Region: Himachal Pradesh
Duration: 6 days
Highest Altitude: 14,035 feet
Best Time: June - September
How did it all start?
It all started with a week-long forced vacation from office to use up my carry forwarded leaves from last year. For the past 2 years, I had always planned my vacations with some travel, but didn't happen this time. I had been following Tripoto for a while now and every time I read a blog about some place, I would instantly start planning for it. Being a travel enthusiast, it struck me that I too can start contributing on this platform and share my experiences with fellow travelers. I started with one blog and it gave me immense satisfaction of pursuing my passion of traveling though indirectly through my writing.
I continued penning down my travelogues one after the other exploring my own writing skills in the days to follow. Little did I know that my writing would give me an opportunity to scale the mighty Himalayas in the form of the Hampta Pass Trek? I won this beautiful trek on being the Second Runner-up in the monthly contributors for May'18 on Tripoto. I had only seen pictures of my cousin trekking in the Himalayas earlier and had wondered when I can do it someday. It was my turn of experiencing the adrenaline rush this time. Tripoto had partnered with Indiahikes - one of the best Trekking Community in India for the trek.
I was a mix of excitement and nervousness as I was gearing up for my first High Altitude Trek. I started looking out for a companion and finally got one in the form of my friend Harshata. The dates were finalized - 29th July to 3rd August 2018. Right from the preparation to shopping, this one was going to be completely different from my earlier trips. Selecting the right shoes, backpack, trekking gear, clothes - it was all quite exciting. It was raining every day and made it quite difficult to follow the outdoor practice routine setup by Indiahikes in order to prepare for the trek. But the determination was there.
From what I had heard of and read, Hampta Pass is an unusually special pass. It climbs out of the lush green valleys of Kullu to a perpendicular overhang, high in the mountains. The overhang you stand on is almost like a balcony view, an Amphitheater to a different world below - the deserts of Lahaul.
The Journey Begins
Finally the day arrived and we landed in Delhi with eyes full of dreams of putting our foot on the Himalayan trail. The journey from Delhi to Manali was an overnight one bringing back the memories of my previous trip on the same route a year back. However, it was a lot smoother this time and we reached the Assembly Point along with 7 others from Pune. The steep valleys, rustling rivers, narrow bridges, apple and pine trees - it was a visual spectacle already. Here we met with our Trek Leader from Indiahikes - Gurkirat a.k.a. Guru with whom we all developed a bond of Friendship by the end of the trek. He conducted a quick health check for all the trekkers and we all set off on the journey to conquer Hampta Pass.
Day 1: Reach Jobra (9,800 ft.)
The picturesque drive from Manali, along with 42 hairpin turns, has panoramic views of Kullu valley. After about an hour of bumpy jeep ride, we reached the starting point. We were welcome by a quick heavy shower of rain bringing out our Ponchos. Luckily it did not follow us thereafter. Guru briefed us about all the essentials we need to take care of during the trek and also introduced us to our guides - Dishu and Keshav bhaiya - one leading our way and the other ensuring that nobody is left behind. A group of 25 unknown trekkers (we all knew each other by name by the 3rd day) started with a small 45 minute trek to the first campsite - Jobra through a mixed forest of pine and maple trees.
I did not start well and slipped in just 5 minutes due to the marshy trail. But as we moved on, the skies cleared up and I was completely drenched in sweat. With a couple of water stops and encouraging words from Guru, we finally reached Jobra. Carrying heavy backpack (7-8 kg), battling the rains and cold weather, staying in small tents surrounded by the mountains and being completely disconnected from the Internet for the next 6 days – how would I cope with this were my thoughts. However, there was just one word I could say - Unbelievable!! The lush green meadows and the rustling sounds of the Rani Nalla (river) made me forget the materialistic world. We booked our tents and were served with hot tea and snacks. After relaxing for a while, it was time to head off towards the Rani River and enjoy the rest of the evening with fellow trekkers getting familiarized with each other's company. Our trek leader made sure that our Oxygen levels and Pulse Rate are under check with regular monitoring.
