Pin Parvati Pass and Chandra Tal trek

Pin Parvati Pass and Chandra Tal trek

As the Pangarchulla trek in May ended up making me crave more for a more intensive trek, I started looking for a more intensive and longer trek than the one just done. I considered various options and finally decided on the Parang La trek, which is a crossover from Spiti to Ladakh. I was in touch with Suman of Himalayan High for this trek and he formed a Facebook group of possible participants. A couple of us paid the token booking amount as well but finally the plan had to be cancelled due to lack of enough people (primary reason being increasing share of costs of two of us who were confirmed). I enquired with couple of other agencies who were advertising this trek on their website but no one gave any confirmation that the trek won’t be cancelled at a later date if there are not enough participants! So, I had to turn to the tried and tested trek companies who offer fixed day departures like Indiahikes, Trek The Himalayas etc. I wanted to do Pin Parvati Pass as it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful, long and rugged treks in the Himalayas done by non-professional trekkers like us. However, this is typically done during the peak monsoon period, which I didn’t prefer, and the number of batches offered by them is limited. I found that Trek the Himalayas have the last batch starting towards the end of August. I was happy because by that time the forecasted ‘above average’ monsoon should be by and large over in the high mountains offering at least a few glimpses of the blue sky. At the same time, the wild flowers in the lower valleys should still be in their full glory. I booked it online and enquired over phone if they have enough participants for that date. The ground coordinator for this trek was Rajni Negi and she told me that the minimum number of participants (eight) would be achieved if I join, and as a result there is no chance of cancellation! I was probably a bit insistent to reconfirm this assertion that it will not be cancelled, and at the end made payments to confirm my place. This was on 23rd May – while I came back to Mumbai from Pangarchulla trek on 7th May. So, you can imagine my desperation from the fact that I booked this within two weeks of finishing the earlier one!

The whole trek including the road journey was for 11 days – from 27th August, Saturday (Manali) to 6th September, Tuesday (back to Manali). I took leave approval for two weeks and with the spare time wanted to make a quick visit to the fabled Chandra Tal, which was on the Kaza-Manali route. Then I kept one day to explore Manali and one morning to see whatever is possible in Chandigarh. So, I booked Mumbai Chandigarh return flights on Indigo and booked the Volvo ticket to Manali. I booked Zostel at Manali for two nights and enquired about accommodation at Chandra Tal. However, didn’t book anything there as it seemed that enough accommodation would be available on arrival.

I was all set for the trip and the three months in between were spent doing some physical preparation for the trek. I planned to carry my own luggage and carrying it for 9 days over long distances and at high altitude definitely required a lot of preparation if one has to be confident of finishing it without much problem and then still be ready for the long Chandra Tal trek at the end of it. However, preparation was patchy towards the end as Kavi moved to Udaipur by mid August and I had to do my little bit to help her settle down there. There was a bit of scare about the trip although. I was used to Indiahikes while TTH guys did not send any introductory mail even a week before the actual start date! I called up Rajni to reconfirm if they were doing the trek. On their site the dates were still showing as ‘available’ and a thought if there are cancellations after my booking then they might cancel the trek at the last moment. It generally required multiple attempts to get her on phone and that added to the doubts. However, she kept saying that the trek is on and she will soon send a group mail marking all the participants. This mail came only on 26th August at 10:41am when unaware of the final fate of the trek I had reached office with my backpacks!

I had to pack few more clothes as the trek was longer (Trek Essentials), the altitude was quite high (implying more warm clothes), I was adding Chandra Tal trek, and had to spend three nights with non-trekkers in a town/city environment (without smelling like a very dirty creature!). I packed my cameras as well: two bodies – D700 with 28-105mm lens (with Macro focus) and D90 with 70-300mm lens and the close-up filter for it. I knew there would be lot of flowers and I was hopeful that I’ll able to withstand the pain in the trek to preserve enough energy to take lots and lots of pictures.

I had to carry my sturdy Manfrotto tripod as well to get some decent star trails and Milky Way pictures as well. So I had to carry the big backpack on my back and the camera bag in the front – just like in the Pangarchulla trek. The only difference being reduction of ~3kgs of total weight but much longer and arduous trek! The dry weight was ~20kgs and when I start the trek (after leaving the jeans and some more unnecessary stuff at Manali) and fill up the two water bottles, the total load would have been close to 21kgs! I was thinking maybe I’ll have to offload my backpack during the course of the trek to continue walking!

I reached office on 26th August with all my luggage, amusing the colleagues and resulting in hearty conversations about the trek. My Indigo flight was at 3:05pm and while leaving I accidentally met one colleague called Prateesh Sane, who told me that he has done it just about a month back – but from the Kaza side. I was quite excited to get a few quick updates on the trek and promised to discuss in details about the experience once I’m back.

I booked an Uber to reach Chandigarh bus stand from the airport and had a couple of hours to spend before boarding the bus around 8:30pm. The bus stand is quite neat and has a nice dome structure. I spent some time sitting there, taking a few pictures of the dome. Had a quick dinner in one of the restaurants at the bus station and then occupied my seat. It was a nice and comfortable seat but I decided to carry my bags with me rather than keeping in the luggage space. So, I had to sacrifice some of the comforts of the big reclining semi sleeper seat. I tried to catch some sleep to give the body some rest before the torture starts. Sleeping in a bus moving on hilly roads is not easy! Although broken at many times, I got some sleep sitting and holding the rucksack in an uncomfortable way between my legs. The bus stopped post Mandi for a small tea cum toilet break. I decided to buy a cup of tea. At Rs.20 for a small cup, the tea was very pricey but the taste of it seemed heavenly! Seated next to me was a Himachali girl, who works in Chandigarh and goes home somewhere near the tunnel after Mandi. She was now getting ready to get down in some time and was calling at her home to pick her up. She asked me about my destination and when I told her about the trek, she didn’t seem to know much about it. However she said that the region is known for its natural beauty and I’ll surely have a good time there. On commenting that they are indeed lucky to belong to such a beautiful state, she didn’t seem to be quite amused! Said, what’s the use? For every practical purpose you’ll have to go to a bigger town to earn your livelihood! Life in the mountainous villages is difficult! I could understand her frustration although it is primarily this remoteness, inaccessibility and difficulty that keeps most of the remote corners in the mountains pristine and attracts the tired city dwellers and wanderers like us like magnets!

I reached Manali in the early hours – around 5. It was cold and drizzling. I did not have jackets outside and was feeling cold. The cloak room at the bus stand was not open yet; so I had to wait. Some hotel agents came asking if I needed a room; but for 4-5 hours I did not want to pay a hefty price of ~6-700 rupees. The stand was not very clean and some kind of renovation was probably going on (as is the case in almost every other public utility); and together with the rain water, the shelter was in a bit of mess. The dogs were not particularly happy with the arrival of some of the bus passengers! Some travellers were sleeping on some of the benches and one person made some place to keep my bags. I waited for about couple of hours until the cloak room cum restaurant opened. For 50 rupees I parked my bags and went to the nicely maintained Sulabh Sauchalay to do necessary stuff. Back to the restaurant, I had a nice breakfast and multiple rounds of tea. By now I was ok with the temperature.

According to Rajni’s mail, there were only three participants of the trek and I still didn’t fully believe that they will continue with the trip. So, I was making back up plans. My best alternative was Pin-Bhaba pass (conducted by Indiahikes) starting on 28th with Shimla as the pickup point. So, if TTH finally cancelled, I would have boarded the next available bus from Manali to Shimla and joined the trek next day. I made calls and text messages to Sandhya to make sure that they don’t reject me for such unplanned and unexpected appearance. That trek was for a shorter duration and I could have done a back to back trek of Hampta Pass starting on 3rd September. She told me that there should not be any issue I all I need was to give her a call! She later told me that she was on the same Pin-Bhaba trek I was planning to join in case of emergency!

