Chandrataal to Baralacha - Part 1 of my solo trek

How it all started ?
- A number of folks I had met were always talking of a Leh-Manali bus drive/motor-bike ride/cycling expedition. Well, I thought why not a trek from Leh to Manali.
 
- Checked with a few trek mates if they would be interested. I knew that beyond 2 weeks folks would find it difficult to get time off from work and that is how it turned out -:) so decided to do this solo (something I wanted to do)

The Original Planned itinerary (based on Lonley Planet Guide : Trekking in the Indian Himalayas):
Date Start Finish
24-Jul Bangalore Delhi
25-Jul Chandigarh Manali/Jobra
26-Jul Jobra Chika
27-Jul Chika Balu-ka-Ghera
28-Jul Balu-ka-Ghera Shia Goru/via Hampta Pass (4270 m)
29-Jul shia Goru/Siliguri Chatru/Batal
30-Jul Batal Chandra
31-Jul Chandra Tal Tokpo Yongma
1-Aug Tokpo Yongma Tokpo Gongma
2-Aug Tokpo Gongma Baralacha-la/bharatpur {Baralacha La South (4900m) & Baralacha La North (4950m)}
3-Aug Bharatpur Lingti via Kelong Sarai (4510m) along Manali-Leh road. If required go to Sarchu and resume from Tso-Mesik
4-Aug Lingti Camp Chumik Marpo
5-Aug Chumik Marpo Phitse La Base Camp after crossing Phitse La (5250m)
6-Aug Phitse La Base Camp Tanze
7-Aug Tanze Purne/Phugtal
8-Aug Phugtal Base Kontse La/Tantak
9-Aug Base Kontse La/Tantak Homuch via Kontse La (4810m) & Gotund La(5040m)
10-Aug Homuch Satok
11-Aug Satok Tso Mesik
12-Aug Tso Mesik Lun via Marang La (5300 m)
13-Aug Lun Dat via Yar La (4950 m)
14-Aug Dat Tsokra
15-Aug Tsokra Base Zalung Karpo La via Zalung Karpo La (5190 m)
16-Aug Base Zalung Karpo La Hankar/Thocuntse
17-Aug Hankar/Thocuntse Nimaling Side trip to Kangyaze Base (4-5 hr / 8 KM return)
18-Aug Nimaling Shang Sumdo via Kongmaru La (5150 m)
19-Aug Shang Sumdo Hemis
20-Aug Hemis Leh
 
Pre-trek information :
Weight of my Rucksack : One of the big challenges for me was to keep the weight of my rucksack to manageable levels so that I can carry it solo. Here is what my rucksack contained :-
    • BackPack Weight (~3 Kg)
  • Tent (~3 Kg)
  • Sleeping Bag (~2 Kg)
  • Inflatable Sleeping Mat ( ~1 Kg)
  • MSR Stove (thanks to JP for lending this : ~0.5 kg)
  • MSR Fuel bottle (33 oz = ~0.5 KG + bottle weight) + spare fuel (250 ml = 0.2 Kg)
  • Utensils (1 Stainless steel copper bottom vessel / 1 mug / 1 spoon : ~0.3 Kg)
  • Water in Hydration pack / Bottle (~ 2 L or 2Kg)
  • Ice-Axe
  • Food (for 4-5 days) : Maggi /Pasta / Coffee /
  • Emergency food : Biscuits / Dry Fruits ( ~1 Kg)
  • Warm Clothing : Down Jacket / Gloves / Rain Cut / Thermals /...
  • Other essential clothing (2 trousers / synthetic t shirts /....)
  • Camera (purchased last day before my travel - thanks to subbu..) / Cell phone / charger
  • Utilities
And soon I was carrying a ~25KG backpack. -:) and I was aiming to pack light. Well the weight was such that I could not lift the backpack and swing it on my back. I had to pay obeisance to my rucksack and get down on my haunches and slip my hands through the shoulder straps of the rucksack and haul myself back up...
 
In retrospect there was not much dead weight I was carrying (except for warm clothes - which was not of much use in the first half of the trek - but one can never predict the mountain weather..).
 
 
Off I go..Manali : Here I come
So off I went to bus-stand near my house on 22nd July to board the bus to the railway station. As soon as I boarded the bus I realized that I had forgotten my cellphone in the house and could not afford to go back to my house for fear of missing the train. My wife & father had come to see me off. So off I went & boarded the train sans my cellphone (so much for my promise of calling up my wife -:) ) and to my surprise my father boarded the train from the other side of the compartment carrying my cell. Well what can I say -:). This also coincided with about the 3rd/4th Day of the Test Series between India/England. Luckily for me I never had to see/hear the painful India/England cricket saga for the next month and a half. Rajdhani'd to Hazrat Nizamuddin, Shatabdi'd to Chandigarh and boarded the HPTDC bus to reach Manali on the night of 24th July with just enough time to grab a bite for dinner (before the hotels closed) and crash into a lodge room....
 
