Hampta Circuit Trek is a relatively uncommon trek Route in Himachal Pradesh. Often confused with Hampta Pass Trek, this route also has its base at Manali. The route showcases exotic views of Pir Panjal Range and Bara Banghal Range. In many seasons the trekker may experience thick snow patches as well as pristine landscape. I happened to encounter this route in the month of May 2014. This blog post is about that adventure.
A trek gets abandoned.
I was looking at the hindi newspaper in front of me which was lying unattended in the hotel lobby at Shuru. This small settlement was located 4 kms from Manali on Kullu-Naggar-Manali Road besides the left bank of Beas.
The news was not invigorating. Rohtang Pass – the most sought after tourist spot near Manali had a colossal snow fall yesterday. Needless to say it had resulted in heavy jam of vehicles and disturbance of traffic between Manali and Spiti. Many got stranded for hours. It was possible that the hot-spot tourist attraction would be difficult to access in the coming days.
“ I guess this is it ? It explains your frown which has been adorning your face since the Morning.” I said looking at my friend and tour operator Indranil Kar of Ongoz Escapades. We were just checking into our hotel at Shuru. This was my first visit to Himachal Pradesh and my first trek to these parts ! Indranil gave me a mocking grin which means “You know me well to understand my expressions.”
Closing of Rohtang Pass was more than a bad news for me and my team. We had just checked into our hotel at Shuru, a pristine place located four kilometers from the noisy new township of Manali.
Already in the morning I was disappointed to see the obstreperous and congested bus Stand and roads of Manali New Township. Even the faraway hills seem to be mismatch to this jam-packed urban jungle. It was shock, especially after I was mesmerized to see the Beas from the wide windows of our Volvo near Kullu continuing our overnight journey from New Delhi.
I wondered who wrote those stunning catch lines in Himachal Tourism Ads about Manali – “You are bound to be enchanted by the calm and serene ambiance”. I soon learned that actually the “New Manali” is overcrowded and congested, whereas the “Old Manal”i is indeed serene and pristine which lies besides apple orchards and reserve forests.
Thankfully we were not staying anywhere near that Manali mall which is comparable to the posta bazaar of Kolkata.
Our initial plan was to encounter the Hampta Pass Trek at Himachal Pradesh. We were to drive from to a place named Jobra which housed a colossal dam. From Jobra one and half hours of brisk walking would take us to Chika – our first camp. After that four days trek would see us crossing Hampta Pass to land at Chatru at Spiti Valley. If weather was good, we would try Chandratal also. If not, we would drive from from Chatru back to Manali via Rohtang Pass.
Indranil was looking worried since the morning during the Volvo journey itself after he received some phone calls. I reckoned that he had the news beforehand. The news of Rohtang pass getting choked meant there may be serious obstacle on the way from Chhatru to Rohtang pass, which can ultimately lead to abandonment of the trek itself! Going to Chandratal was out of question anyways. I was back to trekking after a gap of two and half years and this looked like a disastrous comeback.
Alternative Trek Route – Hampta Circuit Trek
The view from the balcony of our hotel – Shuru Heights put me back in high spirits.
Standing there it felt I was almost into a valley. It was only greeneries around with Pir Panjal range looming above the town. Some high tension post and wires was eye sore though. But then I was mesmerized with the view. It felt like childhood days when hill station like Darjeeling had much less people and Mirik had only a handful of tourists.
After lunch, Indranil had a meeting with his local team manager. It turned out that it had snowed heavily at Hampta Pass too. We had all come prepared to trek in snow, but the condition at Hampta pass was extremely bad at present and could be very risky. Also there has been heavy rainfall, which was unexpected in May.
It was then the local team manager suggested an alternative trek route named Hampta Circuit. It was not common route, but there was supposed to enough snow in the way. Also this year nobody has tried it yet. Instead of starting as in Hampta Pass Trek, the Hampta Circuit Trek ended at Jobra and started from a place called Jagat Sukh. This Trek was also of six days; the last day had the least trekking. The views were promising in this route with enough snow filled fields.
I have never heard of this route so I looked questionably at Indranil. He was not aware of this trek too but said that his team manager was confident about this route. He had said “ Saab, aap team ko lekar ghoom ke aao. Fir mere se baat karna” ( Sire, You first do the trek with the team. Then let me know)
We had a discussion among my fellow trekkers. We were five people in the team. Besides myself there was Indranil Mukherjee – a fashion photographer, Anuradha Dugar – an entrepreneur who ran who a travel agency, Amlan Chakraborty and Arindam Nandy aka Abhi – both doing service in corporate. Since he shares his first name our tour operator, I will refer Indranil Mukherjee as simply Mukherjee. Apart from Amlan, all of us have been more or less regular trekkers. Mukherjee had even trekked Annapurana Circuit, but was a bit susceptible this time as he had a surgery just one month ago.
