Hampta Pass TREKKING IN THE HEARTENING HIMALAYAS!

Wanna know who you are? Go take a hike! You will be surprised at what you will discover! There is something so spiritually elevating about trekking in the mountains, a process of self-discovery and a revelation, an incredible experiential learning is what it is..

It all began with my sister and I planning a trek to Kashmir Great Lakes, the number 2 on the list of the 10 best treks in India. We planned it well in advance, booked our flight tickets and were looking forward to embark upon our journey to the valley of Kashmir. Fate however had a different plan for us as the valley encountered massive unrest around the time our trek was scheduled. As a result, we had to drop our plans of going to Kashmir and decided to head to Himachal Pradesh instead.

Hampta Pass was our next bet, we found open slots at our preferred time with Trek The Himalayas (TTH) and booked 2 slots with them. We made arrangements to reach Manali on 13 Aug- the day our trek was to begin.

Well, I fell sick, just a week before the trek and was on strong medication, I still went ahead with my plans as I didn’t want my sickness to be a dampener for our already changed plans. Moreover I was pretty optimistic, that I will get better once I set out on my trek.

So came the day, we reached Manali and gathered at the meeting spot which was Rambagh at the mall road. We were a group of 23 people from various parts of India. With a quick round of introductions and briefing from our trek leader, we set out on our journey of 4 days up in the mountains.

The trek started from Jobra - an hour's drive from Manali with rain washed, lush-green valley views and river flowing throughout the trail. The sky was overcast with clouds descending upon the mountains, in a view which was utterly mesmerizing. Leaving the madness of the city behind we had ventured into the wilderness, a journey which would not only connect us with nature but disconnect us from all forms of technology. The ubiquitous device called cell phone would only serve the purpose of taking pictures, keeping a track of time and become our flash light at night. But we weren’t complaining, after all this is one experience our modern-day life has left us craving for...

Half-way into our trek we stopped for some tea and maggi. There’s something so satiating about having Maggi in the hills, it never tastes the way it does in the mountains. And no trek is ever complete without it.

The first campsite was Chika which took about 3 hours to reach. We were told, we had to pitch our own tents, what fun! we all thought. And then there was a 5 minute tutorial by our able trek lead Bhupendra and we all got to setting up our humble abode for the night. The sun had started to set and the temperature started to dip, we all changed into our warm clothes for the night and waited for our dinner to be served.

A kitchen tent was set up by our support team of trek lead, cooks and porters. Something was cooking inside the kitchen and yeah, there was a dining area in that small tent. The music of the river seemed louder in the darkness and the outside temperature was chilling us to the bone.

We all gathered in our so called dining tent in anticipation of some social interaction. There was slight social awkwardness as this was the first time the 23 of us were getting together. There was familiarity in the small groups within this large group however that feeling of belonging to one social group seemed missing. The 'trainer/facilitator' in me, thanks to my profession, was unsettling me and there it was, my ice-breaker. So I said, "May I suggest a game?" They all seemed pretty kicked about it and we all started with the 2 truths and a lie – a pretty fun game which involves saying 3 statements about yourself including 1 lie which the others in the group have to identify. This game always breaks the ice and gets people talking. In the process you end up learning about each other and become comfortable in a social group. We discovered we had a healer amongst us who could read aura, a guy who had encountered Naxalites, a girl who had met ex PM Manmohan Singh and who could play the trumpet and many such interesting facts about various people in the group. In my case most of them thought I was the younger sister. There was laughter and chatter and most of us had started to slacken a little just when the dinner was ready.

The aroma of piping hot aloo gobhi, dal and roti at that time couldn’t have been more appetizing. Cooped up in that little tent with the help of flash lights a few of us starting serving the food. The scene was nothing short of ‘langar being served in a gurudwara’ (feast being served in a place of worship)

There was sweet vermicelli served hot with nuts on top of it – it was incredible to see the amount of happiness these little treats brought us in that cold environment, the fatigue from the previous night and a 3 hour trek into the valley of Himachal seemed to have gotten us to relish these little pleasures of life more than we ever would in our chaotic city lives.

