Tryst with Hampta Pass
A Travelogue of Trek to Hampta pass and Chandratal Lake & a visit to Tirthan Valley
The climb was getting steeper, my pulse racing faster than a speeding train, the sun scorching hot and yet somehow the wind chill of the high altitude couldn’t go amiss. With each laboured step I looked up to the heaven, as I could almost feel the hearth throbbing in my throat. The backpack weighed heavy with the straps cutting into the shoulders with each step. “Just a few more steps” I egged myself. In a couple of minutes which surely didn’t fly by, I had reached the top. The Fabled Hampta pass. 14100 Feet was a staggering height any which way you look at it. I allowed myself a wry smile of satisfaction and soaked in the views. The journey till now had been nothing short of an incredible adventure.
Sometimes to understand the ending, you have to go back to the beginning. Last year we had an exciting adventure in our trip to Ladakh and although we crossed 18000+ feet passes, but it was by car. Somehow it left an empty hole of a challenge unfulfilled. The majestic himalayas beckoned us again. This time we decided to up the ante and go for a trek. We debated a few treks and finally settled on Hampta pass and Chandratal lake. This was a moderate difficulty trek, one which inexperienced trekkers could also have a shot at. It is important to have someone experienced on a trek so we decided to go with group Trek The Himalayas. The trek was to start from Manali, for 5 days.
Our Road-trip began from Delhi with a humid day welcoming us to the capital. Like last year we had a quick pit stop at the famous ‘Pehelwan da Dhaba’ on Delhi-Chandigarh highway and refuelled ourselves. The target was to reach Manali at nightfall; but on the treacherous roads of Himachal, that proved to be far an ambitious plan, so we made a night halt at Bilaspur. In retrospect this proved to be out last comfortable sleep for a few days ! Next day we reached our first destination-Manali.
At Manali we met and got acquainted with our trek guide as well as fellow trekkers. The group was very diverse with varying degrees of trekking experience. The trek guide briefed us about the safety and general trekking instructions and we set off to our trekking pole position, Jobra. The road climbing out Manali to Jobra was serene and replete with mountain vistas. As we looked down from Jobra , Manali appeared to be a tiny ,tiny hamlet nestled amidst the mountains.
We were to trek from Jobra to Chika on day1. With a distance of 4 Km and go from an altitude of 6600 feet to 8910 feet. This was going to be the easiest day of trek, designed such that trekkers can get acclimatised to the high altitude. the walk was replete with towering mountains covered with lovely maple forests bisected by many rivulets and streams. The open grasslands walled by mountains on both side made for a really pretty picture. This trek is always referred as a Shepherd’s trail and we quickly understood why. Many shepherd’s could be seen with their grazing sheep and mules.
The first day itself provided a glimpse of what we city dwellers so dearly miss, being unplugged. Walking across the meadows , through the trees with the mountains for your company, that is something which has to be experienced first hand. We walked along admiring the scenery and before we knew we had reached the open grasslands of Chika. The first camp site beckoned us.
Once we reached Chika,our trek lead explained us the basic do’s and don’ts of camping during dark, demonstrated how to set up the tent and believe me it seemed damn easy. When we started setting up our tents , it was a different story. Finally after what seemed like an eternity and epic struggle we set up our tents. The evening time provided
with some stunning dusk views of the mountains. As the night set in the cold chill of the mountains became more and more apparent. At dinner time our trek guide briefed us about the next day’s schedule and what was going to be our tagline for the trek ‘6-7-8’.
What it meant was tea at 6 am, breakfast at 7 and leave by 8. The night brought out a bewitching view of the night sky. The starry night allured one and all, with everyone debating the constellations and galaxies.
Next day we woke up by dawn and way before our tea time of 6 am. The chilly morning provided a stark reminder of the cold that lay ahead and above. We looked up to the sky and for what was to become another recurring theme of the trip, started waiting for the Sunlight or as we joked about it ‘Dhoop’. The feeling of first few warm and gentle
rays of sun touching the skin was heavenly. We finished our tea and breakfast routine and Maple Forest Towering Mountains Crystal Clear streams Chika Grasslands Picture perfect A Starry Night set about to pack the tents. If setting up tent was difficult, dismantling and packing was even more troublesome.
We set about our day’s journey slightly behind schedule. The task ahead for the day was no mean feat. ~9 Km and an altitude gain of 3300 feet. As the sun crept up , we made good progress. The 2nd day was mixed with some trails and some path through rocks.