We decided to go on with the Hampta Circuit Trek. There were not much options left. Also we all relied on Indranil very much and knew he had excellent team members.
We did a bit of shopping at Manali Mall in the afternoon. Amlan and Mukherjee bought some woolens which I found overpriced. Actually everything in Manali was overpriced. The mall was a pedestrian plaza like M.G. Road of Gangtok, but it was too much crowded and lacked class. The adjoined lanes had car access, which is why they were more crowded. Worse, every now and then young lads jumped upon us pestering to buy Sunglass, Kesar or Shilajit – a steroid for boosting Testosterone. I knew Manali was haven of drugs like high quality Ganja (cannabis) and Charas (hashish form of cannabis), but I had no idea about these three items.
Back in the hotel we repacked our bags. Like always we took essential clothing and gears in the sack and kept back other things like mobile charger and extra clothing in a common bag at the disposal of the hotel.
It was moonlight outside. The rain had stopped long back and the sky was crystal clear. Standing from the balcony the valley with several twinkling electric lights glowing in the darkness against the backdrop of white snow-capped Pir Panjal peaks was mesmerizing. It was freezing cold outside. After a session of low light photo shoot with camera and tripod, we needed some sips of spirits to keep our body warm and spirits high. Dinner was early and we retired to bed soon.
Day 1 : Jagat Sukh(2000 mts) to Bogi Thach (2400 mts) alias Buggi ( 3 hours)
Next day the sun was shining brightly. A Mahindra Camper was ready to drop us at Jagat Sukh.. Everyone was full of enthusiasm and their attitude showed it.
The 6 km drive to Jagat Sukh was of about 30 minutes. Located at an altitude of 2000 mts, Jagatsukh is a pleasant village which houses quite a number of ancient wooden temples. I was informed by one of the locals that a Chacholi fair takes place on a full moon day in the area either at the end of February or beginning of March every year. It involves temples of five villages including Jagat Sukh. From Jagat Sukh one can also trek to Deo Tibba Base camp and Chota Chandra Tal. Deo Tibba Base camp is an extremely strenuous and technical trek.
Apart from six of us our team comprised of our trek guides Yashwant and Balwant Singh Negi along with two guys who managed the horses carrying our belongings. Yashwant handed each of us a plastic lunch box which had some refreshments and a pack of frooti. We started our trek at a brisk pace. The familiar feeling of walking on an inclination through a narrow pathway infested with rocks and grasses surrounded by wide areas lush green forests with snow-capped mountains in the distance was like a second homecoming. I felt I knew this trek route for long and it welcomed me back after a break of two and half years from trekking.
After half an hour of walk, Yashwant and Negi took a detour from the road and started walking up the hillock on the right. There was no visible path on the bed of grass there. Since this was a relatively uncommon trek route, we blatantly followed them.
Amlan was rather new to trekking. The only trek he had done before is that of Sandkaphu which has well defined route. He started up but stopped half the way and said “How the hell I walk up such a steep meadow ? “ Looking at Amlan I said “Try going up in a zig zag fashion . Be sure you have strong foothold as the grass is slippery”. Further up I could see Yashwant standing. Anuradha and Abhi had already marched much ahead with Negi. Walking further we came inside an apple orchard. Pity there was no apple or it would have made a pretty picture.
The route through the apple orchard finished shortly. Now it was a narrow pathway on which the trek route went. Worse thing was it was full of mud and rain water. And one side of this path there was wire fencing. We were careful not to touch the fencing for support. Thankfully the path ended soon and a stone stepped path took us to the Nag temple alias “Snake Temple” at village of Banahra. Nag Temples are common in the area as there are poisonous snakes around.
Banahra was the one of the villages which is involved in Chacholi fair. Surrounded by Cedar trees in this pristine location, the temple had exquisite woodwork on it. The woodwork was a hallmark of Himachal Pradesh and these temples have been rebuilt over the years. Although the temple is dedicated to “Takshak Nag Devata” alias Takshak Snake God, the deity worshipped here is Lord Shiva. The Temple houses a small Shiva Lingam.
It is here we took a break. It was 12:16. Out came our Lunch boxes and we were busy devouring the contents which comprised of an energy bar, Boiled egg, A fruit, some Kaju-Kishmish and a pack of frooti. We ate slowly and afterwards basked in the summer sun loitering in the grassland.
