By: Lakshit Seth
Ruskin Bond in one of his poems said, “Once you’ve lived with the mountains, you will return, you will come back, to touch the trees and grass and climb once more the windswept mountain pass”. To pour life into his words, I was ready for climbing another pass, highest that I had climbed so far, and also the most difficult till date – The Pin Parvati Pass, nestled at an altitude of 17,450 feet above sea level, in Himachal Pradesh, which also formed the formidable gateway to the Spiti Valley from the Kullu Valley.
This pass had been luring me for the past 2 years now, but now I’d say, it was well worth the wait, as I had more time to prepare and the debacle of the last trek made me more cautious of the calamities that can take place in mountains.
The Pin Parvati Pass was first discovered and crossed from Spiti side by Sir Louis Dane in 1884, followed by F Skemp in 1906. The first crossing from Kullu side was made by H Lee Shuttleworth in 1921.
Talking about my partners, two of them were the same as the last trek – Jyoti (Bangalore) and Moiz (Mumbai). We had two new entries this time, Ajay (Delhi) and Christian (Sweden). The trek operator was Ankit of Sunshine Adventurers. The trekking itinerary was scheduled for 11 days initially, but on the ground it came to 10 days.
The trek was scheduled to begin on 3rd September 2006, where all of us decided to meet at Barsheni – The last place connected by road from Manikaran. But due to severe lapses in coordination, communication and teamwork, half the group started the trek on schedule without waiting for the other half. So we all met at Khirganga, instead of Barsheni on 4th September 2006
Day 1, 4th September 2006 : A Loooooooooooong Day
Itinerary: Kalga – Khirganga (12 km) Grade: Easy to moderate; Khirganga – Tunda Bhuj (9 km) Grade: Moderate (Coz had been walking since morning, otherwise easy)
We (Moiz and me) reached Manikaran on 3rd September 2006, at around 10 PM and pushed for Barsheni the same night as a motorable road had now been constructed till Barsheni, thanks to the Parvati river Project that has been going on, in the area. It took us around 45 minutes to reach Barsheni from Manikaran, and the track was full of slush. Upon arrival at Barsheni, trekked in pitch darkness for half an hour to reach our cottage at Kalga for the day, a double storeyed, wooden one, where we had a nice cup of tea, courtesy our guide till Mantalai, Prem, and slept like a log in the cosy bedroom.
Since we had reached late, we had to compensate for our late arrival by trekking almost twice the distance we were scheduled to. Got up at around 05:30 AM against the scheduled time of 4 AM, had a hot cup of tea and clicked some first snaps of the trek. Were ready to move by 06:15 AM. The trek was a gentle climb on a grassy terrain. 15 minutes into the trek and we saw the first snow covered peak of the day, and we were told by our guide that it was the way to the Animal Pass trek. The gradient was easy with some occasional precarious places, where one slip of a foot and it was all over. Had to walk on slush for quite some time. At around 9 AM, we were near a small dhaba, where we had our breakfast in the form of bread and omelettes. There was some religious festival going on in Khirganga, due to which the traffic on this trek route was quite high. The last 2 km stretch to Khirganga was quite an ascent, and we reached there at about 11 AM, where we met our remaining team of Jyoti, Christian and Ajay.
Khirganga is a small alpine meadow situated at an altitude of 3,020 mts (9,908 feet). It is famous for it’s hot water springs and the Israeli inhabitants who chill out here amidst the pristine environs and charas and ganja. We freshened ourselves up at the hot water springs, had a bit of lunch and were ready to move again at 1 PM, for our next destination for the day, Tunda Bhuj.
This route also passed through lush green forests, the terrain being a mix of ascents and descents. The weather was quite cold, but the skies were crystal clear. The rest of the trek was uneventful, and we decided to pitch the tents about 45 minutes before Tunda Bhuj, as we were damn tired. So crossed a wooden bridge at 4:30 PM and halted at a small campsite . I began to feel the tiredness, as I hadn’t had a good sleep for almost 3 days now. Our porters reached about half an hour after us, and pitched tents for us. Weather had turned really chilly by now. The exertion began to show its effects on me and it was for the first time in my trekking career that I fell sick, while on a trek.
Had some tea, and then gathered in one tent to gossip and know more of each other. My condition turned from bad to worse, and I just had dinner and went to sleep. Jyoti and Moiz slept in one tent, and because Ajay was hesitant to sleep alone, Christian slept with him, and I slept alone. That night was no less than inferno for me, as I experienced hallucinations, depression, fear, everything bad that one can. So much so that I decided to return the next morning.