We had to take frequent pit stops to rest and refuel ourselves. We reached our first river crossing after some time and then our guide dropped a bomb on us, we had to remove our shoes and cross the shin high river barefoot.
The though of cold water sent shivers down my spine. To make matters worse the flow was high and the stones beneath very smooth. we formed teams of 2 and slowly crossed the river. People generally cool their heels off, but we had to warm ours before we got going again. We passed though the Jwara meadows where there were two valleys coming in and intersecting at one place. The exquisite landscape was a sight straight of some picture postcards. The transition
from meadows to desert was very sudden as we moved along. steadily made up good ground and by 4 pm we could see our next camp site-Balu ka Ghera.
The next camp site was just touching the snow-line and was placed right in a plain at the bottom of the mountains. We could see the snow capped mountains and glaciers and not too far we could also see the Hampta pass. The entire path was a narrow valley. The crystal clear water and the sound of the river mesmerised everyone. We set up the
tents (sic!) and waited for our evening soup. The gain in altitude has also increased the cold. My already lower than average cold resistance had started vexing me with running nose and a slight headache. Slowly it became apparent that I was not the only one in a quandary, but other people were busy thinking about the next day when we had to cross the highest point of our trek and the night which was going to be at even higher altitude. The trek lead checked everyone’s pulse and oxygen levels to make sure everyone was healthy. To my chagrin I found that my heart was racing faster than a Shatabdi express at 160+ bpm, posing some irksome questions about the possibility of climbing further.
I put al the worries to Bed (well, actually sleeping bag) and decided to focus on night first and took extra precautions to stay warm. The night , at least for me couldn’t seem to pass any slower. After lots of twisting and turning in my sleeping bag, i was re-lieved when the dawn came. When we stepped out of the tent, the reason became clearer. We could see tiny crystals of ice on the then top, the leaves of surrounding shrubs had
frosted; the mercury had dropped below zero at some point.
The 3rd day was going to the toughest. We not only had to walk a small matter of 10 Km, but climb from 12210 feet to 14100 and then again descend to 12500 feet. We soldiered on , one step at a time, took a break every few minutes. It seemed as if we walked less and rested more. The trail or lack there of was rocky, slippery and treacherous. The climb was getting steeper, my pulse racing faster than a speeding train, the sun scorching hot and yet somehow the wind chill of the high altitude couldn’t go amiss. In a couple of minutes which surely didn’t fly by, I had reached the top, The Fabled Hampta pass. 14100 Feet was a staggering height any which way you look at it, i allowed myself a wry smile of satisfaction and soaked in the views.
Everyone seemed rejoiced and celebrated once we reached at the top. We soaked in the views and had our lunch at 14100 feet with the view of the majestic Indrasan. If we had thought that climbing was the toughest part and our travails were over, we were in for a rude shock. Our guide explained that descending was difficult than climbing and
most of the injuries like busted knee, twisted ankles happen during descent.
We began our descent very very cautiously. The decline was so steep that we couldn’t see the base of the mountains, not even by craning our necks. The descent was sure proving to be trickier than the hike upto the pass. One thing became instantly apparent once we crossed the pass, the transition from the lush green Kully Valley to the bare and barren desert of Spiti valley.What a contrast it was! In an hour or so we reached the base of the valley and our next camp site-Siagoru. The site was secured by snow clad mountains and framed by crystal clear river glacier peaks flowing into the river stream.
As we huddled in dining tent for some warmth our trek lead informed that we will have to cross the river we saw abutting the camp. That set about a series of discussion among trekkers. Everyone was trying to locate the ‘shortest possible route’. We had an early dinner and retired to our tent early to mentally prepare ourselves for the challenge.
Next day we waited until the sun was shining and once again braced ourselves for a barefoot river crossing, Only this time we had to cross more than double the distance. We formed human chains , held each other’s hand, supported and goaded each other for one more step. We resumed our descent and had to be careful of slippery slopes and trails near the edge of the mountains. Some surefooted and careful navigation was required for this part.
