Mountains are places where you come to terms with nature and appreciate its wonders that are mostly taken for granted. It melts down your earthly pride and materialistic glories that define you amidst humans. It strips an individual from the shades of city comforts and tests their mettle in the wilderness, bridging the gap with nature that seems to have widened by man himself. This was my first time experience of trekking in the Himalayas, going for the Hampta Pass Trek in Himachal Pradesh, India, with Trek The Himalayas (TTH).
My brother, Anindya had just completed his first trek with TTH to Kuari Pass on December, 2015, when he called me, of how motivating and refreshing it was and would love to tick all the rest of the treks in the list. From the day he returned home, he kept on sharing his experience for the next few days refusing to stop, texting, calling, messaging on Facebook about his desire to do more such treks. Being motivated by his words we planned The Great Lakes Kashmir, for July 2016. Seven months of preparations, excitement, and curiosity were all blown up as the turmoil in the Kashmir valley began from 8th July, 2016. We waited for the last few days for things to settle down but fate had some other things planned for us. Finally, we had to call it a day as the trek got cancelled, with a heavy heart we had to shift our plans to trek The Hampta Pass.
We went in with zero expectation and no research, being drained of the enthusiasm, emotions and the energy for not being able to be in Kashmir Valley. As my bad luck continued, I got my phone stolen from the weary journey of nearly 35 hours, in express train, that got dragged even longer by a delay of 5 hours. We landed in Chandigarh railway station early morning, with feeble mind and body. Somehow, gathering up whatever strength was left in us from the previous two days of journey, we got ready for another dreadful journey of 10 hours to Manali.
Day 1: 31st July, 2016. The sun filtering through the embroidered curtains of our hotel rooms woke us up for the commencement of a new day. We reached Rambagh Chowk in Manali, the place all members trekking with TTH for Hampta Pass were to meet at around 9:30 am. While we introduced ourselves to each other and took the instruction of the trek guides, we came to know most of us were first time trekkers in the Himalayas. The members hailed from varied backgrounds and ages ranging from 14 to nearly 50 something. My brother had already struck a chord on social media, before the trek days with three musicians, Abhinav, Nakul Krishna and Sanjay who were in the trek with us. Fate was not done with me yet I guess.
Our car stopped nearly a mile and a half before reaching Jobra, the starting point of our trek, approximately 15 kms from Manali. An empty fuel tank forced us to stop, as fuel leaked from it all the way up the mountains. We luckily stopped by a family, who offered us tea, as we waited for another car to arrive for the rest of the ride with our luggage. After our luggage was sorted and distributed for the mules to carry, we embarked on our journey. Roshan Thakur, our trek guide led the way while Nitin, our official trek leader, accompanied the trekkers in middle of the chain and Bakshi Ram with his cheerful character stayed back, making sure the last few trekkers fall in line with the rest ahead. Being a photo enthusiast I started trailing behind the rest, absorbing the scenic beauties and carefully framing them in my camera.
Crossing over the first few uneven terrains, small bridges over streams running down from the high up mountains at nearby sight, I kept on collecting memories in the memory cards of my camera. First few steps through the dense vegetation of trees brought us to an open field with lush green mountains on one side and a steep rocky one on the other. The sun had started playing hide and seeks, casting dark shadows on the mountains, adding textures to the brightly lit green meadows. High on energy and enthusiasm the members had scaled up the mountains in no time. Trailing at last, my curious eyes continuously searched for a perfect moment of memory to be framed.
Early into the trek Mr. Kiran Bhatia from Dubai struggled with his heavy bag pack climbing up the rocky terrain. Bakshi Ram kept motivating us to follow the others and not fall far behind. Unchained horses grazed the lush green mountains by our side. The river flowed at a distance babbling, burbling, and dribbling through the timeworn rocks that lay on its course, at times splashing against them changing its path. Women in groups sang hymns playing dholaks asking us to join in the middle of nowhere in the valley, surrounded by mountains.
