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