Up ahead the Chandra river came into the picture amidst imposing barren mountains. By Noon we reached our next campsite, Chatru which was located a beautiful consensus of there passes, Hampta, Rohtang and spit. As we reached the Chatru camp site a sense of accomplishment could be seen on everyone’s face and why not, this was going to be the end of our Trek. We had walked almost 30 Km, across mountain ranges. Climbed up almost 8000 feet and again descended close to 4000 feet and this, was no mean feat for me. In an instant a kaleidoscope of images flashed in front of my eyes, The first few tentative steps on day 1, the huffing and puffing on 2nd day, the heart-throbbing gasps on the 3rd day the, the restless-sleepless cold nights. but, ..but, the adventure was not yet over for us.
We still were looking forward to visiting the Chandratal Lake. The drive upto the lake was a mere 45 Km and
to cover than in vehicles seemed like a cakewalk, or was it? We set about the drive and the driver informed us that we
should reach the lake in about 3 hours. That seemed a bit long even for the mountain roads to 45 Km. The reason soon became evident, the roads or lack there of made the drive both bone jarring and nerve jangling. Pinched between towering mountains on one side and steep ravines on other we made slow progress and by dusk we had finally reached the Lake.
The Chandratal Lake is Spiti counterpart to the Pangong lake in Ladakh. Though not as big, it is equally beautiful.
The turquoise colours, the setting, the desert landscape around it. Simply Stunning ! We soaked up the views and decided to leave early to avoid driving on the treacherous roads at night. The road, if you may call it, seemed even dangerous at night, big boulders clunking into the suspension, sharp hairpin bends making the life difficult.
Just as we were discussing the perils of the road we saw a stalled vehicle in front of us. There was no room on either side to go past it. On further inquiry we came to know that a steep boulder had sheered the steering column and a couple was travelling in the vehicle had been stranded there for half an hour in the cold night. We decided to help the
stranded couple, give them a lift and squeezed ourselves in an already crowded car. The remaining 15 odd Km seemed like an eternity, but the relief on the faces of those two was worth more than any minor hick-ups we had. We agreed to leave early next morning and everyone reached the campsite safely and we retired to the tents for one last
Next morning much to our dismay we found out that the vehicle transporting us had a flat tire and and
speculations were rife whether it was so since last night. While we were debating the Ifs & Buts, our driver was busy mending the vehicle. We all received our trek certificates, exchanged pleasantries and left the camp site for Manali.
Back at Manali, we pampered ourselves with hot water and comfy bed, amenities we take for granted but hard pressed for in mountains. After such a gruelling adventure we cooled our heels and spent the day lazying around in Manali with some street shopping and food.
Next day we set out for Tirthan valley. A hitherto unknown part of our journey. If the name sounds unfamiliar it’s because it’s not a place many people know about. It is situated a few Km from Kullu. The unique experience about Tirthan,for us was fishing in the river. The river has plentiful trout fishes and tourists come here every year between March to September. We reached our fishing spot with high hopes and a belief that we could capture at least a few Kgs. After all how difficult can it be? Right? Well as we toiled for a few hours in the hot humid setting, we found out much to our chagrin that fish are indeed smarter than we thought. That’s why the joy of catching the fish was writ over everyone’s face. We had a mere 5 fishes to show for our 5 hours of hard work. We wrapped up the unique experience and set about for our stay in Tirthan.
A peculiar thing about Tirthan valley is that there are hardly any hotels; but a handful of denizens have converted their houses into home stay. The wooden houses were a throwback to colonial era with the arches, the doorways. The galleries with a view of flowing river amidst the serene mountain ranges instilled a sense of tranquility. Planning a relaxing holiday with your family or a corporate retreat or just want to unwind on a solo trip, ladies and gentlemen look no further, Tranquil Tirthan is your place. Its indeed a hidden gem of Himachal. We spent some quality quiet time, relaxed and took some hard earned rest.
Next day we went for leisurely stroll around Tirthan. A small hike up the local waterfall, a visit to the palace of erstwhile king of Mandi called as the Chaini Kothi and relaxed some more. Well, everything that has a beginning has an end and our adventurous journey was coming to and end. We boarded an overnight bus to Delhi.
As the rushing mou ntains sped past the window, my mind reflected back on the cracker of a journey I had. The trek posed some difficult questions, provided plethora of magnificent vistas. I made some new friends , bonded with some old ones, was awed by the unfathomable beauty, immersed in beauty of God’s nature and unwound at the Tranquil Tirthan. The last few days had provided me an opportunity to nurture the mind and the soul. In the end was a cathartic journey.
After a long time I felt Alive
Until Next Time…
Prateek S Wate