 
Damp 25th July @ Manali :
The heavens opened up on 25th July @ Manali and it was raining sixes and sevens. I pottered about - having breakfast, purchasing leomann maps (which later on turned out to be very useful), unleaded petrol for my stove - amidst the frequent visits to the bus station to enquire if the buses were going towards Keylong, only to be informed that, given the rains, there \ buses were not crossing the Rohtang pass and the next bus was at about 12:30 in the afternoon (all the other buses had left by 5-6 in the morning at which time I suppose I was still dreaming... ....I wont mention about what -:) ). Washed away with the rains were the plans for doing the Hampta Pass. I waited patiently in the Manali bus-stand for the 12:30 bus which came by 2:00 p.m. Usually the bus is chock-a-block but given the rains and the prediction that bus would return from Rohtang the bus was surprisingly empty (with about 5 passengers..). So sure was the conductor that he gave us a ticket only to Mahi -:) (?? the last stop before Rohtang pass ) and said that there would a "Transmit". En route we found buses which had gone earlier in the morning returning -:). Well I did not have anything to lose so I continued. The driver was a determined fellow and on the bus was also an officer of the local transport who was also directing other buses (on his phone) and with his urging we somehow managed to get across the most dangerous part of the road @ Rohtang (where the bus might have got stuck and there was danger of rockfall..). After that we even stopped for some hot maggi & biscuits (temporary paradise for a famished soul -:) ). Now, when I said that I wanted to go to Batal/Chandrataal, the conductor was in the mood to give me a ticket to Khoksar. Luckily when I got to Gramphu ( a few kms ahead of khoksar from where the road diverts to batal..) there were still a few dhabas open and so I got off the bus at about 5 or 6 in the evening.. There was a French couple in the dhaba who were stuck in the dhaba @ Gramphu since morning as the "Nalas" were overflowing enroute to Batal. The French couple were with an Australian couple to reduce the Sumo Cost (a whopping touristy price of Rs 5000/day...). They agreed to drop me off @ Batal next day (which is en route to their destination of Kaza) as they were looking to share the cost of the Sumo.. Well with the transport arranged for the next day I chose the option of sleeping in my tent (for free instead of paying Rs 100 to sleep in a bed inside the dhaba...) after my dinner @ the dhaba. There are decent camping sites just outside the dhabas besides the road stretch leading to Batal.
 
26 July : Batal/Chadrataal : Welcome Me...
I was up early, packed my tents and just completed packing my rucksack when the Sumo (with the French and Australians) pulled over and they asked me to hop in. So without a breakfast I jumped into the Sumo and off we went. We would have travelled about an hour before we halted. There was a stream raging down the hills and a vehicle from "Planet Himalaya : Travel and Adventures" was stuck in the stream (see photo).The next hour and a half was spent waiting & watching how this vehicle would be moved. All the occupants of the vehicle were asked to exit the vehicle and they were helped out by the staff without getting their feet wet. Next came the foot soldiers (the staff of the adventure company and some other drivers), with their pants rolled up to their thighs and feet in the icy cold water trying to push the vehicle, while the driver revved up the vehicle. But to no avail. Then a Mahindra vehicle tried to tow the vehicle from the front assisted by the same heroes who tried to push the vehicle. To no avail. In fact the tow line broke a number of times and the Mahindra vehicle also got stuck for a bit. That effort was abandoned and then came the brainwave.
The vehicle is to be towed but in reverse. So the line of vehicles standing behind was cleared. A similar sized vehicle (to the one which was stuck) was turned around so that a tow-line could be attached. And the tow was tried again with the driver of the stuck-vehicle putting the vehicle in reverse gear and the "heroes" pushing the vehicle in the reverse direction. Attempt 1 : failure
Attempt 2 : failure
Attempt 3 (with some minor adjustments) - Success...Praise the Lord..
 
Well if one thought that from here on to Baatal would be smooth sailing then one was sadly mistaken. There were to be at least 2 more such crossings & waiting along the way
 

Incidentally, there were a number of bikers who were coming in the opposite direction from Leh to Manali who had to be helped in crossing these streams.
 
