In silence I climb, watching every step I take cautiously
I turn around to see the beauty
Spellbound every moment I see the mountains
Covered with mist, filled with wild flowers across the streams
Waterfalls looking like ornaments on those mountains
Makes me wonder if I am in paradise!
Hampta Pass – What a feeling it is when I think of this trek! Initially my plan was to go to Tarsar-Marsar Lake with Indiahikes, but due to unrest at Srinagar, plans changed and I had to decide on Hampta Pass. I had no idea about this place as my focus all the while was on Tarsar-Marsar. Without much expectation or research, I left from Bangalore to Manali with a few friends. It was a long journey as we took flight from Bangalore to Delhi and then a bus to Manali. We reached Manali around 9 am in the morning. We had the whole day to ourselves as the briefing session from Indiahikes was to happen only in the evening. We quickly freshened up and went out to have breakfast and roam around Manali.
Manali is a small town cuddled by mountains in Himachal Pradesh. It is the gateway to many adventurous sports and trekking. The Mall road in Manali was busy with tourists and trekkers. We were surprised to see that some of the shops in Manali were selling everything a trekker would want for their trek. We did our last minute shopping, had lunch and went back to room to take some rest. In the evening, we headed out to Nature’s Park for the briefing session. We were going to meet the trek leader along with all the trekkers with whom we would spend the next 3-4 days. I was as always wondering about the other trekkers and wondering how would the group be. Due to the mandatory online registrations by Indiahikes, I at least had an idea as to how many people were part of the trek and the cities they were coming from. Since this was my second trek with Indiahikes, I was pretty much aware of the briefing session would go. However, this session turned out to be a bit different as our trek leader, Mayank, wanted each one of us to go to him personally and submit our documents. In a way it helped us to talk about any medical conditions we had. After that, Mayank gave us a brief about the trek, the green trails concept, and how to pack our backpacks. What is really interesting is how the trek leads request everyone to be humble towards the great Himalayas right from the briefing session. The entire crew of Indiahikes are passionate about what they do and that makes a lot of difference. After the briefing session, we headed back to have dinner to relook at our backpacks and its contents one last time before we set out for the trek.
Day 1: Manali to Chikka
We were ready to check out and leave by 7 am to join the other trekkers at Rambagh circle. It was drizzling slightly and that set the tone for how the weather would be for the rest of our trek. While waiting, we had a hot chai from the vendor on the road side after which we got started in jeeps to reach Jobra, which is at an altitude of 9,800 ft. The drive to Jobra had 42 hairpin curves and I enjoyed the drive a lot. We reached Jobra in an hour. As soon as we got down from the jeeps, we were in awe looking at the huge mountains on one side and the Allain Guhugal Hydel Project on the other side. We were not allowed to take photos in the hydel project area. We had our breakfast before starting the trek and also packed our lunch. Many of them enjoyed puri sabzi and few of us settled down with hot maggie. We all got equipped to start our trek amidst rain. Our ponchos and raincoats were out along with our trekking sticks. It was going to be a long trek of around 6-7 hours to reach Chikka. The distance did not bother me and I had popped in the last dose of antibiotic for an infection I had caught up few days back. I was confident and started the journey. The only thing that pissed me off was that I was not able to remove my camera in the rain. The number of photos that I took in this trek was really minimal. I used my iPhone as well to compensate, but the satisfaction of shooting in DSLR is entirely different.
The route we trekked on the first day and the glimpse of the mountains as we started our trek.
The Rani Nallah accompanied us through out our journey to Chikka. I had crossed small streams earlier during small treks, but looked like this trek was going to break that record as we were crossing so many streams. I eventually lost track of the number of streams we crossed that day. Due to rain, the path was slushy and after a point, we stopped bothering about that as well. Of course the path wasn’t also seamless as you see in the photos.
It was an experience of life time to trek in the rain amongst the mountains that was surrounded by lush green shrubs filled with wild flowers, streams flowing and water falls all over. We also crossed some waterfalls on our way.
