I felt a wave of excitement, when my best friend and partner declared jubilantly that “I have booked the trek for us”. We had discussed and debated on various trek options, and finally settled for Hampta Pass, a trek that takes you from the lush green valleys of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, and crosses over to the deserts of Lahual-Spiti. The pictures on the website of Indiahikes, through which we had booked the trek, looked exotic. and the next couple of months were spent preparing for the trek and working on fitness.
We were excited as we took a flight to Delhi early morning, a couple of days before the trek. We did some sight-seeing in Delhi, visited the Qutub Minar and Humayun’s tomb, drinking in the majestic architecture, and late evening boarded an AC-sleeper bus to Manali. We woke up to a beautiful sight of the bus riding along the Beas River, gleaming and shimmering in the morning sunlight. We quickly reached our hotel, freshened up, and had breakfast. We had the entire day to roam around the small town of Manali, and we wanted to make the most of it. We rented a two-wheeler for the day and made our first stop at a small Tibetan monastery in the heart of town. There was a sense of quiet and peace here amongst the hustle and bustle of the town. Next we proceeded to the famous Hadimba Temple, and indulged in some shopping. We ended the day driving till the banks of the River Beas, and listening to the water gushing, as darkness enveloped the town.
The trek dawns
The morning of the trek was a sight to behold as the sun rose above the mountains, setting a precedent of how picturesque the next few days were going to be. We reached the base camp and met with our fellow trekkers who had arrived from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and as far as Kolkata. In a very inspiring initiative, we were handed garbage pouches by Indiahikes. The purpose was to collect any kind of waste on the trail, and carry it back with us to the base camp to be disposed of properly. Post lunch we were ushered into our vehicles as we set about climbing Manali towards our first campsite. After negotiating some giddy forty plus U-pin bends, we reached a point from where we began our trek to Hampta Pass.
Bright sunshine, cool winds, lush greenery and towering mountains on either side of us greeted us on our way to Jobra, our first campsite. It was barely an hour long trek, but we were gasping for air by the time we reached. The diligent Indiahikes trek team had already set up tents and had started cooking, as our trek leader explained that the ascent meant our body had to acclimatise to the lower level of oxygen. We were allotted tents in groups of three, and everyone unloaded their gear and got refreshed. A quick medical check-up was followed by dinner. Soon, we snuggled into our warm sleeping bags, and were asleep to the sounds of water flowing in the nearby River Rani, along which we would be trekking for the next couple of days.
The morning at Jobra was cold, and everyone clasped their steaming mugs of tea for some warmth. Fitness is a must to enjoy the trek, and the trek leader ensured our fitness levels were high. Stretching exercises were a part of our daily routine, and we were monitored three times a day medically. The trail from Jobra to Jwara was longer than the previous day. Soon the sun was out, and our jackets went in. Slowly, but enthusiastically, we ventured on our rocky trail along the Rani river. We made several stops along the way for rest and to help trailing members catch up with the rest. By afternoon, we had reached Jwara, our second campsite on sloping grounds from where we could see the valley stretched in front of us and the view of the Indrasen Peak at a distance. Here we were taught how to set up our tents and everyone got busy. After lunch, our leader insisted we acclimatise to the weather by suggesting a game of catch to avoid lazing off. Many of us spent the evening playing Frisbee. After a scrumptious dinner, we were asleep as logs under the blanket of twinkling stars, in the clear night sky.
The morning at Jwara began on a sombre note. After our routine medical check-up, two people were deemed unfit to proceed, as their blood pressure was inching higher with the ascent each day. They were advised to return to the base camp with the help of a guide. And so, after bidding our goodbyes to them, we continued on the trail towards our next campsite, ‘Balu ka Gera’ (Bed of Sand), a campsite right next to the banks of Rani. Along the way, the mountains towered on both sides and we often came across flocks of sheep grazing on the mountains, usually accompanied by fuzzy dogs. We stopped at intervals to take pictures of the breathtaking view. By afternoon, we had reached Balu ka Gera where the mountains rose steeply in front of us. We knew the next day would be a massive test of our fitness and endurance. We were at higher altitudes, and the temperatures had dropped to below five degrees.
Finally, Hampta Pass
I woke up early the next day to greet my partner a happy birthday. We were scheduled that day to climb the mountains to cross Hampta Pass, reaching a height of over 14,000 feet. The ascent was steep, and the air was getting thinner with height. It was a difficult climb, but we kept walking to reach Hampta Pass by afternoon. The view from here was majestic with a clear view of Indrasen Peak, and the valley spread below. After days of climbing we had finally made it to the summit of this trek. The feeling was a mix of exhilaration and awe. We celebrated with lunch and took some more pictures.
Soon we were on our way down towards our fourth campsite, Shea Goru. It was a steep climb down. A snowstorm could be seen in the far distance between two mountains. It started snowing, and our anxious guide pushed us to climb down faster. Soon we reached a level ground and started walking tiredly towards the campsite. A climb up and a climb down really tests your stamina. Eventually, we reached Shea Goru, and were greeted with hot refreshments. We were asked to wrap ourselves in layers of clothes as Shea Goru was the coldest campsite, with temperatures dipping below zero at night. Dinner was a special event as our trek team surprised my partner by baking a birthday cake for her. Soon we were wrapped in our sleeping bags, as the moon rose high in the sky.
The last day of our trek dawned, and our very first task was to cross the Rani River bare-foot to reach Chhatru, our final campsite. Crossing was the easier part, but our feet became numb with cold as we crossed the river. We jumped up and down trying to get the blood flowing in our legs. After nearly fifteen minutes of jumping, we proceeded on the trail. It was a fairly straightforward descent as we had reached our final campsite by noon. A quick lunch followed and we were ushered into the waiting vehicles for the final part of our trek – a trip to the crescent shaped Chandratal Lake. The roads were very dusty and rocky as we proceeded into the valley of Lahaul-Spiti. We finally reached Chandratal, and the lake was a sight to behold. The crystal clear waters simply reflected the sky and hence the lake appeared completely blue.
After another long, arduous ride back to our campsite, we got into our tents one last time. The skies had opened up the next morning, as we packed our bags and loaded them into our vehicles. We were being transported back to our base camp in Manali and the route was through the Rohtang Pass. By the time we reached Rohtang, the rains had gradually turned to snow. We stopped briefly at Rohtang Pass, which was blanketed in white completely. We had experienced bright sunshine, light drizzles of rain, and beautiful snow, all, in this one trip. We reached Manali and it was time to say goodbyes to everyone. My first expedition to Himalayas made me value a lot about the little things in life, made me feel grateful to the things I already have rather than crave for something I do not have, and has definitely made me want to go and explore another part of it sooner than later.