Crossing over a huge rock we came to our first halt for the day in a tea store set up in tents by a local, for refreshment of the trekkers. For some the tea felt bliss, while for the rest, the bowl of maggi never tasted better. By the evening after a walk of nearly three and half hours to four we reached our first Camp site in Chika or Cheeka. The ones, leading the trek had already started pitching their tents, guided and assisted by the TTH group staff and other trek members. Learning to put up the tent was a sense of achievement in itself as it went beyond the learning of a text book or the computers. As soon as the tents were up, tea and snacks in the form of papads and pakoras were served to us. It felt delicious. There is a certain joy of experiencing unexpectedly the readily available foods of city life in a mountainous background beyond hotel rooms and human establishments.
A waterfall at a distance, high up than our camp site, lured some of the young legs in the group to climb higher. The senior members gradually followed and the cameras and iPhones started flashing the smiling faces. A sudden change in weather and clouds started taking cover. Like a CGI scene in an animated movie, we saw the clouds coming from behind the mountains gliding across the valley reducing the visibility to a few meters in vicinity. While all were lost in gossips for a while, a cow took to advantage, swiping clean the bowl of sauce and the plate of leftover snacks. Soon the lights for the day faded, dampness set in, making us feel the chill in the air to be experienced further by the night. A hot spicy bowl of tomato soup was what made the taste buds tingle with joy and heat us for the cold night ahead. Sumptuous dinner by 8 and a small get together in a make shift tent for the night marked our day’s end.
Day 2: 1st, August, 2016. A thumping knock on the tent and a cup of lemon tea was with which we woke up to a rainy morning. It had rained most of the night and muddy patches developed outside of the tents. Trekking gives you opportunity to experience a plethora of beautiful moments in a span of few days that one yearns for, may be throughout the year. One such moment for me was the light drizzles that made rain drops collect on the pockets in the plates with grooves, on which we were having our breakfast. These moments are rare and hard to appreciate as they go missing from being noticed in our everyday hustle. This very moment that felt blissful in the mountains might seem to be irritating on the context of a city life.
After breakfast at 7 am, packing our luggage and tents we got ready to set foot for Balu-ka-Ghera, our next destination at 8:30 am. The rain refused to stop as it varied from heavy showers to drizzles at intervals. Abi and Nellie, two American girls in the trek were way ahead of the rest, followed by the Bhatia siblings, Dhriti and Hans, all four in their teens and in a better physical shape and condition than the rest. A few hours of climb and the rains had stopped by then. We reached a point going below a waterfall, partly drenched, when we were surrounded by sheep all over who were coming downhill guided by their shepherd.
It was such a rare beautiful sight and experience to cherish. The climb uphill and the sun beginning to shine above raised the temperature to strip off our warm covers. The rain in the morning had delayed our start and our trek leaders feared we have to cross a stream that gains depth as the day proceeds. However, their experience found a sweet spot for all of us to cross the stream in least trouble. The water was chilling cold. A sense of numbness prevailed in the feet for few minutes after crossing the stream hand in hand, forming short human chain of three to four, sticking together against the drifting current of the fast flowing stream.
The fresh weather perfectly suited for a break to loosen up our muscles and fill our stomachs with the lunch packs from TTH. The half an hour of refreshment infused new energy into all of us to march ahead for the rest of the day’s trek through the remaining meadows after crossing over the mountainous terrains in the first half of the day. Abhinav, the drummer, seemed lost in the tranquility as he started playing drums in the air, in sync to the tunes of his favorite tracks playing from iPod on the large headphones resting on his bald head.
As we walked through the meadows pink and yellow flowers bloomed along the path making the valley even more adorable. Around 5 in the evening we reached our destination welcomed by rain. A severe headache grasped some of us after having scaled a higher altitude, neglecting drinking enough water as prescribed by our trek guides.
Day 3: 2nd August, 2016. The day that we were all waiting for, to reach the summit of 14,100 ft, the highest point in our trek of the Hampta Pass had arrived. It was going to be the toughest and the longest trek of all the days. Rain had refused to stop for the second consecutive day. This made us feel the easy to moderate trek as labeled by the trek authorities, to turn into difficult for beginners. The day mostly remained cloudy, with drizzles accompanying us all the way. Somehow we were caught in the middle of a mixed feeling of desire to see a brighter better sunnier view and the comfort of a cool cloudy weather.
