Hampta Pass Trek
The mountains are calling and I have to go!
Time is running out…. our time in this world is limited! If one has to follow one’s passion, one’s dream, it has to be NOW! Long before Corona hit us, I had realised this, but I had promises to keep. A promise to my family to be there for them reigned supreme amongst all. Ever since I was a child, the lure of climbing was huge…. trees, terraces, compound walls, top of stationary trucks, whatever was accessible to me at that time. A free spirit I was, but somehow, maybe it was shifting to Mumbai, changing schools, I became this shy girl concentrating more on academics than outdoor activities. The few treks I did as a teenager were because of my uncle who was an avid trekker. Later family responsibilities took over, as happens with many and years went by…
Until I remembered about promises. Why not make a promise to myself? Once a year go to the Himalayas? My children were independent, busy leading their own lives, happy in their choices. On the professional front, I had achieved what I had set out to do. And so, when “Hampta Pass Trek “was announced by Kedar, I did not find a single reason to say “No”. It is however equally true that for treks, the comfort level, trust is of utmost importance. Kedar and I share a connect, a connect of the soil, as kids we grew up in the same bungalow compound, decades later when I heard his name when my sister asked me if I was interested in going to “The Valley of Flowers “, it rang a bell! And that’s how my once-a-year Himalayan treks started! That free spirit buried deep down was slowly seeing the light of the day. A coincidence perhaps or destiny that the care free girl lost in that bungalow compound found that connect again?
Though I did the Chadar trek in January this year, keeping my date with the Himalayas, it was for the year 2020, so the “Tour of the Himalayan Valleys “and “Hampta Pass Trek’’ were for 2021, I reasoned! While on the tour, we got to know that the District Tourism Development Officer issued a prohibitive order on trekking in the Kullu-Manali region between July 15 and Sept. 15. That meant our Hampta Pass Trek stood cancelled. Rather than dwelling on what we couldn’t do, Kedar, our group leader, started discussing with Reshma & me (the only 2 from the tour group continuing for the trek) what we could do! A trek in Uttarakhand perhaps or we could bike to Dehradun and meet the trek group there. Our return tickets were booked from Delhi, the possibility of extending the trek dates wasn’t possible due to prior commitments. But surprisingly, very unlike the person I used to be, I took this change in plans in my stride, somehow feeling that what’s meant to be, will be. None of our phones had any range, so we had no way of knowing till much later that another order was issued the day after omitting trekking from the previous order.
Hampta Pass, a small corridor between Lahaul's Chandra Valley and the Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh is at an altitude of 4270 m (14039 ft) on the Pir Panjal range in the Himalayas. This pass is frequently used by shepherds of the lower Himalayan region, seeking high altitude grasslands in the summer, when the dry cold desert of Lahaul is barren. The trek begins in the green Kullu valley and crosses over, through Hampta Pass, into the drier region of Lahaul.
Day 1: Thus began my “Hampta Pass Trek’’with a new group! The group arrived in Manali on the 19th. My early morning plans of going to the Hidimba temple and sitting on a rock and meditate for a while were put to rest by the rains. Instead, I sat in the attached balcony of my room with a coffee mug in my hand with snowcapped mountains for company. The condition of the hotel industry is pretty dire with many having being closed for more than a year, unoccupied rooms, renovations half done, the demand-supply chain heavily disrupted. We changed our hotel for a very simple reason: a hot water bath after a tiring journey! After the new group settled, some of us set out for the Vashishta temple. From there, once again to the market in Manali and lunch of chaat and jalebis. Returning to our hotel at 4:30 pm, we once again set out post tea for the Hidimba temple with the new group. At the temple, I asked Shardul if he could see why my mobile was ailing and if he could fix it. And he did! What a relief, what happiness! My prayer was answered by the Goddess even without asking. Not to take anything for granted and when the time is right, things will fall into place.
Day 2: After a short drive from Manali, passing Prini, Sethan and Jobra, the road ends at Jobri from where the trek starts. The route goes through mixed forests of pine, maple and birch trees, and eventually runs along the Hampta river. Our trek group of 11 and the support staff started at 10 am from Manali. 1hr into the journey on winding roads, we were stopped due to some work in the mountains and told we would have to wait for an hour. We were so itching to start our trek that we decided to start walking and asked the drivers to catch up with us later. Thankfully we took the steeper climb through the trees, streams and bushes avoiding the road saving 2 kms walk time and getting drenched in the rains! After walking for 3 kms, we spotted a home/ restaurant and decided to have tea. Piping hot Maggie was pure bliss in the cold! This stop proved to be our savior as it started raining cats and dogs, so much so that any hopes of starting the trek were dashed as we were going to be staying in tents and it would have been impossible to put up the tents when it was pouring. That also meant a 2 hrs. trekking time getting added to the next day’s climb. A cut off time of 3 pm was decided, luckily the rains reduced and we set out at 2:45 pm from Jobri. On our way, when I saw a huge rock, I asked Kedar if we could climb it. At first, he said No, which he usually doesn’t, then went and checked to see if it was slippery because it was a free fall and it was just the beginning with a long way to go. Whenever I see a rock or boulder, I find it very difficult to pass by without climbing it and climb we did! For me, trekking is not just climbing and reaching the destination, it is enjoying that connect with nature. It was 4:30 and we were still 1 hr. away from Chikha, our campsite for Day 1 when it was decided to camp right where we were. But I didn’t mind at all …such beauty all around, the sunset hues, lush green trees, waterfalls. And just us, in the middle of nowhere! I could have just sat there on the rocks for eternity!
