Original Link: https://nomadaak.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/a-date-with-the-mountains-and-the-songs-of-the-stars/
Trek: Hampta Pass
Difficultly: Moderate (mostly because of weather conditions)
Dates: 9th October 2016 to 13th October 2016
Group: Trek The Himalayas (TTH)
It’s often said that the destination is only a milestone; it is the journey that takes your breath away. My journey started with one of my friends (Venky) suggesting a trek in the Himalayas. All the dates and plans were pretty much made by him. He had picked the Hampta Pass to be our first adventure into the Himalaya’s abode. Though this would be a first for me, an earlier visit in the snow filled terrain visited by another friend (Yashu) provided the reasonable assurance that I should go for it. As fate would have it, Venky had to back out and moved to Germany and the chance of a solo trip loomed in front of me. As I pondered over what to do next, my best friend (Sneha) stepped up and pushed me to go kick start my dreams, and in the next month all bookings and shopping was completed as required.
My journey towards the starting point in Manali began with a flight to Delhi and a bus to Manali. Pretty much this part of the trip was non adventurous. Once in Manali, after a 15 hour bus journey we met up with all the people in the group formed by Trek The Himalayas (TTH). We were a group of 16 people mostly from Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Along with us were our trek leader (Amit) and the ever delightful trek guide (Ravi). We boarded our respective cabs to navigate through a 2 hour drive and 40 hair pin bends uphill to Jobra (9,800ft). The drive started around 12 noon and we were at Jobra by 2 in the afternoon. Here our companion cooks and helpers and mules joined us. We had our lunch at a tea stall near the hydroelectricity dam at Jobra.
After our brief break, we started our climb on foot uphill towards our base camp for the night at Chika (10,400ft). The trek started amidst rocky terrain and after a 30 minutes’ walk opened into a hill which was covered in green. We had tasted our first breathless moment in the mountains. We had a stream running next to us, and acres of green hills. In the distance you could see the snow covered peaks. It was one of the images you would draw as a child in your arts class in school. The air felt as pure away from the city life, and no network on the phone had turned the device into a mere camera. We carried on walking ahead, as I broke conversations about the mountains and trekking with Ravi. We cracked light hearted jokes, as we made our way towards the base camp. One thing I learned on the way is even on a relatively simpler trek in the Himalayas, it is very important to acclimatize. Thought the air was pure, and gave you a calming effect, you needed time to adjust to the surroundings. We walked for 3 hours and were at our base camp by around 5:30 in the evening. This followed with some delightful tea and soup in the cold weather. I shivered and asked Ravi about the temperature to which he said it was between 5C and 10C. It though did feel colder, but little I knew what was in store next.
On top of a nearby hill, a lone trekker camped under the sky and had his own bonfire put up. As per rules in the forest, bonfires are not allowed, so we stayed away from it. After a tiring day, we had our dinner, and retired to bed by 8. The idea of 6-7-8 for the next morning loomed large inside our heads. 6 – Tea, 7 – Breakfast, and 8 – Move.
Waking up early in the morning, and freshening up under the open sky, our journey for day two started on time towards Balu ka Gera (11,900ft). The terrain was mostly rocky now, with silver lining trees on one side in the mountains, and a stream running next to us on the other. This was the last we would see tress or any vegetation as we moved higher into the mountains. We crossed over a stream bare feet, as the icy cold water took a lot out of us. This is where I met our lone trekker from last night. Incidentally he was from Bangalore, and woke in the same campus as me and was on his way to the Spiti valley. It was his second trek on the trail. He had seen it covered in snow and now wanted to see it naked. He shared his jokes and we broke our small conversation about the nature of the mountain weather and the beautiful terrain around us.
After a small break at the stream, and drying up our ice cold feet, we moved on towards our next destination. This is where we came across Indra Tilla (Peak). Ravi recited us about the legend of the peak. It is said very few have scaled this peak, and the closer you get to it, the further it moves away from you. Once it is said a man reached the top by chance and a figure appeared before him. He asked the man what he wanted to which the man said nothing. He asked the man to not look back as he descended. The man followed instructions and walked back, but a while later out of curiosity he turned. There were sheep following him. The man was disappointed at turning back, and being prey to his curiosity. He had only earned a handful of sheep, where he could have many more. Ravi shared a lot many stories as we moved ahead towards the camp for the night.
In the mountains if there is one thing you cannot predict is the weather. While Indra Tilla was in clear view, soon we had small clouds coming in from different directions. Ravi warned us about the turning weather. We walked steadily ahead. Soon, for the last 500 meters we were hit by the hail storm. Small balls of snow kept pouring as the temperature dropped steadily. As we reached our camp site we realized the strength of the wind. Pitching the tents was not easy anymore. The dining tent had collapsed. Our lone trekker had reached the site along with another four people. He helped us pitch the tents as we waited for the weather to calm down. As luck had it the weather calmed down in the next hour but the temperature had dropped a long way.
