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
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..
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.
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.
Reaching the trailhead
31st Aug - 2nd Sep : Blr-Delhi & Chandigarh by Train
2nd Sep - 3rd Sep : Chandigarh to Manali and resting at Manali & organizing the provisions for the trek.
Bara Bhangal trek
Returning from trailend
Bara Bhangal Trek Maps :
Survey of India Maps (Scale 1:50000) : OSM Sheet Nos I43W15,I43W16,I43X3,I43X4,I43W12
Summary : This is a long,strenous and remote trek of ~10 days to and from the remote village of Bara Bhangal through some stunning landscape and mesmerising natural beauty. The one question which remains in my mind after the trek is "How did a village get established in such a remote and seemingly inaccessible corner of the world ?". As there are no places to replenish your food supplies on the way one needs to carry rations for about 10 days with you. This meant that if you are doing this trek alpine style, like my friend and me, you would be carrying about a 25-30KG bacpack, which often feels (is ??) much heavier in the rains. Add to this the challenge of route-finding in the unpredictable elements - with rain, hail, snowfall, whiteouts - raging rivers, turbulent & slippery streams, glacial stream, walking on slippery ice and snow, possible bear attacks (we had taken a few crackers to scare away the bears) and the number of times one gains and loses elevation in this unforgiving and unrelenting terrain, and we have the perfect recipe for a challenging trek.
After a well deserved rest we started off from Manali around 8:00 a.m, after seeking the divine blessings at the Hidimba temple. The route ascends just beside the temple. The drizzle, which started around 10:00 a.m, made the muddy route, through thick forests and dense foliage very slippery. After a quick stop en route for a snack of apples/oranges we were on our way to Lama Dugh. Just as we reached lama dugh it started raining and we pitched our tents and had our packed lunch and coffee. When the rain eased off a bit we decided to proceed further. We had hardly gone about 30 mins when it started pouring heavily. With nowhere to take shelter we soldiered on in the rain. It was about 6:00 p.m when we decided to halt at a place, we later came to know (looking at the maps) as Gayachi. Overall it was a satisfying first day of the trek and we had covered more distance than most people do on the first day (normal camp at Lama Dugh). We began thinking that we might do this trek faster than was outlined in guidebooks -:)
The next day we started early. We had studied the map, and there isn't a mule-track indicated on SOI (survey of india) map from lama dugh to riyali. I think there was a foot path indicated (not sure - would have to look at the maps again..). As we thought the obvious path seemed to be leading in the wrong direction as per the map, we spent a lot of time recced the area to find the right path. This continued till about 2-3 p.m in the afternoon. This reccee was tiring and it left both of us frustrated. We were contemplating if we should abandon this trip and go for a different trek (Kang-la) or approach this trek from different route (Patli Kuhl). As a last resort we decided to reccee the path (which seemed to be leading in the wrong direction) once more. Luckily for us we found a couple of gaddis (shepherds) who pointed us in the right direction. Once they pointed us, it seemed so obvious that I was thinking why did my friend not spot this in the morning, when he recceed (it never is as easy as it seems -:)). This is a strenuous ascent for an hour and half to 2 hours to reach the top of the ridge. This is followed by a steady descent which traverses the mountains and cuts across several nullahs/side streams. As it was late in the evening we decided to pitch our tents on a flat piece of grassland besides one of the streams/nullahs. We we hoping for a better day tomorrow.