Day 2, 5th September 2006 : Sick man’s trekking day
Itinerary: Tunda Bhuj – Thakur Kuan (13 km) Grade: Easy to moderate
Woke up to a sunny morning, but didn’t have the energy to go out and enjoy it. Was still ruled by fever and snivelling. Somehow gathered enough Moxie to continue the trek and we were ready to move for Thakur Kuan by 8:00 AM. The day began with a steep climb, and to make matters worse, I also started to have stomach ache. Seemed that the Himalayas had some grudges against me, because right from the beginning of the trek, till date, I had been facing some problem or the other. Took medicine and moved on, and crossed the river on a small 6 inch wide wooden bridge, to reach Tunda Bhuj.
Tunda Bhuj is also an alpine meadow situated at an altitude of 3,285 m (10,777 feet). The tree line ends after Tunda Bhuj. Had a cup of tea at a seasonal dhaba, which also boasted of a bench and a table for visitors. The views from the meadow were magnificent. Just overlooking the meadow was a fantastic waterfall that made up for a picture perfect shot. We met another group from West Bengal, led by Saptarishi, who were also here for the same trek.
The terrain changed drastically after Tunda Bhuj, since the tree line had diminished. The track was now a marked one and I don’t remember much about this part of the trek, as my condition was fast deteriorating. All I remember is that the weather was overcast and we halted in between to have some lunch and snacks. the weather again turned cold and I just walked and walked to reach the campsite at the earliest. Then from a huge rock, saw our campsite at Thakur Kuan (3,620m, 11,876feet) and pushed for it and reached there at 2 PM. It had been a place for research by engineers for the Parvati river project, so it had some fibre huts and a helipad as well. But it was not functional as that phase of the project had been completed. The fibre huts were full of sheep droppings, so dropped the idea of spending the night there. It began to drizzle so we checked into one of the huts that had been reserved by Saptarishi’s group. Interacted with them over a cup of coffee and biscuits. In the meantime the rain stopped, got our tents pitched, had a delicious mushroom soup, had medicine and slept, with an intent to rest my tired body and soul. Slept for around 4 hours, got up at 8 PM, had some dinner and again slept.
Day 3, 6th September 2006 : Regaining momentum
Itinerary: Thakur Kuan – Odi Thach (16 km) Grade: Moderate
Next day again woke up to a very sunny morning, was feeling the best I had in the past 3 days. Had breakfast, packed our bags and began the trek at 08:30 AM. The first obstacle was the river, which we had to cross on the “Flying Fox”. It is a sort of metal swing structure resting on two wires and the person sits in it and he has to pull a rope attached to the swing and the other side of the river, to reach the other side. Jyoti was the first to go, but he had to return as he didn’t have the requisite power to pull the rope and reach the other side. So who else, but me, could be the next option to reach the other side of the river and help others do the same. So my brawn power came to my rescue and I successfully reached the other side of the river. Now there were no hassles and the other persons started reaching there one by one. The track now shifted to the right side of the river and was a gentle walk for a km or so. Thereafter, the gradient turned into an ascent and continued so till we reached Pandu Pul (gigantic boulders right in the center of the river) at around 12 PM. Now this Pandu Pul has a mythological significance. It is believed that when the Pandavas were in exile, they reached this area, and had to cross to the other side of the river. But the river flow was such that it was impossible to negotiate it. So Bhim pulled out two mammoth stones and threw them in the river, thus enabling them to cross the river. The first of the stones was very scary. It had an incline of almost 60º and we had to cross it laterally, with just a 2 inch wide strip to keep our foot on. There was no chance of error, as one slip and we would in the river. Moiz was the first one to cross it, he did it quite comfortably. I followed, but I was very scared, but with the help of one of the porters, crossed it successfully and other people followed suit. Immediately after we crossed this boulder, there was an even bigger, about 4 times the size of the previous one, stared us in the face but this one was lot easier to negotiate than the previous one. So eventually reached the other side of the river where we rested for about half an hour, basking in the sun.
We could see hordes of sheep crossing that treacherous Pandu Pul effortlessly and reaching this side of the river. We also met a shepherd who had a flock of 500 sheep and had come to rear them in this area. Very soon the whole area was bustling with the bleats of sheep. We resumed our trek at around 12:45 PM. There was a steep ascent just after Pandul Pul, and it took us around 30 minutes to reach the top. The sky was clear as usual and the peak of Kullu Eiger stood tall displaying its glory.