Our first camp of this trek at Bogi Thach (2400 mts) alias Buggi was just about 30 minutes walk from the temple on a uphill but well defined path. The campsite was on a beautiful meadow surrounded by trees with snowcapped mountains on the horizon.
I could see some makeshift houses far way behind the trees. These meadows housed summer settlements of Gujars (nomads) and probably those were their residence. There was sign of deforestation as well, on the northern side of the meadows I could see several stumps of trees which the villagers have cut down. Already I would see one villager carrying some logs and a saw.
It was quarter to two when we reached Bogi Thach. We were not feeling hungry, so we asked for Tea with light snacks. Negi was our cook and he promptly arranged some momos with tea. Our Tents were already laid down. Amlan had never slept in a tent before, so he was not comfortable in sleeping alone in a tent. In the end Amlan and I shared a dome tent while Indranil and Abhi shared an A Tent. Anuradha settled in a single dome tent and Mukherjee also had a single dome tent to his disposal. Yashwant, Negi and other support stuffs were to sleep in the large mess tent which was to be used for cooking and dining in the night.We dumped our ruck-sacks and knap sacks in the tent and sat on some rocks sipping the tea.
We had soup and popcorn in the afternoon. It was getting cold as dusk was settling down. Out came our jackets and caps. It was not that cold for gloves yet.
We had a lovely dinner sitting inside the warm kitchen tent. Out of other preparations the chicken curry tasted heavenly. I realized that Negi was a good cook. After taking a stroll in the meadow in the moonlight, we retired to our tents by 9:00 p.m. It took me some time fall asleep as Amlan snored loudly in his sleep.
Day 2 : Bogi Thatch(2400 mts) To Tilgan (2470 mts) (1.5 Hours)
I woke up rather late in the morning. Since I knew we had a leisurely journey today I dozed up a bit more. In any trek, the first morning is always special. First you discover, you are inside a tent and a sort of relief comes inside. You realize you are really in the wilds out from civilization for a couple of days now. It is time to talk to your inner self.
The sun rays were kissing the grass and the shadows of the trees was making interesting pattern. In midst of them our horses were grazing lazily. Far way the snow covered peaks shone brightly against the blue sky. My one entity silently appreciated the serenity of the atmosphere while the other hurriedly fumbled into bring out the camera to take a shot.
Outside there was already a photo session going on with Mukherjee taking some photo of Anuradha with the lovely back light. “I am the only model in the team.“ Anu said smilingly “Rest is all photographers.” It was true as she was the only person without a camera.
I lazily brushed, drank water, answered to nature’s call in the wild and finally settled down to have breakfast around 10:15. Breakfast contained toast with butter/ jam, porridge, omelette and fruits followed by tea. We ate slowly and started as late as 11:00.
As usual Anuradha and Abhi caught up speed and led the way with Negi. The route had variety of trees like Cedar, Pine and Maple trees surrounding us. We walked silently among the shades of these trees through a trail made by the shepherds on the thick bed of grass. There was sweet smell in the air which was refreshing me with every step.
Mukherjee was walking slow as it was again an uphill descent. Probably he was conscious of his stitches from his surgery. Indranil walked slowly to accompany him. Amlan was walking at a slow pace too and clicking photographs. Already two horses with tents and some provision had left with one man. Negi was to follow us with rest of the team. They had a huge sack where they piled all the garbage. Nothing was to be left out.
Except a bit of small confusion where Indranil, Amlan and Mukherjee took a detour, we reached Tilgan uneventfully in just one and half hours. On the way we got a picturesque view of Manali with part of Dhauladhar Range on our left and part of Pir Panjal Range on our right looming above the city of Manali.
The vast Bugiyal of Tilgun (2470 mts) was almost the size of a cricket field. Anuradha was first to reach the camp and started learning a trick or two about pitching tents. Jaswant had packed a lunch box today also, but since we had breakfast just 1:30 hour ago I decided to skip it for the moment and decided the explore area a bit.
In our front on the western horizon was the confluence of Dhauladhar range and Pir Panjal Range. The Pir Panjal range extended to the north. We would have have a 180 degree view but the tree line in front of us obstructed the view to a great extent. On the back side of us to the east was a steep slope lined with trees.
I took a stroll to the north. Crossing a small stream I reached a yellow tent which perhaps belongs to a shepherd. A peculiar kind of plant was abundant in the area which looked like lily flower leaves. But there was no flower in any of them. There was a lone sheep grazing there, who sounded annoyed at my presence. I took a few shots and came back to our camping site.
