You must have wondered about what is so special about Goecha La trek? Well, every trek is beautiful to say the least, but Goecha La will literally spellbound you. After monsoon, October onward mornings are encouraging for fantastic view of the high mountains. But that is one side only. Fog and mist in this valley will follow you even in autumn, typically in the afternoon.  It remains rich green, truly a Sikkim speciality. To summarise and keep it short, this is a photo journal of:

  • Goecha La trek during mid of November 2018.
  • During day walk it was foggy, which is a bit unusual for this time. Even though the two high points, Dzongri top and Goecha La first view point were fairly clear and presented surreal views of Kanchendzongha.
  • Weather remained chilly throughout the day and plunging well below freezing at Dzongri and above.
  • It snowed at Dzongri, around 2/3 inches during the trek.

Here it was how our trekker Soumya Deep captured the mood of the trek. All photos are shared by Soumya Deep.

Initial hike for couple of days of is rather easy, inside forest most of the time. At times it may seem uninteresting if you can’t wait to see the high mountains. Wait, you will get your turn later 😎 Essentially you will get to acclimatise inside treeline till you reach Tsokha.

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How green is the valley
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From Bakhim
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Camping ground and Trekkers Hut at Tsokha
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Valley view from Tsokha

Then comes the difficult climb to Dzongri. A really long and tiring day, covering some 12 Km and significant altitude gain of almost ~ 1000 m/3300 ft. Though you will enjoy the walk amidst one of the best forest stretch on Himalayas, yes, Tsokha to the midway Phedang. On a clear day views from here is fascinating. The second stretch, i.e. from Phedang to Dzongri is challenging, almost no respite from upward winding trail till we reach Deorali. From here it is actually a descent to Dzongri and the camping ground.

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Amazing forest walk
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Misty forest: A Sikkim speciality
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Rhododendrons bloom is spring

Finally you will reach Dzongri, end of an exhausting day. The altitude of this place is conducive for snowfall, particularly in autumn-fall or spring. And it did…

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Next morning, gratifying view from Dzongri top. Deposited snow turned the landscape rather unusual  and surreal.

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Dzongri top, mount Pandim forming backdrop
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Sunrise time panorama
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And here she is the third highest mountain standing tall above 28000 ft, Kanchenjunga

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From Dzongri the initial walk is through the meadows followed by a steep descent to Kokchurang. Weather turned misty on the meadows and onward, which is somewhat uncommon in November. This place is beside Prek Chu river and one of the most photogenic places on this trek. Your walk will continue from here to Thansing and finally ending for the day at Lamuney.

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Jopuno peak from Dzongri meadows
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Prek Chu river @ Kokchurang
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Walk continues to Thansing

Then comes the “D-Day”. Early morning push to Goecha La View Point 1/Sunrise Point, and returning all the way to Kokchurang via Lamuney and Thansing.

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D moment from sunrise point
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At Goecha La View Point 1
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Samity lake: The essential photo spot during descent
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Lunch time at Lamuney
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What is a better place to demonstrate some skills?
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Fog engulfing Kokchurang Trekkers Hut

Cloud cover disappeared next morning. It was a bright sunny day. The place seemed a different one producing clear view of mount Pandim. Today’s walk is inside dense forest to Phedang a different route bypassing the climb to Dzongri and then tracing the same trail back to Tsokha.

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Inside Kokchurang Trekkers Hut
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Mt. Pandim
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More than happy to get network after a week at Tsokha 🙂

Last day of the trek back to Yuksom. Happy team and happy faces. All well that ends well!

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Moist broad leaved forest and ferns
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Foliage too
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The Team @ Yuksom
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Adieu

P.S.: All photos captured during HT Goecha La trek from 10th to 19th November 2018. © Soumya Deep.

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One Question May Remain Unanswered, Why We Climb Mountains …

Historically it says that Panpatia Col is the connection between Badrinath and Kedarnath . This route is one of the highest passes of Himalayas where one has to walk over the mysterious Panpatia Glacier. Legendary mountaineers Shipton and Tilman first crossed this in 1934, albeit with hardship. Later in 1998 famous mountaineer Martin Moran and team successfully walked on this glacier, almost following the same route of Shipton and Tilman. Those were the legendary mountaineers and many attempts after that by the new age mountaineers. The shorter route that was first attempted was under the leadership of Tapan Pandit from West Bengal in the year 2007.
In our attempt to Panpatia we planned to follow Tapan Da’s (elder brother in Bengali) footsteps. We took logistical support and expedition guide from HIMALAYA TREKKERS. Finally a motley group of five people decided to attempt the Panpatia Col in the beginning of post monsoon, early September 2017. The next few days of our life were like an absolute dream intertwined with scare, which I attempt to chronicle in this blog along with some tips, and tricks that may help the reader be better prepared for this marvellous expedition. Check Panpatia trek details page for more information.

Best Time & challenges and Difficulty level for Panpatia trek:

We attempted this expedition post monsoon and learnt from the locals that this is the best time to experience the serene mountains in solitude. The trek may get easier and little comfortable in summer. However irrespective of summer or monsoon it is indeed a difficult and treacherous trek to attempt.
Heavy snowfall may happen anytime and that has resulted in human casualties in the past. At the time of writing this blog, I received some grave news about the team that started couple of weeks after us, were trapped under heavy snowfall. This resulted in a causality of one of the team member whose body was discovered days later.

  • Shoe is very important, as 80% of the terrain is with boulders (in post monsoon especially). Needless to say three to four months of preparation will surely help
  • Extra ration for additional days is must. So even if we are stuck, we aren’t empty stomach.
    We carried trekking gears like couple of ice-axes, spikes for everyone, 100 meters rope , 5 kilogram filled oxygen cylinder.
  • Generally, a porter in High Altitude will carry 20 kg and we took help of seven person apart from Cook and Guide.
  • Ration planning was nicely done by our support team. It was 9 days camp for 14 people with three triple sharing tents and one kitchen tent. We carried 25 kg rice, 20 kg wheat flour(aata) , 8 kg lentils, 60 pieces eggs, 30 kg fresh vegetables (including 15 Kg of Potato and Onion), 4 L of cooking oil, other ingredients like spices, salt, sugar , ready to eat noodles, tea/coffee/soup etc. Most importantly 40 L kerosene (we had two kerosene stove for cooking purpose). Additionally my incorrigible non veg friends bought a sheep (yes!) from the Shepherd’s (camp) and which served three full meals to the team, leaving me. Haha

Day 0 (6th September’ 2017) – Overnight train from Delhi to Haridwar

We all met at Delhi Airport. Saptarshi Roy, Arunava Patra, Soumitro Das, Rajarshi Sarkar all from Kolkata and myself Anomit Roy joined them from Hyderabad. Old friends’ new venture everyone was excited. Well we were anxious in addition. For sure, it is going to be a hard one and we were not sure if the preparation was enough for us. We boarded the train from New Delhi Railway Station around 23:50 .( 12205 nandadevi exp ). Destination was Haridwar. Before I forget to mention, food is very important to any of our expeditions and as you would see, we will never ignore it. So Five full stomach with ample dose of Hyderabadi Biryani was an apt start to the Panpatia Col Expedition 🙂

Day 1 ( 7th Sep’ 2017 ) – Drive from Haridwar to Joshimath – 270 Km

Reached Haridwar early morning at around 6 AM, thankfully the train was late by only one hour. Our first destination from here was Josimath which is one of the famous hill station in Uttarakhand,India. The distance between Haridwar and Joshimath is aroun 280 km which takes almost 12 hours (including breaks like breakfast, lunch etc ) . We had a pre booked car, which costs around five thousands rupees for us.

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We reached Haridwar before sunrise

Enroute We stopped at Devprayag which is one of the Panch(five) Prayag of Alaknanda River where Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers meet and take the name Ganga or Ganges River. Rishikesh to Josimath is very picturesque road overlooking the Alaknanda River on the sides and the great Himalayas on the horizon. We took our lunch break at NandaPrayag. People like seafood can enjoy fresh river fish here.

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Devprayag: Confluence of Alaknanda (R) and Bhagirathi (L) forming Ganga

Finally reached Joshimath , just before the sun wished us good night in this beautiful hill station. Friends who aren’t interested in strenuous treks should try Joshimath & Auli as their next holiday destination, Its serene surroundings and virgin beauty can put any other hill stations like Manali or Mussoorie to a tough competition.We directly went to Joshimath GMVN hotel and got a budget friendly dormitory for us. It costs us around 1500 rupees per night for 5 of us.

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A views from Joshimath GMVN

Day 2 (8th Sep’ 2017 ) – Acclimatisation walk to Auli and back – 5 hours

Irrespective of you being an experienced trekker or not, thumb rule of any high altitude expedition is proper acclimatisation. We choose this day for a gentle hike from Joshimath to Auli followed by our rationing and logistic preparation in the evening.

Auli , is a place that I would like to revisit again and again . Picture won’t do justice to the spectacular view of mountain ranges stacked one after other that you find here.

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At Auli

The evening was kept for our rationing at  Joshimath. It is quite a big town for you to get all the necessary groceries and vegetables that would last the trip.  Now we met our Guide Mr Balwant Singh Panwar, and Assistant Guide Mr Dilip Singh , along with six other support stuff. Mr Pushkar was our designated cook for the trip and we were elated to know that he is equally proficient in churning out vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

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Provisioning in the evening, Joshimath

Day 3 (9th Sep’ 2017 ) – Drive to Benkuli 30 Km towards Badrinath – Trek to Khirao – 3/4 hours

Good Food assured, Great Team as company and Awesome Mountain ahead, we already had a great start. Our first destination would be Belenkuli on the way to Badrinath from Josimath (around 22km from Joshimath). On our way we bid good-bye to the comfort of motor vehicle at Benekuli and from there on rely on the most primitive mode of Human transportation-Legs for the rest of the journey. First leg of our journey was to reach Khirao Village, which would also be our first campsite of the trek.

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Road head at Benkuli, 30 Km from Joshimath towards Badrinath
Our 5 member “trekking team” nicknamed The Pandavas 😀

Benkuli is around 2300 mtr and is the starting point of this expedition. Initially Terrain was rocky with loose boulders scattered everywhere. This was combined with steep ascent that lasted a good 40-45 mins, which elevated our heart rates to the required level. The steep ascent was followed by a quick descent and later one more ascent. As per the prior information, this was supposed to be an easy 2 hours walk but it was certainly not or maybe we are getting a bit old. Anyways, a walk however difficult when surrounded by the green meadows and the inviting mountains up front gets so much less tiring as we proceed. Tiredness replaces an elation a certain high that can be only achieved in the arms of the great Himalayas.

Climb to Khirao village
Climb to Khirao village

Khirao is a very small village with some handful families living in seemingly harsh conditions. It gets its name from the river Khirao-Ganga that’s flowing right beside it. In fact we  will trackback  this river throughout our journey right  up to it’s source glacier in Panpatia. The first day of camp was set up at the upper part of this village, near to Khirao Temple. Campsite at an altitude of approximately 2755mtr. Team took almost 3 hours to reach here.

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First view of Khirao village

Day 4 (10th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to Shepherd camp – 5/6 hours

Woke up early to receive the first bad news of the trek – It has been raining from 4 o clock in the morning. With nothing better to do, we continued to enjoy the rain sipping hot tea prepared by Pushkar. Rain started slowing down at around 6:40 AM but this would certainly delay our previous planned start of 7:30 AM. Our next campsite from Khirao is Snout, which is a good 7 to 8 hours of walk. Nobody seemed to be bothered by this delay as Himalayas is the only place where once you are in the zone the time or distance does not matter and you live in the moment while the vastness sinks in.

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Morning view at Khirao campsite

At 8:30 am we started our walk after a sumptuous breakfast with Aloo Parantha. Pushkar started living up to his reputation of being the master chef on the mountains. As lifelong foodie, we highly recommend him for your any trek in this region.

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Almost an hour and half continuous ascent just after leaving Khirao Camp
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Beautiful Bugyal on our way
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These flowers resembling Sunflower are my inspiration towards destination

Around 2 pm our expedition guide Balwant Ji stopped us at Shepherd Camp as he sensed heavy rains going forward. He decided to camp here as It would be risky to drench our groceries and supplied at such early days of the trek. Shepherd camp is at 3400 m approximately. The local name of this place is Gaddi Gadira.

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Shepherd camp
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A local Gaddi (shepherd) trimming and collecting wool

3 pm – Rain started with cold wind around. We came inside tent. Around 4:10 pm – Still inside the tent. Rain has stopped now. The Tent’s was setup to open to this wide thoroughfare of mountain ranges. The wallpaper of Lush Green Mountains, Cloud cover peaks and one small stream flowing in front is as scenic as it can get. . The team bought almost 12 Kg of lamb meat from local shepherds here and looks like it would be our dinner for the next three nights, at least for the non-vegetarians amongst us.

Day 5 (11th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to Moraine camp – 7/8 hours

8 am – Leaving camp late . 8:45 am – It was first time ever I saw the Mystic Mt. Neelkanth . Emotions were expressionless except the jaws felt down !!

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Mt. Neelkanth from Dan Kharak
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Some teams camp here at the snout of the glacier moraine
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Beginning of moraine

Reached Moraine Campsite around 4 pm. The altitude is approx. 4000 m here. Everyone was pretty exhausted after walking on rocky terrain for long. A proper trekking shoe is a must if you are to survive this terrain. The path to Moraine seemed like a never ending one. Which personally I have never experienced. Continuing to the 3rd day tradition this day did not go well for me. After lunch at 1 pm, I decided to move with porters to reach to the camp as early as possible and did not want to finish the day under fading sunlight and dropping mercury. Well in retrospect, it was not the wisest of decision. After an hour of a gruelling walk through very harsh terrain I found that, porters took the harder but faster path while the rest took a comparatively easier route. “Always follow your Guide” – Mountain’s Rule number One 🙂

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Moraine camp

I travelled with the porters for another 30 mins to finally re-unite with the guide and the rest of my team. By now my body was super exhausted and I had almost finished my water as well. Each minute of the next couple of hours walk was punishing that I pushed through with a zombie like stroll. I was totally dehydrated by the time we reached campsite. This route also had very few water sources so my suggestion would be to carry additional water reserves.  Had plenty of water mixed with salt and lemon, sat still for almost 30 mins with chocolate in my mouth, puked a few times followed by a bowel movement. All these aided to a quicker-than-expected recovery, Sapta Da mentioned that running noses are the signs of better acclimatisation at high altitudes and found some solace in his words.

