Day 7: 13th Sept 2015

We arrived at Chandigarh ISBT bus stop around 7am in the morning. The bus stop was teeming with people and our next target was to find ourselves a place to stay. We hadn’t really planned anything for today. It was hot outside and after coming from temperatures in single digits, we weren’t looking forward to venture out in Chandigarh. After much deliberation, we decided to spend the rest of the day at ISBT bus station itself. The bus station has dormitory on the upper floors and we got ourselves a room for Rs. 600 for the day. The beds were clean and the place alright. After negotiating with the manager, we used the shower in the next room and just watched movies for the rest of the day until it was time to go to the airport. We did some quick asking around and found out that there is a bus to the airport. We paid Rs.15 per person and took the bus to the airport. The bus ride was approximately 45 mins and was hassle free. The bus drops you outside of the airport and not inside. However, you can reach the airport in less than 10 mins walking. We had reached a couple of hours before the scheduled departure of the flight and spent the rest of our time idling away on the phone waiting for our flight to depart.

This trip was one of the best trips that I have ever had. The fact that we were able to complete the trek the way it was planned originally 3 years back only brought more joy in our hearts.

Day 6: 12th Sept 2015

The next 2 days were going to be really boring compared to all the action and adventure that we were having over the last 5 days. We got up really late and had left over dinner as breakfast and decided to go shopping to spend time in Manali. We had actually booked a late bus from Manali and an evening flight from Chandigarh. The reason for booking late bus and flight was that we didn’t want to miss the bus or flight in case we finished the trek later than planned. The previous evening I tried to change the tickets and found out that we would have to spend an additional 15k or so to change the flights. So we decided to stick to the boring schedule.

After finishing breakfast, we went shopping in Manali to take something back for our families. I ended up buying a couple of dresses for my wife and my sister-in-law and Saurav brought things for his upcoming trip to Northeast. After shopping, it was time for lunch and since we had a heavy breakfast, decided to stick with momos. Delicious and light and at the same time filling. With nothing much to do, we decided to walk around a bit and then returned back to the hotel to finish packing. After finishing packing, we decided to go to Van Vihar and spent sometime in the park. The park has changed since the last time I was there. All the stalls inside the park have been closed and way to the river Beas has also been closed. I remember having hot tea and noodles when I was there 2 years back. So with the intent of having tea, we came out of the park, and found ourselves a tea vendor. With nothing much to do anymore, we returned back to the hotel and then decided to head out again to do some last minute shopping.

With everything competed, it was time to head to Chandigarh.

Images from Day 6 can be found here.

Day 5: 11th Sept 2015

The day began early due to all the chatter that was happening in the room. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the room was also shared by other people. We got up, felt the crisp mountain air on our faces and finished our morning activities. The breakfast that day consisted of Yippee noodles and tea for me. I didn’t want to eat anything heavy as the entire day required us to travel. We would be going from Chatru to Chandrataal and then back to Manali. We completed our packing by 8am and now began the inevitable wait for the taxi to come. Before starting the journey, we had paid an advance amount to our taxi driver to pick us from Chatru. He told us that he would reach Chatru by 9am and would be driving an Innova. Saurav didn’t believe that he would be getting an Innova and he asked me a couple of times to confirm the same. Thus the wait began. It was past 9am and the driver hadn’t showed up. We tried to reach his number with the only available mobile phone with network in the area, but there was no response. At this point, our minds were already thinking of what if we have been duped and we were making contingency plans. Thankfully, none of those plans were needed and at around 9:45am our cab – an Innova, had arrived. The look on Saurav’s face was priceless.

The road from Chatru to Chandrataal is great by Himalayan standards. There are however, some stretches which can get really bad and narrow. It took us approx. 3.5 hours to reach Chandrataal Lake. The beauty of this place is mesmerizing. Crystal clear lake with blue waters surrounded by mountains – absolutely pristine! A lot of people travel to Leh to see the Pangong Lake but we believe Chandrataal Lake, even though smaller, is a much better sight to see. When we arrived at the lake, we met the same set of people who were staying in the room the previous night and were offering prayers near the lake. This was the first time we had seen someone do that at Chandrataal. After their prayers were over, they offered us the prasad while we were busy taking pictures and soaking in the sights of Chandrataal while we were there. After spending about 30 mins, we decided to head back. They were having lunch and they graciously offered to share their lunch with us. Both of us were taken aback by their offer and we couldn’t refuse, so we shared food with them. During this time we were informed that this lake is holy for Tibetans and hence they offer prayer here. This trip really showed us the true hospitality of the people of Himachal Pradesh. After having a little bit of food with them, we decided to head back to our vehicle for drive back to Manali.