The participants were to meet at the Nehru Park (3 min walk from the bus station) at 10am. There were 3 of us, as I mentioned. One, Mr. Srikanth was from Chennai and he kindly sent his mobile number for me to connect. He was planning to come to Kullu by flight and even when I talked to him in the evening from Chandigarh, he was still in office!! The other person was Mr. Priyaranjan Kumar from Bangalore and there was no communication from him. He was already travelling when Rajni sent the email, so he conveniently ignored it and just showed up in Manali. However, all these ‘mysterious’ participants reinforced my doubt that the trek is definitely getting cancelled. The trek leader was Nitin and I met him at the Nehru Park. He was already there waiting for us! I was a bit relieved and when I told him that there are only three of us, even he was a bit surprised! However, he ‘assured’ me to my ‘satisfaction’ that TTH has decided to honour their commitment and since ours was to be the last batch for the season, it will happen despite the revenue from three clients clearly much lower than the costs (apparently some people rescheduled to different treks at a later date). One by one Srikanth and Priyaranjan (Priya) showed up and I was assured of the attendance of the three for the trek! We dropped a few items at the TTH room (serving as the base centre for treks around Manali) and went out to get some quick bites before starting for Barshaini. Apart from three of us and Nitin, there were two kitchen stuff and twelve porters. We loaded our stuff on two Mahindras and set off around 1pm. The 5% doubt I still had was now gone! I messaged to Sandy that the trip is finally happening and she wished me for a good trip. My Pangarchulla gang members also wished me good luck!

The road to Barshaini goes via Kullu, and before reaching Bhuntar, taks a left turn towards Manikaran. Until that turn, the Beas River is always by your side. This was the apple season and lots of traders were selling apples by the roadside in their small shops. Heaps of red apples could be seen almost everywhere and lots of trucks were also seen parked on the roadside getting loaded with carton and cartons of apples – headed to Chandigarh and beyond. The Manikaran road was narrower but good enough for both way traffic. The roads were relatively well maintained. First came the turn towards Malana (ooooohhhh!! The famous Maaalaaaanaa Cream!!!), then Kasol and then Manikaran. The vapour coming out of the hot springs in Manaikaran could be seen from a distance. The Gurudwara looked nice and there were quite a few people coming by bikes and in other vehicles to this place. We made a road trip plan in 2013 when Kavi was pregnant and Manikaran was the last part of the circuit trip from Chandigarh via Shimla, Kaza, Chandra Tal and Manali. We cancelled it just three days before the start date because of cloudburst and eventual disaster in the Sangla area. I would have loved to stop at Manikaran and offer prayers at the Gurudwara but didn’t say anything as no one else seemed to be interested. The traffic reduced considerably after Manikaran and a few minutes later we reached Barshaini around 4pm. The road goes further up to Tosh village which can be seen nestled in the higher hills surrounded by lush green fields and forest. The construction of Parvati-2 dam was ongoing at Barshaini, which once completed and becomes operational, will inundate some part of the green valley at the confluence of Tosh Nalla and Parvati River.

We picked up our backpacks and walked down towards the small bridge over the raging Tosh Nalla. At this point, the Tosh Nalla seemed to be stronger than the Parvati River, in terms of both sound and ferocity! However, that could be because of the difference in the depth and width of the river and the gradient. Everything around was lush green and absolutely fresh with the air carrying a high level of moisture and very frequent rains (although it was almost the end of monsoons). We camped slightly above the bridge on a campsite belonging to a local family. There were apple trees around with red apples hanging from the branches. There was a green apple tree as well. I resisted the temptation at this moment to pluck them – decided to break my fast in the morning with some

I took out my cameras and went around the campsite (2072m), down towards the Tosh Nalla to take some pictures before it turns dark. The constant roar of the nalla was music to the ears. There were wild flowers blooming everywhere. I sat on a big boulder next to the nalla appreciating the beauty of this unspoilt nature. Small birds were busy getting some last food before the night. A few ponies were grazing around, chomping the luscious green grass. Soon it started drizzling again and I had to abandon my meditative pose to return to the tent. Veils of greywhite clouds started descending on the valley. The drizzle stopped around 6 but by now the light started fading away and the valley started turning mysterious with angry rivers roaring around without any hint of tiredness! We had early dinner at 7 to give the body much needed rest after the night long journey in the bus and prepare it for the challenges ahead. I called Kavi and Ajju for the last time from Nitin’s BSNL number. Priya was my tent mate and after a little chit-chat, we were fast asleep.

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Day 1 – 28th August

It might have drizzled in the night or may be the dew was too much! However, the morning dawned bright. Patches of blue sky was visible at isolated places, although the sky was largely laden with clouds. The sharp pinnacle of rock beyond Tosh village piercing the sky was a sight! I went out for a morning stroll and had my night fast broken with self plucked and juiciest and crunchiest apple ever! Never before I had such a nice apple! I got couple more for the trek for the day and got one green apple as well. We had permission to pluck them for our consumption as long as we didn’t take all. We went up slightly ahead of our camp and filled up the water bottles from a very small clear stream flowing down the hillside. Today we will reach Khir Ganga – about 10km of trek away.

We started at 8:30 after breakfast and packing our lunch. The start is always difficult. I was getting used to the cold gradually – so, removed the other layers but only one when starting and even then started sweating almost within 10 minutes! Initially it’s a bit of steeper hike after which the track flattens out and then it becomes almost a traverse across the side of the mountain. The path was generally sandy and dry, although numerous streams were flowing across the path with the abundance of rains. We reached the next village, Nakthan (2240m) at 9:30. Pale rays of sun were occasionally piercing through the thick cover of cloud and it helped in keeping the body warm during stops. There are a few shops at Nakthan and we saw many of them are occupied with people either going to Kheer Ganga or coming back from there. The exit from Nakthan was quite dirty as I think people believe that there is nothing to care about beyond their place – and I have seen the same even at the time of exit from Kheer Ganga! Our next stop was a beautiful ‘waterfall’ and temple at Rudra Nag. The path was almost flat. One could spot a small bridge across Parvati River before Rudra Nag. It had no railings and didn’t seem sturdy enough. I thought we’ll be using it to cross the river but it never showed up! And to keep to the main route and not to delay others, I did not come back to explore it. There was a small waterfall sweeping the path just before reaching Rudra Nag. The monsoon treks always reward you with uncountable streams and waterfalls on and around the trek route, which mostly vanish in other seasons.

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The waterfall at Rudra Nag is actually a stream of water flowing through a small patch of hard rock with a curved end, which throws the water up in the air before it falls in a small pool below and eventually merges with Parvati. There is a small hut and a temple there. Just after the temple we crossed the roaring rapids of Parvati through an iron bridge far above the water levels. The river looked fierce at this point due to the gradient of its course. After this point the path goes up quite steeply through the forest. There are snack points at few places (I counted three) and at one place they had bright blooming sunflowers lightening up the spirit of tired trekkers. I stopped here to eat something from the lunch pack and took a few pictures of the irresistibly beautiful sunflowers. The path continued to go up and towards the end we took a shortcut which reduces the distance but makes it even steeper. After a quite a few almost breathless steps, we finally reached the flattish ground from where one could see the Kheer Ganga temple at a little distance. Tired, we put the bags down and lay flat on the ground to get some life back! We finished the rest of the lunch. The camping ground (2622m) was slightly ahead in a flattish patch which is primarily a grazing field for the cattle. There were many seasonal huts for the trance and ‘jadibuti’ tourists. We reached Kheer Ganga campsite at 12:30. The sun was playing hide and seek through the clouds and the temperature was quite comfortable.

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We badly wanted to take a dip at the fabled hot spring of Kheer Ganga to relax the tired muscles and freshen up after no bath for almost two days. We first had to wash ourselves outside with the water flowing out from the pool inside and then go inside the pool. The smell of sulphur was quite strong. The water was quite hot even outside and to take a dip till neck you need multiple attempts of going in and coming out adjusting body to the intense heat. Someone said that the water doesn’t freeze here even during the peak of winter when some 15-20 feet of snow gets accumulated! The water comes through a small stream and accumulates in a cemented pool before flowing down further. There is a covered area for women to take bath. Contrary to our wish, we could not sit in the water for long. It was probably more comfortable to sit outside after a short dip of about a minute. However, the bath was refreshing overall and we came back to the tents feeling very hungry. People said that the water has medicinal properties and drinking it will cure the stomach problems. I probably had one gulp, but no more! Too much of good thing, I thought. May be that one gulp increased my appetite!

