July 2, 2016 – Prini – Jobra – Chikha : The Beginning
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. With this thought, I was ready to start my first ever press trip with the Great Indian Outdoors – GIO Adventures.
Was I completely out of my mind to have said yes to this? Being lazy and perhaps a little unfit in my eyes, was I going to be able to pull it off? Maybe I should have run for 2 KMs a day as per what the instructors told me to do. Oops!
Shoo – enough of these thoughts! It was time to do a little Yoga to inhale the positivity and exhale the negativity. 15 minutes of Yoga was enough for me to go back to my calm self. As I chanted OM, I heard a knock on my door. It was time to meet the others.
Who the hell are the others? Well, as much of an adventurer I am, I’m surely not going to be doing this trek alone. There are 5 other people who are part of this trek and it was finally time to meet them.
Please don’t be annoying.
Yes, I was hoping for the best.
With my tongue in cheek, I finally stepped out to meet the others. The girls – Vindhya, Kamla had come alone from different parts of the country. The boys – Vishwa, Dhanya and Sudheer had come together from Bangalore. Sweet! We were a group of 6.
Three trekking guides, one head chef, one assistant chef and 1 porter in-charge joined our group of six – which made us total 12 people. Fancy! Ankush, one of the trekking guides insisted I carry a trekking pole. If San (my husband) was here, he would have laughed and called me a “high end” trekker.
Let’s begin the trek!
From Prini village near Manali, we got on to a car to reach Jobra, our starting point of the hike. On our way, we crossed a place called Panduvrupa, where apparently Pandavas used to bathe.
A few minutes later we were in Jobra, which appeared to be a little too crowded for my liking. Were all these people going to do the same trek? Oh no!
As we started hiking, I noticed that everyone had given their bags to the porter, except Kamla and I. When I say porter – it’s not a person, but a small herd of horses.
The hike was easier than any other hike I have ever done in my life. The weather was perfect, the views were breathtaking and the path had no ascend.
In less than an hour, we reached a stream and spotted our campsite next to it on a meadow. This was Chikha – our first campsite.
That’s it? That was easy! Yes, we knew that our first day of the hike was going to be easy but this literally a walk in the park.
Hampta Pass Day 1
I walked around the campsite, trying to sink in all the beauty. It was so green! It felt I was in an enchanted forest because the mountains were covered in mist, resulting in a dramatic effect. With no other people in sight apart from our group, the gentle music of the stream was the only thing that could be heard – except a bird’s sporadic songs which was perhaps wooing its love. At a distance, I saw a herd of horses grazing lazily. It looked surreal.
My cell phone had no signal and it disturbed me. No, not because I wanted to stay connected but because my mom and dad would be worried abut me. I did not know that I would have no network and told them that I’d call at least once a day. I just hope my sister calls the emergency phone number in the email.
Ankush told us that the first day of the hike is easy but the next few days are not. With that thought, we all collected wood to build a bonfire to spend a few hours talking to each other.
After soup, dinner and dessert, it was time to sleep. I was happy that I had the tent to myself but couldn’t sleep. Was it because I was missing San too much? Or I was thinking about mom and dad being worried about me? No matter what I did, I was not comfortable enough. There were too many things messing up with my emotionally and physically. It was cold and I had to pee. It was raining outside and I could hear the loud raindrops on my tent. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have to pee but it didn’t work. I finally braved up, took out the torch, wore my flip-flops, rain jacket and went out to relieve myself.
Phew! I was finally able to sleep.
July 3, 2016 – Chikha – Balu Ka Ghera
Hampta Pass Day 2 morning
It was barely 5:30 am that I woke up on my own due to sunlight hitting my tent. I unzipped my tent to peep outside and WOW! It was beautiful. For a few minutes, I sat there sinking in the beauty and thinking how lucky I was to be experiencing this serenity. Everything around was green, dewy and covered with mist. I gathered my toothbrush and went to the nearby stream to freshen up. The water was icy cold but felt wonderful against my face.
If you have read all my blog posts, you must be aware of my fear of toilets. If the toilet doesn’t look usable to me, my body refuses to eject anything out. This phenomenon is enough to cause me a little stress in situations where I have to use camping toilets.
Our toilet here was cleaner than those portable toilets you see at music festivals. It was more like a hole dug on the ground with mud next to it. The mud was the flush, which was supposed to be put back after each use. We were not allowed to use any water but only toilet paper – the western style of “dry” sanitation.
