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