Day 3: As we had to cover the 1 hr. from yesterday, we started early at 7:29 am with packed lunch of sandwiches, a fruit, juice and a chocolate bar. Today's route was a gradual ascent along the Hampta river to Jwara meadows. We made our way through waterfalls on wooden bridges soaking in the amazing landscape. The high point was the river crossing through freezing water, trying to keep our feet firmly planted in the ice-cold water on slippery rocks and pebbles, slowly dragging our feet without lifting them, was quite a balance act as we made a chain, one step sideways, holding hands and braving the force of water and the rocks beneath. It didn’t help that a few days ago, trekkers had fallen into the waters and one girl could not be saved. It was quite a life changing experience for me. The flowers in different shades of pink, yellow, violet accompanying us throughout our journey were out of this world. Our pace was so good, that we managed not only to make up the extra hour from yesterday but went ahead an extra 2 kms and camped at Balu ka Tal instead of Balu ka Gera as per the original plan. It was a very long 11.20 kms trek and everyone was both mentally and physically tired. As we retired for the night, it was playing on everyone’s mind that the next day was going to be a tough climb and an equally tough descent.
Day 4: After being told, we needed to have a hearty breakfast as we needed the fuel for the climb, we started at 7:29 am slowly and steadily climbing through rocks and rains. Way up there, far far away, we saw the Hampta Pass beckoning to us. When we asked our guide when we would reach, he kept telling us “Thoda aur hai, thoda climb, phir thoda aage aur thoda climb! That “thoda” seemed unending, but after 4.5 hrs. we were suddenly there! At that time, we heard the roar of an avalanche and caught a glimpse of it. From the pass, the Indrasan Peak and a few more famous peaks are visible. It is usually windy and cold in the Pass, so most groups don't stay for long. There is a steep descent of about two hours from here into the Lahaul valley. I love climbing down mountains, though many didn’t like it. The climb down was treacherous and maneuvering the glacier was learning new skills, some fell, skidded ...luckily no one got hurt. Our guide said we arrived at our camps in very good time every day, earlier groups reached very late. One particular Himalayan dog was standing very quietly near our tents in Sheagoru and for the first time, I felt like petting a dog. Those who know me, know how scared I am of dogs and cats, but again Kedar helped me get over that fear. For me, this was a giant step!
Day 5: We started early from Sheagoru as today was going to be a long day, cold glacial melt stream crossing near Sheagoru, but this time we were at least mentally prepared, further the trail descended through boulder of rocks, moraine to the valley floor along the left bank of Chandra River to Chhatru. The 3.5 hrs. trek to Chhatru was a feast for the senses! Blessed with beautiful weather, it was paradise! Valley of flowers and waterfalls, one last glacier crossing and we were at Chhatru after taking our own sweet time trying to prolong our time with nature. At Chhatru, we climbed into our vehicles for a 3-hr., 46 kms drive to Chandratal. It was the second time in a week that I was visiting Chandratal, a lake with a riot of colors, blue green hues reflecting the purple shade of the mountains. This divine sight made the to and fro 8hrs journey worthwhile. We reached Chhatru quite late that day at 8 pm, but looking at the star lit sky with the full moon playing hide and seek, our orange tents glowing in the moon light, I just stood there soaking in the beauty of light and dark.
Day 6: We were in a hurry to start our return journey as we were aware that the road was pretty bad, but our support staff had to pack all the camping gear, making sure it was totally dry. We ultimately started at 9 am, reaching Manali in a record 2 hrs. After lunch in a nearby restaurant, went one last time to the market to hog on Jalebis. Soon it was time to head back, we boarded the 5:30 pm bus from Manali to Delhi.
Day 7: After a night long bumpy ride, we reached Himachal Bhuwan in Delhi at 9:30 am, took a taxi to the airport for our 13:10 flight back to Pune reaching home sweet home at 4:20 pm, totally rejuvenated from the 16 days “Tour of the Himalayan Valleys “and “The Hampta Pass trek”!
In a span of 6 days, the trek had taken us over fast-flowing ice-cold rivers, challenging terrain of vertical rock walls, waterfalls, hanging glaciers, pinewoods, rhododendron forests, open meadows, tiny lakes and peaks rising above 6000 metres. A number of wildflowers and herbs grow at the altitude between 3000 meters to 3800 meters. I was mesmerised by the flowers, a variety of Geranium, Bistorta,Potentilla ( red, orange, yellow), Anemone, blue and purple poppies, variety of Asteresi, Senecio and many others. Starting from coniferous forests and through Bugyals or alpine meadows, moraines and ultimately reaching the snow line with barren mountains and almost no vegetation is an experience of a lifetime. Standing atop the Hampta Pass, I was awed by 2 strikingly different worlds, a journey from greenery to barren stretches of the Spiti valley, a journey from youth to old age, one might call it, each with its own beauty and challenges.
Unless you step out of your comfort zone, embrace the unknown, how would you get to know yourself? How would you know that through life’s challenges like crossing that ice cold river with rocks under your bare feet, holding hands with new found friends is all the strength you need to get across, how would you know that ‘Impatience’ and ‘Forget Me Not’ are names of flowers guiding you along the way, how would you know that you can hold on to and count on total strangers for support and they would never let you down, how would you know that the faces of those who served you sumptuous meals in the dining tent glowed with happiness when you ate well just like your mother's would, how would you know unless you reach out and let go, that someone out there will always be there to break your fall , to hold hands and pull you through?
The mountains are calling and I have to go…