We started our return journey around 2:30pm and then stopped at Batal Dhaba for lunch. The place is run by an ex-army man, one of the only few people authorized to carry a satellite phone in the area, and his wife. Once again, I decided to stick with noodles, while Saurav had rice and dal. The drive to Manali was super long and extremely bumpy. At one point, I wanted to stop the car and stretch my legs and have some tea, but then considering that we had a late lunch, I decided to forego that idea. The roads were really bad until we started the ascent for Rohtang pass. We decided to step out of the car for a few mins and were immediately hit by cold air and that’s when we realized how cold it really was outside. We were passing through Rohtang and saw there were no food vendors etc. They have been evicted by HP government and the area was very clean as compared to our visit in 2013. The HP government has also stopped all activities at Rohtang and also Solang Valley. This is the first time in our journey that we received mobile signals and with that we informed everyone that we were safe and sound and in one piece. Our driver really took his driving to next level during our descent from Rohtang. He was in a super hurry and the way he was driving on the mountain roads, started to make our stomach’s churn. Trust me, we both do not have altitude sickness and have been on numerous ghats before – but this was different. I was just hoping to reach Manali without shitting in my pants. The only other irritating part was Saurav’s Blackberry pinging with email messages – reminding us of what lay ahead in the coming week(s).

We reached Manali around 8pm and started our search for a hotel. Since we were only looking to stay one night, we didn’t want to spend a lot and found ourselves a budget hotel with decent rooms. Once we checked in, we were going to sleep in a proper bed and will be showering after almost a week (since we left Mumbai). We spent a decent time cleaning ourselves and our luggage. Feeling tired but fresh, we decided to treat ourselves to a celebratory beer and good food. It was one of the best meals that I have had and something that I would be cherishing for a very long time.

Images for Day 5 can be found here.

Day 4: 10th Sept 2015

Narrated by Saurav

It was very cold at night and we didn’t get to sleep properly. We did manage to catch small periods of nap time and those were very powerful power naps and we felt very fresh in the morning. We were up before sun rise but scared to get out of the tent because of the cold and were debating the merits of going out of the tent, when suddenly someone opened the tent from the outside. It was one of the porters and he had got us hot tea, God bless him!!!

The hot tea did the trick and we felt a litter warmer and with that courageous enough to step out of the tent. It took about 10 mins of yawning and stretching to get the lethargy out of the body and then we were into our zone and we decided to freshen up, pack up the tent and be on our way.

Today we were supposed to camp at Sheagoru, but since we were ahead of schedule, we decided to trek all the way to Chatru. From where we camped yesterday Hamta pass was about 3 hours away and Chatru another 6 hours from there. We quickly freshened up; the ice cold water does the trick in rejuvenating your mind and body. We packed our tent, bags and were ready to leave by 8:30 AM. The porters gave us hot khichdi for breakfast, but we decided to carry it with us and save it for lunch.

The trail ahead of us had 2 routes, one covered with ice and another over rocks. We decided to take the icy trail as it was comparatively easier to navigate. However since the entire route was on an incline we did take breaks very often. But our body didn’t tire up quickly as it did yesterday. The night halt at this altitude had got our body acclimatized. Hence even with more frequent breaks we were still covering a lot of ground. The luck factor on this trek was still with us because we at one point ended up losing our way, but no sooner did we tread on the wrong path, we were saved by trekkers coming from the opposite direction, who directed us to the right path. We reached Hampta pass at around 12 PM. There were numerous flags, writing on rocks signifying the number of people who had passed through here and we realized that we should also have had carried something to place at Hampta. We took a longer break here and admired the view and regaled at our achievement of making it this far.