7:30 PM: Finished today’s diner and back inside sleeping bag. Very cold outside, shivering a lot inside the tent too. Around 8 pm I crashed for a well-deserved sleep.

Day 6 (12th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to Parvati rock (below Parvati gully) – 6/7 hours

6:10 pm – “Point of No Return” from here. Another day traversing through the boulders. we were discussing amongst us that it may have been easier before monsoons as walking on ice is much easier than these loose rocks. Of course that would mean we had to setup our camps on snow and icy ground, which may not be a good thing for these many days. The day started with walking on moraine, followed by crossing a glacier and a prompt steep ascent. We reached the campsite at around 2:45 pm and were greeted by steady snowfall. We camped at an altitude of approx 4510 m.

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Moraine walk begins
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Glacier has opened
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First ice field crossing to reach Parvati rock campsite
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A tough ascent on the boulders alongside the waterfall awaits for us
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Finally on the ridge, a relief!

8:30 pm – Its getting colder, all five us were sitting in a single tent. Outside of tent looks like a white screen with almost zero visibility. Every day the weather goes bad after 12 noon or so . We were contemplating to have an early start from now on. If we start the day earlier, we may be able to avoid such spurts of bad weather enroute to our campsites.

Day 7 (13th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to lower Panpatia ice field – 3 hours

8:45 pm – It was more or less a rest day for us. We just walked for 3 hours to reach to the base of Panpatia glacier and ice field. This place is just below our final ascent to reach the Panpatia Ice Field. We reached the campsite by 11:30 am. This was a tricky and risky terrain while crossing the rocky Parvati gully. Several times our guide helped us to cross possible traps we were unaware of. Altitude now is approximately 4800 m with the atmospheric oxygen dropping to around 57% that of sea level. Climbing 300 m took us three hours and I advice every caution while crossing this treacherous terrain. I may not be the most eloquent while describing the beauty of Himalayas hence I leave you with this picture worth of thousand words and hope it does some justice to its unspeakable beauty.

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High altitude Life form 🙂
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Sunset time

Tomorrow is the day , we all eagerly waiting for  …… The camp on upper Panpatia ice field.

Day 8 (14th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to upper Panpatia ice field – 6/7 hours

5:30 pm – We are sitting inside tent on the snowfield. Only two tents today. We five will sleep in a single tent and Kitchen tent will be for rest of the support team. A mixed day . We reached middle of the Panpatia ice filed by morning 9 am. Weather gods had smiled on us with a pleasant sunny day. We spent almost an hour or more on photo sessions in the great Himalayan studio. Around 10:30 am we started towards Panpatia Col. Initially we had the plan to cross the Col on the same day but the mystery land had something else for us !! The route was surrounded by deep crevasses, we had to use rope to cross one of the crevasse. By 12:30pm weather changed all of a sudden and we were engulfed within clouds with reduced visibility. Team moved forward slowly decided to set campsite around very near to Panpatia Col at around 2:30 PM. Guide did not advise us to move forward. This deviated us from our earlier plan to cross the Col by today and now had to settle down here, 300/400 mtrs away from Col.  Pushkar hit his peak form and, we received hot tea , popcorn , hot soup , hot Bournvita energy drinks all in quick succession.

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Climbing from Panpatia lower ice field
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Mt. Chaukhamba – all four towers
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Happy time on the middle of the ice field
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More joy, this time a somersault 🙂
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Crevasse filled Panpatia ice filed
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Weather turned bad on upper Panpatia ice field

The day was eventful  we had one of the porters down with AMS (acute mountain sickness) attack around afternoon.  We were equipped for such events and team made good use of the oxygen cylinder and feet massage to keep him oxygenated and warm. Another porter had not used any sunglasses throughout the day and got severe eyes pain due to the reflected sunlight.(A note to future climbers to double check that the porters that travel with you are equipped with such bare essentials for such treks.)  On top of all this our guide Balwant himself was not doing great and had vomited multiple times on the way up here.

7:15 pm – Have to be active, it is freezing even inside the sleeping bag. Did not dare to go out of the tent, so thought of scribbling a few lines while am awake. Today morning while walking on the ice field, Guide had shown us snow leopard’s tracks on the ice. It was quite fresh and as per him the elusive animal had crossed, the field today early morning (may be 4/5 hours before we reached there). We were discussing that at this point we won’t mind inviting leopard inside the tent to get some warmth out of it’s cosy fur. We hoped it has finished its diner, so it should not mind the warm shelter aided with the cumulative fat of five of us. I always prefer company of people who crack jokes and laugh aloud. You would be surprised how quickly a good laugh can warm your body. Sapta Da asked other porters (who are in the kitchen tent), not to let the AMS sick person completely sleep but to check regularly how he is doing. We were going to live every moment of this night … long night! Good Night.

Day 9 (15th Sep’ 2017 ) – Crossing Panpatia Col  – descent – Sujal Sarovar and further down – 12/13 hours

11 pm – The Magic Day!! Morning 8:30 am we moved forward.  Then comes the famous descent from the Col. We walked almost 20 mins on the snow and then suddenly saw the steep descending path that awaits us. For a while I was taken aback and thought I might not be able to make it. Took a little pause summoned up courage and started my struggle.

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Upper Panpatia ice field camp
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Very steep descent flattens after 200 m or so

Today we had to release two porters to carry the ill porter in rotation. So in reality, we were 3 porters down. We decided to share the extra loads of the two porters making it a tougher day for all of us. Thankfully, the person with eye pain is doing better now. After reaching the campsite, we asked him to apply sliced cucumber on eyes,  the household trick worked magic for him. The morning, descent was risky and tough, almost 70 degrees of inclination that led you back the dreaded boulder filled terrain. We took a lunch break and Pushkar quickly cooked some noodles for us at around 12:30 pm. We also filled up our bottles and continued our journey to the next destination, Sujal Sarovar. Enroute Crossed a small but very beautiful glacier which was followed by the boulder filled path for . the rest of the days. By now We all were quite irritated with boulders. So far 75%  of the journey was on boulder filled path

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Hot lunch enroute
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One last time on glacier and ice field
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Sujal sarovar

It took us almost three hours to reach Suja Sarovar from the place where we had lunch. Sujal Sarovar had a supreme view , with Mount Chaukhamba’s reflection falling right on the lake. Unfortunately we weren’t able to setup camp here on boulders. May be during pre-monsoon this place remains covered with snow making it possible to camp. We continued to move and had to walk another 3 hours to reach campsite that didn’t really have any names. Camp is approximately at 3900 m. We came down a lot in 9/10 hours of walk today. Just like life going down is always faster than climbing up.

Day 10 (16th Sep’ 2017 ) – trek to Kachni Khal and descent to Madmaheshwar – 8/9 hours

We let our muscles relax a bit and had a late start at around 11 am. Reached Kachni Khal around 2 pm . Nice Bugyal views with Bramha Kamal bloom all around.

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Towards Kachni Khal
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Brahma Kamal

From Kachni Khal we are supposed to reach Madhyamaheshwar today. We were already late for our destination. This was a proper wide trail except a very few places that still had some of the dreaded boulders. This is very beautiful trail and the icy taverns of past few days being replaced with the dense green vegetation is always a heavenly feeling. We had grossly underestimated the distance and reached Madmaheshwar only by around 8 pm in the evening. It would be at least 8 to 9 Km  away from Kachni Khal as opposed to 5 Km marked on stones.

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Walking down to Madhyamaheshwar
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Buda Madmaheshwar on the ridge, still quite a bit to walk

Day 11 (17th Sep’ 2017 ) – trek to Ransi – 8/9 hours

Last Day of our trek. Madhyamaheshwar to Ransi  is almost 20 to 22 Km distance though we were in no mood to start early . Last night we reached here by 8 pm and got a room with cosy beds and blankets beside the temple! Guide was busy pushing us with continuous “Chalo bhai ,  chalo chalo” (lets go brother). Ransi to Madhyamaheswar is a beautiful trek too. We reached Ransi just before sunset.

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Madmaheshwar temple
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Lovely walk to Ransi

Day 12 (18th Sep’ 2017 ) – drive to Haridwar – 9/10 hours

Today we drive back to Haridwar via Ukhimath and Rudraprayag. All well that ends well!

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Chaukhamba one last time

P.S. All photos are shared by Author.

Last but not the least:

Don’t take this account for granted. Though we were casual with respect to early morning start but remember that 5 of us knew each other for at least a decade or more. We have done multiple treks together and we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our guide has lead these type of treks for more than 15 years. Mental attitude and understanding matters a lot. Mentally prepare for unfavourable conditions which are beyond your control, simply expect the unexpected. Also we got relatively good weather when required. Carefully select your logistics and support team, in case you are planning independently. Hope you have enjoyed reading and it will help in planning key areas. Your comments are more than welcome 🙂

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There were 16 of us. We eagerly wanted to go on a high altitude trek. Except a few of us who had only done 3-4 hour long treks before, most of us had hardly any trekking experience. So we had to pick a trek with an easy-moderate level of difficulty. We did our googling and finalised on Sandakphu trek. The next step was to hire a trekking agency. We compared the prices and finally booked a slot in the last week of March 2018 with HT. If you wish to read more about our trek, check here.

The trek starts from Chitrey at an altitude of 7500 ft. The trail ascending up to 11930 ft at Sandakphu. covering 33 km. approximately. The descent covers a distance of 15 km up to an altitude of 7000 ft. at Timburey, where the trek ends. All supporting photos are clicked by Author.

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Chitrey monastery at our base camp
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Afternoon at Chitrey
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Chitrey – our trek base for Sandakphu
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Trek starts 🙂
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At Lameydhura
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Reaching Meghma
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Tea break
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Daphne flower blooms in spring

And finally we reached Tumling, end of our first days trek. Fairly easy walk to us some 6 hours or so, with a steep climb of 2 Km in between. Soon after as we got ourselves accommodated in our dens for the night, Tumbling greeted us with a hailstorm.

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At Tumling

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Our lodge at Tumling

After our breakfast at Tumling, we started for our next stop at Kalapokhari. The trek to Kalapokhari from Tumbling took us across the Singalila National Park through dense forests and meadows. The trail was quite scenic, with clouds moving in and out of the landscape every now and then.

Foggy and mystic forest
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Kala-pokhri meaning Black-lake

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We were really excited for the day’s trek. We started off at around 9 am. The trek was a steep climb of 4 km from Bikheybhanjang. We could feel the gain in altitude with each step. The cold winds had also intensified. The trail was mostly covered in clouds. We finally reached our homestay in Sandakphu at 1:30 pm.

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Mist and fog covered the forest
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Rest after a steep climb from Bhikeybhanjang

Towards the night, there was another hailstorm. The temperature dropped to -4 degrees. We confined ourselves to our rooms after dinner and the gossips made us forget the intense cold of the night. And then it snowed, next morning. Intensely, for an hour. None of us had ever witnessed a snowfall before. We jumped and played in the snow, throwing snowballs at each other. Everything was covered in white. Heavenly it was !!

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An hour later, we packed our bags and began our descent from Sandakphu. We had to cover a lot of ground today, 15 Km to be exact, up to Timburey.

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Timburey, our last night halt

The last day was a day for the goodbyes. After breakfast, we packed our bags and bid adieu to our hosts for the night. We trekked for another 1.5 hours up to the main road at Srikhola. The vehicles dropped us off at Siliguri which took around 6 hours.

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Srikhola Trekkers Hut – desolated
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Waterfall at Srikhola, refreshing one at the end of our trek

Thanks to…

Gajen and Amar, for being our guide for these 5 days. We really enjoyed trekking along with them. They really took great care of us in these days.

HIMALAYA TREKKERS, for arranging the trek so professionally. Being our first high altitude trek, they did really guide us well in preparing for the trek. Thumbs Up!!

The homestays and the hosts, for arranging shelter and food for us in such tough conditions. Thank you so much.

All supporting photos are clicked by Author.

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The prelude

A long standing wish to visit the holy grail of trekker’s paradise, Sandakphu. Well, I have been thinking, planning, speculating, urging friends to make this trip happen which was taking place for the past 2-3 years, but was just not taking shape until this year. I finally decided to set on a solo journey to fulfil one of my bucket list wish to trek to the highest point in West Bengal, Sandakphu especially during spring time, as it was a perfect time to witness the lovely Rhododendron blooms in the whole Signalila Range.

As this was my first long duration solo trek, so I decided to enroll with a trek group just to be on a safer side. So, in the month of March, I checked out the available train tickets which were a bigger hitch while freezing my dates. But since I didn’t want to delay until May, as the chances of rain would have been much higher then. So tried for 14th April, and I luckily I got confirmed tickets which was perfectly matching with a scheduled fixed departure on 15th April’ 2017.

Now, next thing was to prepare myself to be able to sustain the trek. Although this was an easy to moderate level trek but it is always advisable to be reasonably fit for the same. So, knowing that I had a back problem in the past, I started my fitness regime. Ya, it may sound a bit too much but I had to, knowing my past health condition which were a result of sedentary lifestyle. And considering the fact that it was a requirement either to carry our own backpacks which would have been at least 10-12 Kg throughout the trek or else to pay a daily price to the porter which was meaningless and no fun…In order to carry weight while you are trekking upwards, it is very necessary to have a strong back muscles and also leg muscles, or else we might end up hurting ourselves.

