With Bada Bhangal though, I was carrying a baggage of 25 years. There were expectations. I was expecting the trek and the village to be something special, something I had not seen for the last 1 year. Often with life, when you have expectations about things out of your control, it disappoints. Very rarely do you come out wowing. Bada Bhangal had me wowing, oohing and aahing all the while. The village itself and the trek all the more.