We had our lunch on the way and continued our journey. Just before reaching Chikka we all had to do something that none of us expected. We had to remove our shoes and cross the freezing river where water was gushing from the cold mountain top at its best pace. We were asked to tie the shoes as high as possible to our bags, which indicated that water would come till our waist. What a challenge! We were asked to make a human chain to cross the river, which meant we had to hold each others hand and start crossing the stream. There was no way I could take photo of any of these events. It was a real challenge to cross the river due to three factors: 1) the water was freezing and our feet were going numb slowly, 2) managing to hold on to each other as some people were losing balance and 3) moving at the pace the first person was moving. This activity ensured that we work as a team to cross the river and we did manage to do it. After crossing the river, it took us a while to realise that our feet were intact. We reached our camps at Chikka that was at 10,400 ft by around 5:30 pm and were welcomed by hot bhajjis and chai. There wasn’t much to explore as it was getting too cold and all of us went into our sleeping bags to get the warmth after having a good dinner.
Day 2: Chikka to Balu Ka Gera
Me and my friend got up early to finish our routine before others were awake. We were supposed to start our trek by around 8:30 am and since we had time, we went exploring the place. We had not observed the beauty the previous day as we were tired by the time we reached. The camp was right next to the stream and it was filled with greenery and waterfalls. There were wild flowers everywhere and for a moment I felt as if I was in Valley of Flowers.
We had breakfast and started the trek as planned. It was a 4 hour trek and so we were all bit relaxed. However, I had started feeling bit tired and was wondering what was wrong with me. As we started our trek that is when I realised that my legs were really weak and I was struggling to keep a strong foot on the boulders while crossing the streams. This was unusual with me. We had a break soon as there was a place where they were making chai, omelette and maggie. Most of them got busy eating and I decided to spend time shooting as I got an opportunity to open my camera. It was a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and with stream flowing in one corner.
We continued our trek after the break and since it was a short day, we reached our camp site at Balu Ka Gera by lunch time. Balu Ka Gera is at an elevation of 11, 900 ft. The day’s trek was only an ascent and as per our team lead, Mayank, it wasn’t a steep ascent. We were left wondering what the steep ascent would mean! I did take lot of breaks and realised though I had prepared myself for the trek by gymming, my lungs capacity was still not good enough. I was very tired and I really started worrying about the next day where we had to cross Hampta pass. That was supposed to involve both steep ascent and decent. I had lost my confidence by now as my legs were very weak. I spoke to the trek lead, who checked my oxygen levels and confirmed that I was not suffering from AMS. In a way that helped me calm down, but I still wasn’t confident. My weakness could have been due to the antibiotics I had started taking before the trek. We had lunch and went to explore the place around Balu Ke Gera.
After dinner, we were told about the long trek ahead of us next day. We were asked to be ready by 7 am in the morning. I had decided not to carry my camera and lenses during the trek as I was still feeling tired. Based on my earlier trek experiences, I knew it will be impossible to shoot when climbing a steep slope. So I packed camera in my backpack after securing it and offloaded it for transport by the mules that carried our other backpacks. That night we slept praying that the weather would be good the next day as it had started pouring that night.
Day 3: Balu Ke Gera – Hampta Pass – Shea Goru
The D-day of our trek had arrived. From Balu Ke Gera which is at 11,400 ft, with a steady ascent, we were to reach Hampta pass at 14,000 ft. Immediately after that we had to cross the Kulu region of Himachal to the Spiti region after a steep decent to reach Shea Goru at 12,900 ft. We got up early and got ready. I was still not feeling confident and spoke to our team lead again. He pepped me up and did an oxygen test to ensure that I was not suffering from AMS. I had one small back pack with me to carry. I took one last look at Balu Ka Gera and captured this pano with my iPhone.