I had exactly 20 days to gear up self and other things.. yohooo!! I was all set and excited as the days were approaching near and my excitement was rising upwards. I was all set with my new trek gears, shoes and my spirit.. As luck would have it, just three days before, I felt a strange ear pain which was unnerving. A shooting pain started to cripple me and dampening my enthu. Initially went to a local office doctor, who prescribed with a normal painkiller and antibiotic, since I was travelling in two days. But to my horror, next day I woke up with a shooting pain in both my ear, which almost crippled me numb. The pain was unbearable, and I had no other choice but to rush to ENT almost pleading for help. The doctor inspected my ear and came up with series of complications that I had developed in my ear and nose. I was feeling disheartened, that my trek plans will just not be possible to take shape now. Still, with a little courage, I dared to ask my doctor, if I still stand a chance to make it up there. Surprisingly, he said yes and prescribed with heavy dose of medicines to keep me going. So, after a lot of consideration and opposition from my well wishers, I thought of giving a chance as I didn’t want to miss a chance again.

Journey begins

Day 1: Hence, on 14th April, I boarded the train to NJP (dep 11.55 pm) which had a scheduled arrival of 10 am next morning. But, as usual train got delayed by 2 hours and instead I reached NJP by 12 pm. From NJP, I got into a pre booked cab which was arranged by our trek group and was shared by four other people from my trek group. It was very encouraging to meet a 62 year old retired man, who was also joining us for the trek. It actually gave me a good boost to start my trek on a positive note.

From NJP, we started at 12.30 pm and picked up another fellow passenger and travelled straight to Chitrey, from where we were to commence our trek next day. Chitrey was at an elevation of 7000 ft (approx) a picturesque hamlet falling into Nepal side which is located just 3 Km uphill from Maneybhajan. We reached Chitrey at around 4 pm. My fellow trek mates, who were travelling from Bagdogra, had already reached an hour before us. The tower signal was almost negligible and if one tries a lot, can manage to get a Nepal network on their phone. Haha!! After reaching Chitrey which took us almost 4 hour from NJP, the temp suddenly dropped to almost 8-9 degrees, also because it was drizzling slightly. In fact, people who reached earlier witnessed heavy rain while coming there. That day, we stayed at the trekkers hut which was pre booked for us. Since, it was our first day at the camp, so all were charged up and excited, we decided to set up a mini bonfire under partial windy condition just to enjoy the starry lit sky and to utilise this opportunity to get acquainted with each other. It was a perfect day to end with conversation, introductions and greeting each other over a hearty dinner and not to forget a pitcher of Hot Tongba (local fermented hard drink made out of millet),which is a must try when trekking in this part of India bordering Nepal. Although, I was on medication, so restricted myself from binging but didn’t fail to try the taste which was bit weird and funny.

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The road to basecamp Chitrey

Day 2: Got up at 6.30 am, and almost the last one to wake up from the lot. What a shame!! It was a clear sunny weather outside, perfect day to begin our journey. As we had to trek for 9 Km to Tumling (the next halt). We started our trek at 8.30 am post a hearty breakfast and bid goodbye to Chitrey. It was like one of those moments of “all my bags are packed, I am ready to go….upwards”!! As I reached a little ahead, I almost jumped with joy to witness my first sight of the Sleeping Buddha and the mighty Kanchenjunga quite clearly. It was a mesmerizing sight of snow-capped peaks with clouds playing peek-a-boo. As I approached further, I was also rejoiced to find the glimpse of lovely Rhododendron flowers in pink, white and mostly red in colour. It was a beautiful sight with the lush green trees, and the pink & red blooms, as if they were complimenting each other in perfect harmony.

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Om Mani Padme Hum: Chitrey monastery
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On the way to Meghma
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Meghma Monastery in Nepal
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At Tumling our halt for the day

Day 3: Our guide Yogen (a young little enthusiastic Nepali chap, who is also known as Penba (his Buddhist name)) came to wake us up by 5 am for us to rush to the view point, where the sunrise at the Kanchenjunga was to be seen. We rushed with our camera to the view point which was a steep uphill walk for 5 mins from our lodge. I quickly rushed to climb the small cliff like structure where already a small pool of tourist were standing to catch a glimpse of first golden rays on the peak. As the clock struck 5.30 am, we could see the first rays of sun reflected on the mountain peaks. And within few minutes the entire sleeping Buddha was glowing with ray of golden light. It was a mesmerizing feeling ever!! Along with Kanchenjunga, we could see the other peaks clearly like the peaks of Bhutan. Few tourist also ran a bit further up as locals said that even the Tibet range of mountains like Mt. Makalu, Mt. Lhotshe and even Mt. Everest was also visible. However, I remained content with the existing view so much, that I decided to head back to the hotel after some time to get ready for my onward trek. After the breakfast, we started trekking at 8 am as today we had to cover a distance of 13 kms to Kalipokhri (another small hamlet enroute Sandakphu) which also means “dark or black lake”. Weather was bright and sunny and the view was just spectacularly clear. Although the route was longer than the previous day, but I was charged up to hit our next destination. For about 5 kms we went downhill. This day we also entered the Signalila forest range, which was full of pine, oak, bamboo and Rhododendrons trees. The flowers were blooming everywhere in pink, red and white colour. It appeared as if the entire mountain range was covered in brown patches but instead they were all in full blooms. We reached Gairibas at about 11 am for a tea break, and utilised that little time interacting with few German trekkers who had come all the way to trek here. After Gairibas, we headed another 2kms uphill (this time) for our lunch; the place was called as Kaiyakatta. Here, our guide quickly bypassed us and took shortcuts to reach before us, so as to order the lunch for us. Well, after having not so nice but filling lunch, we had to cover the last 4 kKm to Kalipokhri. I took couple of shortcuts which were steep and rough alley of stairs and occasional mud path carved out by locals meandering through the mountains. I reached Kalipokhri at around 4.15 pm. Few others who were lucky to reach earlier braced themselves with hot tea and hot pakoras whereas unfortunate like me had to settle for cold tea and cold pakoras ..Just after we settled in our dorm while having evening tea, I decided to take a short stroll around the hut although my knees and the feet were aching terribly post the trek. I pass through a herd of mountain goats which locals were steering back to their home. I suddenly saw, the sun was setting amidst the cloud. And the best part was the clouds were settling below me. It felt almost as if I was standing above the clouds, and the sun was looking like a golden ball settling just behind a mountain. This was by far the best view I could witness, and I was awestruck with this beauty and started rejoicing silently.  My stay was in a bamboo hut dorm style as all nine of us had to fit into one roof and with only one make shift toilet which was totally outside the hut and secluded. So the idea of going to the toilet In the middle of the night was nothing less than a nightmare with the topic of discussion was spooky too. We had a quiet and simple early dinner at 8 pm. The night sky was crystal clear and the same was adorned with stars and infinite galaxy. I tried to star gaze for about 10 mins but it was impossible to stand and bear the chilly winds which was gushing through the clear night sky giving us shiver to the bone. So, I quickly went inside to call it a day.

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Clear weather on the way from Tumling to Kalapokhri
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Kalapokhri
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Beautiful sunset

Day 4: We started for our final destination comfortably at 8.30 am, Sandakphu (3636 mt) highest point in West Bengal.  We had to cover only 6 Km uphill which was relatively easy. So, I took it easy and started at my own pace. But this day was very cloudy and foggy and the visibility was very poor on the way. The entire trail, we took was full foggy and misty. The last 3 Km was steep hike up to Sandakphu point. So I finally made it to the top at 12.30 pm feeling accomplished. And checked in to our hotel (Sunrise hotel).Although it was disappointing to find it still very misty and foggy up there, as I could not see any view that way I was bit disappointed. In the evening, I remained confined to my room and took rest hoping to get a clear view the next day.

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Look I am growing mommy 🙂
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In bloom
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Sleeping Buddha in full glory
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Sunset at Sandakphu

Day 5: I peeped out from my little window at 5 am in anticipation, if the weather was clear or not. Sigh!! there was heavy cloud all over the sky. Yet my roomie and I decided to wake up from our sombre and give it a last shot as after all we had come all the way to Sandakphu to witness the mighty Kanchenjunga. But in-spite of rushing to the highest peak, we could not see a clear sky and came back a bit disappointed.  I was still positive and happy in my heart that all throughout our trek; I could at least witness the peaks crystal clear right before Sandakphu. So those memories were far heavier than having to sulk or brood on the fact to miss the chance to catch a glimpse of the entire mountain range from Sandakphu. I was content by the fact that, it was the journey that mattered more than the destination. I was still rejoicing silently in my mind that I could make it finally to Sandakphu after so many deliberate attempts. So after a hearty breakfast, we bid goodbye to our lovely cottage which was otherwise at a fantastic location and started our descent towards Srikhola which was abt 15 kms downhill from here. Descending is always tougher activity than ascending as one has to keep the balance and focus at all times. And this descent was surely very steep and tough on already wobbling and tired knees as I had to scale down from 3636 mts to 1900 mts (almost 6000ft downhill) in 15 Km today. I started my descend very slowly. Our guide always cautioned us to be extra careful and slow while taking each steps down. Initial 5 Km, which involved steep terrains, muddy shortcuts through the pine forest was ok. But suddenly I felt a slight discomfort in my left knee. There was a shooting pain whenever, I was putting pressure while steering myself down. My pace which was otherwise almost leading in the group almost slowed down as I was unable to walk properly. I limped almost throughout the path. Well, I was already extra cautious to keep my knee caps and trekking poles handy while trekking as advised by our trek leader. And that actually was like a saviour for me. I passed through the Rhododendrons and bamboo forest. Most of the times, I trekked alone as all others went ahead than me as I was limping and walking very slowly to avoid any further pain. There was a steep descent just 2 Km before Gurdum which was to be our lunch stop. I almost felt like giving up, as I felt there was no way I would have able to go down with one leg. There was another guide who was following me watched me standing helpless decided to give me company just to help me out. As there was no other way to escape the route. He came along with me motivating and helping out assisting in the paths which was quite steep and harsh on my sorry knees. At times he supported and helped me almost jumping down along with my heavy bag which I was lugging. I made it to Gurdum at about 12.50 pm where all others along with some lip smacking Aloo parathas were waiting for me. It surely did not only comfort my gastronomical delight after such long, but also help me out to forget about the pain for some time. I decided to gobble some pain killers and applied heavy mask of pain relief gel on my knees before marching ahead another 5 kms downhill.

On the way to Gurdum
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Daphne

Descent to Srikhola was comparatively better than before. I crossed lovely pine forest and Srikhola rive was giving me a company flowing all the way along the trail now. I finally reached Srikhola trekkers hut almost limping at 4.30 pm. Well, all others in the group had already reached much before but had a sigh of relief when I finally checked in. Our trek was completed on a successful and rejoicing note.

May be I was very fortunate enough, that just after half an hour later than I reached Srikhola, hailstorm started and it started to pour incessantly. I was thanking my protective functions which just made me feel so lucky inside that I didn’t get stuck in hail storm. It kept pouring all through the night giving it a perfect end to my trek trails!!!

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Srikhola bridge
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Srikhola

Day 6: I departed for Darjeeling bidding all other goodbye as they left for Bagdogra/ NJP/ Home onward.

It’s been a journey which was all about learning, realization and testing my potential. I came out of my comfort zone and lived my days out of my backpack, made friends, talked to locals, to understand the hardship, to appreciate each smaller little things which may seems very little but has a wider meaning. I felt extremely content to have been able to tick off one more wish out of my bucket list.  I now look at it; I realized that journeys are actually way more important than the destination. What I said not because I could not witness any stunning view at the top. But it is because; I trekked for 5 days covering about 45 Km chasing something which I could not get the view of. Still I feel that I could achieve the inner joy of finding my new love for mountains. I think I m just hooked on to this and I will definitely gonna take up many more treks.

P.S: Photos are shared by the author. To read more of here journeys check:

https://confessionsofatravelholicweb.wordpress.com/

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It’s been close to 6 months since my last trek to Singalila Pass with Phoktey Dara in Dec 2014, the trek bug in me started to find new route to explore for the summer time. Now being settled in Delhi, I realised zeroing down to one trek is extremely difficult as there are a plenty of trek opportunities I can go to. However I wanted to go somewhere which is lesser known as well as which will be done in a short span of time. Thanks to Google, I found information on Bhrigu lake, which got me intrigued to it. From what I gathered information from Himalaya Trekkers who has been able to retain my loyalties so far for all my trek endeavors, it seemed to be relevantly an easy trek covering vast stretches of green meadows and alpine forested areas. But what nature had in store for us was quite stark in contrast to what I had in mind. Spare if you may, some time to read my version of The Bhrigu lake trek which turned out to be a baby expedition for us.

06th June 15 (Day 0):
This time my husband Rohan joined me for the first time. We left for Manali by an evening HTDC bus and arrived next day around 0900. As we stepped out from the bus we took an auto to Vashisht Village where we were supposed to meet Sapta Da the Organiser. He introduced us to two more elderly trekkers somewhere in their 50’s who would be accompanying us during the trek. We felt good that it will be a small group of people going as then the trip becomes compact and peaceful. He arranged a guest house for stay there for the night. We freshened up quickly to go out and explore the village on our own for a while. As suggested by him, we went hiking up to the nearby Jogini falls through a forested trail. The falls are quite enormous and loud gushing sound of the water falling on the huge boulders and rocky mountain at the backdrop of great Himalayan range was quite a picture to marvel at . We lazed around the falls area for an hour or so when we noticed the sky getting overcast by dark clouds. Realising possibility of rain, we headed back to our guest house. By the time we reached our guest house, it had started to rain heavily. We were warned about what lay in store for us for the next few days by our trek organizer. He forecasted heavy rain for next few days and gave us a heads up that we might encounter huge patches of snow on the route to the lake as its snowing heavily up in the mountains. The thought of snow always excites me but it made Rohan a bit skeptical as he was not only a first timer in trekking but a guy who prefers a comfortable life. He does not like the idea of inviting pain in life when it can be avoided. But here he is with me on a trek. Life and marriage indeed makes wonders 🙂
07th June (Day1)
We hit the road at around 9 am after a delayed breakfast with our accompanying party consisting of 1 guide (Sharma Ji),3 porters/camp helpers and 1 cook. We drove to Gulaba which was the road head from where we were to start the trek from. It was a gradual steep climb through alpine forests and pastoral lands with horses grazing around. The trail was amazingly lush green against the backdrop of snow clad mountains. We trudged along the steep meadows with the mighty Dhauladhar range playing peek a boo from all sides. The Last 2 Km was thrilling as we started to walk on snow patches.It gave us some practice sessions on how to walk on snow. I did not expect to receive snow at this time of the year and was thrilled by the sight of it, the others weren’t as sporty. One of the elderly trekker had high BP problem which accentuated enroute. He recovered after some rest and moved on. After approx 5 hours of rigorous hiking we reached our campsite at Raolikholi at around 0430 in the evening.