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The sky cleared up by now and the lush green and shiny leaves reflecting light were making it difficult to look at them without a sun glass! Sitting in the tent is not an option when the sun is shining bright! We had magi and tea at 3:30 sitting the shades of the tents. Soon the refreshment was topped up by popcorn and soup! What a delicacy at such a place! Calves were coming to us for some tasty snack and I was brushing their neck and throat areas, which made them stick to me. In some time more cows and bulls gathered around while grazing and soon there was a fierce fight between two bulls. In the fight one nearby tent of another trek group got damaged when one bull almost fell on it. We walked up to the hilltop ahead to catch the last rays of the setting sun filling the valley with golden hues. We had dinner at 7:15 and went inside the tent. Stars were showing up but there were clouds closing in as well. There were some party music in the night and probably with some holy smoke, it was taking people to some place closer to the heaven! It rained in the night – must be around midnight. I realised that the dogs were coming inside (between the outer and inner tent). Well, good night, sleep tight!

Day 2 – 29th August

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Woke up early in the morning, fully refreshed. The sky was overcast with blue sky showing at isolated places. Our eyes were fixated on beautiful hump of snow and ice at a distance. On close watch I realised that it was just beyond the pinnacle which was visible last morning from Barshaini camp beyond Tosh village. We walked up to the Kund and I further inspected the source of the water. It was coming from some hidden source behind the temple. Myth has it that Kartik Ji used to do meditation here in a cave, some 50m above the temple and used to go to Mantalai to take bath. For him, the Kheer Ganga had a continuous flow of Kheer (condensed milk). But when he left this place, all of that was gone lest mortals start fighting for it! We walked up to the cave above – it’s closed now. The view of the valley gets better from here. After some time we came down and had breakfast, which was already ready and packed some lunch. Today we’ll reach Tunda Bhuj (3196m), some 12km away. We started around 8:40. As usual, the exit was dirty – all the sewage had to be released on the path behind the village! With rains in the night, the initial path through pine forests was slushy. There were streams everywhere flowing alongside the path. The sides of the path were dotted with numerous purple, blue, pink and yellow flowers. At places, ponies and sheep were grazing. This area was primarily a grazing ground for the buffalos of Gujjars, who come here before monsoons from low lands. We crossed some big herds on our way. The bigger ones were quite curious or may be angry at people coming their way from nowhere! The mothers were busy shielding the kids from ‘intruders’. The path was gradually inclined with a few flattish patches in between. I walked almost continuously barring a photo stop. Soon it started raining and I had to stop below a tree to put the rain cover over my sacks. The intensity increased gradually and we soon reached the Gujjar hut on the way to get some rest, have food and shed over the head and drink hot tea. The lady greeted us and asked to sit inside on the wooden ‘bed’. It was such a welcome relief from the wind and rain outside with some warmth from the fire in her kitchen. She gave us glasses of warm milk and it tasted heavenly! Product of zero animal fodder, zero hormones – just from the freshest and medicinal hill plants and herbs! Nitin and I bought additional quantities for later use by paying Rs.40/litre!

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It’s almost time for them to wind up everything and head down before winter sets in. A small kid, Riyaz came inside and we were more than happy to give him our daily portion of candies and chocolates. He was very happy to get this unexpected bounty. Reenergised, we bid adieu to them and started for the camp around 1. The rain had stopped for the time being. All along our way on the left side, beyond the river, numerous waterfalls were cascading down from the sheer cliffs. The wind was sometimes so strong that the falls were become just a spray of water before reaching the base of the cliff. The valley on which we were walking was a little wider and uncountable streams – big and small were all flowing down to merge with Parvati – who was now our constant companion. There were log bridges at places over the raging torrents of the subsidiary streams. The path after the hut was going continuously upward but the energy gained after having the fresh milk kept us going strong. We reached the campsite around 2:30 and rain started again!

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The campsite had a very pretty setting! It was just on the bank of a strong stream flowing from the mountain behind. The pine forest covered the mountain side about 30-40m away from our tents. The lush green grass was dotted with tiny flowers. White flowers with mild fragrance covered both the sides of the stream. The mountainside was flowing down gradually as a result of years of slides and rock falls and tireless efforts of water streams; but the head was held high amidst the clouds. Lumps of omnipresent low lying clouds were giving a mystic look to the valley. The constant flow of water was adding music to the drama.

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Our tents were sheltered behind a huge boulder which would have rolled down many years back. The drizzle made us put bags inside and get the ponchos ready for venturing out in the rains. I crossed the log bridge over the stream to go to the edge of the gorge of the river. Streams were jumping almost vertically down from the top of the mountain cliffs on the other side of the gorge. The river stretched far and beyond the eyes could see. The lower hills were showing signs of clearing up although it was still raining here. On the hilltop there is a small hut belonging to a Baba. What he does here is anybody’s guess! We had dinner at 7 and Kamal and Navin (our cooking team) topped it up with awesome gajar halwa! It probably rained from time to time in the night, however, never strong enough to give a scare.

Day 3 – 30th August

It was a rain soaked morning and the thought of walking in rain dampened the early morning joy. I roamed about near the stream to lift my mood and the fresh and cool breeze did wonders. We had a quick breakfast and packed our lunch and started by 8:30, taking advantage of a break in the clouds. I had to use the poncho to save the bags from getting wet from dripping water from the trees and bushes. The only trouble is that it is unusually big and becomes difficult to manage while walking with heavy backpacks on both the back and on the chest! However, I had to manage somehow. The path was almost flattish in the beginning and after some time we came to an open patch. There was a broken pulley bridge on Parvati. This was the original route from where trekkers used to cross the river to move on to the other side. However the bridge got washed away few years back and now the river is bridged from further ahead on the next day. The entire valley was covered with white bloom with a very mild fragrance. This was truly a heaven! I have been to the valley of flowers and here I found a far larger valley of flowers! For two whole days we walked on flower beds!

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The regrouping was for a purpose. After this easy stretch, we had to walk up on mostly exposed and rocky trail. Soon we came across a patch where there was flowing water streams on exposed rocks. There was hardly enough space to keep both feet side by side while walking. We had to be almost on all fours leaning on the mountainside to cover this stretch. The rains and streams made the situation even trickier. One slip is a sure invite to the raging river flowing about 50ft down. There was nothing that one could hold on to or would break the fall! I became extremely alert because of the load on both sides; which made leg movements in the front constrained to some extent. I just gave my walking stick to someone so that I don’t have to put my bag down to keep it inside; and delay everyone in the process; and crossed this patch. Nitin went back some distance to help the other team from Bangalore, who was also doing the same trek. All of us managed it without any incidence. We had halted here for everyone to cross before going ahead. One eagle flew very close overhead carrying a pray in its talons and calling happily!

We soon came to a very steep – almost vertical patch while clouds closed in. although there not too many trekkers on this route, the grazers and their sheep and goats keep the path easy to follow even with low visibility. Gasping, we climbed up to the top of the patch and assembled for snack/lunch break around 11:30. After this tiring phase, the path was long but relatively flat. We just had to make our way through thick bushes of white flowers covering the path. With rains, streams were everywhere! After a while the valley opened up to wider flat space. There was another pulley bridge across the river. One Sadhu baba with his foreigner guest made a makeshift tent using a huge boulder and a yellow plastic sheet. Horses of the sheep herders were grazing in the open ground. There were iron bridges (small ones) to cross the raging streams. Walking about 15min more on this wide valley, I reached the camping ground of Thakur Kuan (3390m) at 12:45.