Later in the evening I stood under the sky along with the people we had met on our way in the mountain and exchanged our stories. We looked at the clouds and prayed for a cloudy night; else the temperature would drop further. We joked and admired the mountains at the same time. A warm cup of soup helped us keep warm as the cold night beckoned us. We could not setup a bonfire, there were no trees. We stood in close circles and spoke of our day up next. We were heading to higher grounds, and the expectation was colder weather still. Tomorrow was summit day; we had to cross Hampta Pass (14,100ft) on our way to Shea Goru (12,900ft). It was a 9 hour trek, 4 hours uphill, followed by a steep decent for 5 hours.
We retired to bed early by 8 after dinner. Amit had planned to see if we could move further down to Chatru in order to beat the mountain weather. The weather had started to take its toll on us. The next day we had our first trekker retiring to go back down. The night turned out to be cold, as temperatures dropped below 0C. I squeezed on 4 layers of clothes inside the sleeping bags in order to protect myself from the cold. It wasn’t the most pleasant of nights. At 3 I took a stroll outside. Under the clear sky with the moon lighting up the mountains that is an image that would stay in my memories forever.
Next morning the start was cold. After finishing our breakfast we moved towards the summit though a steep climb. No vegetation, less oxygen, a cold morning and a steep climb did not help us after the tough night. We bore the brunt and moved ahead. On the way the terrain was mostly rocky. We had glaciers to our right and straight cliffs on our left. The stream had started to dwindle into thinner existence. After a growling uphill mount finally we had made it to Hampta Pass. At this point, I would like to mention our lone trekker and the others we met had moved ahead, and we did not meet them again. The beauty of the mountains is the people you meet with no ulterior motives. You speak and exchange pleasantries and stories, not knowing if you would ever cross your paths again. At Hampta Pass we had moved to 14,100 ft above the sea level, the highest I had ever been to on foot. We took our traditional selfies and photographs and admired the view in front of us. Glaciers, mountains, and snow clad peaks. The deep breath I took had the real feel of satisfaction. A night earlier while the temperatures dropped, I had almost given up, I wanted to go back; but here I was happy I went against my will the previous night.
After our small halt at the summit, we moved down. It was a tricky terrain mostly, among rocks but a fast and steep downhill descend. The weather opened up, as the cloud moved away. The sun shone down on us as it got warmer. As we reached Shea Goru we realized that we couldn’t move further for the day. We setup our camp at Shea Goru. To describe the scenery of the camp, we had a stream on the right, mountains on all sides with a glacier on our back. The water in the stream was freezing cold. Luck was with us as the sky cleared out and we were in for a relatively cold yet pleasant night. After dinner we retired to our tents, still dazed by the beauty of the mountains in the moonlit night under the clear skies.
The next morning started as usual as most of us fell refreshed after a good night sleep. The first step of the morning was about crossing the freezing cold stream. The beauty of this stream is the glacier that feeds the water into it is directly in your view. This does not make the walk across a pleasant affair. Here I got my third lesson in the mountains, first being acclimatize before you climb, second being respect the mountains as the weather can flip at any moment, while crossing a stream step on smaller stones or gravel, bigger rocks are slippery and you may fall. So I got a cold dip in the stream. Not a pleasant experience, but Ravi helped me out and getting dry in the dry surroundings with the sun beating down is a pleasant affair at least.
When you have taken a dip in glacier water, it’s strange how you don’t feel cold anymore. As the sun beat down, the layers of warm clothes started to get thinner. Most of the downhill trek was a steep descent. A pleasant walk, as the trees and grasslands started to reappear. By 2 in the afternoon we had reached Chatru (11,000ft) base camp, our last halt before the end.
From Chatru we drove to Chandratal Lake. The drive, 70 km, 4 hours, was via a mostly a dirt road. The halt was not a long one, as we decided to head back as it started to get dark. On the way back we stopped at chacha chichi dhaba. While Ravi enjoyed a plate of rice and dal, most of us had some tea and noodles. Once back, some of us enjoyed the late night with some music. I on the other hand spent some time with Ravi and Amit discussing the way of roads in the highlands. Finally we retired to bed, and the next morning we drove back to Manali via Rhotang Pass.
During our stay, I came across another interesting person. His daily job was to master the mules. The mules are a life line for trekkers, moving luggage across the range. Their master was well versed with the trails in the mountains. He moved across the trail within a day usually and he met many Indian and foreign travelers in the cradle of the mountain. He had been to Hampta Pass more than 10 times this year, and was looking forward to going for the Chadar trek in the winters. One thing with people in the mountains is they are warm and welcoming, and respect the trust that we place in them.
In the end, the walk across the trail made me realize a lot about myself. In the mountains, you respect each other and learn the basics about your existence. Nature protects you and makes you stronger, but at the same time she needs you to respect her and help her survive. The mountains are an obsession. Help them live on, so the path you walk can be traced by others as well.