On 6th Sep we again started after having figured out that we needed to go downstream along the nullah and then turn west (right) to reach the mule-track marked on the map. My friend walked ahead and I was supposed to follow him. However, I decided to walk along the ridge as I thought that would be a shorter route. Initially I was able to see him from the ridge, walking along the stream. However, soon the ridge veered off to the right and I went along the path assuming it would descend somewhere to the stream. Soon, I had gone into dense Pine and birch forests with a very steep descent. I decided to explore a bit and descended along the trail. I came to a spot from where I could see a huge waterfall and when I checked my gps (which was not working in the intermediary stages because I was in a valley with very thick tree cover and hence it could not attain sufficient signal) I found I had come to far down south instead of west/south-west. I decided to retrace my steps, and the steep ascent was way tougher than I had imagined. As I went back I decided I will take a shorter route and went along the ridge-line. Soon, there was a whiteout and I could not see on either side. While I walked along the ridge I found that the descent on either side is almost impossible. When the clouds opened out intermittently for a bit I saw some horses in the distance and decided to get down that side of the ridge though I knew that I should ideally get down on the other side (this side seemed far too dangerous ). After 4-5 hours of walking and knowing that one is lost the mind does not work as sharply. I chose the wrong option of going down a dangerous and deadly slope, where rock faces were cut, and moreover one could not see these sudden cut in the rock faces as the slope was covered with thick foliage (say upto my waist/chest). I had also run out of water. I slithered down the side of the mountains, often on my back and holding onto the foliage for support, as opposed to walking down. I fell down a couple of times, sometimes a few feet, somersaulting 3-4 times, luckily landing on my backpack and having no broken bones. Once even the 30kg backpack came off over my head (like removing your t-shirt). Anyway somehow I managed to get to a nullah alive. The good part about it was that I could fill the water bottle. I then again made my way up along the nullah. I found a gaddi and he told me that I had to go across the ridge and descend on the other side to find the way to Riyali thatch (I had figured out the general direction as much). It was 3 in the evening. Mustering all my strength I made my way up to the ridge line (once again), this time following a small trail and as I descended the other side I found that my partner was waiting on the other side. He was infuriated as he had gone back a few times to see how I missed the track. Also, he along with another gaddi had waited for me and had almost given up hope. Anyway both of us walked for another couple of hours before we reached a gaddi enclosure at Riyali Thatch. We decided to stay in the gaddi's "dera" instead of pitching the tent. We had to fix the "dera" so that it did not leak during the rains at night (and it did rain in the night) with stones and with the help of the ponchos and raincover. I was dead tired after my session of "Dead or Alive".
On 7th Sep I got up a bit late (by 6:00 a.m) and hoped for a less adventurous day. By the time we started after breakfast at around 8:00 a.m the skies were clearer. The route was well marked and continued high above the river. After following it for the next 2-3 hours, there was a fork in the route. One route descended to the stream and the other continued further and probably crossed the river over a snowbridge (glacier). My friend,who had gone ahead, had descened and forded the stream and I followed suit. After a bit of an ascent I caught up with him and saw him coming down. It seems he had signalled to me (and I did not notice it) that he had taken the wrong path and when he had ascended further he could see the "right track" on the other ridgeline. So, we descended again, forded the stream again and started the ascent once again. This whole "missed route" had cost us upwards of an hour. This ascent, though zig-zagged, is pretty steep and tiring and leads upto Sagor Dug. It was about 2 p.m by the time we reached this place and we had just about entered a "dera" when it started raining/hailing. We thanked our lucky stars that we were inside the shelter having some lunch and warm coffee, that we prepared. When the rain eased off after an hour or two, my friend decided to recce. WE decided to go further. We would have gone for about 30-45 mins. The trail was no longer as clearly visible. We were about to cross another glacier when we saw/heard a flock of sheep. We called out to the "gaddi" and we could hear his response but could not see him. There was a whiteout slightly higher up. However, after 10-15 mins while we were crossing the "glacier" I could see the "gaddi" coming down. I wanted to catch him before we lost him and so I immediately took off my pack and kept it on the glacier and before I could turn off it (the pack) went sliding down 20-30 feet before it stopped (luckily). HAd it not stopped it could well have gone down all the way into the stream -;) and even more luckily my backpack was not broken/torn in any way. Luckily, the gaddi came towards us and when we told him we wanted to go to kalihani pass he said that the route we were taking was wrong. The right way was above "Sagor Dug". He walked 15 mins back with us and pointed in the general direction and gave us directions as well. However, there was complete cloud cover and nothing much could be seen in the direction he was pointing to. So, we decided to call it a day. We asked him whether we could spend the night with him at his "dera". The "gaddi' made us some rotis & rajma - heavenly feast for the famished. The stay turned out to be a very wise decision as it rained "cats and dogs and its cousins" that night. The "gaddi" dogs did bark on numerous occassions that night and the "gaddi" went out 3-4 times that night. However, to his dismay the next morning he found that one of his sheep had been eaten by the "bear", Only its head remained and he duly cut it off and procured it and kept it outside his "dera" so that he could inform the owner. Normally, these "gaddis" have licensed a 12mm bore rifle (to scare away the bears). He did have one such rifle. But because of the noise of the rain he could not hear the dogs barking on one occasion and this led to the loss. Sometimes the presence of sheep is a boon to trekkers (in a perverse way) as this prevents the humans from being the target of "bear" attacks. An oft asked question "What can be done when you see a bear ?". I asked this to the shepherd and the answer was "Say your prayers" as you are most likely not going to survive if you come face-to-face with a bear.