We again rested for some time, after reaching the top of the ridge, waiting for our porters, to select a camp site. As they arrived, we decided to move further and camp ahead. The track was a mixture of ascents and descents and finally we reached a small flat ground just beside the river. Again rested there to wait for our guide and the remaining porters. Had discussions regarding our plans for the next year and Jyoti’s trekking history. Some astonishing facts were revealed by Jyoti in the discussion, which, if I post here, Jyoti will kill me. At around 02:30 PM, our guide and porters arrived and it was decided that we move ahead and were told that the campsite was just half an hour away, by our guide, Prem. We kept moving for half an hour, 45 minutes, one hour, but the campsite was nowhere in sight. 15 minutes more is what Prem said, and we eventually reached our campsite at Odi Thach (3900 m, 12,975 feet) at around 04:15 PM. What we learnt in this whole chapter was to calibrate our time with that of our guide. Half an hour of Prem was equivalent to 2 hours for us. This place was a huge flat saucer shaped ground surrounded by mountains on 3 sides. I had bid adieu to my fever and cold by now, and was fighting fit. But all the other members began to show signs of altitude sickness in the form of headache and nausea.
The place was very windy and the porters after a hard day’s work, pitched tents for us. We rested in the tents for a while and thereafter Alam chacha, one of our porters, aged around 50 or so, brought some hot delicious soup for us. He was the most cheerful person in the whole group and made us laugh with his silly jokes. What I liked about him was that he was always smiling, never complaining about anything, no matter what. I wish one day I could do the same !!!!
Had dinner at around 08:30 PM and then came out of the tents as the wind had stopped completely, and it was quite cold but pleasant outside. Expatiated near the campsite Christian and Jyoti for 45 minutes or so and then retired to bed.
Day 4, 7th September 2006 : Fit as a fiddle
Itinerary: Odi Thach – Chota Mantalai (12 km) Grade: Easy
The morning was very foggy, but as time passed, the sun came out and the view of the ice capped mountain range left us clicking as many snaps as we could. For me, this was the perfect morning, as I had overcome my sickness. The weather as usual was chilly. We had our breakfast in the form of aaloo paranthas and tea. The altitude sickness of the guys had also disappeared and were ready to move for our riparian campsite for the day – Chota Mantalai.
Applied tons of sun screen lotion on my face coz the last experience of my trek to Bhrigu Lake trek without a sun screen lotion sent shivers down my spine. Packed all the stuff and finally moved at around 9 AM. The trek began with a simple walk, but the altitude ensured that we were out of breath after walking for some time. The track now changed to a more or less rocky terrain with gradual ascents, stream crossings etc.
After walking for around two hours, the terrain changed into a completely flat marshy land, with a completely flat river bed. The silt and sand deposited on the bank of the river enticed us to halt and spend some time beside the river. So we lay flat on the sand, enjoying the flowing river and crystal clear skies.
After about half an hour of complete rest, moved on, the terrain was still a flat one. Another hour or so of leisure walk on flat land and then we entered the boulder area. The ascent also began, and the merry times were over. One of our porters showed us the campsite from a distance. Moved slowly, clicking snaps, shooting movies and munching swedish chocolates. The trek was not much eventful, and we finally reached our campsite at around 4 PM. It was a total flat ground, again surrounded by hills and the Parvati river flowed beside our campsite. Just as all other campsites till date, this site was also very windy. But the sun was shining nice and bright, although there were clouds. Sat under the shade of a rock, to escape the wind fury, and gossiped with some of the porters, while the others pitched tents for us.
Around 6 PM went by the riverside to freshen up. The water was freezing, as usual, but it refreshed my tired body. Then decided to have a pakora treat. In the meantime, changed to a warmer clothing, and sat outside with Jyoti and Ajay in the kitchen area, beneath a rock. Meanwhile, Christian was feeling the effect of altitude in the form of a severe headache, so he had to skip the pakodas part. The pakodas were ready in about half an hour. Jyoti ate like a pig, while Ajay, Moiz and me didn’t leave any opportunity to make fun of him. Retired to our tents after the delicious snacks party.
I didn’t have dinner that night, just a bowl of dal did the trick for me. It was a full moon night, but the sky was overcast, so the moon wasn’t visible. Decided to wait till the sky cleared a bit to click the pics, but it didn’t. Tried to click a few snaps while the clouds were still there, but to no use. So slept.
Day 5, 8th September 2006 : Mantalai Illusion
Itinerary: Chota Mantalai – Mantalai Lake (6 km) Grade: Moderate
Woke up very early at around 6:30 AM, thanks to the wake call for tea by Alam. The sky was clear, but it was very cold. The pakodas had shown their effect on Jyoti, who now had dispepsia. The sun had come out, but the hillock beside our campsite forfended it from reaching us. We had to wait for an hour or so before we could feel the warmth of the sun. The adjoining snow capped peaks looked magnificent in the red hues of the morning sun. Had our breakfast early in the form of paranthas and left the campsite by 8:15 AM. The terrain now was invious, since the boulder track had begun. We walked slowly, and after half two hours or so, we were on top of the ridge that was visible from Chota Mantalai. The views of the opposite side were full of ice falls and hanging glaciers.