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For some reason I was feeling a bit tired today. The milk carried in one of the water bottles was giving me all the necessary energy for the walk as I didn’t feel like eating anything ever since the breakfast! However, the beauty of this flower covered plateau, the mystic mountain range surrounding the valley from both sides, play of clouds, music of the streams and the liveliness of the tiny little birds busy catching insects made me drop my bag in the tent and go out with the cameras. I traced the path back till the tent of Sadhu Baba – about one km from our camp. There was a big waterfall on our side of the mountains. I took numerous pictures of colourful flowers – purple, red, blue, yellow, pink, white. At times I just sat next to streams watching the birds catching insects. On the other side of the river there was a natural overhang of rocks, which was conveniently converted into a shelter by the sheep herders and there were lots of four legged friends close to it munching happily on the greenest grass. I had some of the stuff from the packed lunch sitting on a rock – which resembled a chair – looking towards the valley further ahead. This was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life! Wherever you look, its carpeted with flowers!

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Mild drizzle made me come back to the tent. I had a mild headache – may be due to lack of food – although I had enough water. For precaution, I put the woollen cap on – and voila – headache was gone! There was a quiet and tiny stream flowing close to our tent doubling as a water source. Just beyond it was another stretch of flower bed. I went for a stroll before it turned dark. All four (including Nitin) of us assembled in our tent in the evening for chit-chat. We had dinner at 7. The upper reaches of the valley was opening up and a few stars were shining like jewels in the dark sky. However, this camp was colder than the previous one primarily because of the height and the place is more open – allowing more free flow of cold wind descending from the frozen mountains. I relaxed myself inside the warm and cosy sleeping bag.

Day 4 – 31st August

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It rained heavily in the night although the sandy soil made sure not a drop of water entered our tent. I woke up to a bright and clear morning. The higher reaches were dusted with fresh snowfall in the night and suddenly the view was different from the previous afternoon! The valley cloud had dispersed and snow capped peaks and glaciers were now clearly visible ahead of the valley. We started at the usual time fully energised by the clear weather. The wind was not strong and the sun had brightened up the valley – providing enough warmth to our bodies. The initial path was through the flattish to gently upward valley carpeted with the omnipresent white flowers. I stopped uncountable times to take pictures of tiny flowers on the roadside. Soon we came across a big herd of sheep and goats. Going ahead we had to again climb and balance ourselves on huge boulders to cross the streams – one a tributary to Parvati and then almost immediately the Parvati itself over the Pandu Pul. Climbing Pandu Pul is relatively easier but getting down would be difficult if the steps were not made on its edge by stacking rocks together. I did not have trouble crossing these boulders as the leg movement was not constrained as on the previous day. I took a few videos and lots of pictures here. Today was supposed to be an easier day and the turn in weather made me feel very happy as I did not have to keep the cameras protected all the time. And possibly I was getting used to the height and the extraordinary efforts – as a result feeling stronger than before! Just after Pandu Pul, the path goes steeply up but flattened out shortly thereafter. A large part of the mountainside was burnt – possibly by the grazers for wood and lots of junipers and other shrubs were in a charred state. We humans can destroy even heaven! Some miracle should happen to save the earth from the most destructive creatures called humans – who mostly do not believe in living in harmony with the natural world and can go any length to turn things in their favour – however short term it is! In a paradise surrounded by majestic white peaks and flowers of almost every shape and colour, such mindless act surely makes one feel sad! And we saw it at two places! One can argue that first was accident; but again!

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The grass cover was getting thinner and the dry nature of the upper valley was a sharp contrast to the lush plateau we just came from. However, a surprise was in store as I proceeded further. Another vast flower field was waiting with bees and butterflies and birds having a field day. If the previous two days can be termed as days of white flowers, today was the day of pink! The butterflies spread their wings to warm up in the sun; bees were busy collecting honey and pollen flying from flower to flower. The tiny birds were in a feeding frenzy with the moths and butterflies flying around. Probably the last month of intense activity before the entire valley goes back to a frozen stupor for half a year. One beautiful and very friendly shepherd dog came running to me and I rewarded it with a few biscuits. Parvati River was in a more tranquil mood here flowing almost unceremoniously. Sound of the river was replaced by the sound of waterfalls and tiny streams moving over pebbles. The freshness of air was never more pronounced! Green lichen was on every rock surface giving an artificial sense of greenery on the boulders and rocks strewn around. At places was bright orange lichen. Our camp was on a vast flat ground slightly away from the river. One small stream was flowing down from the mountain side on our left and provided 24×7 running mineral water for every need of the camp. Tiny flowers dotted the campsite and I finally gave up trying not to step on flowers while walking – because they were everywhere. We had a bed of flowers!

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I reached Odi Thatch (3595m) around 1pm, fully content with my captures so far! It was the best shooting day so far and the surrounding held lots of promises for shooting to heart’s content. Light drizzle started and we had hot soup and Maggi sitting inside the tents. By now there were clouds around , but it was a moving affair – clouds came, drizzled and disappeared into thin air. I had a lovely time with the close up lens. I went down to the riverbank and sat on a big roundish rock on water, listening to the soothing sound of the flow and looking at the swaying flowers on its bank. By the evening the lower reaches on the western side cleared up. I was excited to witness a dramatic sunset for the first time during this trek! The amount of cloud was just perfect for the sunset colors to paint the sky with them.

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The other guys along with the kitchen and porters’ gang joined for handball and Frisbee games with the Bangalore gang. I came to the tent to put on some warm layers as the wind was getting colder and colder. Sitting in the tent I could see the snowy peaks across the river (probably far away) glowing with the setting sun! I positioned myself atop a big rock looking west to capture the last colours of the day. And what a sunset it was – as was expected! The entire valley glowed in the evening colours! Even when the sun was gone, the reflection of light on the feeble stream made it glow like a river of mercury against a dark background. Soon stars came up and the night sky was glowing with zillions of them! The Milky Way spread across the space above the narrow valley. I spent quite some time outside in the cold shooting the nightscape, which gave us a miss thus far. Freezing fingers and flowing eyes and nose are no deterrents when the reward is so high!

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Day 5 – 1st September

Early in the morning fragments of clouds were drifting around and the upper ridges of the mountains around were covered by a thin veil. The constant accumulation and disappearance looked fascinating in the soft lights of the morning. The sky cleared up gradually and the golden rays of sunrise filled up the valley and fired up the snowy peaks across the river. The track was through gently inclined valleys of Parvati. At places the river was spread wide and looked like a bunch of rivulets joining hands to form such a mighty river. The sky started gathering cloud on the Mantalai side as the day progressed although we were mostly showered with sun’s blessings on most of the way. The final climb to the Mantalai lake bed along the moraine zone was the only formidable climb for the day. The walk was a little uncomfortable for me today as the shoulder straps were acting funny or maybe I did not adjust them properly; as a result of which my left shoulder was hurting. Anyway, we climbed up the last hurdle and reached the lake at 1:10. It started raining, so I hurried to the campsite further ahead and reached around1:30. The camp (3946m) was situated on the left side of the mountain range at the beginning of Mantalai Lake. The flow from the glaciers ahead made a huge pool of water on the flat valley as the exit got blocked by the moraine zone of another range. So the water of the lake flows over the moraine and marks the beginning of the river. There was a small Shiva temple at the beginning of the lake and I had to go back to offer my prayers and take pictures and of the flowers I had spotted en route. Maybe it was an auspicious day, as many local people were crossing us on the way to the lake to offer prayers at the temple.

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A few wagtails and stilts were very active around the water bodies catching insects. I carried my cameras and walked back towards the lake. The release of load from the back felt so good! The sky was still overcast although rain had stopped. I came across clusters of bright pink flowers on the bank of the lake interspersed with purple blossoms. Their brightness was a welcome relief to the otherwise dull looking sandy banks of the lake… Locals were all gone now and I was the only one sitting at heaven next to God! The sound of the brass bells at the temple site broke the monotony of the continuous sound of the wind flowing down to the lower valley. Mantalai is a big enough lake at such an altitude but the water is not clear like other glacial lakes. It is quite muddy due to the fine particles of sand carried down from the mountains above and recent rains made it even muddier. Rains made a comeback and I had to cut short ‘my time’ to rush to the tents. The weather turned worse in the evening and it rained all night. We made trench around the tent to prevent water from seeping in but that was totally inadequate due to the continuous downpour. Some water seeped inside and I woke up many times in the night to check if my sleeping bag and the backpacks were getting wet. It was a cold, damp and uncomfortable night! I kept praying for a better morning because tomorrow we will have to reach the base of the pass and if such rains continue, we’ll not be able to make a move and worse, if weather turns really bad, our exit will be through Barshaini and not Mudh! Oh Lord Shiva!