Today (8th Sep) was the big day - where we had to cross the KaliHani pass. The shepherd had shown us the way the previous day. His instructions were pretty simple - climb along the nullah, coming down the mountainside, until the point you see the snow then traverse right. Beyond that you would see a trail with stone markings. The pass is marked by "prayer flags". There is not much of snow so you should be able to cross easily in about 3-4 hours. Well it was easier said than done. We started early at around 7:30-8;00 a.m as soon as the rain had subsided and the skies cleared. The climb along the the nullah was an arduous one and after that we had to do a bit of reccee before we got onto the trail. The trail was marked by cairns but posed another arduous climb before we hit the snowline. By the time we got to the snowline the weather was turning bad and it had started to snow. So, we traversed the last 30 mins on snow before we could see the flags at the Kalihani pass. By the time my friend reached the pass he was shivering. After the customary prayers and photographs we decided that we should move down quickly., By this time the weather had turned really bad - it was snowing heavily -, there was a whiteout and we had limited visibility. There was huge snowfield in front of us and during the brief period when we had some visibility we had seen the general direction of the "glacial lakes" , which was supposed to be the direction we were headed. The snowfield was crevassed but we decided against roping up as that would slow our progress. My friend was not looking in the best of shape. We descended quickly. There was about 3 ft wide crevasse which we jumped across. In normal circumstances that is not much but with a 30kg wet backpack jumping seems a more onerous task. There we a few more crevasses (none too dangerous) which we negotiated, while we walked down the snowfield down to the glacier. By this time it was raining heavily. As soon as we reached the start of the Kalihani nullah I pitched the tent (around 2 pm) got my friend into it. He got rid of his wet clothes and got into his sleeping bag. The cold, combined with the rain and wind chill had taken a toll on him (despite him being very very fit and resilient). After about half an hour to an hour's rest, and draining some hot soup he was back to his ebullient best. Given the rains we decided to camp here for the evening.
After a well deserved rest, on 9th Sep we descended along the Kali Hani Nallah, starting the day early at around 7-7:30 a.m, sans breakfast. The views of the glacial lakes and the valley views here are wonderful. After about 2 hours downhill, where one crosses numerous side streams, we reached another "gaddi" encampment where we found some locals who were trying to collect "jadi booti" here. We cooked our breakfast here and after an hours break we resumed our journey. Here one can walk along the river or traverse across the side of the mountains along a well laid mule track. The track sometimes descends to get along the river and then ascends back along the side varying from 50M-100M above the river. Another 3 hours of walking we reached a place known as "Dev Ki Marhi", marked by a small temple and shrine on the side of the hill. There we met a few "gaddis" who said the stream had to be crossed and they would help us cross it. As we reached the stream, we took out our rope and the "gaddi" tied it around his waist and tried to cross the stream, which was say about 10M wide. At 2:00 p.m in the afternoon the stream was raging. The "gaddi" had gone about one third of the way when the water was upto his thighs. It was only another 3-4 steps before he could reach a spot where the water level would be lower. However, the current was so strong and the underlying rocks so slippery that these few steps was frought with danger. He retraced his steps to the saftey of the shore. My friend, not wanting to give up also tried. He ventured even less than the "gaddi" before he retreated. I saw the depth and had made up my mind that it would be more prudent to cross the stream the next morning, a sentiment echoed by the "gaddi" shepherd. However, he also mentioned that it had been raining for the past few days and so the current of the stream had been no less in the morning. Anyway for the present he showed us an abandoned "gaddi" shelter and we parked ourselves there. After having lunch my friend decided that he wanted to reccee the side stream, flowing down the hillside, to see if there is a possibility of crossing it. He returned after 2 hours at around 6 p.m, with the news that if one climbs another 200M the side stream splits into 5 and hence is easy to cross. Well, I thought to myself that I would rather cross the stream below than go up 200M and descend to the same elevation after an hours (or to) of grind -:).
We started off by 7 a.m on 10th Sep and could cross the stream without too much difficulty as the current was lesser compared to the previous day and the water level was upto the thighs. We continued traversing the side of the hill well above the Kalihani nullah, till about 8:30 a.m, when we decided to stop for breakfast by a side stream. It was a beautiful place as one could witness the whole valley, imposing rock massifs with its serrated edges on the other side of the nullah. We resumed after breakfast. Well no part of the trek had been as easy as it seemed and the trend continued. We had to cross some landslide areas where the path was dangerous, especially considering that the heavy backpacks did not help our balance. We continued till about 1 p,m along a fairly well marked path and suddenly the path disappeared. We went forward recceed and came back. We were pretty famished so we descended towards the river so that we could have water to cook our lunch. While having lunch and coffee we were thinking to our ourselved "Oh no not again - we have to break this 1 p.m jinx". We were asking ourselves "Is the route along the river or along the same path from where we descended". Luckily, like a godsend, we spotted a horseman at the same spot from which we descended (about 30 mins away) and my friend packed quickly and ascended again to the same spot, by which time the horseman had left. As we had recceed forward & back, down the only spot left to go was up. Soon we found the track ascending up. This is a 150M-200M steep climb followed by an immediate steep ~100M descent to a side stream, which drains into the Kalihani nullah, followed by another 200M ascent till we reached a "thach" on top of a hill. It was about 5.30 p.m and we decided to camp at "Damari Thatch" right beside a flowing water stream. This is one of the most beautiful campsites as the views of the mountain ranges from here are spectacular and out of the world.