Day 2: Jobra (9,800 ft.) to Jwara (11,072 ft)
On Day 2, we started early in the morning towards our next camp - Jwara. Everyday hereafter started with hot Ginger water followed by sumptuous breakfast. I realized that I had caught up with severe cold which was set to make life difficult in the days to come. We crossed over the river on a hanging wooden bridge and set of gradually ascending the hill. I was thinking that the panoramic view at the previous camp was equivalent to none other. But I was proven wrong with each step on the trail. On one side of the valley were the rock faces and on the other side was the river below. To add to the mesmerizing view, there were patches of colorful flowers – red, blue, yellow, pink, purple along the trail.
Midway through the trek I was tired to the core having difficulties in breathing due to a running nose. My body refused to move on with the heavy backpack adding to the miseries. Seeing my struggle to keep up with the rest, Keshav Bhaiya, one of our guides offered me to handover my backpack to him in exchange of his lighter one. This gesture reminded me of all the efforts I had taken to be here and instantly resolved to put all my might and complete the trek. I politely refused and tugged along. Crossing numerous boulders on the way, we reached a point where a challenge awaited us - a freezing cold stream (at 11 am in the day). Off came the shoes and we dared to cross the stream supporting each other with the help of our guides. It felt like an enormous achievement on getting to the other side. We finally reached the clearing of the Jwara camp after 5 hours. I was all exhausted but the picturesque surroundings and waterfalls helped me overcome the fatigue.
There were strict instructions from our trek leader about not sleeping during day time as it would slow down the body acclimatization process. Post lunch, we all gathered in our dinner tent and enjoyed a game of dumb charades. It was time for a few more games in the evening – Zip Zap Zoom, 7 Up, Word link, etc. which gave a feeling of home away from home. We met Leo, a member of Indiahikes, who was leading the Green Trails initiative in the region. It was disheartening to hear about how trekkers have been littering around and the damage it is causing to the Himalayas. The snow line is receding due to global warming and is greatly disrupting the flaura and fauna in the region. Leo informed us about the efforts taken by Indiahikes to preserve and protect the environment. We all resolved to be a part of this and contribute in our own way by keeping the trails clean and collecting the litter and segregating them for proper disposal.
Day 3: Trek from Jwara (11,072 ft) to Balu Ka Ghera (12,411 ft)
With increase in altitude, the temperatures and oxygen levels kept dropping posing a new challenge. Trekking on Day 3 became a tad easier due to pleasant weather – sunny at times and overcast the next moment. We came across a huge flock of goat and sheep grazing on the green grass – a sight unseen in the cities. It was time to shove off our heavy bags and enjoy the serene beauty. As we continued further, the trees and meadows got left behind and made way for the barren and sandy mountains. The next campsite - Balu ka Ghera or bed of sand had an open ground which became our gaming zone for the evening. The heaven-touching peaks of the mountains were drenched in brilliant light of the setting sun.
There was another though simpler river crossing before we got to the base camp. It was time for a round of Antakshari today with a mix of old and new songs. Evening started with a session on useful information about the Himalayas followed by a couple of new games and we had great fun. The surroundings were so mesmerizing that I completely forgot I had not talked to my family for the past 3 days. The best part of dinner was our guides forcibly serving delicious desserts every day to all – Kheer, Jalebi, Gulab Jamun, Gajar Halwa. It was hard to believe we were getting all this and much more at a height of more than 12,000 ft. The Indiahikes team made sure our daily diet is taken care of and was utmost priority.
Day 4: Balu Ka Ghera (12,411 ft) to Shea Goru (12,254 ft) via Hampta Pass (14,035 ft)
It is advisable to climb to a higher altitude and camp at a relatively lower height for body acclimatization. Day 4 was the ultimate test when we had to climb up to the Hampta Pass and then descend to the windy campsite of Shea Goru. We started at around 6:30 am in the morning as we had a long journey ahead of us. With every step, my cold got worse and within 15 minutes, I started feeling breathless. I got a feeling that I would have to go back without reaching the summit. But my fellow trekkers and trek leader came to my rescue. I sat down for a while, gulped a few sips of water to catch my breath. Someone gave me an ointment which opened up my nose and I felt better again. My heart was not ready to give up. This helped me gather myself and we all set off again.