Meanwhile the companions in my vehicle told me (esp the australian lady...bless her) asked me to pay them whatever was appropriate. I did pay them Rs 300/- at Baatal which to me seemed fair. Hope they felt the same -:).
 
We reached Baatal at about 1 pm in the afternoon and I was looking forward to the food. Had lunch (rice/dal & tea) at the Chandra Dhaba in Baatal and then began my trek. I could have travelled a few more kms in the vehicle but I was itching to walk after sitting in vehicles for so long. There are 2 routes from Baatal To Chandrataal. One is along a jeepable track till 2 km short of Chandrataal. The other way is to go further up on the route to Kunzum la and then walk down to Chandrataal from there. Folks going only upto Chandrataal usually do the latter and return to Baatal from Chandrataal through the jeepable track. Anyway I walked along the jeepable track. I was just about 30 mins into my trek and suddenly I looked up to see a sizeable rock hurtling down. Watched it bounce on the road above me and hurtle down in front of me (a safe distance as I was looking up) onto the road below me. A grave reminder at the start of my trek that I was now in the lap of mountains, need to be careful and need to have the grace of god to succeed in my trek. A number of bikers passed me along my 3 hours trudge to reach the fixed camps/parachute tents at Chandrataal. I told the folks @ the tent that I intended to go to Baralacha-la top solo and they informed that route finding was difficult and that just the day before a couple of foreigners (along with their guide) had returned as the water levels in the rivers/stream was high and it was not possible to cross. But they gave me a ray of hope saying that previous day a European group had gone to Chandrataal and that they may be still be camping @ Chandrataal today . So, if I went to Chandrataal today (and it was still another 2 hours off ) that I can hook up with them and seek their assistance in route finding . So, off I went and it was another couple of hours before I reached Chandrataal.




Chandrataal (4270 M) takes your breath away. And with the evening sun shimmering on its turqoise waters you realize that the trek is really worth it. It really is a big lake (not huge like Pangong or Phewa Lake in Pokhara...) and I was pleased to see that the European group still camping on the far side of the lake. I walked up to their tents and told them of my intentions. Both the Guide (Mahendra) and 12 Englishmen (most of them had just finished their school, awaiting results for admission into colleges/universities) were very welcoming. I pitched my tent next to theirs while savouring in the pleasure of watching Chandrataal. They offered that I could share their food as they had plenty and obviously I accepted -:) but did ensure that I did not take any undue advantage of their offer in the course of the next few days

27 July : Chadrataal (4270 M) to Tokpo Yongma ( 4420 M)
Started at around 7:30 - 8:00 a.m from Chandrataal. Had to cross a few streams along the way. I had to take off my boots and walk through the icy cold water to avoid wet boots. I could describe the terrain but the best way to get an idea of it is from the pictures. So here are a few...


We I was walking on the right bank of the river (as seen in the Pic). Often very high above the Chandra river.

There were boulder zones where one could not find any trail. So one just kept walking straight -:). There were a few "gaddi" shepherds along the way, where one could find the occasional patches of grass, in this brown and rocky landscape. There were scree slopes as well...
 

It was about 5 pm at which time I saw the campsite. It was on the other side of the Tokpo Gongma river (which joins theChandra River). The river was wide and fast flowing. I could not figure out how the group had crossed. So I waved at them hoping they might see me. I thought they did not catch my attention so I took out my red tent and waved it to catch their attention (Later on the guide told me he saw me waving and pointed me in the right direction but I could not see him waving from that far off..). So I took off my rucksack and went down the slope to the river, a steep and slippery descent, to see if I could cross it. Since I could not find a stick I took my ice-axe and dipped it in the river to check the depth. Even at the edge of the river the ice-axe went in completely. Bad idea...can’t cross the river here. Racked my brains on how to cross the river. I scrambled back, up the scree slope and well above where the trail was. Now from my elevated vantage point. I could see, in the distance, what looked like a possible snow-bridge. So came back to the trail got my backpack on and moved further upstream onto the snowbridge over the Tokpo gongma river. There was still some ankle height water crossing but I did notbother taking off the boots. After the crossing, with wet boots ,I made my way back downstream to the campsite by about 7 p.m.. The leader of the English team (Mark) and a horseman, who gave me dinner later on, assisted me in pitching my tent.. It was a tiring but successful day and I was pleased with myself at the end of it...
28 July : Tokpo Yongma (4420 M) to Tokpo Gongma (4650 M) :
Left the campsite early by 7:00 a.m as today there were going to be 2 stream crossings (one of them really major)





 

Again have a look at the pictures to get an idea of the terrain. The first 4 pics are the terrain upto the first stream crossing. One can see beautiful snow-capped peaks while walking through the rocky terrain. Took my boots off for the first stream crossing. Water was about knee high ( icy cold as always -:) ). So crossed without much of a problem.