Dinner was followed by a round of instructions by our trek leader for the next day. We were told we had to wake up at 5 am for morning tea, breakfast was to be served at 6 am and 7 am was the time we were to begin our second leg of the trek. Day 2 was going to be tough as it involved covering a distance of 10 kms in 8 hours.

And so ended our seemingly easy day 1 with us retreating into our respective night shelters, devolving into slumber.

All wrapped up in our sleeping bags, some had a good sleep and some didn’t. Nevertheless we all woke up at the prescribed time, had breakfast, packed our bags, got our packed lunch and got ready to trek to the next destination which was called ‘Balu Ka Gera’.

We started at about 8 am, the weather was favourable the sun was shining bright, passing through muddy and rocky trails, soaking in all the scenic views, we all were enjoying our nature walk. We crossed numerous streams, the water was available in abundance and we could fill our empty bottles at regular intervals. Taking breaks when we felt tired, sipping water, biting on our energy bars and chocolates, the walk didn’t seem very difficult. The ascents were pretty comfortable, there were some level meadow walks but wait, here comes the best part. We were told we had to cross a river to get to the other side to reach our destination.

We were required to take our shoes off and it seemed like it is going to be a cake-walk. After all it's just knee deep water, how difficult could it be to really cross a river! We had to make a human chain, get in the water and cross over to the other side. Pretty simple, it seemed, unless we dipped our feet in water and realized how our feet and legs were freezing in that icy cold water. Holding hands, we were asked to walk slowly, dragging our feet in water without lifting our legs too much. With some pushing and pulling we reached the other side however it pricked hard. It seemed like the sensation from our feet was gone. But it all came back to normal in a while. The experience was fun and the adrenaline rush was incredible.

P.C Abbas

We took a halt for lunch and continued to our destination. We reached our campsite Balu Ka Gera – a magnificent campsite with emerald hues of the valley, black sand on the sides of the river – a scenery so pristine as though it was straight out of a movie. Thankfully we reached in the nick of time, just when we got into our tents, it started pouring cats and dogs. The temperature dipped considerably and we began to feel the chill. The rain subsided we got out of our tents and were served hot vegetable soup. Our saving grace in the cold weather it was nothing less than a potion for us. That night our dinner was fried rice with veg Manchurian, not the best in taste but given the environment any food was good food, and we were being served fried rice, what more one can ask for!

The usual briefing after dinner followed, day 3 was the real thing as we were to reach the summit the Hampta Pass at 14100 feet crossing over from Kullu valley to the Spiti Valley. The build-up was exciting and we proceeded to crash for the night to start the next day with much gusto.

We woke up at 5 am, morning tea followed by breakfast, collecting our packed lunch, geared up for the 9 hours of the most difficult stretch of our entire trek.

Little did I know, day 3 would be packed with so many surprises which will have such a lasting impact on me. I had been sick with cold and flu from before with sporadic episodes of headache during my journey which I was managing by popping pain killers. We were told that day 3 would make us gain quite a bit of altitude. We were already at about 12000 feet and were to gain another 2100 feet that day.

At that height it is usual for people to experience Mountain Sickness and we were advised to keep having water, ORS, candies etc to keep AMS at bay.

One of our teammates had sprained his ankle the previous day and had great difficulty walking on day 3. He decided to pull out of the trek and headed for the base-camp. He was accompanied by his friend and colleague leaving us at a group size of 21.

The rest of us embarked on the most crucial leg of the trek and it seemed most of us were experiencing some amount of discomfort. Our group had quite a few first time trekkers and they seemed to have difficulties breathing while ascending a few stretches. There were still others who were walking like it was a walk in the park.