Day 6 – 2nd September

There was fresh snow on the tent when I came out and the nearby mountain tops were heavily dusted with fresh snow. Sky was still overcast and one could never say for sure which way the weather would turn! I heard noise in the late night and that was from the porters’ tent – water had flooded their tent and they had to move it somewhere higher in the middle of the night! By 6:30, the lower mountains started to clear up although it remained somewhat covered at higher reaches – that’s where we are headed! But soon there was bright sunlight warming up the entire valley! We were very relieved! We started at the usual time and for about a kilometre, at the beginning, was almost flat. We crossed a stream removing shoes and the ice -cold knee deep water almost froze the feet! One guy from the Bangalore group hurt himself on a stone. The cut was quite deep. Nitin and others did some first aid and his pals shared some of his load. He continued.

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We stopped at about 4174m after the first major climb of the day. We were climbing the true right side of the glacier flowing down. The huge glacier with all its glory stretched from left to right as far as we could see. There were a few deep green glacial pools scattered across. A tiny mouse came out of its hideout to get some warmth from the sun. It didn’t seem to be too conscious of the large number of people around it and we did our best not to disturb him. Our second stop was at 4284m at around 10:45. It was a bright sunny day by now as all the cloud had cleared up even at these ranges. The fresh soft snow on the boulders was getting even softer. After a killer uphill stretch, we stopped at 4426m at 11:30 – at a relatively roundish hump on the mountainside. The view of the Parvati valley was getting better and better as we moved up. We seemed to be almost face to face with all the snowy peaks across the glacier. Few bees were busy doing their job on the blue, white, yellow, red and pink flowers around. We had our lunch here savouring the beauty of the mountains. A small stretch from here till the base of the final climb was relatively less steep. We crossed a few small streams flowing down hopping on rocks and boulders. The final climb started at 12:15 from a height of 4458m. The rocks around were a mix of dark brown and yellow and largely loose. I could finish this stretch in three phases, giving myself enough time to recuperate before attempting the next phase. It was very tiring to move on loose rocks with the heavy backpacks. Every hump seemed to be the end of the tiring climb but there was always another hump ahead of it! Finally I made it to the camp at 4713m at around 2 (N 31°51’16.69”, E 77°49’6.192”).

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The camping ground was in a small stretch of relatively flat but rocky and quite windy zone. The cold wind was sweeping down from the glaciers starting a few meters from the campsite. The glacial stretch ahead looked fascinating – glowing with the sunlight! The camp had a very pretty setting. It had the huge Parvati valley on one side, walled by snow capped mountain range and everywhere else was surrounded by white, rolling snowfields, bordered by tall cliffs. A stream was flowing down from the right side of the camp and the initial steep gradient made it look like a mini waterfall. I found this place very similar to the upper waterfall campsite at Rupin. I collected my sleeping bag and spread it over the tent to dry. I took my camera bag and went down to take pictures of a few flowers missed on the way up. What a beautiful day so far! Red flowers dotted every damp place near the stream. Bright pink flowers looking like pompons offered some variety. Soon clouds started moving up the valley and I came back to the camp. All of us including the Bangalore gang gathered near the tent area for pre-evening chit-chat. The sun set behind the mountains across the valley, sans the magical colours seen at Odi Thatch. The temperature dipped drastically after the sunset and it got quite windy as well. I had some issues with my stomach. Don’t really know how it started but had to go out in the cold, windy and snowy night. It was probably a result of over-exhaustion or some issues with drinking water at the previous camp (others didn’t seem to have any problem with stomach though). I tossed and turned almost all night inside my sleeping bag and hardly slept – not good before the pass crossing!

Day 7 – 3rd September – Pass crossing

I got up long before and came out of the tent at 4 in the morning, so that we can start by 6:30. The sky was clear barring a few patches of cloud here and there. The sky had shining stars but not as many as in Odi Thatch. I was not feeling great after an almost sleepless night with upset stomach. I had started taking medicines already but to make sure that I don’t have to run for toilet every now and then, I had also restricted food intake and with the activity level peaking, less food meant less energy! I had to manage somehow. Today was supposed to be a tiring and difficult day as well – initially gaining height to reach the pass and steep down thereafter – altogether covering around 15km (as per TTH trek map). The glacier started a few meters after the camp and it was a steady incline over vast rolling snowfields. The sun was already up in the sky but cloud cover protected us from the bright glaze on the snow. We walked like the tortoise – slowly but steadily – almost in a single line. The first stop was at 4916m at 7:15. So far we walked on the right side of the mountains in front of us and reached its base. Now we had to walk from the base of the range on the left and reach the base of the pass. I stopped to take pictures of the vast amphitheatre of snow covered mountain ranges spread in front and everywhere around. Our assistant cook spotted a mouse on the snow and started chasing it for fun. At the end of his brief chase, both of them looked tired and unwilling to move much! We walked ahead towards the base of the pass. The climb was not much but loose rocks made sure that we approach it carefully. A last push and we were at the pass (5070m, N 31°50’7.898”, E 77°50’40.463”) at 9:08! Hurray!!

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The landscape was almost similar on both sides of the pass as we had left the greenery of Parvati valley almost two days back. Vast snowfields covered all the sides and down below on the Mudh side, the landscape seemed quite dry and barren – as is usual for Spiti. We celebrated for some time at the pass – people took lots of pictures marking their achievement. The weather was very supportive of this extra time here and there was hardly much chance of it turning too bad on the Spiti side (rain shadow area). The gradient of the snowfield on the Spiti side was ideal for sliding down but Nitin cautioned us repeatedly against it. Soon we got to know the reason! We came across quite a few crevasses which although not looking dangerous, could cause a lot of trouble if someone accidentally steps/falls into it. In some time the snowfield was over and started walking on boulders and rocks, trying to bypass the streams flowing from the glaciers. The Spiti side had a few flowers, similar to the ones seen near the last camp but they were fewer than on the Parvati side. After the steepest descent, we had to cross a glacial stream to continue downwards. I had very little appetite to wade through the knee deep icy cold stream again – so tried in vain to search for a place upstream where I could jump from boulder to boulder to cross it. The stream was quite strong and even the narrowest parts were not narrow enough for me to jump from one side to the other. The only possibility was to walk up to the moraine zone and cross it – some 45 minutes extra! I had even lesser appetite for climbing again with the heavy backpacks – tiredness was evident! So, we removed shoes and crossed the stream. It took hardly 2-3 minutes to cross them buy towards the end I had no sense on my feet even though walking! We kept jumping on rocks for some time to help the numb feet gain back senses faster. I had a little food from the lunch pack and hurried for the camp down.

I reached the Bhedi Thatch camp (4201m) at 1:30 and hot maggi was waiting for me. Felt better after dropping the bags and relaxing my tired body lying flat inside the tent. The warm and simple food gave some energy back to my body. This camp was on the true left bank of the Pin River and serves as a camping place of the grazers. Although the sun was peeping out of the scattered clouds from time to time, the strong cold wind blowing from the mountains on other side of the river made us wear multiple layers to keep the chill under control. The wind slowly died down after the sunset and we had early dinner and retired to the tents for some recovery. I had a good sleep!

Day 8 – 4th September

I got up early in the morning feeling refreshed. The Spitian chill in the weather was quite evident although the wind was not blowing – thankfully! I carried my camera and scrambled up on a big boulder slightly ahead of our camp to enjoy the quietness of the place and take some pictures of the sunrise. There were greyish lumpy clouds all around although they did not look to pose any danger. They dispersed slowly as the sun came up. The cloud cover towards the pass behind cleared first and the vast arena showcased a beautiful play of light and shadow in the golden colours of the rising sun.