Rested for a while and clicked numerous snaps, while Ajay joined us, as he was quite slow that day. The path was completely boulder stricken, and we had to be very careful while negotiating, it as one slip could fracture our feet or leg. Eventually reached a vantage point from where the Mantalai Lake could be seen. The view was breathtaking, as we shouted in gung ho to salute our efforts for having achieved the first milestone of our trek. In fact, the place from where the lake turned into the river Parvati was also visible from this very point. Clicked some snaps and moved further, to actually reach the lake. Around 20 minutes of walking, and we were there – the Mantalai Lake ( 4,116 m, 13,504 feet). While the porters paid their obeisance at the small temple made beside the lake, I clicked sundry snaps of the surroundings including mine, with the Jindal Stainless banner.
At the temple, Jyoti tried hard to play the conch, but to no avail. Then Bindu gave him a lesson or two, but the outcome was still the same. We decided to spend some time beside the lake as it was just 12:30 PM and we had ample time left to reach our campsite that was just 15 minutes away. Had our chocolates, namkeens, morocco etc and just sat idling and absorbing the ambience.
We moved for the final frontier frontier for the day, our campsite. The terrain was totally flat and we moved along the river bed all the time. The very sight of the campsite disappointed us coz in no way was that campsite beside a lake, in fact, you can’t call Mantalai a lake. It was just a flat marshy plateau that had been filled by waters melting from the glaciers. Our concept of campsite beside a lake was, sort of, shaken after we saw the place. Saptarishi’s group had also been camping here, and this was supposed to be their rest day. So they had spruced themselves up, by having a bath and shaving their age old beards. They looked more humans and civilized than we did. We also had similar plans, but little did we know what was in store for us. Ordered for lunch and basked in the sun.
We pitched our tents besides the so called Manatalai “Lake” and started planning for activities that we were going to do the next day, as that was going to be our rest day. Again clicked various snaps, and they came so good that if anyone went there after seeing those snaps of mine, he will surely kill me after coming back, coz the place comes nowhere close to the beauty that can be seen in the pics.
And now came the news from our guide that we will run out of kerosene if we rested the next day. So we had to abort our plans to look handsome and civilized, and some serious planning for the two most difficult days of the trek started taking shape. We distributed the emergency stuff that we were to carry in case of any mishap and offloaded the remaining part to our porters. Did all the packing, and waited for our lunch. It was already 5 PM. The weather turned bad and it was pretty overcast by 6 PM, but it didn’t rain.
Amidst all the hiccups, met a Chinese guy, who had come to do the trek solo. Solo, here means that his modus operandi was not to hire any guide or porter. He carried just sufficient logistics with him that he himself was able to carry and followed other groups who would cross the pass. He had tried to follow an Israeli group, but they were too fast for him, so he had to return midway. So he contacted us and pitched his tent close to ours, so that he can push off with us in the morning.
At last the linner ( lunch + dinner) was served to us at around 7 PM. Ate like dogs since we didn’t have our lunch that day. Then Moiz, Jyoti and Ajay disappeared somewhere, while Christian and me went to our tent to sleep. The batteries of my digicam had been performing exceptionally well, and I had some spare as well, so decided to have a glance at the photos that I had taken so far and I just loved to recollect the memories of the past few days. Was in no mood to sleep at 8 PM, but had to as there was no other option. Woke up a number of times at night, waiting for the morning sun.
Day 6, 8th September 2006 : The Killer Trek
Itinerary: Mantalai Lake – Base Camp (10 km) Grade: Very Difficult
The honeymoon period was over and some serious trekking was staring us in the face. Woke up very early, after a long night, at 6 AM. The sky looked clear, but as usual, the temperature was close to sub zero. The “lake” looked calm and the reflections of the mountains in the backdrop called for a picture perfect shot, and it was, actually. Had a sip of tea, that sooner changed to cold tea. The clouds began to engulf the sky and soon the blue sky that had been accompanying us for 5 days now, was no where to be seen. Again had our paranthas and moved on for the toughest day of the trek. We had to camp at an altitude of 4,800 meters, that meant that we had to gain 700 meters altitude.
The trek began with a boulder crossing that took us around an hour. Then, we had a raging stream in front of us to be crossed. We tried to locate spots from where it could be crossed without having to take our shoes off, but that was not to be. So, waited for our porters to arrive, as they would guide us to cross it. Had to take our shoes off, and crossed the ice cold stream easily, but the legs and feet were totally numb.