The trail now to Sheagoru was a steep decline and it took us more time to navigate this route that trying to climb to Hampta. Quite a few times the trail was very small and difficult to navigate as a slight slip would mean our doom and we would fall down from the cliff. During these times, I got really scared for myself and for Akshay. Last year, we didn’t need to go through this path as there was an icy slope just after Hampta and we had simply slid down this slope; it was riskier but still easy. Whereas now we had to watch every step we take to ensure we don’t miss our footing and fall. We took about 2 hours to climb down the slope to Sheagoru. Once we reached Sheagoru, we just slumped down and took a long break. We had found a nice flat land with stream flowing through. We dipped our legs in the stream and sat there for a few moments enjoying the feeling and relaxing. Then out came the khichdi and we hogged like we have been hungry for ages. Within no time the khichdi was over. We relaxed for a few more minutes. Rubbed volini over our aching calf’s, ankle and knees. Then it was time to move on.

The trail changes direction after Sheagoru. Till now we were travelling on the left bank of the Rani Nala, now it was time to move to the right bank. Just ahead of us was a bridge made of 3 pipes. From far it looked sturdy and we had seen a person crossing this bridge easily from afar while we were climbing down the slope. But on reaching next to the bridge we realized how wrong we were. I was contemplating checking for another route, when Akshay decided to cross the bridge. I have to say that at this point I was proud of Akshay, as he was a daredevil to attempt this. As soon as he reached the middle of the bridge, it started shaking violently and I got shit scared. The Rani Nala was raging below and if Akshay fell then we would have been washed away and lost. And the bridge was shaking so much that I couldn’t go ahead to do something. Akshay had turned and was looking at me, he thought that I was playing trick on him and making the bridge vibrate. But when he realized I wasn’t doing anything, he did the bravest thing of all. He just took a second to calm himself down, balanced himself properly, continued forward and finally managed to cross the bridge. I on the other hand for the first time in my life was shit scared on a trek. My feet’s were paralyzed in fear and Akshay was shouting at me from the other side to cross over. Finally I took about a minute, closed my eyes and calmed my nerves. Once I was back in control of my legs, I walked over the bridge mouthing “Ram Ram” the entire time. Also when I was doing this, I was picturing Aamir Khan doing the same thing in the movie Ishq. I finally reached the other side and took a break. Never had I been so scared that I had almost peed in my pants. This was definitely a 2 drop moment for me and I am sure it was the same for Akshay.

From here on the trail was relatively easier to walk and we covered a lot of ground quickly. After about an hour we took a quick break to apply volini over our backs, because our backs were starting to hurt. We had no intention of camping here tonight, nor could we afford to. Akshay had given his sleeping bag to the porter in the morning to cut down on the weight of the bag, so he would freeze to death if we camped here tonight. So we had to reach Chatru irrespective of the pains and aches. After walking for about 2 hours, the trail became rocky and slippery. We lost our way in between, but my 3 rules of trekking helped us be on track. My 3 rules of trekking are –

  1. When you are lost, follow shit
    2. Where there is shit, there is a way
    3. Shit is always right

So if you find shit on your route, then you know that you are travelling in the right direction, even if the trail is not clearly defined. We kept on going and finally reached the correct path and were able to see the dhabas at Chatru and the highway connecting Chatru with the world. It was 4 PM by this time and we had another bridge to cross before the final stretch. Last year the initial stretch after the bridge was very tricky because of it being covered in snow, and I had already warned Akshay about this. However once we reached this area, we realized it was very easy to navigate as there was no ice this time. We crossed the bridge and moved to the left bank of the river. This river was not the rani nala, but was formed by the Rani Nala merging with another river and was known as the Chandra nala. The Chandra nala was more ferocious than the rani nala, but good thing for us that the route was easy to trek over because there was no ice.

We walked for about 2 more hours and finally at 6 PM we reached Chatru. It was a moment of pride for us because we had finally completed the trek in 2015 after planning it in 2013. We went to the first dhaba and settled down. Got ourselves beds to sleep in the night and ordered for hot food. We ordered for hot Maggi with eggs and it was a delight to eat. We went scouting to search for beer but were unable to find it, so we toasted our victory with cold drinks. WE finally retired to our bed at 8 PM. The room was like a dormitory and the other beds were rented by a Tibetan monk some other local people who were heading to Chandrataal. We didn’t feel so sleepy so soon, so we watched movies on my phone to while away the time till we slept.