We were asked to line up and all the slow trekkers were asked to lead. Clear instructions were given not to break the line till we reached Shea Goru. I am not sure how many fast trekkers at the back of the line were cursing people who were slow and stopping every now and then. There was no other option but to follow the orders that day. The ascent was really steep. The three team leads had positioned themselves well. Ravi was leading, Mayank was in between and Sethuram was in the end. Mayank’s words “Take deep breaths, don’t look up, watch your step and keep moving ahead slowly” are still echoing in my ears.
I was keeping small steps and followed Mayank’s instructions. I had decided to complete the trek at any cost and did not look up to see how steep the climb was even once. I did look back once or twice to enjoy the beauty of those mountains. It was really beautiful and I was feeling bad that I did not have enough time to sit and cherish the beauty! As we started gaining altitude, it became chillier. We came across a frozen river on the way which we had to carefully cross. While waiting for our turn to cross, we saw flocks of sheep along with shepherds crossing over from the other side. I was looking at them with great respect for they had to go through that terrain every now and then. Finally after 4 hours of walking, when Mayank announced that we have reached Hampta pass, I couldn’t believe it. I was like “Yipee! I made it.” We took photos with our iPhones at the pass. There was a constant drizzle and mist. Our next leg of the journey was to begin.
I was under the impression that ascent would be easy but I was wrong! We had to be so careful as there were rocks of all sizes everywhere on the path. The path was narrow and slushy. Also, we had to ensure that we weren’t run over by the mules that were trotting down the mountain towards Shea Goru. The view of Spiti valley as we were ascending was breathtaking. Here are some of the photos I took again using my iPhone 🙂
By the time we reached the camp site at Shea Goru, we were all famished. We had not stopped for lunch anywhere in between. I was extremely tired but at the same time happy on completing the toughest part of the trek. I took rest for sometime in the tent and then had my lunch. By 4 pm, we were all out enjoying the view at Shea Goru. It was such a beautiful place, and with no rains, it would have been injustice to stay inside the tent. By now I was back to shooting with my DSLR 🙂
As we were capturing the landscapes at Shea Goru, we saw this amazing sight of clouds covering the peaks.
I captured time lapse of the above scene in my iPhone as well. There is some disturbance in between as I was trying to operate both phone and camera at the same time :P.
After capturing the breathtaking landscapes, I went back towards the camp and saw that the team was dancing and enjoying. Yes, it was time to celebrate!
I enjoyed dinner and the carrot halwa which they had served for dinner. I slept really well and only in the morning did I get to know that water had entered our camp due to heavy rains. My tent mates had to wear rain coats and sleep to keep themselves dry. I was in such a deep sleep that I couldn’t make out any of it 🙁
Day 4: Shea Goru to Chatru
Today was the last day of our trek which was to last 3 to 4 hours. But because Shea Goru campsite was so beautiful, many of us got busy shooting in the morning.
Our trek for the day started with excitement as we were supposed to cross a stream once again in a similar fashion. After the river crossing on day 1, we felt it wasn’t big deal. It was good fun this time, except that the water was freezing beyond our imagination. All of us started to jump after reaching the other side to get some blood circulation back into our numb feet. While we were doing this, a dog that was near the camp jumped into the water and swam across to be with us! We were all dumbstruck as to how the dog was so casual about crossing the freezing stream. We started our trek for the day and it was a steady decent till Chatru. Spiti valley and its beauty was etched deep in my memory.
The path taken by us on each day of our trek.
At Chatru it was time for us to depart from the group. The rest of them were going to continue to Chandratal lake the same day. Some of us had decided to head towards Kaza to visit some the monasteries and then head towards Chandratal the next day. Our driver was waiting to pick us up and we bid good bye to the Indiahikes group and headed towards Kaza.
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers.
The mind can never break off from the journey.”, – says Pat Conroy. It is very true with me, and my travel never ends and it is just a beginning!
Chandratal and Kaza photos will be posted soon….