We were heading towards the mountains we spotted the previous day, the amazing river trail covered with flowers of different shades and hues giving a pleasant view to the eye.

Gradually the terrain started becoming difficult, we were now ascending a steep climb with rocks all over our trail. I started to feel this localized pain in my head. The intensity wasn’t so much, so I carried on, until it started hurting a tad bit more. I consulted the support member in our group and he advised against taking any medicine but to keep sipping water and ORS. "Having candies would help", he said, as it seemed to him that the pain I was experiencing, was nothing but the sickness caused due to low pressure and increasing altitude. I knew about AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) although had never experienced it in any of my past trekking expeditions.

I saw some other trekkers experiencing breathlessness and difficulty in walking as well. I tried keeping AMS at bay but the pain won’t subside and soon the localized pain became a throbbing pain of high intensity. I continued walking until I almost passed out and tears rolled down my eyes. At this point I couldn’t walk any further and my sister became worried. She asked me to sit down and have water. I realized the pain wouldn’t subside as I suffer from migraine and had to take my medicine. I went ahead and took the pain killer anyway. While I was undergoing this ordeal all the other trekkers who were behind took us over, with their passing glances only asking one question, "Is she okay?"

I had to rest about 45 minutes until the medicine had its effect, by that time we were the only ones left behind. Our trek lead walked up to us and sat with us until I was feeling better. In that moment I kept wondering if I would have to abandon the trek, I was also worried that I was slowing everyone down as all the members of our group were waiting for us ahead. I battled with the pain and the negative thoughts in my head and mustered courage to start walking. The pain hadn’t fully subsided but I carried on.

We continued for about another half an hour and stopped for lunch. One guy from group informed us that the solo female traveler in our group had fallen unconscious earlier. And that she had decided to return. I knew her as we had interacted a couple of times before and was shocked to know about what had happened. We met her on our way and while we were having lunch we noticed she wasn’t able to eat much. By that time I was feeling better however she was pretty drained out. I had bounced back by then and my transition from before to after was pretty drastic. I was back in my element with my usual animated self. We were about 5 of us together at that point and finished our lunch over funny banter. We had walked a few steps just when she started feeling giddy. I was next to her, she held my arm and almost fainted. Her body weight transferred to my arm and I couldn’t handle it by myself, I shouted for help. I tried feeding her water but she clenched her teeth so hard that we all got worried. All the bystanders got together and ensured she doesn’t pass out, it was heartening to see how some members of our group ensured she stays awake. She opened her eyes and started crying, she had almost given up in that moment and wanted to go back.

Travelling solo demands immense courage and I could imagine the multitude of emotions she was experiencing in that moment. At these times you get an incredible insight into yourself, the strength that you have, spirit that helps you overcome these challenges. It also reinstates your faith in humanity, in the goodness of people. We didn’t let her give up, moreover it was her first Himalayan trek and we all wanted her to reach the summit.

She gathered her strength, picked herself up and continued to the last leg of the summit. She emerged victorious, and so did we. I am sure this was one stretch most of us would remember as this was the point where the exhaustion started to get the better of us. It was this feeling that led us to the sense of accomplishment, the moment we reached the highest point of our trek. I was just walking past when one guy from our group said, "Congratulations, you are now at the highest point, Hampta Pass." The happiness in that moment was beyond words. We had finally made it.

We all sat down, basking in the glory of our achievement. Looked around and enjoyed that moment of triumph. Group pictures were taken to commemorate this moment.

p.c. Manish

The scenery was magnetic, we had now crossed the entire Kullu valley and were transcending to the barren mountains and deserts of Spiti Valley.

After taking our much deserved break we continued our journey which was now a steep descent to our campsite Shea-Goru. We could see our tents from above however the destination was still too far.

The trail was trickier than the ascent to Hampta Pass although the upside of the descent is that one doesn’t run short of breath. We however do stand the risk of getting sprained ankles, torn ligaments etc if the placement of the foot is incorrect.