 
The terrain after the first stream to the Tokpo Gongma was pretty similar. As I reached the Tokpo Gongma I was left wondering "How on earth am I going to cross it ?". There were cairns, possibly marking where the river was to be crossed. It was close to 1 PM and the river was raging and it was wide - say about 15m - 20m. To even attempt crossing it, and that too alone, would have been suicidal. I was thinking to myself - "Maybe I should camp here and see how it is next morning" and also wondering how my English friends (who were ahead of me) had crossed the river. I could not see them from where I was.Maybe with the help of the horses and guides they had forded the river and gone further. So, I took off my backpack went upstream a bit but still could not find a place to ford. I came back and put on my backpack again and went further upstream to check. Then I saw my "English friends" sitting on the other side of the river. Their guide/helper was waving to me to "get further upstream". I must say that my energy levels were down but when I saw them waving I rushed (upstream) and could now see the "Snow Bridge.
Crossing the "Snow bridge" is more difficult that it seems in the pic -:). I had to get to the other side of the side "Snow Bridge" (which is not seen in the pic). There was a slight break in the "Snow Bridge" and the right side of the "Snow Bridge" (in this pic) was completely solid ice. One could not climb down it. I slid down the solid ice and arrested my slide by bracing my hands against the ice-wall on the other side. There was a "horseman" on the other side who carried my rucksack for a few metres. If you notice on the left side of the "pic" there is a narrow ledge just beside the river. We had to walk/run on it, as it was a rock-fall areal for about 20-30 metres. After 20-30m the ledge widened out into a broader rock area where I took my well-deserved rest. Seeing me tired Mark, the leader of the English group, did offer me thrice to carry my backpack which I politely declined.

Then I had to climb up nearly 70M - 100M up a very steep slope. The photo (on the left) is from the top of the climb. Notice the wide bank on the left of the stream , where I rested , and also the snowbridge upstream.



After the climb it is a straightfoward walk to a very pleasant flat and grassy campsite with beautiful views. One can see the snow-capped peaks in the distance (across the river) and one is hemmed in by mountains all around. There is a "gaddi sheperd" encampment at this campsite. It was about 2 pm by the time we reached this campsite. The skin on left shoulder blade had come-off because of abrasion (from my rucksack) and it had been bleeding for the past couple of days but today it had gotten slightly worse and I thought it deserved some attention. After some tea I asked the "guide" of the "english team" to help patch up (put bandaid) on my left shoulder. The rest of the evening I spent savouring in the magnificient views that Mother Nature offered - an inspiring tonic for the soul.
 
 














29 July : Tokpo Gongma (4650 M) to Baralacha La South/Nort(4900 M/4950 M) :
This was a comfortable walk





From the campsite it was a gradual climb and then there was a big stretch of plains leading upto the Baralacha La South, which is marked by numerouscairns and prayer flags. There are impressive mountain views of the Himalayan Range.

 





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As one continues to walk the plain areas one might be lulled into thinking, for a change, today there is going to be no further stream crossings. Could not have been more wrong as after the plains there was a slight descent and another stream to be forded. So off came the boots, into the icy water (with a very strong flow) and onto the other side. A slight rest, put your boots on and march forward .






 
 
 

After the stream crossing what one witnesses is an "ethereal beauty" of the mountains which one is at a loss of words to describe. If ever there was peace and tranquility in the mountain vista it is here...If you are a shutterbug your fingers will get tired pressing the "shutter button" and you would still be yearning for more. You will hop, skip and jump (as there are still some minor streams to cross -:) ) merrily along whistling a tune all the way to the leh-manali roadhead which can be seen in the distance.....









And when one reaches the roadhead one will look back at the grand views with a sense of satisfaction, a tinge of disappointment (at having to leave this place) and in my case a sense of anticipation of what lies ahead for this was akin to the appetiser of a full course meal. One can see "Sarchu" in the distance and though can see it is a 5 KM walk downhill to reach it. And if you have trekked before you would know the anticipation for good meal, hot water, a shave and rest in a bed. After futile attempts at stopping trucks / vehicles to hitch a ride to "Sarchu" I managed to wave down an army convoy . The officer in the first vehicle asked me to hop on beside the driver in the 2nd vehicle in the stream of 20+ vehicles. And thus I landed at Sarchu marking the end of the first part of my travel.











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