As we headed towards the mountains, the snow clad peaks became distinctly visible. The incline got steeper with rock fall prone area and constantly following clouds adding to the adversities. After about an hour and half, we got a breath-taking view of the Deo Tibba peak right in front of us. We continued to march forward egging each other to keep going. With each step, the anticipation was mounting. There was another incline and after two parallel ridges was the summit point – The Hampta Pass. Even though I felt like giving up a few times, being so close boosted me to reach the top. The weariness of scaling 14,000 ft. vanished in a moment at the glimpse of the splendid Lahaul valley from the pass.
We were all ecstatic about our achievement and we were screaming with joy. This was a moment to savor for the whole of my life. After an hour of clicking pictures, admiring the scenic landscapes and lauding ourselves, we finally began to descend. I climbed down the slippery pathways like a pro as I knew the descend techniques well. We were treated with hot Pasta and lip smacking desserts at the campsite for achieving the feat. Being at such high altitudes also gave a spell-bound view of the night sky – the satellites, the Milky Way; bright twinkling stars as if the entire Universe could be scanned by our eyes.
Day 5: Shea Goru (12,254 ft) to Chhatru (10,898 ft)
The penultimate day of the trek started with the river crossing. We had to get across early before the water levels rose. We formed a chain holding hands with our shoes hanging around our neck and finally made our way across the extremely cold water. It took 15-20 minutes to relive our feet again. This was the final hurdle in our way and we all crossed it successfully. We had a gradual descend for nearly 5 hours before reaching the final campsite - Chhatru. It was a little strange to see more number of humans and vehicles again after nearly 5 days. We were all elated after completing the trek as a group without any casualties.
Chandratal (14,100 ft)
We were a lucky batch as it hardly rained during our 5 day trek. In the afternoon, we enthusiastically headed towards one of the most magnificent lakes – The Chandratal called so due to its cresent shape. Chandratal, situated in Spiti is considered to be a sacred lake. Do not forget to stop by the Chacha-Chachi Dhaba on the way to Chandratal. They have been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.
Chandratal is compared to the Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh owing to its crystal clear blue water surrounded by majestic and rocky peaks. Though I have visited both – the Pangong Tso and Chandratal, the latter being far less crowded and commercialized helps you rejuvenate and relax. I sat down on the sand, staring in the distance and letting the moment sink in! It was time for some crazy group photos before the fairy tale comes to an end and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. If you have some energy to spare, walk up the hill next to Chandratal. From the top, apart from being able to identify the moon shape of the lake, you’ll be able to see a second lake out in the distance surrounded with scenic peaks like the CB-13.
Note: Since Chandratal is at an altitude of 14,100 feet there are good chances of being hit by Acute Mountain Sickness if you’re not well hydrated. Also, the road to Chandratal is extremely dusty and can lead to problem if you are asthmatic.
Day 6: Drive from Chhatru (10,898 ft) to Manali via Rohtang Pass (13058 ft)
Another treat was crossing the famous Rohtang Pass on our way back to Manali. I kept admiring the mountains, trees, rivers, narrow roads all the way back. My heart didn’t want to part ways with these daunting serene mountains and the peaceful life. Though it was a nostalgic moment, I know I would be back to visit my second home – the Himalayas again for the fourth time next year for a new experience.
Special mention of my fellow trekkers who were each other’s biggest support and photo contributors in this blog:
Harshata, Eshan, Pallavi, Pullak, Manjiree, Bhooshan, Manosij, Sapana, Akash, Jayesh, Gunjan, Ritu, Kalpana, Rohit, Smita, Satyajeet, Himanshu, Sabita, Siddharth, Vidit, Vasudha, Radhika, Oliver and Harrison.
Special Thanks our trek leader and guides from Indiahikes who took great care of us and provided us with world class facilities:
Gurkirat, Dishu, Keshav
And last but not the least, Tripoto for giving me an opportunity to live a dream equivalent to none before!!