Meanwhile, met another group who had also come for the same pass. Just after the river crossing, there was this huge mountain that had to be climbed rather than trekked. The progress had been slowed down considerably, given the altitude and terrain. Each step weighed a ton, and precarious terrain added salt to wounds. At some points the terrain was so treacherous that one mis-step, and …
So now we knew why this trek had been classified under the very difficult category. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the top of the cliff, but as we reached there, there was another one smiling at us. Had a long rest at the top, accompanied by chocolates, water and namkeen. Ran short of water and had a very difficult time climbing without water. After half an hour, saw a small stream of water.
The top provided some pulchritudinous views of the surrounding snow covered mountains. River, glacier, snow, ice, rocks: everything that one can think of, when in a hilly area, was there. One thing that was missing was that clear blue sky. The sky was overcast, with just patches of blue visible. We kept moving at a snail’s pace, but the destination was no where in sight. One ridge after the another, and our guide kept on telling us that we are just about there! And then it was time to do something I do every time I am on a trek : curse my senses for choosing trekking as a holiday option. Every time I come on a trek, I promise to myself that I am not going to trek again, but the Himalayas are so enticing that after being back to my cubicle, I seem to miss those vagaries and this is how the planning of a new and more difficult trek begins.
The thin air was showing it’s effect, and our progress was almost nil. Each step weighed a ton, and then we were told that the ridge that stood in front of us was the last one. Took some rest before the last climb, and then consoled ourselves and moved. It was going to be a slow and long walk, probable an hour or so. So moved slowly, stopping after every five minutes of ascent to gather the breath, and then moved on. This continued for an hour or so, and then there was a climb of about 30-40 meters on loose boulders. It looked easy, but when I stepped on one of the boulders, it slipped. And it happened on numerous occasions, until I reached the top. But upon reaching the top, there was no trace of a place where a tent could be pitched. It was a field full of boulders, for as far as the eye could see. It was very disheartening, but did I have any other option than to move on?
Crossed one boulder after the other, following the porters, and far away sighted a small flat place where a number of people were sitting, and hurled a sigh of relief. Maybe that was our campsite and alas! I was there. Reached there after about half an hour of hopping and jumping on boulders, but there was no clean water source at that place. Also it seemed that the place could be inundated in case the flow of river increased at night. These indications pointed out that we had to move further for a campsite. The other members had not reached yet, so rested while they arrived. They reached after 45 minutes, and after hearing that the campsite was way ahead, their faces told their agony.
So we again began our trek for our base camp, that was another 30 minutes away. We had to cross another small ridge and a river. Everything said and done, we moved on with the last punch of energy that was left in us. The path was not as difficult as it looked, so the ridge was easily crossed. Then we had to cross the raging rivulets that originated from the glacier just 40-50 meters away. Took off our shoes, and dared into the chilling water. First few seconds were ok, but as the first stream was crossed, a chill ran down the whole body. But before the feet and legs could come to normal temperature, jumped into the next stream to cross it. And what that experience was, cannot be described. Due to the vicinity of the glacier, the water must have been at 0 ºC. The result was that blood in the feet froze, colour changed from brown to white to blue and an excruciating pain engulfed both the feet. It took around 5 minutes for the legs to come back to the normal functioning. Shot a video of the boys as they crossed the river, and their facial expressions said it all.
We crossed another ridge before reaching our base camp (4,800m, 15,748 feet) at around 04:30 PM. The tents had been pitched by our porters. So dumped in our baggage and demanded some hot soup from them. The glacier, on which we were to trek the next day was a stone’s throw away. The wind was bone chilling, and sun played hide and seek in an otherwise overcast sky. We were surrounded by glaciers on 3 sides. We pushed ourselves into the porter’s tent as it was a huge 8 men tent, with enough leg and head room so that we could stretch ourselves. Ate lots of namkeens, biscuits, petha and anything that we had in our bags. Were served soups thereafter: a delicacy in this this part of earth. We then moved to our respective tents, where I saw the video recording that I had done in the past 6 days, which was followed by gossiping. Had our dinner at around 8 PM and slept by 9 PM, after the most strenuous day of the trek.
Day 7, 9th September 2006 : The D Day
Itinerary: Base Camp – Pin Parvati Pass – Base Camp II (10 km) Grade: Very Difficult
Woke up at 4 AM, as we had to cross the pass that day. All but me had their breakfast in the form of noodles. Packed everything up and moved for our ne plus ultra for the trek – The Pin Parvati Pass at around 5:15 AM. The sky was heavily overcast, much to our dislike, but we had to move. We dressed ourselves in multiple layer clothing, woolen socks, monkey cap and gloves that could withstand temperatures upto -20 ºC. Just a 10 minute walk from our campsite and we were standing right in front of the glacier that we had to negotiate all the way till Pin Parvati Pass. Got some safety instructions from our guide and porters and the trek was on.