Images for Day 4 can be found here

Day 2: 8th Sept 2015

Narrated by Saurav

Day 2 is when things get interesting. We reached Manali at around 7:30 AM and we needed a hotel to stay for a few hours. Our intention was to start our journey for the base of the trek by 12 PM. We had stayed at Hotel New Neel Kamal last year when I done this same trek, so we decided to stay there again. Hotel New Neel Kamal is a cheap lodge and you can get rooms for INR 300 and we just needed the room for a few hours, so there was no point spending a lot. We checked into the hotel, had nice shower, rearranged our bags and got refreshments like tea. I had to keep the tents, sleeping bags and all camping accessories inside the bag since it was going to be in the baggage section of the flight. Now it was time for both of us to rearrange the bag and make it suitable for long distance hauling. It is a necessity to pack the bag in a manner that it is well balanced, or else one will end up with a very sore back. We had a lot of walking ahead of us for the next 3 days and the bags had to be well managed.

At around 09 AM we left from our hotel to meet the person (Guddu ji) who was going to arrange for our transportation, to finalize the deal and confirm the time for start of the journey. After bargaining, he finally settled at a charge of INR 8200/- for the entire trip (included drop to the start point of trek – INR 1200, pickup from Chatru and travel to Chandrataal and then return to Manali – INR 7000). We agreed that he will pick us up at 11AM. Post this we went for breakfast and had nice steamed momos, on the way we also picked up a bottle of Rum to help us keep warm if the temperature went too low. At this point, we were really excited as this trek was planned a very long time ago and now it was just a couple of hours away and we couldn’t wait to begin the trek.

We started from the hotel at 11 AM towards the base of the trek which is located at the top of the Allain Duhangan Hydro Power Project. The start of the trek is popularly known as Jobra and you have to cross about 50 hair pin bends to reach this place. The journey took about an hour and half and I noticed quite a few changes. When we first attempted this trek in 2013, there were hardly any huts/houses at the top and there was just one tea stall. In 2014, the situation was the same, but this year the original tea stall was not there anymore and instead there were a lot of small hotels/dhabas and most of their names referred to Hamta pass. Which means over the last 3 years Hamta trek has started becoming famous and this is not a good thing, because as a place starts getting popular destination, it also starts becoming dirtier. I just hope and pray that all the trekking companies that manage this trek, ensure on keeping the environment clean.

We started our trek at around 12:45 PM. The place was as beautiful as I remembered and more so, because this was the first time when I was coming in September. All my previous treks were in July (late July in 2013 and early July in 2014). We passed through forests full of pine trees; we crossed over lush green grassland, always following the river “Rani Nala” on our left and towards the first river crossing. We had started walking and reached our very first incline and after climbing for a few minutes we started to breathe heavily. Looking at each other, we both realized that this trek was going to be much more difficult than we thought. Akshay was particularly worried as he hadn’t done any training at all – walking, running, gymming anything and he didn’t want to NOT finish the trek this time. The first river crossing was near the place known as Chikha and this is generally the place most trekkers camp on day 1; however we had no such intentions of camping at Chikha. Most of the river crossing in this trek is over log bridges which have been built by shepherds. This area is very good pasture land and hence you will see a lot of shepherds with their flock of sheep’s and mules.

As we descended on our way to the log bridge at Chikha, we accidentally notice a new bridge which was setup at a very discreet place. It’s a good thing that we noticed it as it saved us from getting wet while crossing the stream at Chikha. One has to cross a small stream after crossing the more well-known log bridge at Chikha and hence you invariably end up wetting your feet in the cold water. This new bridge is much more well setup and easy to cross. Once we reached the other side, the trail started to gradually ascent. The Rani Nala was now on our right and we have to continue on this trail till we reach Hampta. I generally always find something or the other during my trek in Hamta. Last year right after crossing the log bridge at Chikha I had found a Tommy Hilfiger shades and this year I found a horse shoe, definitely a sign of good luck! And you can’t get enough of good lucks on alpine style trekking.