Camping site on first day; 

All my earlier treks has been in Sikkim and Darjeeling region where i had enjoyed jungle camping, thick rhododendron forests and night bonfire. But this time the experience of camping was different. Our campsite was surrounding with steep snow bound mountains on all sides with 180 degree views of Hanuman Tibba lurking from behind .We were beyond all tree lines. The camp site looked like an amphitheatre with a continuous sound of the flowing stream water. I wanted to sit out and absorb the beauty all around till sun goes down but nature had other plans. Soon it started to rain and we all run to our tents. The rain added to the cold tremendously as we sat shivering inside our tent. Our guide was hospitable enough to serve us hot soupy noodles inside our tents. We spent the whole evening inside the tent listening to the sound of the incessant rain falling on our tents. We wondered on the possibility of the campsite getting flooded but soon discarded the thought as its a slopy land and the water will trickle down the stream. Rohan soon started to show signs of high altitude sickness as he complained of headache and nausea. I advised him to lie down and drink lots of ORS water. Out of tiredness he soon fell asleep and i sat listening to the pitter pater raindrops till i decide to warm myself up in the kitchen tent. The cook was preparing our dinner and the stove emitted enough heat for all of us. We sat there discussing our day and what lay ahead. It is then the trekker with BP problem declared that he wants to back out as he doesn’t feel fit enough to Continue the trek.No amount of convincing budge him from his decision. So the guide suggested him to take rest next day in the camp as we go explore the Kothi peak which is 6 Km away from our camp site. We had dinner and retired for the day early.

8th June  (Day2) Kothi peak hike
We were woken up by our guide at 5 am for morning tea .To our surprise, last night’s rain made way to clear sky and we were greeted by pleasant view of Hanuman Tibba looming large at us. Our guide pushed us to get ready fast so that we can hike up to Kothi peak as fast as we could before weather starts to act smart. So we embarked on our journey to climb Kothi peak around 8 am. Kothi peak is considered to be the third highest peak in Himachal Pradesh at about 15090 feet. Since the slopes were laden with thick patches of snow, we had to start hiking up by the side of the slopes which was boulder strewn all through.We wanted to climb the peak for the 360 degree views that it offers of the surrounding valleys and the peaks like Hanuman Tibba, Deotibba , friendship peak, Indrasan, Sheti Dhar and others. The trail however got difficult as we started to gain heights, at times the slopes were more than 45 degrees, testing our limits and endurances. In front of us ran a valley sprayed with snow with glaciers melting and water trickling by in small streams. As luck would have it, suddenly it started to pour heavily and we were stuck in the freezing cold as it was risky to tread further as rain made the slopes slippery .we waited for the rains to subside as it was hitting us 25 – 30 degrees angle. In about 2 hours time we reached the base of the peak. It is then our guide told us to turn back as there is no point going up the peak as we will not be able to get the view which we could have enjoyed on a clear day. Our energy was ebbing away due to extreme chill caused by the rain. So we all turned around and decided to add some element of fun to forget the unaccomplished mission of the day. Since most of the route back to the campsite was snow crusted, we decided to skid down the slope. One by one we crouched down with both our hands for stability and one foot for skiing and the other foot used as brake. It was a lot fun skiing down the slopes. We returned to the campsite in 1.5 hours sharp whereas the same route we trudged hiking up took more than 4 hours.

Campsite on 2nd day :

The evening was not so dramatic as soon it started to rain and this time it just did not plan to stop. We got to worry as we did not want the nature to act rough with us on the day we climb up to Bhrigu Lake. One of the trekker who was resting all day and did not go with us to Kothi peak was all the more convinced of returning back as he was not confident that his legs would sustain him in such snow conditions. We had to climb some steep snowy slopes next day which thrilled me and I couldn’t wait for the day to end.
09th June (Day 03) On to Bhrigu Lake and descent to Pandoropa.

We were up around 4 am but none of us managed to crawl out of our tent as the temperature dropped pathetically. So we waited for dear Sun to show himself and spread some warmth. At around 6am we hopped out of our tent and saw clear sky with mesmerising views of Hanuman tibba dazzling at us. Apprehending unpredictable weather conditions, we decided to get ready as early as we can and leave for the Bhrigu Lake. As we were getting ready to leave for the day’s mission, the elderly trekker who all along kept backing out announced that he will brave it out. Thus, with much delight and elated, we all ventured out together towards Mission Bhrigu Lake 🙂

Today’s climb was the toughest and also rewarding as it involved climbing 3 steep glaciers and a pleasant surprise. As far as our eyes could go, we could only see snow sprayed ridges. We took heavy breathes at each steps as our body was already tired of 2 days of walking on steep snow fields. Focusing every step on snow drains more energy and after an hours walk we were completely exhausted and drained off energy. On a couple of glaciers, we were walking along a very narrow edge with the mountain slopes on one side and the valley on the other.
It was almost 12 in the noon; we reached a spot where we could see some boulders .So we instantly decided to rest for a while. It was then as if to supplement us with renewed energy, our guide suddenly pointed toward the distant glaciers showing us a Himalayan brown bear. We did not believe him till we all actually spotted him. It was a lofty brown bear skiing down the snowy slope may be for the purpose of hunting a prey for lunch. Unfortunately none of us had a binocular but our cameras with high zoom lens worked as bino. We spent some half an hour marveling at the bear trying to get a better picture till the bear went out of sight. Indeed fortune favors the traveler and thus with renewed interest and vigour we started to hike faster.

The Frozen lake:

Last half a kilometer stretch was a killer as we were not only completely drained out of energy but also getting impatient .The lake is hidden between two valleys and appeared almost magically while we were marching higher on the snowy mountains. The lake was completely frozen barring only a small portion of the oval shaped lake. It was quite a site! The lake was like an amphitheatre, surrounded by 360 degree views of the Pir Panjal range, Dhauladhar range. We all spent some time there absorbing the radiating beauty of the place, filling up our bottles with the holy water from the lake. By then the weather started to act spoilt sport. Although we wanted to spend some more time there, but it was freezing cold and was getting very foggy. So our Guide suggested us to start marching ahead as we are still not done with our tryst with the snow. We had to descent down the snow slopes to the greener pastureland of Panduropa. We again started to skid down the snow slopes till we reached green meadows. The sight of greenery with horses grazing, yellow and purple flowers blooming all around were a pleasant respite from the blinding white landscape. We reached our campsite around 0530 pm where hot black tea was already waiting us.

Campsite on Day 3

Evening was as usual uneventful. As soon as the sun went down, it started to pour heavily. We were left with no choice but to stay put inside our tents listening to the incessant rain drops funneling through the mountain slopes down the valley. We were served dinner around 7 pm and soon we retired for the day. Much rest was needed as the next day we climb down the slopes and climbing down the slopes is more painstaking than trudging up the slopes.

10th June (Day 04) Descent to Vashisht Village – Journey back home.

We spend the morning leisurely having breakfast and clicking photos of the Kullu valley while the porters got on busy packing up our tents and all other equipments. At around 10 am we started to march down the slopes. Today’s journey started off quite pleasantly treading through green meadows and forested trails. The trail was covered with yellow pollins and marsh marigold and small rivulets. I was thoroughly enjoying the descent till my legs started to give away. The fag end of the route was beautiful traversing amidst apple orchards, apricot trees, passing by local villages. We reached Vashisht village around 3pm. We had a bus to catch at 6pm. We decided to utilize the intervening time taking a hot bath at the famous sulphur spring located in the premise of the Vashisht temple to ease out all the exhaustion and fatigue. Later we hired a taxi who dropped us to the Manali bus stop where our HPDTC bus was already waiting for us.

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Note: Due to heavy residual snow the team was unable to reach Sahastra Tal in first half of June, 2014. They had to return around 5 Km before Sahastra Tal. Final camp was set at Kyarki and  snow patch started beginning from this area. The team took a different longer route from Kush Kalyan to Belak and Budha Kedar while returning to spend the day saved. For standard itinerary follow Sahastra Tal trek details page, which is the normal route. Also the altitudes on trail we rerecorded by author with his Garmin watch which may have calibration issue. Consult the trek details page for more accurate altitudes and distances.

Attempt to Sahastra Tal:

Photos are taken and shared by author.

When HIMALAYA TREKKERS proposed Sahastra Tal trek to me, I felt that I should not miss the opportunity. It is a less frequented route and had a lot to offer. Especially I hoped to walk over ice fields for the first time. So fully prepared to face the challenges I reached Hardwar where I joined my fellow trekkers. After a long dusty road journey we reached the village Malla (1500m) leaving behind the destructions that were caused by the devastating flood of 2013.

On the first day of trek we passed by the beautiful Sila village (2000 m) and reached first camp site called Gairi (2400m) after a long walk. There was still some sunlight left. The place was surrounded by woods with a clearing in the middle. There were also some small huts used by the cattle grazers. As the darkness started to fall and the moon coming out, the place felt cold suddenly. The next day woke up early in the morning and got to see the snow covered peaks for the first time. I was also lucky to spot several birds including a Himalayan Wood pecker that I had never seen before.

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At Silla village
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Shepherd huts at Gairi

We packed up after breakfast and started our trek. The route started through the forest. As we gained altitude we came across small meadows and beautiful yellow flowers covering it. Also the huge snow clad peaks were on our left. Overall it was nature at its best. We crossed over Chuli La pass (3500 m) and after a long walk we finally reached our campsite known as Kush Kalyan (3400 m). At this altitude tree line was almost gone. This campsite was also nice having a small stream flowing by our tents.

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Walking inside Oak forest
Wildflowers
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Campsite area in Kush Kalyan

The next day of trek was till Kyarki campsite (4035 m) and it was going to be a tough walk. We started early. Initially we walked along the ridge and then crossed a large meadow. From far  across we could see white dots along the green mountains. They were hundreds of sheep and goat mostly white in colour. Walk was easy till until now. Then the ascend started with the green grass disappearing fast giving way to the dry dead grass and rocks. Trying to negotiate the boulders we came across first glimpse of hard ice and snow on the way. The path was broken with loose soil and solid ice everywhere. We had to cross it very carefully. But after this tough part came a nice surprise. Just as we took a turn the huge snow covered mountains were visible. We were informed that we can expect a lot of snow on the way to the tal. My wish of walking over snow was a reality now. Ahead of us appeared the first snow field. With the snow melting, it created a muddy slippery path. Few slipped, few worked around to find a safer way, but ultimately we reached our campsite with some bit of sun light still left. Tents were pitched just by a stream. Our guide and Sapta da climbed over the ridge to check for the possibility of going further from here. With the sun going down behind the ridge the wind started and we felt pretty cold. There was a bad news to follow. The way ahead was totally covered by deep snow. The team didn’t have much experience of snow and it seemed that all of us can’t make it till Sahastra Tal. After a long discussion with the guide Ramesh Ji, finally only three of us decided to go up to Lamb Tal and return back on the same day. Chance of reaching Sahastra Tal was bleak…

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Cattle in front look like white dots
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Horse grazing in summer
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Lots of snow awaiting us!

It was a nice clear day.  Equipped with the proper gears to walk over the snow we began to climb. First was a steep slope with some snow and rocks. Once I reached to the top it was an amazing view. There was a frozen river to cross and looming ahead were large ice fields. We reached Lamb Tal (4268 m) around noon. There was snow everywhere and the lake was hardly distinguishable from the surrounding. Sahastra peak was visible at some distance. Our guide performed puja there.  We took rest and had our lunch. By this time weather was starting to degrade.   So we decided to descend as quickly as possible. But there was something more that nature had in store for us. We could spot a Himalayan fox in the opposite mountain slope. By the time we were about 3 km. from our camps, cloud had already gathered and thunder roared nearby. Soon it started to drizzle and snow along with cold wind. We somehow managed to reach our tents. Snow continued for an hour or so but amazingly by the evening sky was clear and we had moonlit sky. But the best news came from the kitchen tent that dinner with mountain goat meat was ready.

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Climb begins from Kyarki camp
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Finally walking on snow!
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Snow land
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Lamb Tal
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A small ceremony at Lamb Tal
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Returning to camp

We started to descend the next day and reached Kush Kalyan very easily. The following day we descended further down crossing across very large meadows until we reached Belak village (2972 m). Here as soon as we pitched our tents there was a heavy downpour with hailstorm. But it resided soon after giving way to a clear moonlit sky.

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Meadows towards Belak Khal
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Beautiful forest on the way
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Belak village

The next day morning was sunny and we posed and clicked group photos at our last campsite. We descended further through the forests and after long walk we finally reached Jhala where our car was waiting.

Happy memories

Surprisingly throughout our trek we did not come across any other trekkers, exactly the type I wised.   The route was full of surprises and challenges. We came across forests, huge meadows, large snow fields, frozen rivers, frozen lake, white peaks and not to forget rare opportunity of getting glimpse of the Himalayan wild life. The arrangements were outstanding, guide and support stuffs were top class, making it one of my most memorable trek till date.