Starting off around ~7:30 a.m on 11th Sep I continued on the well marked track with the intention of reaching Bara Bhangal in the afternoon. The walk is on undulating terrain marked by several short ascents and descents. However, the majestic beauty of the surroundings makes one forget the tiredness in your limbs. After an hours stopover for breakfast by a side stream at 9:30 a.m, I resumed my trek, savouring the beauty of the surreal environs. There is a steep descent of nearly 500M before one reaches the village of Bara Bhangal, which is at the confluence of the Kalihani nullah, thamsar nala and Ravi River. I reached this quaint little village, set amidst jaw-dropping surroundings,at about 1 p.m - right in time to have lunch (dal bhaat) in a small hotel. The village has electricity and a satellite phone. The electricity is there only in the evenings after 6 p.m. Once the electricity is there, the battery gets charged and the satellite phone becomes operational for a couple of hours, from 7 p,m - 9 p.m . This enabled us to make a call to our homes. There is a beautiful forest guest house in Bara Bhangal and we stayed there. Had dinner (lovely phulkas + rajma) at the guest house chowkidar's house. The guest house has a kitchen/dining and has vessels. So, if you have your own supplies it is an ideal place to relax and chill out for a couple of days. The satisfaction of successfully completing the first part of our trek and a nice (and overdue) bath at the guest house gave a feeling of renewed energy in our tired bodies.
We left at 7:00 a.m on 11th Sep and ascended along the Thamsar nala (right of stream as you look upstream)). After about 2 hours we stopped for breakfast. A quick breakfast and we were on our way again. One has to cross the stream and continue ( left of the stream as one looks upstream). While ascending we saw a rock fall from high above the mountains. We saw a flock of sheep right in its path and as the rock hurtled down I wondered (and feared) which one of the sheep was going to die. The shepherds looked on with consternation as well. As fate would have it just above the sheep there was a boulder which the rock hit and jumped right over the scared and bleating sheep and into the nullah. We continued till we came across a majestic waterfall which is bound to leave an indelible mark in every trekkers mind. Just above the waterfall there are places suitable for camping. We stopped here for lunch and met some shepherds here who were having a barbecue of lamb - another one that had been killed by a bear last night. We continued our ascent post lunch till we reached a huge glacial lake in the evening (around 5 pm). Along the left bank of the lake there was place to pitch 1 tent (2 maybe possible) and we duly did so. The glacial lake surrounded by the mountains on all sides is an unbelievable atmosphere. On the right bank of the lake we could make out the outline of the track leading to the Thamsar pass - our next big challenge.
We started next morning at first light. Luckily for us a few "gaddis" with their flock were also crossing the pass that day. After 3 hours of constant ascent we reached the snow/ice field. This was more of an ice-field (50-60M) than a snow field. Approach from a different route might have resulted in crossing more snow than ice. I slowly made my way through the ice field. Slipped twice. The first was a minor slip (just a few feet) and the second was when I was close to the edge of the ice-field and had almost made it onto the rocks. As I had "almost made it" my concentration slipped a bit and down I went sliding on the ice slope for about 20 feet (and also scaring the sheep in the process). Slowly, I got back to my feet and made my way back again. Once across this stretch it was a short walk to the top of the Thamsar Pass. One can catch a glimpse of the Kinner Kailash peak, along with other mountain ranges here. There is a small shiv temple here. We offered our prayers and after the customary photographs, we descended down to a glacial lake on the other side, where we had our belated breakfast at 11:00 a.m. Another 2 hour descent led us to the first hotel at Panhartu where we had lunch. Resumed after lunch around 2 pm, onto Palachak and it was about 6 pm by the time I was crossing the bridge to Bara Gaon. As luck would it have it began pouring and there was no place to take shelter. However, I started running and covered the remaining distance to BaraGaon in about 45 mins. Surprised myself on how I found the energy to run at the end of 10 days of trekking and on a day in which I had already walked nearly 10-11 hours. It was a satisfying feeling to complete the trek independently. From Baragaon we boarded a truck and reached Hoshiarpur the next morning.
An erudite version regarding the summary of the trek by my trekmate can be found here :-