Set our foot on the very slippery ice and walked very slowly on the white patches of fresh snow to avoid slippage. It was a gradual ascent and the weather had turned from overcast to foggy. The progress was slow, owing to the ice that lay there since ages. Stopped briefly after regular intervals for rest and taking snaps. The trek wasn’t tiring the way it had been the day before. Enjoyed walking on the glacier for such long periods of time.
Just as I was taking snaps and making movie, I saw something that I could ever dream of – the fresh pugmarks of a snow leopard, just adjacent to the place where I was clicking snaps. The others did not notice them, but I made sure that everyone saw them. These were fresh marks, probably a day or two old. In hindsight, when I think of the consequences of those pugmarks just a few 100 meters away from our campsite, it makes me feel really scary. Who knows, he may have circumnavigated our tents or mayhap stayed there before we came!
At about 7 AM reached near a small semi frozen pond, from where we had to take on a right turn for the pass. Discussed about using the ropes, but Arjun advised against using them, as the terrain could be negotiated without them. As we moved on, we came across the first crevasse of the trek. We moved very cautiously, as there was a steep fall on our right side.
The sky began showing signs of clearing up and patches of blue sky were visible here and there. And I didn’t miss a single opportunity to shoot the ever changing scenery. We were surrounded by peaks on all the sides, the views of which would have been exhilarating had the sky been clear. As we moved further we encountered a number of crevasses. There were a number of tricky patches where we had to take support from our porters to cross. Left to us was a wall of glacier, while towards our right was a steep slope of snow and ice, that ended some 100 meters below.
The weather began to deteriorate by the minute, and the pass was no where in sight. We stood amidst a glacier field that was heavilly crevassed on all the sides. We moved slowly with Christian leading the attack, followed by me and Jyoti and Moiz. The wind began to blow fast and the temperature began to plummet. But the pass stood right in front of us, at the top of a final ridge that had to be crossed.
There was now a patch of snow on the ridge, while the base was a glaciated field. Braving the weather and winds, we began the final assault for the pass, panting at times, stopping after every 10 steps to get some oxygen in the lungs. The final wall seemed to be the most difficult, but we surpassed it and Christian and me reached the Pin Parvati Pass ( 5,319 meters, 17,451 feet ) at precisely 8:52 AM, followed by Jyoti and Moiz. The weather degringoladed and a snow storm engulfed us the moment we reached the top. Didn’t even have the time to click a group snap, just took a solo, and with Jyoti, with Jindal Stainless banner. The wind blew with it’s full might and we decided to retreat before the blizzard acquired dangerous proportions.
The pass had been conquered, but that jubilation was missing, since we didn’t have enough time to absorb that feeling. We spent a total of 8-9 minutes on the pass. We kept on moving down amidst the snowfall, with an amazing pace, through the crevassed glaciated field, with some of the crevasses not visible as they had been covered with fresh snow. But Arjun was adroit enough to apprise us of any crevasse that came in our way. This was the 24th time that he had crossed this pass.
We reached the bottom of the glaciated field in half an hour, and hardly had we reached the bottom when we saw clear blue sky atop the pass. Seemed that weather had turned bad just to spoil our party. We were disappointed but not to the extent of last year’s trek, maximum effect was visible over Jyoti’s face.
The landscape on this side of the pass was totally desolate, not a trace of vegetation for as far as one could see. The hills supported different colours, from brown to red to purple. This was the Spiti valley, and we moved down the very slippery rocky terrain. Came to halt at a somewhat flat area near which a small stream flowed. Rested and had something to eat since I hadn’t had anything since dinner the previous night.
Then began the very long 800 m altitude descent that was very harsh on knees and toes. It was a total downhill track on rocks and moraines, and the river bed was visible, near yet so far. The knees took a real hammering as we were descending. The sun was out some snow covered peaks peeped out every now and then from behind the rocky mountains every now and then. We were at the river bed by 12:30 PM where the guys had a snooze, while I enjoyed the Sptitian landscape.