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Day 1: Vashisht in Manali, (7000 ft), 27th September 2013

The journey was scheduled to begin from Manali, where the larger part of the team had already arrived the previous day. Four of us, Sourav, Abhishek, Arunava and me, boarded the HPTDC Volvo from Mandi House, New Delhi on 26th September 2013 at 6:30 pm, and reached Manali the following morning around 8 am to a rousing welcome on World Tourism Day being celebrated by the Himachal Pradesh government. We spent the day lazing around in Manali and Vashisht, enjoying the beauty of the Beas and the surrounding mountain valley.

Manali valley from Vashisht
Vashisht Temple

Day 2: Manali to Lamadug, (9850 ft); 6 Hrs, 28th Sept’13

The team comprising Krishnendu, Arunava, Sourav, Abhishek, Rajat, Partha, Saptarshi and me, began our journey through the dense Deodar, Chestnut, Walnut and Maple trees of the Manali Sanctuary. The initial journey was not without hiccups as we spent nearly one and a half hour traversing the wrong trail. We finally began our journey to Lamadug at 1:00 p.m. Despite the beauty of the Himalayan slopes covered in the dense foliage, the way to Lamadug tested our patience and tenacity. The steep slopes were covered with slush formed due to the rains over the last few days and every few step forward was accompanied by a backward slide, resulting in the journey being very long and tedious. On this day the Manali valley is visible through out and the bird’s eye view of the broad valley with its surrounding tree covered mountains more than compensated for the hardships on the way. We finally reached our campsite at Lamadug after night fall, at around 7:00 p.m. Once in the camp, we discovered the magic of the support team. Our cook, Jeevan was a sheer magician, and we realized his contribution to the trek as the days proceeded. The efficiency of the other staffs are also worthy of mention.

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Lamadug camp site

Day 3: Lamadugh – Khanperi Pass – Riyali Thatch (11300 ft); 8 hrs, 29th Sept’13

We woke up to a bright sunlit morning in Lamadugh and were struck by the sheer beauty of the surrounding area. A large number of mastiffs joined us this morning. Jeevan provided us a lavish breakfast. This day we had to cross Khanperi Pass, at a height of 13000ft. The initial climb was gradual through the receding tree-line. After a couple of hours the trees became sparse, giving way to a steep stony climb of around 2 hours to Khanperi Pass. On the way we had glimpses of the Indrasan, Indra Tilak and Deo Tibba while the Manalsu Nallah lay towards our right. We reached the pass at around 1:00 p.m. and, after some well-deserved refreshment, started our journey downhill towards Riyali Thatch. Sauntering across rolling golden meadows towards the river flowing far below, with the afternoon sun on our shoulders and the wind in our face, we reached our campsite, perched behind a thick patch of foliage and gradually opening into wide meadows.

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Riyali camp site

Day 4: Riyali Thatch to Kaliheni Base Camp (13000 ft); 6 hrs, 30th Sept’13

Post another sumptuous breakfast, we started the day through gently rolling slopes marked by herds of sheep and their herdsmen. On both side of the narrow meandering path were the colors of fall – bright and resplendent. The path gradually gave way to a river. Post a few minor hiccups in crossing the river we continued on our journey. The beauty of the path behind us did not allow us to even remotely guess what lay ahead. Rising from the river bed, we had to climb four ridges with the hope that at the end of it all is the base camp. Contrary to expectations, at the end of the series of ridges was another mountain wall, which needed to be ascended. Traversing the criss-cross path and crossing over to the other side of the mountain, we set eyes on our camp for the night. All around were mountain walls covered in moraine and snow and appearing as if some devastation has taken place in the recent past. The temperature at the base camp dropped to 3 degrees at 7:00 p.m. Shivering in the evening wind, sipping on piping hot soup and coffee, we watched the changing night sky, lighting up with a million stars and the milky-way traversing the open expanse. While Krishnendu and Sourav took the opportunity to entertain us with some music, Rajat took the opportunity to click some mind blowing pics of the moving night sky. The best of course was the HT logo created with torch light.

Sheep grazing in Bugiyal
Kaliheni basecamp

Day 5: Base Camp to Kaliheni Pass to Base Camp (15500 ft); 9 hrs, 1st Oct’13

This was the D-day and it was the hardest of the lot. No one expected the pass to be at a distance that it finally turned out to be at. The journey began over thick moraine towards the top of the around 2000 ft wall in front of us. It was a long, tedious and tiring journey. The surprise came at the top of the wall, when we realized that there are 3 more similar, but smaller in size walls, and a snow field to be crossed before reaching the pass. Here we found patches of snow here and there. At this point I must mention that had it not been for the support received form Sourav, Krishnendu and Rajat, I would have turned back towards the base camp. With much persuasion the team moved towards the pass, crossing the mountain walls and finally the snow field. Large part of the team had already reached, when we four joined them at around 1:15 p.m. The pass had opened up to give us a glimpse of its massive expanse. It was like nothing I had seen before. Kaliheni is an extremely broad pass with broad rolling snow covered slopes. On the other side towards Bara Bhangal were visible numerous lakes and many lesser known peaks. Around 2:00 p.m. the weather turned bad and we had to begin our retreat. The team hurried towards the snow field even as the snow fell on our heads in a steady sleet. The sound of thunder cracking around the pass was deafening and the team hurried down the snow covered slopes, with visibility less than 20 ft. Finally we emerged out of the snow and could view our camp drenched in the last rays of the sun. Back at the camp, we had a campfire roaring at night and we chatted happily about the day around a celebratory dinner and hot drinks. The temperature on this day dropped to 0 degree at around 7:00 p.m.

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Towards the pass
Snowfield Kaliheni pass
Snowfield before Pass
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@ Kaliheni Pass
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Team @ Basecamp

Day 6: Kaliheni Base Camp to Dor Nallah camp (11700 ft); 7 hrs, 2nd Oct’13

The day began on a leisurely pace with not a hurry in the world to bother us. We re-traced are path over the 4 ridges and went back all the way to Riyali Thatch. Apart from the rain that played spoil sport from time to time this was a beautiful day, across golden meadows. From Riyali Thatch we by-passed the Khanperi pass and took a separate route to the Dor Nallah Camp. Though a beautiful route, the way was very long. Our tents were atop a green meadow, perfectly round in shape and dotted with large boulders here and there. Apart from the beauty of the broad valley before us, what is worth mentioning is the presence of 100s of spiders on the grass covered slopes.

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Descending to a stream towards Dor Nallah camp
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Dor Nallah camp at a distance

Day 7: Dor Nallah Camp to Sangchur (Road Head, 7500 ft); 6 hrs, then by car to Manali 3rd Oct’13, 2hrs

Up till the Dor Nallah Camp we had not lost much height. The entire downhill climb was for this last day, wherein we were to descend to the Kullu valley. This day began on a relaxed pace and we rested on the golden grass more than once, enjoying the expanse of the broad valleys around. We were accompanied by a great many golden eagles through the better part of the day. The second half of the day brought with it a steep descent for over 3 hours into the Kullu valley. The path traversed straight across the mountain and was covered in thick foliage. The foliage also allowed us a glimpse some rare birds. Exhausted from the steep downhill climb we finally trudged into Sanchur village where vehicles were awaiting to take us back to Vashisht, from where we were scheduled to go back to Delhi the next day.

This memoir will be incomplete if I do not put in a word of appreciation for Sapta and his support team from Himalaya Trekkers. Kaliheni is a less trodden route, full of surprises, difficult but breathtaking and the support extended by Sharma, our guide, Jeevan (cook), Dipendra and Kiran made it all the more pleasurable. The team left nothing to imagination in terms of the service delivered. Tents were always ready and hot refreshment prepared well before we reached campsite every day and whatever I say about the variety and quality of food served at all meals, will not be enough. Each meal was a surprise and the menu different every day. Breakfast comprised muesli, bread & jam/ butter, pan cakes, parantha, chirer pulao etc; while the packed lunch on the way comprised a different fruit each day, dry fruits, chocolates, fruit drink and sandwich or fried rice or rolls. Evenings in the dinner tent began with a hot drink and pakora or chowmein followed by a four course meal – soup, rice / chapatti, dal, subji, chicken / lamb / egg and a sweet dish – gajar ka halwa, gulam jamun, suji ka halwa etc. Even if my legs are not able to carry me some day, and my lungs not able to pump me through the up-hill trudge, I would like to come back on this route again, if for nothing else but for the food :-)

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Descend towards Kullu valley
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Bird's-eye view of Kullu valley

Supporting photos are taken by Rajat, Krishnendu, Sourav and Saptarshi.

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After having completed two relatively simple to moderate treks in Sandakphu-Phalut and Kuari pass, as a natural progression I wanted to try something serious. Saptarshi (Sapta) of Himalaya Trekkers suggested that Goecha La is suitable for me and a trek which commands some of the stunning views of Kanchendzongha and its neighbouring peaks. As per plan I started from Kolkata by overnight train and reached NJP on morning of 25th April’ 2013 .

Day 1: NJP to Yuksom (5,500 feet) by Car – 8 hrs

At NJP our car was already waiting for us. All the team members of Himalaya Trekkers gathered just outside the railway station and soon we were on our way to Yuksom around 10 in the morning. The first 30 km of this drive was through the plains of Bengal up to Himalayan foot hills. The views soon after the foot hills are lovely as one sees the curvy views of Teesta River flowing between the hills. The drive took us through the towns of Joerethang and Legship. The journey of 6 hours takes one through typical Himalayan roads with beautiful Rangit River accompanying you. We stopped for lunch at a place called Malli. Finally we reached Yuksom at around 6 in the evening.

Yuksom at 5500 ft is an ancient town in the in Geyzing subdivision of West Sikkim. It is the starting point for the trek to Goecha la and is an ideal place for one who wants to avoid the bustle of Gangtok and Darjeeling. It was the first capital of Sikkim established in 1642 AD by Phuntsog Namgyal who was the first Chogyal (temporal and religious king) of Sikkim. The coronation site of the first monarch of Sikkim is known as the “Throne of Norbugang”. At yuksom we were greeted by Sher Bahadur who had already made all arrangements for the ration of the trek and also had arranged for porters and Yaks. We checked into hotel Dzongrila. The evening passed while chitchatting with other team members and sharing our experiences. We ordered Chicken meals for dinner at Gupta Restaurant around 8 pm. After returning to the lodge all of us did some last minute packing and finally went inside the comfort of bed and blankets around 10 pm.

Day 2: Yuksum (5,900 feet) to Sachen (7,400 feet) – 4 hours – Easy

In the morning from the window of the hotel we had a fantastic view of the snow covered peaks of Kabru – North and South. This lifted our spirits and soon I and Anutosh were on our way to the coronation site which I planned last evening. It was a 15 minute walk from the market place where we had put up for the night. It is an ancient archaeological site and a monument of national importance.There is also a beautiful monastery and the calm and serene atmosphere is sure to ignite the spiritual senses in anyone who makes a visit there.

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Kabru North and South from the window of our hotel

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Coronation Site – Yuksum

Refreshed we returned to our lodge and were handed over the permit forms. At Yuksum there are two important things to complete before you start for the trek – One, making an entry at the police station. For this you need a photo identity proof with three photo copies. Two, you need to pay the permit fees at the forest check post. We had our breakfast with porridge, fruits, roti, vegetables and finished it with a round of coffee. The porters were ready with our guide Sher Bahadur would accompany us for the entire trek. We handed over the rucksacks identified for the porters and soon I was on to my third trek in the Himalayas.

Most trekkers would trek from Yuksum to Tsokha in a day. At the very first day of the trek it is tiresome as your body is yet to be acclimatized and also it involves in an abrupt gain in altitude. So it is advisable to break the trail at Sachen. Lucky for us Himalaya Trekkers already had it in mind. The trail from Yuksum passes through the check post and the village huts and soon starts to climb gently. There were many groups and also an equal number of Dzo (a cross between Yak and Cow) carrying loads of logistics. After around 40 minutes the trail gradually enters the forest and after a small climb and gradual descend one arrives at the first bridge over Pha Khola (Khola is the Nepalese word for a River). The trail then enters Kanchendzonga National Park with a wide gate welcoming trekkers and after a further trek of an hour one arrives at the second bridge over Tshushay Khola. The trail continues through thick forest and after another hour’s trek one arrives at the third bridge over Mentogang Khola. From this bridge the trail goes uphill for 25 minutes and then gradually flattens out. Look for a clearing to your right in the forest. You have arrived at Sachen the campsite for the day. Sachen is an ideal camping ground for those who love to spend the night amidst thick forest. It is a small clearing in the forest having space enough to pitch 6-8 tents. When we arrived the porters and sapta were busy pitching tents. I took off my rucksack to assist them. There is a small shelter with two rooms to cook. One such room was to be used as our kitchen. Soon lunch was ready with hot Yai Yai. After the days exhaustion the noodles was a delight. Prek Chu River flows below Sachen and you can hear its faint sound from the campsite. The campsite provides a good opportunity for spotting birds. If you are a birding enthusiast the trail is not going to disappoint you.

