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