Hampta Pass – camping toilet
After successfully using the toilet, I returned to my tent and realized a spider had made its way inside. Should I pick it up or let it be? I couldn’t bear the thought of it chilling inside my clothes so I decided the little fella had to go. Did I miss San here? Yes. Not because he would have picked the spider, but because he would have been more scared of it than me. Haha.
Anyway, with a little help of a postcard that I got at a Tarsier sanctuary in Bohol, I managed to pick up the spider to throw it out of the tent. The sneaky guy tried to enter my hiking shoes that were kept outside and without a thought.. SPLAT!
Oops, I killed it. Sorry, my animal lover friends!
The Rain Test
Anyway, after a delicious breakfast, we started our hike at 8:30 am. While yesterday was easy, today was the opposite.
First, it started raining as soon as we began our hike. Second, we had to cross a river, which did not have a bridge. The only way to cross was by removing our shoes and hiking up our pants till our knees. We crossed it barefoot and the water was icy cold. Third, after 30 minutes, I fell down and broke the GoPro stick. Sorry, San!
Hampta Pass Day 2 – Rain
After this, I realized I was getting very tired. It was because I was the only idiot in my group who was carrying her own backpack. Everyone else had availed the porter service.
The second river crossing was more difficult than the next one. I don’t think I would have been able to manage it without the help of our guide – Ankush.
The trail became slipperier because it wouldn’t stop raining. All our clothes and bags were wet. We saw a chai shop from a distance and decided to stop there for lunch. We were in a place called Joara.
Hampta Pass Day 2 – The Only Chai Shop on this trail
The hike after lunch was easier, perhaps because of renewed energy. Out path was lined up with white, yellow and pink flowers. We found a few strawberries, which we plucked and ate on the way. They were tiny but were super delicious!
Anyway, we continued hiking along the Hamta River and before we knew it, we had reached out campsite. YAY!
If yesterday’s campsite was dreamy, today’s was heavenly! In a distance, I would see a glacier. Behind the glacier are a few snow peaks. Jaichand ji informed me that that was Indrasan peak. Next to the glacier is a stream. The grassy patch on which was our campsite was divided into several little islands because of the stream. All of these islands are covered with pink and yellow flowers as far as the eye can see.
Hampta Pass Day 2 Campsite – Balu Ka Ghera
This took my breath away.
Hampta Pass Day 2 – Balu ka Ghera – Kinda looks like Valley of Flowers
All this beauty made me forget about my wet shoes and clothes. However, a little while after dinner, it struck me again – my so called waterproof hiking shoes were STILL wet. Moreover, the next day was supposed to be the most challenging part of the trek because we gotta cross Hampta Pass. Ankush mentioned that it might take us 12 hours! I can’t be wearing wet shoes for 12 hours.
Sensing my despair, Ankush asked what was up. He smiled and said – don’t worry, we have a way of drying all your shoes. Really? Is there anything that these guys can’t do?
July 4, 2016 – Balu Ka Ghera – Hampta Pass – Shia Garu
Crossing Hampta Pass
Today is the big day because it’s supposed to be the most challenging day of our trek. The weather Gods must be happy because it’s a sunny day. If it rains, our trek is going to be harder and riskier.
The mood at the breakfast table is a mix of excitement and nervousness. Vindhya is unwell because she slept in her cold wet clothes. I wish she had told me because I would have given her my clothes.
My shoes are surprisingly dry. GIO definitely knows some magic tricks! Haha – I later found out that they dried all our shoes in front of the stove.
At around 8 am, after overstuffing ourselves with delicious breakfast, we finally started our trek. The first part of the trek was surprisingly easy. The trail is beautiful and is through Balu ka Ghera’s flowery meadow.
Is that a lake I see in the distance? It’s beautiful! On our way to the lake, we cross a herd of sheep and a shepherd. What if I was not born in a city but in the mountains to a shepherd family? Would I have loved living a simple life as Heidi? Would I have laughed at city folks who took out time from their busy schedule to climb mountains as an adventure sports activity? Maybe I will find out in my next lifetime.
Hampta Pass Day 3 – Crossing Balu Ka Ghera Lake
We have crossed the lake now and we can see a glacier nearby. Funny, because I thought this was farther than this. As we make our way to the glacier, we cross a few more trekking groups that are a little too big for my liking. Being small in number, our group is faster and soon we cross almost all the groups that we met on the way.
Although it appears to be white, but the glacier was covered with goat poop. Eww! I don’t want to fall here. Jaichand ji and Ankush tell us to dig our heels into ice as we walk on the glacier.