After carefully navigating our way on to the descent we finally reached our campsite at dusk. We got lucky again, as it started pouring just when we finished sipping on our tea and retreated to our camps.

The last day of our trek, day 4 was going to be easy, so were we told, as it only had descent to another campsite called Chatru. The last day was even more special as it was to be concluded with a visit to Chandrataal also called the Moonlake. It is said to be Spiti’s equivalent of Ladakh’s much photographed Pangyong Lake.

On the last day of our trek we began our descent at 8 am, we were told we had to cross the river again to reach our last campsite. During our morning briefing we were told that the water is going to be icy cold and we should rub oil on our feet after getting out of water. This briefing was enough for us to imagine what was in the offing.

The river was to be crossed right in the beginning of our last day’s trek. Again a human chain was to be formed and we were to drag our feet across the river to get to the other side. This time we had an idea of what to expect but the moment we entered the water it took us on a numbness ride. It started with loud screams as it pricked our legs pretty hard, soon we lost sensation from our feet and suddenly it seemed like our legs were no more. We got to the other side and thankfully the sun was out, my sister and I had carried Volini spray and in the absence oil, we sprayed volini on our feet, jogged a little to get the sensation back.

The experience was so consuming that in that moment all we could think about was how to get back at our feet. Well, finally we did and continued further, the effort was rewarded with beautiful flower laden trails of the valley with the sun shining bright.

We were proceeding to almost the end of our trek, with a short halt in the middle for lunch, we continued until we reached our campsite.

It was afternoon by the time we reached our last campsite and from there we were to then make a trip to Chandratal. We got into cabs and set out on our 3 hour long journey to the much sought after Moonlake in Spiti.

Well, the ride in the cab was fun, with a wide collection of music in the cab driver’s pen drive. We grooved to the mushy Bollywood romantic numbers to the latest billboard tracks to psychedelic trance and in no time we had scaled across the desserts of Spiti to reach Chandratal.

My affair with the headache on this trip didn't seem to end and once again I started experiencing shortness of breath and the throbbing pain. Well this time I popped a pill quickly dreading that I would miss all the fun. But then the pain didn’t subside in all the time we had at Chandratal. Such was my enthusiasm that even in that excruciating pain I was feeling gutted to have not taken a picture by the lakeside and so I eventually did :) The aquamarine pristine lake that it is, I was absorbing the views in my pain-filled eyes which are still vivid in my memory. The serenity of the lake is surreal and its charm out of this world. It was definitely one of the high points of our journey.

It was dusk by the time we returned from Chandratal and the moon was out. The flowing Chandra river seemed as though there was milk flowing under the divine moonlight.

We finally reached our campsite and were treated with delicious food. The dinner was served under the star studded sky and the moonlit night. It started to dawn upon us that our 4 days in the valleys of Kullu and Spiti were coming to an end just like all good things. We were to head to Manali the next day and return to our homes by the evening.

The last 4 days had been so eventful that they kept playing like a flashback that night. The next morning before we dispersed we all shared our experiences, were felicitated with certificates of accomplishment and took a few last group pictures.

p.c Manish

The picturesque location that it is, the views just don’t seem to end. That’s the beauty of Himachal, even on our way back from Rohtang to Manali , we got fabulous views.

We finally reached Manali at 2 pm and had to catch a bus to Delhi at 6:30 pm. After spending 4 days in the wilderness we decided to freshen up and treat ourselves to a scrumptious lunch, we went to my favourite café The lazy dog, in Old Manali and raised a toast to yet another lifetime experience.

To be or not be, who am I really? My limits, my motivations, my strength, my endurance, my character, my spirit, my resilience, all lie bare in front of me.. That’s what climbing mountains does to me!

Created by Neha Pant.

All the pictures shot on i-phone 6s, barring the ones with credits (3) !

Credits:

Neha & Ritu

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