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1st Bridge over Pha Khola

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Campsite of Sachen in the Oak forest

Day 3: Sachen (7,200 feet) – Tshoka (9,650 feet) – 6 hours – Moderate

We woke up to a bright sunny morning and soon started to get ready for the day’s trek to Tsokha. After having a mixed breakfast with porridge, bread, jam and peanut butter we started for the second day’s trek to Tsokha. Tsokha is a Tibetan settlement about 10 kms from Sachen. The trail passes through the oak forest with occasional ups and downs and after about 45 minutes we reached a shelter meant for rest. Just ahead of each of the bridges you will find shelters like this. From here the trail goes steeply down to the bed of Prek Chu and after taking the final turn the beautiful hanging bridge over the river comes into full view. This is the longest of the four bridges. The bridge is adorned with colorful prayer flags signaling success to the expedition. It sways on both sides when you walk over it. The roaring Prek Chu flows underneath with all its might. It is a treat to walk over the bridge. You do not meet the river until three days later at Kokchurong. From here begins the first real climb of the Goecha La trail – subsequent climbs that will stay with you until you reach Goecha La. Take the trail that goes to the left and up the ridge in a series of switchbacks and after an hour and half a few huts and a resting place signals the arrival of Bakhim. Bakhim has resting place and a tea shop where one can get tasty momos too. But they do not prepare in advance so, you need to wait after you order. After the steep hike from the fourth bridge a cup of coffee is worth savoring at Bakhim. From here Tsokha is a 40 minute steep uphill hike. Bakhim has a few huts and a forest rest house where you can spend the night. It has splendid views of the Yuksum valley. On our onward journey we were not as lucky since the entire valley was covered under a thick blanket of fog. But on our return to Yuksum at end of the trek the valley opened up, thanks to a better weather. Follow the trail that goes along the tea shop and besides the forest rest house. The earthquake of 2011 had cut deep cracks in the walls of the forest rest house and other huts nearby. The trail gradually rises up and soon rhododendron trees come to view. If you are making this trek in the blooming season (mid  April to mid May) then you will be greeted with the first views of Himalayan rhododendrons. There are many short cuts bypassing the main trail which will cut the distance but will be a test of your quadriceps. Me and Sapta decided to try a shortcut to Tsokha while others stayed on the main trail with the guide. There were numerous rhododendron trees with flowers varying from red to yellow and white. As the shortcut is seldom used by trekkers this stretch of the trail had a special beauty due to its virginity. Meanwhile the weather was turning bad and visibility started to diminish. A light drizzle forced us to increase our pace on the steep slope. We were lucky as it did not turn out to be a full downpour. After 30 minutes steep hike the railings of the Tsokha trekkers hut came into view. We were the first in our group to reach Tsokha and took shelter in the trekker’s hut. The cook  and his team had already arrived and were busy preparing lunch. The rest of the folks in our party with Sher Bahdur reached in 30 minutes exhausted. On arriving at the trekkers hut we were handed over a refreshing cup of tea. If you want to camp at Tsokha then look for the flat clearing beside the trekkers hut. This trek is a paradise for birding enthusiasts and Sapta brought to my notice a pair of Yellow Billed Blue Magpie from the camping ground of Tsokha. Tsokha is chilly compared to Sachen and if you are at Tsokha you may want to taste Chhang, a local beer made from fermented millet seeds available on the way to the monastery. The fermented seeds are served in a hollow bamboo shell called Tomba, and hot water is added very gradually keeping the seeds undisturbed (which requires a practiced hand) to make the drink. It is a local delicacy and very popular among the trekkers including foreigners. The Tsokha monastery was not far and I decided to pay a visit to the monastery in the remoteness of Himalayas. It was late afternoon and very misty. The monastery remains closed but you can ask for the keys in the shops down below. We had dinner by 8 PM and soon crashed into the comfort of sleeping bags.

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Steep climb to Bakhim, 4th bridge dwarfed by distance

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Enjoying coffee at Bakhim

Day 4: Tshoka (9,650 feet) – Dzongri (12,900 feet) via Phedang (12,050 feet) – 7 hours – Moderate to Strenuous

Today is going to be a long day for us. Every day during dinner Sher Bahadur used to brief us on the next day’s plan. Accordingly we were served breakfast by 7:30 consisting of pancakes, jam, peanut butter and porridge. Soon we were handed over packed lunch of bread, hard boiled eggs, boiled potato and choco pie. It is advisable to carry enough water for this day as there are no reliable water sources on the trail to Dzongri. From the camping ground we had splendid views of Mt Pandim, Tenzing Khang and Juponu. The trail to Dzongri passes the monastery and begins to climb the ridge above the village. From here Tsokha village looks like a landscape painted on a canvas. After about 30 minutes the trail enters the forests of Oak and rhododendron and is paved over wooden logs. This is one of the most rewarding days of the trek as it will take you through some of the densest rhododendron forests of India. If you are in the blooming season the entire slope is colored in red, yellow, pink and white. The trail can be muddy at places and after a spell of rain you need to watch your footsteps. It is a ridge climb and so the trail switches between the opposite sides of the ridge. There were a group of people returning from their BMC training at Chowrikhang, the base camp of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Many trekkers would go only up to Dzongri and not to Goecha La. So this stretch of the trail remains busy especially during peak season. After a continuous uphill hike of 3 hours the trail levels to an open ground on top of the ridge. You are now in Phedang at 12000 feet. At Phedang there is a small log cabin that serves as a kitchen where trekkers normally make a halt for lunch. Soon we unpacked our rucksacks and sat down for lunch and some much needed rest. Phedang being on top of a ridge is very windy. On a clear day you can get spectacular views of Kanchendzonga and its associated peaks from Phedang. From here one trail leads to Dzongri via Deorali top and another leads to Kokchurong. Many also prefer to camp at Phedang but since there are no trekkers huts available you need to be prepared with all camping necessisities. Water is available on the trail that leads to Kokchurong. From Phedang Deorali top is again an uphill hike of 1200 feet. I did not want to halt for long here as the weather turned from bad to worse and fearing a downpour we put on our raincoats. Dzongri was still 3 hours away. After a break of 20 minutes we took the trail that leads towards Deorali top. There were numerous rhododendron trees on both sides of the trail. Today indeed the  walk was in God’s own garden! Deorali is a continuous uphill trek and trekkers now begin to feel the effects of altitude. After a continuous ridge climb of an hour and half a small chorten and prayer flags signal the arrival of Deorali top. From here on a clear day the views of Kanchendzonga and Pandim are simply out of this world. The rhododendron trees now change to rhododendron bushes. Occasionally you can spot patches of snow on the trail. It is very windy especially on Deorali top. From here the trail follows a series of gentle ups and downs and after an hour Dzongri trekkers hut comes into view as a tiny spec on the vast mountain slope. From here it is another half an hour to the trekker’s hut of Dzongri. We arrived at Dzongri by 4:00 and stayed at Dzongri trekker’s hut. The trekkers hut is large enough to accommodate 5-6 teams. On our arrival and after a cup of tea we were served with Yai Yai and pakoras by the caring team of Sher Bahadur. A clear stream runs in front of the trekker’s hut. If you want to camp at Dzongri look for the open space on the other side of the stream. There is enough space to pitch 6-8 tents.  At night we had Garlic soup followed by spicy Indian style dinner. Soon went inside the comfort of sleeping bags.

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Beautiful Tsokha and the monastery from above the trail to Phedang

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Dzongri campsite. The trekkers hut is on the right side of the tents

Early morning Dzongri (12900ft) to Dzongri top (13800ft) – 2 hours – Moderate

Dzongri top is a ridge above the campsite of Dzongri and which offers a panoramic view of the Kanchendzonga range. We did not want to miss on the sunrise and by 4:00 in the early morning we started off for Dzongri top. Follow the trail that goes from the front of the trekkers hut. It is cold and windy so you need to be in heavy woolens though once on the steep trail your body will begin to sweat. Also a torch (preferably head torch) is very handy. It is a steep climb to the top of the ridge and takes not less than 45 minutes. The ridge top is marked by a small chorten and prayer flags. We did a small puja here. Soon the peaks began to unfurl in front of us. It was not a clear day and the sky was foggy. But we had a good view of Kanchendzonga, Kabru and Pandim peaks. Looking in front and slightly to the right is Pandim and Kabru is to the left with Black Kabur blocking some parts of Kabru form your view. Right in front stands Kanchendzonga with its south east ridge dominating the skyline. You can spot Thansing in the distance below Pandim as a green patch which is going to be the destination for the day. From the top the meadows of Dzongri comes into view crossed by serpentine trails. The slopes are lined with bushes of juniper extending for miles which turned orange with the rays of sun and with the peaks in the background it was an experience to remember. After spending about 30 minutes we headed for the trail back to the trekkers hut.

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Foggy condition on Dzongri top

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Prayer flags and Chorten on top

Day 5: Dzongri (12980ft) to Thansing (12894ft) via Kokchurong (12096ft) – 5/6 hours – Moderate

Thansing valley at the base of Mt Pandim is about the same height as Dzongri but trekkers need to descend almost 1000 feet to the bed of Prek Chu at Kokchurong. The trail to Kokchurong goes through the right of the trekkers hut (not to be confused with the trail to Dzongri top) and soon begins to climb above the ridge. After a steep hike of 30 minutes one reaches the top of the ridge from where the trail turns left on flat ground. On a clear day you can see the peaks of Kanchendzonga and Pandim towering over the horizon. Yaks grazing on the meadows is also a common sight. The trail through the meadows continues for almost two hours. The slopes are only lined with dwarf rhododendrons and bushes of juniper. There are no trees to be seen on the trail. There otherwise gentle trail has a few up hill and downhill curves. Also you can get the company of other trekkers and guides and enjoy the views. After sometime notice the trail going downhill. This is a descend to the bed of Prek Chu which continues till you reach Kokchurong. However Sikkim was again back with its usual foggy and mystic weather. Every day after 10:00 the clouds begin to flow in any by noon everything goes under a cloud cover. But now drops of rain also started and I hurriedly packed my cameras inside rucksack and put on raincoat. The descend to Kokchurong is gentile in the beginning but becomes steep on muddy trail. You need to skirt around the muddy patch. After a while the trail is over rocks. You can hear the sound of the flowing river which increases as you descend further down towards the river. After an hour look for the trekkers hut to your left. You have reached Kokchurong. Spot the trail which comes from right hand side and joins. It is the trail to Phedang which we would take on our return path. The river flows with a roar below the trekkers hut. The trail crosses the small wooden bridge to cross a side stream and goes to the true left of Prek Chu. Experience the cool breeze blowing over the bridge. It could be misty and with the gust of water flowing below and is a fairy tale experience. The water of the river is worth savoring. We cross another wooden bridge, this time crossing the main river and begin to climb gradually keeping the river to the left. Soon the path moves up and Prek looks like a small stream hundreds of feet below and finally goes off from sighting. The path is lined with trees and there are rocks on the trail. It is 2 Km to the meadow of Thansing but actually feels a lot longer.We crossed another stream over a narrow wooden plank. The climb ends at the top of the ridge and flattens out. The trees now reduce to bushes of rhododendron and juniper. The flat ridge top ends at the vast meadow of Thansing. Spot the lone trekkers hut at the start of the valley. There is also a small shelter besides the trekkers hut used as a kitchen. The hut has 4 rooms and a dining area too. Thansing is a vast valley at the base of Mt Pandim and Tenzing Khang. There is abundant space to pitch any number of tents here. Prek Chu flows gently through the extreme left of the valley. There are a few narrow streams that flow across the valley to meet the Prek. On a clear day you will have great views of Mt Pandim right in front shinning like a pearl. To the right of the trekkers hut where the valley ends stands Tenzing Khang, Jopunu and Narsing which are right to Pandim by a continuous ridge. In the horizon the south east face of Kanchendzonga can be seen as a formidable wall of ice shinning brilliantly.

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Walking on the Dzongri meadows

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Thansing Trekker’s Hut

Day 6: Thansing (12894ft) to Lamuney (13,600ft) – 2 hours – Easy

Lamuney campsite is at the other end of the Thansing valley and the lovely walk from Thansing is indeed a walk in paradise for, with each step you get closer to Mt Pandim and Kanchendzonga opens up towering above the horizon. This is the easiest day of the entire trek and even a delayed start is enough to reach Lamuney by noon. We had breakfast in the bright morning sun sitting on the rocks in front of the trekkers hut and enjoying the views of the snow covered peaks. The trail from Thansing gradually rises which most trekkers will not feel after the stiff climbs of previous trek days. Occasionally there are a few streams that you need to cross over rocks. In the horizon the glacial moraine walls become visible and above which Kanchendzonga can be seen looming over. Lamuney is pretty windy. Earlier trekkers used to camp at Samiti lake above Lamuney but now camping at Samity is no longer allowed. It is a sacred lake at the foot of sacred Mt Pandim. Also there is an increased threat to the lake from pollution. In Lamuney  there is a shelter used by the cook and porters as a kitchen. Prek Chu flows gently behind the kitchen of Lamuney. For trekkers camping is a must here. After lunch we went for a short acclimatizing walk. The vast valley was only lined with dwarf bushes of juniper. We saw a group coming down after a successful ascent of Mt Tenzing Khang. Lamuney serves as a base camp for those aspiring to climbing this peak.  Today dinner was served at 7:00 in the evening as the next day we will have to start by 2:30 in the morning for Goecha La. So a good sleep was an absolute must. Sher Bahadur briefed us on the next day’s schedule. We were to be split into two groups and each group will be assisted by porters. It was planned that all porters will accompany us in case anyone plans to turn back or slows down in pace. We were to be served tea at 1:30 am morning!