Hampta Pass Day 3 – Crossing Glaciers
Under normal circumstances, I would have lost my balance here a few times but seeing goat poop all over made me extra cautious. In about half an hour, we had finished crossing the glacier. As I “phew”ed with relief, Ankush smiled mischievously and said – don’t be so happy, there are a few more glaciers. Wow, great…
As we walked further, I couldn’t help but smile. There was not a soul in sight, no chai shop, no phone signal, no airplanes above us.. Nothing except wilderness. With meadows, mountains, streams, snowcaps and flowers around me, I thanked mother nature for her generosity.
Just at that instant, we spotted a chai shop in a tent. Yes, the universe wanted to prove my thoughts wrong. The boys decided to stop here for a quick snack and chai but the rest of us decided to go on.
As we hiked further, we approached another glacier. “How far is Hamta pass?” asked one of us. “This IS the Hamta pass” was Ankush’s answer. Wow, that was fast! I was happy that we were about to cross our main point of the trek. Just at that moment, the boys joined us from their little break at the chai shop.
Hampta Pass Trek – Crossing glaciers
While the previous glacier was a 20-20 cricket match, crossing the Hamta Pass was like a test match. It took 5 times more effort and time. Perhaps the effort was because we were at the height of 4270 meters above the sea level and the oxygen level was thin. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe with my mouth closed to avoid feeling dehydrated.
Hampta Pass – an adventure of a lifetime
At the top of the pass, we had a little celebration where we posed for a few pictures with the Indian flag. We found a nice spot on the rocks to sit and enjoy the natural beauty.
Jaichand Ji passed around a few plates of delicious vegetable biryani for all of us. To my surprise, the biryani was hot. How do they do it? Seriously, the GIO team was now exceeding my expectations. On top of one of the most isolated parts of the Himalayas, which is away from the civilization, I sat on a rock and ate a delicious lunch of hot biryani followed by laddoos for desert. I love my life!
Beyond Hampta Pass – Entering Spiti
Hampta Pass Trek – Entering Spiti Valley
I couldn’t help smiling as we finished our lunch and hiked further. Pink and Yellow flowers gave way to Purple flowers. The lushness of the valley gradually disappeared, as we got closer to Spiti’s dramatic barren beauty. “Cold desert” is what they call Spiti and I was awestruck at the first glimpse.
Hampta Pass – Day 3 – Entering Spiti Valley
They said the landscape will drastically change over the course of time and I finally began to see it. First the lush greenery, then the stark glaciers and now Lahaul and Spiti Valley’s arid beauty. We were now in Himachal Pradesh’s tribal area.
With that thought, we reached the final glacier of today’s trek. Unlike the glaciers before, this one surely appeared to be steeper. What if I fall? “You can’t fall because you have to slide down” – Ankush answers to my thought. Was I thinking aloud?
“If you try walking, you will fall.” he explains, “…so it’s better if you slide down.”
Was he serious? I searched his face for a hint of sarcasm but I found none. Yay, I get to slide down a hill in the Himalayas, as I always wanted!
“Sit down, keep your hands up and your back slanted backward and let go…. When in need, use your hands and feet as brakes. Are you ready?”
This was all that I needed to hear. I wanted to be the first one to slide down. Perhaps I listened to only a fraction of the instructions and I sat down and begged Ankush to push me down. With the campsite in view, I wait for Ankush to push me down for an ultimate adventure.
Zoom – is what I hear in my head but in reality, this is not what happened.
In a fraction of a second as I’m falling down, I realize the importance of listening to full instructions. Why were my hands sliding through snow? Am I supposed to do this? Oh shit, I’m about to crash into the rocks!
Hampta Pass – Snowslide
In that instant, I see Jaichand Ji diving in front of me to save me. All of a sudden everything happens in slow motion… I lose balance, I am about to crash, he saves my fall and I… well, I’m still on the ground with my hands deep inside snow!
Are my hands burning? This is the exact sensation I experienced as I took my hands out of snow. Are my fingernails about to fall off? Why are they hurting so much? Thankfully, our campsite was near enough for me to visualize holding a cup of hot chai in my hands and to be motivated enough to finish today’s trek.
The next part of our hike for today was a tad easier than before. It was mostly downhill but we had to be careful not to slip. I noticed how many of my hike mates had fallen sick – vomiting, bad stomach, headache, fever and more. Altitudes have a way making everyone feel weaker. I refuse to be the next victim!
With determination in my head, I walk a little faster towards our new campsite. Yes, I could see it at a distance and I know I can run to it.
In less than an hour from the slide, we finally manage to reach our campsite. Yes, they were right and today was the most tiring day of all but FUCK! Oh my Effing GOD!!!!