The American family of Gold-Pastor teens seemed like having a cake-walk in the rocky terrain, while the Bhatia siblings accompanied by another musician drummer Sanjay, scaled heights away from the tracks in the cliffs by the side, as others gasped for a normalcy in their breath from the long walks. The Karnani family seemed unstoppable, moving steadily behind the teens, even though burdened with their bag packs. The elder wiser minds of the American economist couple, Gonzalo and Judith, who used to find their alternative shortcuts than following in the footsteps of others, caught up shortly, with the ones leading in the troop. The rest of us, more or less traveled together following up these few that reached the halt points before us and were cheered by the predecessors from a distance, clapping, encouraging from far as we succeeded them. Some of us were exuberant by being able to walk on hard ice, below which roaring waters flowed in a stream. Being an avid tourist visiting some of the highest mountainous terrains in Himalayas since childhood from close and afar, I could feel the delight that showed on their countenance.
Being obsessed with photographing, I still prayed in my mind for the sun to shine upon the mountains and the rains to halt, for a better picture to be framed in my camera when I reach the summit. My mind had shut otherwise. Harsh weather had made it worst of the conditions to climb the last few hundred meters of steep ascent to the summit. Reduced visibility, feet slipping on mud, stumbling on rocks, gasping for breath, we trudged along, chattering our teeth in response to the falling temperature exacerbated by rain and strong wind. Our couple from Bangalore, Saurabh and Tanvi, who had injured herself on way up the summit in the last few hundred meters, was constantly motivated by our trek guide, Bakshi Ram, with his motivating words, songs and dance to cheer her up while enduring the pain from injury.
Finally the moment came where we reached the highest point of our trek. The moment was short lived for those, who reached late and too long for the rest, who reached first, sticking by, waiting for the rest to arrive for a group shot, in the unfavorable weather conditions. The descent downhill was tougher than we thought as the paths were too slippery and the downward forward momentum even made it difficult to grip on the mud tracks in between rocks. While we were on way downhill, from a distance the campsite of Sheagoru could be seen, still not ready, although few staff and members had reached. The brothers from Jaipur, Akash and Ashish, were leading in the middle with Divya Bhatia, my brother Anindya, Nakul, Nanda Kishore and myself trudging along guided by Bakshi Ram. Bakshi had taken the trouble of carrying luggage of three individual trekkers on to himself relieving them of their struggle and stress in the climb uphill. In a moment of quick response he took a decision to reach the valley to prepare the tents for us before we arrive. Bakshi, a man of lean structure, with super ability to carry luggage, beyond his weight and apparent physical strength, ran down the mountains like a super human being in no time. Before we could locate him he disappeared only to be found later in the camp site, cooking, preparing our evening snack with a smiling face, while the tents were made ready by him already, to be occupied by us trekkers, after the strenuous day.
Starting at 8:30 am in the morning and reaching at about 4:30 pm, taking the average time of all, we had finally completed the hardest part of the trek and were relieved. The evening seemed beautiful even than the previous day. Some parts of the sky cleared to give a glimpse of the mountain range that enveloped the valley of Sheagoru. The wind was strong and the loose ends of the tents flattered like the wings of a bird while the toilet tents at a distance formed weird shapes like the fake fire balloons on display in the concerts or events. Wild horses chased each other in playful manner in the open valley by our camp site; giving us a rare sight to cherish of what freedom feels like for animals and why they seem better in their natural habitat than in human captivity. Being exhausted by the day we had lost track of time and before we could ponder on the thoughts of having achieved something, tiredness dawned on us.
Day 4: 3rd August, 2016. It had been raining since previous night but to our amazement, it stopped by early morning. The sun was shining bright and we were cheerful, with no dark clouds in vicinity. The day started by crossing over three streams of water one separated by the other by a narrow patch of land, with support of ropes held together by our guides. Dipping our toes at first and then being knee deep with mistaken footsteps, into the coldest water of the trek we experienced so far, in the stream, coming down from the glacier behind us. After successfully crossing the stream we all had to heat up getting the numbness in our feet to come to normalcy. Thus, we started a dance like form as done in tribal events, where we gathered together in a circle and danced in and out of synchronization. This was the easiest trek of all days descending from the mountains in a sunny day. Starting at 9 AM in the morning we reached Chatru, our final campsite by 1:30 PM. Cars were waiting for us at Chatru from where we left for Chandratal – the Moon Lake.