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A cakewalk on Thansing valley

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Lamuney campsite

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7: Lamuney (13,600ft) to Goecha la (16,000 ft) and back to Kokchurong – 14 hours – Strenuous

I was up by 1:30 am and started making some last minute arrangements. I could hear trekkers speaking in tents nearby. Sher Bahadur served tea and a packet of biscuit in our tent by 1:40. I woke up Anutosh and Udayandu and asked them to get ready. The remaining members in the other tent were also getting ready. We assembled by 2:10 and in another 10 minutes we were off to our destination for the day under the lights of head torches. It was pitch dark all around and Sher Bahadur was leading the way. The porters were also along with us. Only the illuminated portion of the trail was visible but I felt it was ok and safe enough. The trail initially passes over almost flat ground through the bushes of juniper. After about 20 minutes the almost flat trail began to rise gradually. At night on the trail the experience of a guide comes handy as you can get diverted to a different direction since nothing can be seen. I turned back after sometime to see 3 illuminated dots approaching us. They were some members from our party. The trail after a gradual ascent begins to climb steeply. At this point we waited for the entire team to assemble together. You need to carefully watch your steps on the rocks. There is no mud on the trail as it is mostly rocky. After a steep hike of 30 minutes you can hear the sounds of water flowing by. It is the stream flowing out of Samity Lake and going down to merge with Prek. Now the trail levels on flat ground and you notice a sandy bed with usual cracks and sound of water. Here on to your left is actually Samity Lake and the trail goes in an arc around the lake and to the other side and begins to climb steeply over the ridge. The lake remains invisible at the cover of the night. It was a long and continuous ridge climb and now at over 14500 feet trekkers begin to feel the effects of altitude. We took occasional breaks on the steep slope only to gain a breath. In spite of the sub zero conditions trekkers begin to sweat on this steep slope. On to your right is the wall of Pandim. It took us nearly an hour to reach to the top of the ridge from where the trail takes a turn to the right and begins to move up. Now we could see lights in the sky signaling the approach of dawn. The trail becomes narrow and moves further up to the 1st view point of Goecha La. View point 1 is almost at a height of 15000 feet. The weather was cloudy and we were disappointed.  There is a small chorten where we did offered puja and waiting for the blessings of the weather God. On the left side of view point 1 the junction of the two Kabru glaciers is distinctly visible along with the moraine ridges. The sandy bed of Zemathang is also visible as a small patch ahead. We had choco pie and biscuits to refresh ourselves and began to move towards Zemathang. The trail to Zemathang is initially over rocks and boulders and further ahead you need to climb down the moraine ridge over a narrow zig zag path. It is a near 40 degree descends and could be tricky as the path is lined with scree and very slippery. The trail from here moves over the boulders and in another 30 minutes one reaches the sand bed.  Mount Pandim stands tall on the right. There is a magnificent ice fall running down the top of Pandim and ending a little higher of Zemathang. With the sky now showing signs of improvement we started to climb the moraine ridge above Zemathang to have a better view of the peaks. This was a very steep climb with a gradient around 40 degrees. On the other side the ridge dropped vertically down to the bed of the glacier. We were advised not to step on the top as the narrow ridgeline can break and chance of a fall. Gradually the cloud cover lifted off and we could see the whole range of peaks from base to summit shining in the morning sun like glittering silver. We descended to the floor of Zeemathang and moved further. The sandy bed is about a kilometer in length. At the end the trail takes a turn to the right and begins to climb up the moraine ridge steeply in an arc at end of which lies View Point 2 and Goecha Lake.With our hearts contained in this magnificent surrounding we decided not to go any further but return. We had our breakfast with bread, jam, boiled potato, with eggs and headed back.

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Kanchendzongha range

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Zemathang

While returning through view point 1, this time with the clear sky we had a very close up view of Mt Pandim, Kabru range, Rathong and others. We followed the same trail back and after crossing the last ridge Samity lake came into view. Samity is a beautiful emerald green lake above Lamuney and on a clear day one can see the reflection of Mt Pandim in its water. We returned back to Lamuney and took a break of an hour for lunch. Now we were on our return path to Kokchurong via Thansing. Finally we took shelter in the trekker’s hut of Kokchurong by 4:00 in the evening. There are options for camping in Kokchurong and if you want to camp look for the clearing besides the river below the trekkers hut.  With the sound of the river flowing by camping at Kokchurong can be a memorable experience.

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1st View Point

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Samity lake as seen while descending

Day 8: Kokchurong to Tshoka via Phedang – 7 hours – Moderate

The trail from Kokchurong to Phedang traverses through the side of a ridge and through dense forest of rhododendron. It is a narrow trail and takes 3 hours to reach Phedang which is almost at the same height as Kokchurong. Pandim was looking beautiful above the trekker’s hut of Kokchurong. The trail is almost flat over level ground. You do not find any Dzo on this stretch as they cannot negotiate the narrow trail through the forest. The trail can have occasional patches of snow and you need to be careful when stepping on them or better still skirt around them.

About a kilometer and a half before Phedang the trail is paved over wooden logs. The trail ends on top of the ridge at Phedang. Note the trail to Dzongri that was taken up few days back. We took shelter in the Kitchen area where our porters were busy preparing lunch. Soon others in our team arrived. After having lunch of puri and subzi and having some rest we took the trail that goes down to Tsokha. This is the well known trail that was taken by us on our way up. We reached Tsokha by 3:00 in the afternoon. Around 4 it started to pour heavily and stayed around half an hour with hails. In the evening we sat in the dining room and rejuvenated our fresh memories while we all were happy to get the mobile network and spoke with the near and dear ones. Dinner served around 9 pm.

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Kokchurang

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Rhododendrons in abundance

Day 9: Tshoka to Yuksum via Bakhim and Sachen – 6 hours – Moderate

This day was the last day of our trek. After spending over a week in the Himalayas and having the company and warmth of simple mountain people we would be ending our trek at Yuksum. In the morning before I went to the camping ground of Tsokha trekker’s hut to have a last minute view of Mt Pandim and it was looking awesome. The sky was absolutely clear and shining Pandim was in front of us. The descending trail is much easier than the ascending. We reached Bakhim in 30 minutes and had some tea at the stall. We then went downhill and crossed the bridge over Prek Chu and made a halt at Sachen for lunch with hot puri and sabzi. After lunch it was all the way to Yuksum. We reached at Yuksum by 5:00 in the evening.

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Bright and sunny morning at Tsokha

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Our hotel at Yuksum

Day 10: Yuksum to NJP by car – 7 hours

The next day we bid farewell to the Himalayas and drove back to NJP with a promise to return. I know that soon I will get into the coding and decoding of software but the memories I will cherish forever.

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I have been looking forward to this trek ever since my husband did it in April 2009, and came back and told me “it is an easy trek, you could do it quite easily and the views of the Kangchenjunga (or Kanchendzongha as spelt by others), the third highest peak in the world are just breathtaking.” The pictures he had brought with him, even in a point and shoot, digital camera, were just beautiful and I wanted to go on the trek that October itself. Well, things did not really work out that year and the next…

Someone once said “Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way…” and I would like to add “and in its own time…”. All of a sudden in February this year, we received a posting from Saptarashi of the Himalaya Trekker. The Himalaya Trekker is planning a Sandakphu-trek in the 1st week of March. I sent the posting out to a few friends, who I know were keen on trekking. Unfortunately, the timing does not suit any of them and. I decide to go for it alone from Bangalore. A few e-mails and telephone calls from Saptarshi, I have everything that I need for the trek, except a pair of good trekking shoes! As this is a “tea house” trek, we would be staying in trekkers huts, along the way and don’t need any tenting gear or a sleeping bag, but I do need good trekking shoes, with good cushioning and some ankle support. That would be easy, I think, only to find that the standard trekking shoe stores in Bangalore do not carry shoes of my small feet! They all stop at size 7! Don’t women with small feet trek? I call up Sapta frantically and he assures me that as the terrain in this trek is also easy I could do it in a pair of good trainers with good cushioning. Yet, I am not satisfied, so I continue my search and write Nirupa, an avid trekker. Nirupa right away suggested the Forclaz 100 for women, from Decathalon. And out I go on the weekend and guess what, find that they are on a sale! So I get them for steal! Well, everything seems to be working in my favour…

March 4th is finally here; I don’t remember to have been as excited as this in a long while now! I have decided not to have any expectations about the organization. I know that this is the 1st trek on the North-East side for the Himalaya Trekker too. I am just looking forward to my first long trek and itching for a glimpse of the Kangchenjunga. Adding to my cup of happiness, is the fact that I will be spending my day in Kolkatta with Ruchira, Antara, Tara and Angshu.

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Sourav Basu shares his experience of Pin Parvati Pass trek during post monsoon in early September’2006

This is an account of how 4 of us – Krishnendu and Saptarshi (founder of Himalaya Trekkers), Arunava and Sourav – did this trek in beginning of September 2006. If I may put it a little differently, this is also intended to be a guide to how NOT to do this or any other trek – unless of course you are flat broke (as we were in 2006), have an ambitious and absurd cost plan (which will not come true), don’t really feel the pain once you are in the mountains, can sleep like logs irrespective of near-frozen droplets falling on your head at night and are blessed with good weather and an excellent guide-porter team.

Things to remember:

Before going in to details, I would like to list down my philosophies for any ‘trek’ where one intends to go beyond 14000 feet. Of course, many experienced and champion trekkers are and will be exceptions to these, but I feel it might help many enthusiasts who are relatively new.

1.PREPARE a little bit before going to a trek. If you are physically active – play outdoor games regularly or have a habit of walking/ jogging – and are in your 20s, you will be able to manage without doing anything else. For everyone else, it is important to practice walking for long hours. Just to quote a number, you should walk 5 to 10 kilometres at least 14 times in the month leading up to the trek. That will amount to around 1 to 2 hours of walking on flat land in sufficient oxygen conditions.
The above has got nothing to do with reducing your weight by 4 kilos and waist by 2 inches, it is rather an exercise which can ensure that you overcome the different aches you are going to feel after the first day. There will also be times when you have walked for eternity and are wondering how far the camp is, and, someone will tell you that there is still 4 kilometres to go – you will know what that entails

2.BE READY TO ABANDON THE TREK if it is snowing. If you are really keen to try your luck out, go till Mantalai Lake, but do not try to go beyond unless the weather is clear. Take the advice of the guide and trust him/ her. A seemingly easy route can become impossible to cover if you can’t see beyond a few feet and everything around you is uniformly white. Additionally, even if you are carrying crampons and gaiters, it is extremely difficult to walk on snow, if it is more than ankle deep, without prior training.

3.DON’T PANIC (to quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) if you feel breathless – it is the natural scheme of things once you progress beyond 10000 feet. You should have a mild to moderate headache for a day or two, might feel nauseated and/or lose your appetite. THAT IS NORMAL. If you are not sure, take a rest day, stay outdoors and take short walks to help your body acclimatize to the atmospheric pressure. If your condition worsens, lose altitude, go back to Khirganga and spend the rest of your holidays submerged in the hot water spring

What you will need:

We were going on a ‘budget’ trek – we were carrying everything. In other words, we had hired tents (which were not checked), hired sleeping bags (bulky), cheap shoes (also called police ‘hunter’ shoes, with a good sole and a canvas top), worn out rucksacks (the support of the rucksack is of prime importance for the back), torch, spare batteries, couple of pairs of socks (too low a number), sweaters (takes up a lot of space), windcheaters which were actually raincoats (sweats inside and impossible to wear while walking even with the zip open), mattresses, plastic sheets, jeans (difficult to dry and heavy when wet), 6-7 t-shirts, 1 track bottom made of parachute material, 2 kerosene stoves, 20 litres of kerosene, all types of food items, a kilogram of potatoes, another of onions and so on. We had 1 guide (own load) and 4 porters (30 kilograms each) and as a result, the resultant weight of each of our rucksacks was around 18 -20 kilograms.

This trek consists of 2 sides – the Pin side (before crossing the pass) and the Parvati side. The former is moist and you can face a lot of rain if luck is not on your side. If the tent is not good, you will need the plastic sheets to cover the floor and every morning you will find moisture dripping in from the roof. That, of course, does not mean that you are going to die. But if you are keen on having a sound sleep after a tough day, well, good luck about that.

A safer and saner way of doing this trek should mean that you are not carrying more than 15 kilograms on your back.  It would also entail a little more care in choosing your personal and team stuff.

A tent and a sleeping bag are basically life savers and one should never compromise on them. Hired tents are rarely of good quality because of frequent use, poor maintenance and non-availability during trek seasons. You should always pitch a tent, check if the outer and inner layers are touching (they should not), check for tears, quality of the zip etc.

Apart from being bulky and the amount of space it occupies, hired sleeping bags often turn out to be straight-jackets. Whatever be the temperature outside, you need to be warm and allow yourself a good night’s sleep. A good sleeping bag should have full zippers, allow movement but not be too roomy at the same time, be light and become small when packed. A good firm rucksack is essential. It should have a good support and straps should be adjustable.

Choosing the type of food is also very important. As you go higher, generally you tend to lose appetite/ taste and having something tangy to taste would be helpful (On the contrary, the spread HT provides would make you look forward to every meal). Whatever is the food you prefer, plan for a breakfast which is different on different days (viz. noodles, khichdi, aloo parantha etc). Plan for a hot soup as soon as you reach camp and carry coffee, tea, hot chocolate etc so that you can have 3 rounds of hot drinks everyday – once in the morning and a couple after dinner before you snuggle inside your sleeping bag. It might be a good idea to have something light to eat immediately after reaching camp – we used to have puffed rice and ‘chanachur’, or, ‘masala chura’, or, ‘jhalmuri’ (sorry, I could not find any English translation for these). During the trek, you need to carry chocolates and raisins and keep having them during the day. You have to figure out lunch and dinner, but remember lunch has to be packed on most days as you will be having them en route.

Coming to personals, first get a very large polythene bag which can form a water-proof liner inside your sack and ensure that you have a sack cover. It is of utmost importance that the stuff inside your bag does not get wet or feel damp. Even if it rains hard, you need to be able to change in to something dry after reaching camp. Carry spare plastic bags (DON’T leave them behind in the mountains) so that wet clothes can be kept separate from dry ones – if the weather is bad, you might not get a chance to dry your clothes ever. By the same logic, you should have 4 – 5 pairs of socks, sufficient change of underwear, enough t-shirts (you can use climacool/ dryfit type t-shirts alternatively) and a couple of good quality track lowers made of parachute material – basically stuff that can dry out fast. Having a torch, or better still head torch, is an absolute essential.