It took a while for me to sink in what all I had accomplished today. I was finally in Spiti Valley!
My dream destination.
Thank you GIO team.
With the emotion of triumph, I say good night to everyone and retire for the night. I tell myself – “The most difficult part is over and I get to see Chandra Taal lake tomorrow.” With a smile on my face, I decide to call it a night and fall into the most peaceful slumber of the three days.
July 5, 2016 – Shia Garu – Chatru – Chandra Taal
Reaching Chatru – Our Last Campsite
Today is the last day of our trek. It is going to be an easy day except for our first task – crossing the icy river without shoes! It was colder than the coldest place that I had ever visited and we were expected to remove our shoes to walk across the river on the slippery stones. SHIT.
Just like everything else that appeared difficult, I wanted to finish this part of our hike before it started messing with my head. As we got closer to the river, the water appeared to be moving faster than I thought.
I removed my warm shoes and socks and took a deep breath before stepping in. We had formed a human chain by holding each other’s hands to cross the river together. Ankush was leading this chain so that he could tell us where to step.
Crossing icy cold river without shoes
As I stepped into the water, I realized I had somehow become mentally stronger. The water was colder than before but it did now weaken me. Being in the middle of the chain, I felt many tugs that pulled me in opposite directions but luckily I did not fall. Yes, I reached the end of the river without falling even once.
We jumped for a few minutes to allow our feet to get warm before wearing our shoes and resuming our hike. While the previous days demanded a serious workout, today was a walk in the park. We strolled around in Spiti Valley’s barren trails and enjoyed the beauty. There was no need to hurry because our campsite was not so far.
The green patches reduced as we walked further inside Spiti Valley. This barren valley hardly gets any rainfall and is called “cold desert”. The geology is similar to that of Tibet’s or Ladakh’s.
Hampta Pass Day 4 – Spiti Valley’s Barren Beauty
We crossed a little heard of mountain goats with a dog as their watchdog. “How cute” was my first reaction but I was instructed to admire them from a distance by the others to not be a victim of the watchdog’s wrath.
Within a few minutes, we reached our final glacier of the trek. To my delight, my footing was much better than before and I crossed the glacier without any help.
Soon we were in our last camp of the trek – Chatru.
This is it. This was the end of out 4 day ordeal. We were finally at our last camp and there were no more treks beyond this.
It was time to head to Chandra Taal to see the legendary moon lake!
Oasis in desert – the moon lake!
What appeared to be an easy day, ended up being a difficult one. Even though we did not have to hike to Chandra Taal Lake, the car journey to it was the bumpiest ever. It is known that Spiti valley has one of the most treacherous roads in the world but nothing prepared me for this journey from hell. Most of the people in our group were sick so they got the comfortable seats while I sat in the most uncomfortable spot with Ankush and Vishwa.
Spiti Valley’s narrow roads and traffic jam
The road was narrow, winding and was flooded by waterfalls on many spots. To make things worse, most areas were full of boulders and many of them often rolled on to the road. At one point, the road was completely flooded and we had to wait for over an hour and patiently observe all the vehicles crossing the spot before it was our turn.
An hour later, we finally arrived at the spot that I was waiting for since the beginning of the trek. No, not the lake but a satellite phone booth! In the middle of Spiti’s wilderness, I ran to “STD / PCO” sign outside an Indian Army tent to call my family. For some strange reason, I had tears in my eyes as I reached the tent. A lone army man was sitting inside and nodded when I said I needed to make a call. I swallowed a lump in my throat as my mom answered. It took massive control to not to cry a river as I heard my mom’s sweet voice. Thank you Indian Army for arranging a satellite phone service in this area! You’re the best.
One more hour and we were at the parking spot, which was around a kilometer away from the lake. At the height of 4300 meters above the sea level, this was the highest point of our trip. Everywhere around looked even more barren than Chatru (our campsite). Everything around was beige, except one thing. We could see the lake from a distance, which was like a shiny turquoise pendant on Spiti’s barren collarbone. As we walked closer, we got a sense of the lake’s enormous size.
Chandra Taal Lake in Spiti – Moon Lake
How come the water is so blue? What is the origin of the lake? How can anything so beautiful exist in the middle of a desert? Minutes or maybe an hour passed as I sat by the lake’s edge wondering about its mystery and drinking its beauty. After all, I had worked very hard to reach here.
At this moment, I felt thankful to everyone and everything in my life for giving me wanderlust.. Because it felt pretty darn good to be a part of the scenery that I had often stared at on my computer screen.