Leaving behind the lush green meadows and mountains, dancing inside our car from the highly uneven road, cut out from the rocky mountains, we headed through the dry barren valley surrounded by dry rocky mountains, leading to Chandratal. As we entered the Spiti valley, the landscape had changed drastically. I have previously been to the Spiti Valley, Kaza and Ladakh, so was quite familiar with the landscape, while the others, specially my brother found it amazing, witnessing his long cherished desires of visiting the dry valley of Spiti come to fulfillment.
We stopped by some local establishments for refreshment at Chandra Dhaba in Batal, some 14 kms before reaching the Chandratal. Crossing over a bridge over the Chandra River, we moved from Batal to the mountains that led the roads to Chandratal. The food is decent here, rajma chawal is the hot favorite preferred by many and readily available, which according to some of our trekkers tasted good, other stationary stuff, chips, biscuits are available too at a marginal cost extra than the MRP.
Clouds floated like heaps of cotton in the clear blue sky. The Chandra River below appeared like a flowing stream of liquid silver, reflecting light from the sun shining behind the mountains to our left. The barren brownish yellow mountains, gilded by the sun in the base and veiled by milky white snow at the helm welcomed us afar. Nearly one and a half miles before the lake, our cars were parked. We had to walk down the cirque to the lake for a mile or two.
The blue waters reflecting the skies with the Chandrabhanga range in its backdrop, made us go wild with joy and cameras flashing for the next hour or so till the sun rays started fading. The vastness of the lake, never felt enough for me watching from a single direction bounded by time limit. My heart ached to walk on the other sides and discover other angles to view the lake than usual. Some travelers from Israel stayed back cherishing the setting sun on the lake as the rest of the travelers, tourists and trekkers started evacuating. It got dark outside as we made our journey back to Chatru camp site. A huge cake marking the end of the celebrated achievement awaited us in the dining tent, where we had our last dinner together in the trek with all members.
Day 5: 4th August, 2016. Nitin, the trek leader who generally awoke us every morning with a thumping knock on the tent and a cup of tea, spared a few more minutes on this final day before waking us up. It never felt so good, with no rush for the day to trek, less of packing and above all a bright sunny day with cheerful smiles of accomplishments on everyone’s face we greeted each other peeping out of our tents. The last few days of pain and pleasure had yet not sunk in while we had to do the most difficult task of the trek, packing our sleeping bags and putting back into their case. Believe me, it is not as easy as it seems while in its pouch bag.
Hot tea, puri and sabji for breakfast, gave way to distributing our certificates of achievement and a few words of our individual experiences coupled with emotions from the everlasting memories that had got etched in the pages of our lives in the past few days. The last few words of inspiration came from our trek leader to motivate, making us pledge to continue on this journey of trekking and exploring the Himalayas that we have embarked upon. Later, all dispersed loading our luggage on the cars, packing our tents for the final time and bidding goodbye to some wonderful memories, scenic beauties and a group of strangers that became a new family in the past few days.
For some of us who still had time in the evening and the rest who had to board a bus to Delhi later in the evening, we all met for the final time at Johnson’s Cafe & Lodge, in Manali, where the American family was staying. We shared a slice of our daily lives, moments that we recalled from the trip and laughed in unbounded enthusiasm, forgetting everything and anything that withheld us from such experiences in the daily hustle of struggle for existence, over plates of delicious food and drinks, for the one last time.
A man of few words, shying away from pictures, preserving his anonymity with no footprint in social media and modern day human socialization.Yet a man of strong character, mentally and physically, Nitin, our trek leader, to whom life and its struggles had submitted before his indomitable spirit, said a short shayari (poem) on being asked to express his views on the trek before we all parted. This kept lingering in my mind.
“Khuda Ki Banai Aisi Qudrat Nahi Dekhi (Have not seen such a creation by the almighty)
Dilon Main Chupi Aisi Daulat Nahi Dekhi (Have not seen the wealth hidden in the heart of people)
Jo Kehta Hai K Doorion Se Mit Jati Hai Dosti (Those who say friendship ceases to exist with distance)
Us Ney Shayad Hamari Dosti Nahi Dekhi.“ (May be, he has yet not seen our friendship)
For more pictures visit the link :- http://kaustavsarkar.com/hampta-pass-trek/