You need to have good shoes with leather on top and a sturdy sole, unlike our canvas ones (they had pretty good grip though, and came for Rs. 60, “Hunters” from Kolkata flee market). Be prepared to trip over boulders, accidentally kick rocks, step on sharp rock edges and walk on ice or snow. Woodlands shoes are heavy but otherwise pretty good. It is preferable to have ankle high shoes so that even if there is a little bit of snow you are well protected. Always carry a pair of sneakers (since they are light) as back up and a pair of slippers for using around the tent. Also, carry your own mattress. Make sure it is of the thicker variety – there are various available of various qualities and prices. Ours were the thinner variety which came for Rs. 100 and at times, we could feel the protruding rocks under the tent which is again not unbearable, but undesirable after a tiring day if it keeps waking you up. Last but not the least, carry a pair of sunglasses and a pair of gloves (leather preferably, rexin or other waterproof material will also do, but not wool for heaven’s sake). The sun is going to be really strong and if you find snow it will be even more essential.

If you are travelling with Himalaya Trekkers (or any other agency) the team needs would be taken care of – which include you would only have to carry a knapsack (unless you insist otherwise), tents and food would be ensured by HT and you can also opt for the sleeping bag and mattress to be arranged for you. Otherwise, apart from the above, you also need to find a guide and make sure porters/ mules/ horses are also arranged. DO NOT go without a guide on this trek.

The day wise planning that is going to follow is for the best and most enjoyable way of doing this trek. Alternatively, if you have a very fit team and do not have enough time, or, you want a strenuous trek before embarking on something more sinister, you can reduce at least 2 days from the following plan.

One final tip: If you are not the very fit type, try to leave camp by 7 in the morning so that you maximize the chance of getting some sun after reaching the next camp. Sunlight is one of the most rejuvenating friends for a tired body before the cold sets in.

Day 1: Chandigarh to Manikaran via  Bhunter

We reached Chandigarh very early in the morning (by Delhi Kalka mail) and then took a bus for Manikaran from ISBT. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a 12 hour journey due to an upturned truck on the way, but normally it should take only 8/9 hours.

Of course, if you hire a car you can get there much faster. Manikaran is a pilgrimage for the Sikh and has a Gurdwara with a hot water spring, lots of Punjabi food (no non-veg of course). It is also a good place to buy vegetables, rice, daal and most importantly kerosene etc. (all of which would be taken care of by HT) and any other small item you might have forgotten to bring viz. torch batteries, gloves.

If you are going by yourself, you would probably meet your guide here.

Day 2: Manikaran to Khirganga via  Barsheni

The best idea is set out by 7 in the morning, take a bus and reach Barsheni in around 2 to 3 hours. If you are going with Himalaya Trekkers (HT) that will be taken care of. We started at 9 (thanks to late night packing) and reached around 12.

The trek starts from here and the walk to Khirganga is around 12 km (at least that is what we knew). The altitude gain from Barsheni to Khirganga is around 3000 ft and therefore, the trek is generally in the upward direction all throughout.

If you have a fit team it should take you around 3 – 4 hours to reach. If you are a person who will huff and puff the ascent and take several water breaks, it will probably take you around 5 to 6 hours to reach Khirganga.

The route is completely green and you will find apple orchards in the earlier part. If the weather is moist, keep your eyes open for rainbows of all shapes and sizes around you (even below). Small springs, waterfalls will be in plenty. Of special mention is ‘Rudranag’ which will remind you of a picture postcard. Once you have reached it, you are just around one-quarter of the distance away from reaching Khirganga.

Don’t forget to take a bath in hot water spring at Khirganga. After the long walk and with the cold darkness around you, it is going to be an experience that you should not miss. Khirganga has places with comfortable bedding and good food and also plenty of camping locations.

Rudranag
Rudranag
Kheerganga
Kheerganga

 Day 3: Khirganga to Tundabhuj

This is also going to be a long day. First, there is going to be a descent and you will be able to see the river running through unusually trimmed green meadows and dark green pine trees. The route will not have many tall trees as the altitude increases gradually. The altitude gain is around 2000 feet and therefore, it would be an upward gradient for most of the day. Going by the gradation discussed before, this can take anywhere between 7 to 8 hours of walk.

There will be lots of tracks along the sides of the mountains and a few wooden bridges over small turbulent rivulets. The final climb is going to be a long one and after crossing another suspicious looking wooden bridge, you can expect to reach the camping ground in front of 5 majestic stony peaks (called ‘Pandushila’) and a deep gorge in-between. There is a waterfall slipping down the rock mass and then falling straight down a long way below, where a VIBGYOR has an eternal presence in the water.

You should start to feel the lack of oxygen during the day, though once you reach a rhythm it will not be too problematic. The ones who would rest more frequently would suffer more, so the idea is to keep walking without breaks.

Towards Tundabhuj
A break on the way to Tundabhuj
Pandushila
Pandushila opposite to Tundabhuj camp site

Day 4: Tundabhuj to Thakurkuan

This is going to be a relatively easy day. There is no ascent or descent which should be of any concern and the distance is small.

Teams should cover this distance within 2 to 3 hours and reach a camping ground situated between 2 streams – around 200 feet apart and we camped before crossing the Parvati River. During the walk we got occasional drizzle. We were amazed to find few desolated huts which were used by an earlier survey team. After extensive cleaning of dung we managed to clear two rooms, one for our kitchen and the other to sleep. We were fortunate enough to have a small stream-to-stream tailor-made rainbow delivered to us by Mother Nature towards the evening, but I am sorry, that is not a guaranteed view.

To Thakurkuan
Following Parvati river
Towards Thakurkuan
Towards Thakurkuan

 Day 5: Thakurkuan to Odi Thatch

This will be a fun and long day. First, you need to cross over the narrow but fast flowing waters of the Parvati River in a makeshift rope way. It will take less than a minute to cross but the excitement of sitting in a metal half-cage and zooming over the river would be an experience worth remembering and capturing in a video camera. The walk during the day is long and you would be following the Parvati River almost entirely.

The second part of the fun would be crossing the Pandu Bridge after a couple of hours. It is actually a giant boulder over the stream some 20 feet below and you are expected to walk along the ledge of the boulder to the other side. It is only about 15 feet to the other side and the boulder surface offers comfortable friction, but even knowing all this will not stop your heart from beating doubly fast.

The last part of the day, would be over a huge field along the Parvati river, with innumerable ups and downs (only around 15 feet) which would wear you out. You would be able to see the mountains in the distance, but that distance does not seem to lessen even as you keep walking endlessly.

Till this point in the trek, you would have sheep and goats for company as they are brought and kept in sheds at this altitude till the onset of winter for excellent grazing options.

This will be a long day (between 6 to 8 hours), but the camping ground is going to be really beautiful. It is located on a huge field with a rocky peak (later came to know Kullu Eiger)and other mountains in the front through which you would be able to hear the howl of the wind. The Parvati River is on the right. It is at the juncture from where the river goes to the right (actually, the river is coming from that direction) and running through a moraine ridge which is visible in the distance.

Hand drawn pulley bridge @ Thakurkuan
Pandupul
andu Bridge a natural boulder to cross the Parvati

Day 6: Odi Thatch to Mantalai

The good part of the day is that 80% of the trek is along a very gently flowing Parvati river. You would be able to see the final 20% as well, as in the distance the Parvati river seems to come down from behind a wall of debris. The final bit is a quite treacherous ascent and would be a ‘trailer’ of what lies ahead in the next leg.

After the steep climb, you would reach the Mantalai Lake and it is really breathtakingly beautiful. There is a shrine for offering prayers and then the trail continues along the side of the lake and after a few ups and downs you would reach the camping ground of  Mantalai (4 – 5 hours).

I will deliberately not try to describe Mantalai and Chhota Mantalai. All I can say is that, after 5 strenuous days this is going to be a reward for tired souls and would amply justify why we come on treks instead of staying in the comfort of a good hotel at any hill-station.

Situated at an altitude of around 13500 feet, this can also serve as a perfect location for a rest day. Given that the pass is at 17500 ft, which is considered pretty high altitude, this is a perfect place for acclimatizing and recharging your batteries.

Even if there were no other reasons, a place like this, in my opinion, deserves a little more savouring

Chhota Mantalai
Chhota Mantalai area
Mantalai
Prayar @ Mantalai

Day 7: Rest day at Mantalai

Laze around, eat well and maybe, if you are keen on feeling clean and the sun is up, you can try having an extensive cleaning session in freezing water. We had a shave and a shampoo. Our heads went numb for a couple of minutes, which was a unique experience.

Mantalai
Mantalai camp site
Mantalai
Warmth in the evening

Day 8: Mantalai to Base camp

The day begins with an assault on your lungs. First thing in the morning, you need to cross a stream and start climbing on all fours up the side of a mountain. The trajectory eases out somewhat after the first climb, but throughout the day it is going to be in an upward direction.

As you make progress you would realize for the first time why you need a guide on this route. The path becomes rocky and there is no trail to follow. There are markers all around but they are pretty difficult to spot as the terrain turns in to a destruction zone. We went up the wrong mountain and that prolonged our journey in a big way, so I might not be able to give a very accurate range for the time it should take on this day. My guess would be somewhere between 5 to 8 hours.

There is another stream crossing before the final climb and the water is going to ‘bite’. The last climb happens in 3 steps, so be mentally prepared that your suffering is not going to end easily. The camping ground is right below the glacier and on a rocky terrain and there are chances of freezing wind blowing over the glacier. You need to have food and disappear inside the tent early on this day and target to leave camp by 4 AM on the next.

Mantalai
Looking back to Mantalai
Parvati side basecamp
Freezing stream before basecamp

Day 9: Parvati side Base camp to Pin Side Base camp over the Pin Pass

Hope that by the time you reach the pass the weather clears up. That is exactly the reason why you should leave camp by 4:00 at the latest, as the highest chances of getting clear weather is at dawn. Also, you are going to get the best view, if you can reach the top at sun rise or thereabouts. We left camp at 5:30 am and had a cloudy day throughout.

The walk in the first phase is going to be over a gently rolling glacier. If there is a lot of fresh snow, it is going to be a difficult stretch. Otherwise, it is not difficult except for the shortage of oxygen at this altitude. Try not to stop too frequently and set your own pace and it should be fine.

We got snow only in patches and the rest of it was glacial ice which was a bit slippery and caused a bit of fluttering in our stomachs – there are some ominous looking dark glacial pools along the way.

The view all around is going to be majestic of course, but you got to be there to witness that.

The pass will come as a final climb of around 500 feet or so. It is an abrupt and pretty steep wall which appears out of nowhere (that could have been an effect created by a cloudy day in our case). The climb is going to be painful, as you would expect, but then, it is the only real ascent in the day.

It should take around 2 – 4 hours to reach the pass.

I won’t try to describe the view from the pass. At the top, when it opens out in all directions, it is bound to be breath taking. We had a fair amount of clouds and so could not get a view of the faraway peaks and yet, the view of the peaks through the mist was surreal to say the least.

You would cross over to the dry Pin side once you have left the pass behind. There is a steep descent of an hour or two before the base camp on the other side can be reached.

Just before reaching the camp, there is a pretty wide stream which comes out from a glacier just a few hundred yards away. With thigh-deep freezing water threatening to sever our legs, the ordeal seemed much longer than the 5 to 10 minutes that it actually took.

If you can make it to the camp by 10, you can consider walking another 25-28 KM and reach Mudh on that day itself. That would make it a very challenging day. But if you are in a hurry to reach civilization on the same day, or, really want to stretch yourselves for tougher treks/ expeditions later it is a doable walk.

We reached at around 1 and decided to laze around in the hot sun and bask in the glory of the conquest of Pin-Parvati pass.

Pin parvati pass
Negotiating Parvati side glacier
pin parvati pass
Final climb to the pass
pin parvati pass
A glacial pool on the way to pass
pin parvati pass
Misty view from Pin Parvati Pass

Day 10: Pin camp Base camp to Mudh and then by car to Kaza

This was a long day for us. We started at around 9 and reached Mudh at around 5:30. Of course, we were in no hurry and took innumerable breaks and the valley is so beautiful that it was difficult to get up and walk at certain times. The valley is flat and the descent is almost imperceptible. Over 25 – 28 KM the altitude loss is only about 2000 feet.

The walk can be divided in to 2 zones – one up to Chinpatta and then from Chinpatta to Mudh. The first part has ups and downs throughout but the second part is over tractor road and so is completely flat.

It is a riot of colours on all sides. In the beginning, it has a barren rocky look with the Pin River roaring alongside. Then the wide river valley starts turning green and the mountains are of different shades. Wind erosion over ages has given them bands of different colours and you would be able to see almost all colours of the VIBGYOR around you. To top all that, we got to see autumn colours on the grass and bushes. It was truly mesmerizing.

Mudh is visible in the distance like a speck at the end of the road. But from the time it becomes visible, expect to walk for another 2 to 3 hours before you can reach the village. It is a village of around 150 people with places available to stay. There is also a bus service available which takes you to Kaza. This is the place where the trek comes to an end.

Though we reached in the evening, we managed to get a car and reached Kaza by 7, quickly checked in, had a bath and celebrated our triumph with the whole team. Kaza has lots of excellent food and stay options and for one and a half days we gorged on different types of cuisines.

pin valley
Pin river valley
pin valley
Coloured mountains of Spiti

Day 11: Merry-making at Kaza

Day 12: Kaza to Manali

It makes sense to hire a car, though bus services are available. That way, it is possible to take a small detour and visit Chandra Tall on the way back . On the way, you go up to 14500 feet to cross the ‘Kunzum’ pass where you can have breakfast. There is also a small lone stall at Batal which would be ideal for a bread toast, Maggi and eggs lunch.

It is a long and back-breaking journey to Manali and the view is completely different. It is like a destruction-zone where the mountains seem to be disintegrating to dust. The tops are Mount Rushmore-like and it seems like the creator has taken a break while sculpting different shapes out of them. The river ‘Chandra’ roars and leaps over boulders and looks dangerously beautiful.

Finally, the rocky road ends and the Leh-Manali highway took us to Rohtang Pass. It was time for another break before we started the final descent for the beautiful Manali at the end of the journey.

Supporting photos are taken by Saptarshi

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