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We started leisurely after having breakfast. It was almost entirely downhill alongside the Pin River with mild gradient. The entire path was through largely dry land with heaps of broken rocks everywhere. The colours of 1the rocks sometimes gave colour to the entire mountainside – red, black, dark purple, dark green, gray. The slopes were steeper on the other side of the river and they were relatively greener. At some places red flowers covered
the whole face. Clear streams were flowing down to the main river cutting across the path but the lacked in number and volume compared to the Parvati valley. Despite the dry and arid landscape some flowers popped their heads from below the stones at a few places. The long downward walk proved to be a test for the already tested knees and ankles. After quite a few twists and turns, we finally reached Tiya camp (3828m, N 31°51’10.988”, E 77°58’51.516”) at 1pm. It is situated at a place from where the Pin Bhaba pass trek takes a left turn for the pass – just on the other bank of the river. This place was extremely windy – much more than what we experienced the previous day. Pitching the tents was a real struggle. We had to hold the corners of the tent for it to be set properly and then had to go inside to put our bags at the corners before tightening the pegs. The sun was very bright and hot but the wind was cooling down everything.

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I walked up (about 100 vertical meters) on the mountain side to get a better view of the valley on the other side of the river. It looked like a funnel – the Pin Bhaba route continues along the side of the mountain on the left of the flat valley. Tow tiny black dots in the valley were shepherds’ shelters without any roof. The actual pass was not clearly visible – but it seemed to be some distance ahead into the valley below sharply rising icy peaks. The hills ahead were quite colourful – in fact they were looking like different layers of colours, very distinct from each other – grey, white, yellow and red – with white fluffy clouds just above the peaks and azure blue sky overhead. The landscape looked surreal – out of a painter’s canvas. With nothing else to do, I started looking for elements of life here. I could spot ants, grasshoppers, spiders, flies, rats, some weird crawling reptiles and of course, tiny birds. The bushy plants growing around had hard stems and sharp thorn like edges – probably to conserve the scarce water.

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I came down to the camp site and later tried to make a small rock bridge across a sub-stream to go to the island like land patch next to the river. There were quite a few bright pink flowers in the island. The sun started going down behind the pass and the reflection on water looked beautiful. Soon a crescent moon came up in the dark blue sky. Wind velocity had reduced considerably – just like the previous night.We’ll try to start early tomorrow to reach Kaza as soon as possible.

Day 9 – 5th September

We were ready around 7:30 am and started walking down the dirt track towards Mudh. There is a nalla ahead, which washes away the road every time it is made and as such is called Pagla (mad) Nalla! In its absence, jeeps could have come up to the camp. I’m sure, in some time the nalla will also be bridged for cars (ok for trekkers now). There were wider and brownish, rolling valleys on the other side of the river and streams were coming down through every valley to merge with Pin River. ‘Trekking’ on the road seemed more difficult and tiresome! It seemed like an endless, almost monotonous walk on the jeep track! Around 9:30 I had the first glimpse of our destination – Mudh (3661m), at the base of a heavily eroded greyish mountain. This gave some enthusiasm back to me – at least I can now see where I have to reach! But Mudh seemed like an oasis, it continued to be visible but never reachable! I hardly stopped much, apart from stops for taking pictures. Very slowly, the village started to look bigger; I could see the houses distinctly. There were green fields on the valley next to the river and also on the mountain side. The villagers were growing and cutting some kind of grass at that time, which will become fodder for cattle during the approaching winter.

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Mudh (3661m) has a very beautiful setting. It is on the left bank of Pin River at the base of a peak guarding it from behind. A tributary to Pin flows just in front of the village. There are wide fields for cultivation during summers. There were a few tall trees in the village, which is a special effort by the villagers to grow at this height. The colour of water of Pin is light green. One rope bridge hangs across the river to reach the fields on the right side of the river. Brightly coloured Buddhist prayer flags keep fluttering in the strong wind, carrying the mantras across the valleys. I reached Mudh around 11:15. We went to Tara Guesthouse to relax and eat something quick. The only phone connection (satellite phone) for the village is available here. Although the connection is unreliable, the saving grace is at least it is there! And it is BSNL – nothing else reach such remote place. The guesthouse looked neat and comfortable. I thought maybe someday, I can get my family here for a leisure trip. I had a funny moment here. The chairs had cushions on them and when occupying one of them, I suddenly got up to check the seat. After sitting and sleeping on ground and rocks for 9 days, the soft cushion caused a sudden reflex of senses! I laughed heartily at myself and relaxed.

One vehicle came for us from Manali to take us to Kaza and onward to Manali tomorrow. We were off by 12:45 and proceeded along the dusty and largely loose road to Kaza. Heavy rains can be disastrous to the mountains here. Most of them along the road seemed to be just huge heaps of mud and loose rocks of the shape of big marbles. Along the way we saw evidence of mudslides sweeping away huge part of the mountainside, and of course the road along with it. The roads have been rebuilt but it’s just until the next one! One cannot stop appreciating the tremendous job done by BRO by laying and maintaining roads at such inhospitable places! There were tiny hamlets along the river. One signboard said that the village had 30 people!

We reached our hotel Kunzom Spiti Inn, in the middle of the market area, around 2. I badly wanted to talk to Kavi and Arjun. However, nothing works here other than BSNL connection and the phone booth below our hotel was closed for lunch break. The front parts of both my boots were coming off and I had spotted a repair guy on the way to the hotel. So, rushed to him to get them ready for Chandra Tal trek and for Rs.300, he did a decent job. I felt refreshed after taking bath. Hearing the voice of Ajju brought tears to my eyes. This little one misses me so much and was so happy to talk to me! I can’t quite handle such intense emotions – they are very strange and new to me!

After some quick snacks, Priya and I walked down to the riverside. The largely dry riverbed must be about half a kilometre wide apart from the fields alongside at a slightly elevated level. Fierce wind was blowing up a dust storm with fine sand particles on the riverbed making it look like a vast flow of hot water emanating vapour. Bright sunlight, blue sky above and the dark mountains behind made a supernatural setting! The wind grew stronger from time to time and airborne sand kept irritating the eyes. I was feeling hungry already and came to the German Bakery below our hotel and ordered a fruit cake and coffee. I bought small prayer flags and a wall hanging of Buddha from a shop. I called Kavi once more in the evening before I got the possession of Nitin’s mobile, where she could call.

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The sky lit up with stars in no time after the sunset. They seemed to have multiplied in the last few days! We had to start at 3 tomorrow so that Srikanth can catch the afternoon bus for Delhi from Manali. So, had early dinner and finished customary formalities of tipping the support team. We call them support team, but without them it’s probably not even feasible for lesser mortals like us to do such treks! I was surprised that the comfortable beds of the hotel didn’t seem to offer any better quality sleep than what we got in the tents lying on the ground over a thin mat! Proves sleep is not about the quality of the bed as is shown in the TV commercials…

Day 10 – 6th September (trek to Chandra Tal)

We had to get up at 2am to start for Manali at 3. I had sorted out my plan for Chandra Tal. I picked up my camera bag and put just a few more items to survive one night there. The down jacket was on along with the cap. The big rucksack will go to Manali with the rest of the team and will remain at TTH home till I reach Manali. The night was still starry but only the ridgelines were visible in the moonless night. So, we largely missed the beauty of the road until the valleys started waking up around 5. The Spiti River spread wide at many places and the vast river beds seemed fascinating in the soft lights of the morning. The first golden rays of the sun were firing up the lofty snowy peaks and we reached Kunjum La (4590m) just in time (~6:00) to capture the beautiful moments.

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After spending some 10-15 minutes at the freezing and windy place, we started for Batal (3811m). The path to Chandra Tal starts ~3km before Batal as a left diversion (while coming from Batal) on the main road to Kaza. We went ahead and stopped at Chandra Dhaba for breakfast. I had to eat well for ~12km walk to the camps where I hoped to find some place for night stay. The old couple running Chandra Dhaba along with their daughter in law were very sweet and welcoming. He suggested me to stay at his son’s camp near Chandra Tal – Tenzing Camp. There were some pot smokers inside who were directed by the old man to go outside for their business. I realised that some of them were coming to Chandra Tal. I did not have any intention to request for a lift from any of these guys and wanted to walk all the way despite the usual fatigue due to not getting enough sleep at night. I bid adieu to Priya, Srikanth and Nitin as they hopped on the jeep and went off for Manali.