There was another river crossing in the offing, fed by another glacier, a stone’s throw away. It was the deepest so far, with water level reaching the upper portion of the thighs. Crossed it comfortably as we had been very used to river crossings by now. The campsite was another 45 minutes trek from this place. The terrain was rocky, flat at times. We reached our campsite ( 4,200 meters, 13,779 feet) at around 2 PM
Our hungry souls were shrieking for food, so asked Bindu to cook it immediately. And this is what he had to say : “We are out of kerosene, so I will be able to provide you with just two meals per day”. What a blunder on the planning part? So, if you intend to hire SunShine Adventures for your next trek, just don’t do it. We had been kicked where it hurts most, so had no option but to eat whatever he gave us. But we had sufficient supporting stuff left, so there was no chance of starving in that desolate area.
The adventurous part of the trek was formally over, now it was just a question of returning to our respective places. The nearest roadhead was still 37 km away, so a considerable amount of trekking still remained, but the difficult part was over. We basked in the afternoon sun, had our lunch around 4 PM and discussed the day’s happenings. The evening was uneventful, had our dinner and slept.
Day 8, 10th September 2006 : Long Walk
Itinerary: Base Camp II – Ching Put Maidan (19 km) Grade: Easy
The morning was cold and clear as usual, and we left our campsite at 8:15 AM. The trek was an easy walk along the left bank of the river, with some gradual ascents and descents. The terrain most suited Moiz aka mountain goat who enjoyed running rather than trekking on that terrain. He was way ahead of us, infact no where in sight. Only when he rested for about 15-20 minutes, were we able to catch up with him. As we traversed, we saw the different shades of the Spitian mountains, something that can be seen only in this part of the world. We were beguiled by the landscape, as it was something that we had come across for the first time. After crossing some parlous areas, the Chingput Maidan campsite was in view. A motorable road is being constructed through this area which will connect the Spiti valley with the Kinnaur valley through Bhaba Pass, thereby saving approx 100 km as compared to from the Kaza Shimla route.
Few labourers could be seen in the process of removing obstructions from the road, but there was no earth moving machinery available. So if that was going to be the case, then this road will take ages to complete. Our guide told us that Chingput Maidan is connected by road to the official nearest roadhead, and since the road construction work is in progress, a tractor trolley may be available at Ching Put Maidan to transport us to the road head. But that was not to be as the trolley came only once a week, and it had come just the day before.
Ajay decided to trek 18 km more to the roadhead, Mud, the same day, and reach Kaza from there. I also decided to do the same, but some brainstorming by Moiz and Jyoti, and I was convinced to stay there and leave for Mud the next day. So now there were 4 of us, with Ajay having left. We pitched our tents amidst the strong wind that blew and sat under a stone, beside our campsite to prevent ourselves from that harsh wind. The views from the campsite were fantabulous. Had some namkeens, soup, petha etc and enjoyed the afternoon in the sunshine. In began to rain in the late afternoon, so had to slip into our tents. Decided to have some tuna fish for dinner, so cooked it all by ourselves, giving the porters a break. It came out to be quite tasty. Just as had finished dinner, we heard some whistling sounds nearby and when we reacted, there was silence. This was an issue of concern, as this trek had been famous for all the wrong reasons as well. Everybody was alerted and we slept with an ice axe inside the tent for safety.
Day 9, 11th September 2006 : The Last Trekking Day
Itinerary: Base Camp – Ching Put Maidan – Mud (18 km) Grade: Easy, Mud – Kaza (50 km) by taxi
Woke up early and moved without having any breakfast at 06:15 AM. The morning landscape looked distinctly different. The track was now a kuccha one, but totally flat as it is somewhat a motorable road as tractors come up till Chingput Maidan. Took numerous snaps of the chatoyant landscape. Saw a few horses on the way and came across a weird stream crossing, where we had to jump from a 4 feet high platform to cross the river. Perhaps, Jyoti can explain this better coz it took him guts to jump to prevent a crater from being formed at the place where he landed.
As we moved further, Jyoti started having problems in his ankle. Moov didn’t offer any respite either. So he had to move with his injured ankle. We continued on the left bank of the river, while on the opposite side, the trek route to the Bhabha pass was neatly carved. As we moved ahead, the village Mud came into sight. But the propinquity of the place eluded us many a times. On the way saw villagers working on the hills with their vegetation. These people work for only 4-5 months in a year, as the rest of the time this place is snow covered and hence inaccessible. Little bit of greenery was now visible in an otherwise rocky landscape.
Eventually reached Mud at 10 AM, where we checked into Tara Guest house, and waited for a taxi to Kaza. In the meantime had breakfast in the form of noodles and tea. It was cold in the room, so sat outside in the sun, and the verandah gave a stunning view of the route that we came from. Mud is a small village, nestled in the Spiti valley with a population of 270. The place is very calm and the ambience qualified it for a Shangri La. Decided to come here again, but this time on a bike.