After Chikha there are a few river crossing over log bridges but there is one crossing which has no log bridge and one generally has to cross this part of the river early in the morning as the flow increases as it gets sunnier. Even early morning the flow is very strong and the water is freezing cold, not to mention that one has to wade through this freezing cold water for almost a minute. Imagine the impact on the legs when you have your feet submerged in ice cold water for a minute. Everything goes numb.In 2013 we didn’t complete the trek as we had returned from the river, because one of our friends was too scared to continue and didn’t want to cross the river. Our aim today was to camp at a suitable campsite a little before this river crossing so that we can cross it at the earliest tomorrow. We continued our way towards this goal while admiring the beauty of the valley and the numerous tiny multicolored flowers that dotted this region. Our evening snack was masala oats, matter of fact all our meals were supposed to be masala oats. What we generally do is just mix the oats with water and let it soak for about 30 min and then eat it. After all the meals in this trek is not about how tasty is should be, but about sustenance.  We had tried going the tasty route way by bringing in ready to eat foods like pulav and fried rice in 2013 and realized that heating those are a nightmare as it is very difficult to light a stove in cold windy region like this. Also this way we reduce additional weights of packed foods and stove.

We walked for nearly 5 hours towards our campsite for Day 1 and during this time Akshay’s legs had started cramping up a lot. We finally reached our planned camping site at around 5:30 PM. We rested for a bit and that’s when Akshay had a brilliant idea. He suggested that before we camp, we should check the flow of the river. So off we walked a little more towards the river crossing. The trek from Chikha to here was pretty much on an incline and also included boulder hopping over some areas and again near the river. Once we reached the river, I realized that the flow was not that strong as I had faced last 2 years, so we decided to cross it. Off came the shoes and socks, now was the time to enjoy ice cold water therapy. I waded through the water first. Within the first few seconds my legs had gone numb, but this made crossing the river easy as I had no sensation in my legs. As soon as I reached the other side, I literally dumped my bag and started rubbing my feet to get the blood circulation back.  Akshay was to follow behind me and below is how he summarized his experience of the river crossing –

“For me, it was like – what the hell I am doing!! There is no way I am jumping in the ice cold water. But I saw Saurav cross and he was the one with the tent, so there was no other option for me but to cross. The minute I put my feet in the cold water, my entire body went numb for a few seconds and before I started moving ahead. I felt like I was slipping because I wasn’t able to find my grip on the wet stones below. But I was able to cross the stream and an exhilarating feeling engulfed me as this was the farthest I had been on this trek.”

After a 10 min rest we started on our way quickly. Just past the river is a nice meadow and this place is called as Jwara. We had to hurry up to find a camping site as it was getting dark. On our search to find a camp site, we spotted a small shepherds tent where a young boy was starting up a camp fire to cook food. Akshay decided to ask the boy if they had some extra food that they could share in exchange for money. The boy informed that he would have to check with his father who was somewhere high up the valley side shepherding the sheep’s. We decided to setup our tents and then comeback to ask. If we waited for the person to arrive, then sunlight would have gone and we wouldn’t be able to setup our tent. We found a nice place just across a ridge from the shepherd’s tent and setup our camp. It took us about 15 mins to put the tent up and another 15 to setup everything up inside the tent. The sleeping bags were out, so were the gloves and additional clothing. The temperature was falling and we realized that we may not have the insulation required for such cold weather.

Once everything was setup, Akshay didn’t want us to venture out in the cold. And I had to really tempt and convince Akshay that the hot food was worth it. So we headed back towards the shepherd’s tents and found the person making roti’s. His name was Shambhu. We asked him if he could make some food for us also and he replied that he has already started making food for us. We offered him money but he said we were his guest and he can’t take money from us.This was a very humbling experience for us and this kind of hospitality in such a remote area was unexpected. He also offered us sheep-wool made shawl and that was highly appreciated in such cold conditions. The temperature had dropped down to 8 degrees. We had some rum and the least we could do was share it with him. So we drank rum, talked about the lives of shepherds, the beauty of the valley and enjoyed the heat from the camp fire. He had made a lot of roti’s and frankly each roti was thicker than a tandoori roti. He expected us to eat to our full, but we told him that we don’t have capacity to eat so much. Akshay had 1 roti and he was stuffed. I somehow managed 2. With roti we were served a potato sabzi and a soya curry, both were delicious and the fact that the food was hot, made it feel heaven for us. We chitchatted for a little more time after having food and then bid our friend good night. He asked us to keep the shawl with us for the night and we were grateful and humbled once again. It was just 9:00 PM, but it felt as if it was 2:00 AM. The sky was full of stars and you could spot the different constellations. But we didn’t have much time to admire this as the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees and we were cold to our bones. We quickly wriggled into our sleeping bags and tried our best to sleep, we knew we would not be able to sleep so early, but there was nothing to do but just close your eyes and try to sleep.

Images for Day 2 can be found here