The weather was crisp and chilly. The path was through the true left bank of Chenab River. After walking back 3km on the main road, I reached the junction where it said Chandra Tal was 14km ahead – the last 1.5km has to be covered on foot. The camps are on a flat ground about 4.5km before Chandra Tal. So, I had to trek some 9.5km more to get to my resting point where I could have some more food before going out to explore the Tal. The trek was a little inclined at the beginning but flattened out after 3-4 km. I passed a big herd of sheep and goats going down to lower hills. There were so many baby sheep at the tail end of the herd along with their mamas. Some of the sheep seemed to be unnerved by a stream on the way and one even tried to jump off into the gorge of the river to avoid crossing water! Luckily one of the shepherds caught hold of its hind leg and pulled back from the edge of the road. Some of the babies were carried on hand by the shepherds. Goats were comparatively smarter and lead the pack. Horses carried the load of the shepherds and shepherd dogs kept watchful eyes on everything around. Some travellers on their way back crossed me. The river valley was wide and the dryness around was very evident. I hardly saw much vegetation on the sides of the path. However the beauty was unimaginable – a river coming out of the most barren land I have seen and the reddish brown mountains were at sharp contrast to the dark blue, cloudless sky! I walked fast enough and reached the camps (4200m) in 2:30 hrs at 9:45. People who stayed there in the night were beginning to come out of their camps for breakfast and were getting ready for their journey to Kaza or Manali. So, I had to wait for some time before someone had time to talk to me and allot a tent. They were all busy smoking pot and simultaneously making breakfast for their guests. Large groups from Israel were the main guests and soon some local guys joined them for rounds of smoke. This is the only sad part about these places – almost everyone seems to be coming here for smoking cannabis! I did not expect much professionalism from my hosts – who seemed to be bitten by hippie culture!

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I ate some bread omelette (finally I got served!) and set out to see the fabled Tal. The tent guys showed me a path going up from behind the camp. He asked me to walk for half an hour and not take the left turn when it comes! Probably I couldn’t have expected a better direction from a serial pot smoker! I walked up and reached the top of the hill. Looking around I could see a dull looking glacial pool on my left and nothing else! For a moment I thought what a waste of time to come this far to see such a Chandra Tal! But better sense prevailed! Told myself, people cannot go mad to see this drab one – Chandra Tal must be different! I looked around and found the jeep path way down – below the hill. I hurried down and started walking on the jeep path. Soon the road ended from where the 1.5km last leg to the Tal starts; and I knew I was back on the right track! The path went up a little ahead and from the top I could see the mesmerising beauty lying ahead – a tranquil lake with emerald green waters, enveloped by reddish yellow hills and azure blue sky! I walked slowly to the lake, touched its cold water, looked at the pebbles at the bottom but clearly visible. The lake is a little curved, so I could not see the other end of it. I had no more doubt why people go mad to come here!

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I wanted to see around and, of course do a circumambulation to see every corner of it. I walked on the left side (of the lake (4083m) and walked up to the midpoint to sit quietly and just look at it. The blue green water seemed to be changing colours from time to time as the breeze made ripples on its surface. The bright colours of the surrounding mountains and the deep blue sky cooked up various shades at different depths of the lake. I could spend the entire day strolling around, looking at the water and the surrounding beauty!

Made a mistake – didn’t carry any extra food – partly because I was irritated by the indifferent attitude of Tenzing and his mates and there was nothing to be bought apart from the camps. And I didn’t want to buy biscuits and chips! And also realised that they are ok for travellers – not trekkers! The long walk in the morning made me feel very hungry. But I did not intend to go back early – I wanted to see the sunset here! So, picked myself up and walked to the lake shore. Filled up my bottle and filled my tummy with the sweet tasting water. I had no worries of catching a stomach infection! Chandra Tal is not fed by any glacial stream. The water seeps in from the mountains around and the little extra water flows out from both ends – largely from the front part, where it’s called Chandra River – although it’s nothing but a tiny stream! The flow of water helped growth of marshy grass, attracting quite a few stilts and sandpipers. I walked further ahead and climbed up the riverbank on the left. Chenab was flowing in front and vast snowy mountain fields spread across the river. The fiercely cold wind made me come back to the lake and found a big stone on the lake bed. Removed the shoes and dipped my feet in the icy cold water. The magical waters took away all the tiredness from my feet and body! I sat there for quite some time – listening to the splash of the tiny waves, throwing pebbles into the water from time to time. After spending about an hour on the stone, I started walking from the other side of the lake. Mountain ranges across the river seemed to be lining up on the other bank of the lake. There were quite a few cairns at the midpoint where I suppose people offer prayers.

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By now, the lake was getting a bit ‘crowded’! Some tourist teams had reached and they were running around excitedly, taking selfies and other pictures. With such commotion around, I gave up my fight with the protesting stomach and decided to head back to the camp. It must have been around 5 then. From the top of the hump, I looked admiringly for one last time at the beauty and said goodbye – determined to come back again! This time I walked along the road as it was beginning to get dark and I didn’t want any more negative surprise. I reached the camp and requested for some food. A bowl of hot Maggi tasted heavenly! I loitered around for some time before getting inside the tent bored with tourists around. Zillions starts lit up the sky the moment Sun God said goodbye and crazy smokers started their shouts and use of slangs from inside the kitchen cum dining tent. I had to go for a brief period to finish my dinner and came back to the tent as soon as possible. The night sky was beautiful but the crazy people and bitter cold forced me inside. I probably should have chosen Parasol Camp (neighbouring one).

Day 11 – 7th September

Light comes up early in the mountains and I came out of the cosy warmth of the quilts to get ready. After paying for the tent and food, I started for Batal at 5:45. I knew that the bus from Kaza to Manali would reach Batal earliest at 9:30. So, I could walk at a leisurely pace, given my recorded time while coming here; and given that it’ll be more downward this time. The mountains were waking up to the first golden rays of sun and the reflection on the river was looking like a collectible postcard. The quite morning and remoteness of the path was intoxicating! The whole place belonged to me – well, almost! I reached Chandra Dhaba at 8:30 with only 4 vehicles crossing me on the way during the 12km walk. I had a great hunger growing in my tummy and had a BIG breakfast at Chandra Dhaba, lovingly prepared by Chacha and Chachi. I met 2 girls (Anjali and Shivangi) from Chandigarh at the Dhaba waiting for the bus to Manali. So, I had company in the boring wait for the bus which had no mood to show up! We finally managed to get a ride on a pick up jeep heading to Manali and hopped on it. We had to adjust our rear on a spare tyre and some rags. The initial part of the road from Batal was ok; but soon it was just a track on the mountains and could no more be called a road! The bumpiest and dusty ride took a pause for lunch at 12:30 a few km before Chhatru. There was no sign of the road getting better anytime soon although the beauty of the mountains around took some pain off from my mind. Trying to take pictures was completely futile! So, just sat there waiting for the jerks from bottom and vigorous shakes to come to an end. A big group of Nepali porters boarded the jeep at Chhatru and thereafter the ride became even more uncomfortable due to lack of leg space. One of the guys was constantly staring at one of my co-passengers and the angry Sardaran blasted him nicely! I had a word with Deva Baba (driver and his friend), who also threatened the group. Finally we reached Rohtang Pass around 3 and the torment to our bums reduced. The vehicle was stopped at the check post for carrying us in such a manner. We got down and paid him his dues and hopped on a bus to Manali. At the bus stop I waived the girls off (they had to reach Kullu) and went to collect my luggage from Kamal.