While the taxi arrived, we decided to distribute the excess stuff that we had, among the porters. So reduced the weight of our rucksacks by a few kilos. The taxi arrived and we left for Kaza at around 12:30 PM. The road was a total dirt track, but kudos to the government for having made a village with a population of just 270, accessible by motorable road. We were still on the left bank of the river, and the drive was amazing. What made it more enjoyable for me was the ghazals that were playing (Aise tere beger jiye jaa rahe hain hum, jaise koi gunaah kiye jaa rahe hain hum). Since I was sitting in the front seat, decided to shoot the video for the motor ride. Very soon we reached the confluence of the Pin and Spiti rivers. The Dhankar monastery was visible from here, nestled somewhere on a hillock amidst glacial moraines.
The whole road track was just beautiful and we loved it more than the trek itself. Reached Kaza at aorund 3 PM, where we checked into a hotel (don’t remember it’s name). Incidentally Saptarishi’s group and Ajay had also been staying in the same hotel. Rang at home from a nearby STD booth. Had our lunch in the same hotel, and then went to explore the market. Surprisingly there were more foreigners than Indians in this place.
Then it was time to change our looks to human. So began my odyssey of shaving my beard. It took me two razors to clean it off and get a civilized look. Then had a hot water bath after 9 days. So refershinggggggggg. Again it was time to explore the market, this time for party. So chilled out at a restaurant nearby, and were back to the hotel by 10PM. The whole place bore a deserted look at 10PM, and not a dog or any light was visible. Packed our stuff and slept as we had to push for Manali the next morning at 4 AM.
Day 10, 12th September 2006 : Heaven Explored
Itinerary: Kaza – Chandratal – Manali (265 km) by taxi
Woke up at 4 AM and pushed off for Manali by 5 AM, and bid adieu to Moiz and Christian as they stayed back to explore the place for another week. Sapta’s gang also joined us for the journey upto Manali. The road track passed through a landscape that none of us had seen before. We reached the village of Losar at around 7 AM where we had breakfast in the form of tea and paranthas. Also decided to visit the Chandratal lake, which was a detour of 19 km from Batal.
As we approached our next destination, the Kunzum pass, we had a flat tyre. The sun was in its full bloom, but outside it was chilly. The peaks surrounding the Kunzum La looked magnificent amidst the cloudless sky. Reached Kunzum la (4,551 meters, 14,931 feet) at 08:45 AM, where our driver paid obeisance at the Kunzum La temple.
The next destination now was the Chandratal Lake, also known as the moon lake. A motorable road had now been constructed till the lake. It was a one lane, anfractuous track, seemingly designed to discourage visitors, that tested the driving skills of our driver. There were a number of steep hairpin bends, where we had to get down in order that the vehicle is able to negotiate the turns.
Reached Chandratal at 10:15 AM. The sheer beauty and grandeur of the place was…. One has to see the place to believe it. For me, it was no less than welkin. Infact it was the most beautiful place that I had ever come across. The emerald green waters of the lake combined with the brown and white mountains gave the place an ethereal look. While all the others preferred to stay near our taxi, I decided to circumnavigate the lake and have a closer look at such an exquisite location . There was a consummate camping ground just beside the lake, and if I had my druthers, I would have definitely camped there. Took a complete round of the lake and clicked as many snaps as I could, and made a movie as well. Never wanted to leave that place, but had to.
The return drive was much easier, owing to the descent, and we reached Batal at 12:15 PM. Had lunch in the form of egg bhurjee and bread in the sole dhaba that braved the fierce climate and winds. Saw a number of foreign tourists on the way to Manali from Batal. The road after Batal provided spectacular views of the hanging glaciers and ice falls. Among these glaciers was Dhaka glacier, which housed the remains of 102 men who lost their lives when their AN-12 aircraft crashed, on February 7, 1968.
The road was a total dirt track full of landslide zones and nallahs. We reached Gramphoo at 3 PM this marked the end of the barren Spiti valley. The mountains were now green in colour and the road also turned into a metalled one. As we neared Rohtang Pass, it started raining and we had to stuff all our bags inside the sumo, poor guys at the back had a tough time with the luggage. Reached Rohtang at 4 PM, where we had a cup of tea, and then left for Manali and reached there at 6 PM. Boarded the bus for Chandigarh at 9 PM and reached home at 9 AM the next day.
Another trek came to an end, another pass was successfully conquered, but the proclivity for more never ends. So as I sit in my carceral and finish this trip log, planning for next year’s tryst with the Himalayas has already started taking shape. Kalindikhal ( 5,967 meters, 19,577 feet), I am coming!!!
Cross posted at: Lakshit Seth’s web space .