I had booked a bed at Zostel in old Manali and after doing such prestigious trek, it seemed below my dignity to take an auto to reach Zostel! I started walking with the backpacks on the busy road and it seemed to be nestled somewhere up in the hills even beyond Kaza! I was finding Manali quite warm after coming from freezing temperature and this tremendous effort completely soaked me in sweat! Whenever I asked for direction, people asked me to go ahead! Crazy! I finally made it to Zostel in one piece and after the formalities, reached my bed! I took a warm bath and put some fresh clothes on. Now, time for some relaxation and recovery and lazy chats! I called at home, got a recruiter’s call from Bangalore and had some good soup and mutton curry. At the dinner table I met a guy from Egypt, Ahmed and a girl from Germany, Vera. We decided to go around for short hikes around old Manali next morning to explore the area on foot. I crashed to bed and had a really good sleep!

Day 12 – 8th September

The day started with a misty morning amidst call of birds from trees around. The Zostel here is in the middle of the village and so much away from the noisy roads. From the balcony one can see the valley in front and mountains far and away! Before starting for the day hike, I booked my bus ticket to Chandigarh for next morning. Our first destination was Manu Temple, very close to Zostel. From there we wanted to walk to Solang valley, which had a mention on the signboard behind the temple. We walked through village roads and reached trekking trails through jungles. I went to a nearby house to ask for directions and saw three guys busy in shearing a sheep, which has just come back from the high mountains. I called my Ahmed and Vera to see this. Spinning and making wool and weaving is a cottage industry here. We saw many small scale handlooms in many shops on the way up to this. We walked up and after some time came across a small café on the top of the hill. All these places are hotspots for lazy travellers to smoke pot, one after another! Both Ahmed and Vera were smokers and Ahmed joined two other Swedish guys in their ‘joints’ time. One of them was studying Hindi language in Delhi and I had very interesting conversations with him in Hindi while everyone around were looking amused! The café guy was really nice and when he learnt that we wanted to go to the waterfall – that can be seen on the hills in front – he walked down some distance through the bushes and showed us the way.

It was a walk to remember! We walked through one after another apple orchards filled with red apples hanging from every tree. Ripe apples were lying on the ground and we had permission to eat as many as we wished! I had some of the nicest and juiciest apples! Apples cannot be fresher than these! The entire valley lay in front and with fluffy clouds around, made a nice canvas! Locals were busy plucking apples from the trees and were gathering them at the road head, to be packed in cartons and loaded on the waiting trucks. Within a week everything would be over and the villages will start preparing for the winter. We were at the right place at the right time!

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Vera’s destination was Vashisht temple and for that we had to cross New Manali. She wanted to see a waterfall on the way and then take bath at the hot Kund of the temple. We had to walk though the busy roads one more and traced our way to the temple. Sun was planning to say goodnight and we had to be faster if everything had to be done as per plan. We trekked some way up the waterfall and took a few selfies for memory. My friends wondered how I could manage the whole walk – up and down – with flip-flops! We reached Vashisht temple and Vera went inside to take bath. I walked around seeing the intricate wood work on the temples. The workmanship is unmatched – such minute and beautiful designs on wood are rarely seen! Ahmed wanted to buy some leather caps from a Kashmiri shop and while watching things around, I bought a bag for Kavi. All of us wanted to eat momos and we went to a shop and ordered 4 plates. Hot momos with even hotter chilli sauce tasted delicious! We walked back slowly to Old Manali in the darkness of the evening. Cafés on the street had started playing music and people were getting excited – helped by general euphoria, booze and ‘holy’ smoke. Vera wanted to do some activity in her spare time (about a week) and I called up the Renok guys on their cell phone even though the shop was already closed. I had suggested Hampta Pass and even the trek guy suggested doing the same. So, it became an easy choice for her (she eventually came back from the trek and became a trek leader for few batches, cancelling her Ladakh travel plans!!). Ahmed gave me a keychain with Giza pyramids as a souvenir and I promised to meet him in the morning before leaving for Chandigarh.

Day 13 – 9th September

I said goodbye to Ahmed and hurried to catch the bus from Manali Bus Stand. I reached just in time and the brisk walk with loads made me sweat! Thereafter it was a lazy day. We had to change the bus at Kullu and we stopped for lunch after crossing Mandi. The bus reached Chandigarh in the evening. When you are travelling there could be surprises at unexpected times! I had a reservation in a guest house and the Uber guy refused to go there. He suggested me to drop somewhere on the way and bugger off. I called the guest house guy on the phone number mentioned on the reservation and he told me he has got no reservation in my name! I was tired and just wanted to go somewhere close by. Technology helped! Makemytrip app helped me find a hotel half a km away and I made a reservation while on the way to the hotel and checked in! It was a nice and cosy place with spacious rooms. I took a hot shower, washing away all the tiredness of the day long, boring bus journey and ordered for room delivery. Food was good and I had a good sleep – enough to explore the Rock Gardens in the morning. In the mean time the previous booking was sorted out and they refunded my money.

Last day – 10th September

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After breakfast I went out to see the famous Rock Garden. It’s a real gem – made out of trash but looks more beautiful than many other expensive designs! I spent almost a couple of hours and then went to check the Sukhna Lake nearby. My flight was at 2:30pm. So, I came back to the hotel and had lunch before checking out and boarded an Uber for the airport. It all went as per schedule thereafter and I reached the empty home in the evening. End of a great travel – and beginning of the long wait for the next one!

After thoughts

I saw some smaller groups starting the trek from Mudh side. I had evaluated my options on this and decided on starting the trek from Barshaini. At the same time there were very limited options of start dates towards the end of August or early September (implying you can avoid the peak monsoons during your trek). I joined TTH for their last batch starting from Barshaini – thus ticking both the criteria. There are arguments why Pin-Parvati trek is better done from Mudh side. But I preferred to do from Parvati side and thought of sharing my views on this: Acclimatisation: I believed that landing at Kaza in a day from the sea level will have its own issues. The long travel by car (from Delhi or Chandigarh to Manali and then Manali to Kaza) makes the body more tired than acclimatised. To counter that one needs to spend time at Kaza. On the other hand, travel from Barsheni avoids all these drawbacks. The travel is shorter and much more pleasant than travelling to Kaza. This preserves the energy to start such a demanding trek.

Besides the travel, I personally feel that acclimatisation happens better if one starts at a lower altitude and works his way up over a relatively longer period. The forests and greenery in the Parvati valley definitely helps more than the arid Spiti valley in preparing the body for higher altitudes.

Psychological factor and beauty of the landscape: It’s a personal preference. I would like to walk maximum distance looking up to the pass rather than going down and having my back to it. Both Parvati valley and Spiti valley are unique and beautiful but if I have to rank them, then Parvati valley will win by a huge margin simply because of the diversity that one comes across from Barsheni till the pass. I’ll love to spend more time here than in the Pin valley. Once you cross the pass, the trek is typically ‘over’. So, you just keep walking to finish it and reach the road head. That makes your time in the Parvati valley shorter and relatively ‘uninteresting’. That, I’ll consider as a huge loss!

Lastly, Pin Parvati is reputed to test the trekkers’ endurance and I’ll not do anything to dilute that reputation. I came prepared and passed the test carrying my 20+kg backpack on my own through all the obstacles and pain offered by the trail. I’ll never choose a path that says that ‘it’s easier’; because the rewards are also lighter. One realises this only after the trek is over!

Now, the worry for any mountain lover: With trek groups not caring about carrying the trash back, there was garbage scattered at common campsites! Porters are generally averse to carrying them back and sometimes preferred to burn them or bury under rocks etc. This is definitely going to lead to a situation where trekking agencies will probably announce ‘green trail’ to clean up the mess. The valleys are pristine and beautiful and if we haveto enjoy them over years to come, then the responsibility lies with us to keep them litter free. Please respect Mother Nature – for your own selfish reasons…

Peace!

Note: Almost all the elevation readings (barring two/three) are taken from my watch. Later I realised that those readings were 100-200m lower than Google Earth data! Like Google earth says that the height of the pass is ~5300m, while my wristwatch recorded 5070m!

For all the pictures taken during the treks, please visit my Google albums:
Pin Parvati Pass: https://goo.gl/photos/mPvBVg2DK6S6o1WU7
Chandra Tal: https://goo.gl/photos/L5m5kV4kBBDUdPdq8
Manali: https://goo.gl/photos/GZKNk1BvW67EhnGA7

Written By:-

Subhra Kanti Das

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