Everyone had arrived by now. Yashwant looked at me and said “Udhar Kahan Gaye the Saab?” ( Where did you went on that side). I said casually that I went for a stroll. Then Yashwant informed me that tent is indeed of a shepherd who has probably gone grazing his sheeps somewhere. Usually guard dogs goes with them and some stays at the tent too. The guard dogs do not like intruders in the area and might as well attack.
Digesting this information I went towards west to check out the confluence of the Pir Panjal range and Dhauladhar. Walking down beyond the trees, I finally could get a clear view of the ranges. Since a view of Pir Panjal from Himachal Pradesh was totally new to me, I took help of Yashwant to point out the peaks. However the peaks he pointed out was entirely not correct.
Just a few weeks ago I got all the peaks rightly pointed by Anshul Soni, a photographer and an avid trekker from Simla, which I cross verified with the Legendary Harish Kapadia.
The Peak which was on the top of the range like a crown was Mukar Beh (6089 mts). Just below it was the Manali Peak (5669 mts). To the south of Mukar Beh was Ladakhi Peak (5342 mts). Much lower and the north of Manali Peak was Shiti Dhar (5294 mts). To the extreme north was Friendship Peak (5289 mts), followed by Goh Kincha (5153 mtrs) and one unnamed peak (5090 mts). And then many of his outer ridges with many unnamed peaks were visible.
Whatever of Dhauladhar was visible was it outer ridges. None of its named or prominent peaks were visible. We had a delicious lunch, along with from the packed content! The pulao was heavenly. Meanwhile the shepherd of the lone tent had returned with his flock of sheep and one dog, who looked quite watchful. I decided to keep a safe distance from him.
A question was pondering in my head and perhaps in everyone’s head too. During the afternoon session with Tea and hot vegetable pakora, I put in the inadvertent question.
“ Indra, Is the trail going to easy and short like this every day ? Will there be snow ahead? It seems like decades I have trekked on snow.” I asked with some anxiety in my voice
“Yes, it was rather easy these two days.” Chipped in Mukherjee
Indranil looked at everyone’s face and said with smile “Don’t worry guys. From tomorrow the route will be constantly uphill and quite steep. No easy steps like the last two days. That is the route we take” He pointed towards the uphill eastern side.
“And will there be snow?” Asked Amlan
“All in right time fellows! Let there be a bit of suspense. Maybe you will have to traverse snow walls. Anyways, tomorrow we early, say about 07:30 ” smiled Indranil.
“So be it” said I. I had a hunch that the trail would be not very easy from day three. Mukherjee looked a bit anxious. I was sure he was thinking about his surgery stitches, but I knew with each step next day he would gain his confidence.
Light was fading away fast. On our right towards North east the light of setting sun was falling on some un-named peaks of Pir Panjal. I looked towards the eastern side and saw a large herd of sheep being led out by the earlier mentioned shepherd along with his fellow herdsmen. Maybe they all stay at the neighboring village of Banhara. There were four shepherd dogs. who growled and ran around like army commanders guiding their troops.
After a sumptuous dinner, we stood around the bonfire lit by Yashwant to keep ourselves a bit warm. It was quite cold now and the temperature seemed much lower than Bogi thatch.
Day 3: Tilgan (2470 mts) to Jogi Dug (3050 mts) (9 hours)
I woke up five in the morning. I did not have much sleep anyways mainly because of Amlan. Not only he snored, but he talked in his sleep. I don’t mind snoring actually but that mumbling was simply intolerable.
Anyways it was a blessing in disguise. I came out of my tent at 05:20 and discovered that through the clouds, the first rays of sun was about to fall on the Pir Panjal and Dhauldhar Range. The Sun rays hit the peaks around 05:30. For the month of May, it was quite late and thus the impact was not as I have viewed in similar situations. I got a descent shot of Mukar Beh with Manali peak basking in the morning sun rays and some panorama. First Sun rays fell to some extent of Friendship Peaks too, but the peak being quite far I could not get a satisfactory shot. The cloudy sky was to be blamed for this delay.
After another fifteen minutes of photography I hurried back to the tent. Since we were to start early, it was time to get ready. Others were already up and I wasted no more time. I seized my tooth brush like a weapon and vehemently finished brushing, followed by morning rituals and last minute packing. By 07:00 we were all ready and having breakfast. The Pir Panjal range was looking different in the morning soft light and I took some further shots.
We started at 07 :30. Yashawnt and Negi lead the way. Our camping equipment with the horses and porter were to come through a different route which was downhill.
The grass laden path was a steep uphill one. There were huge stones lying around too. Anuradha was again in the lead, followed by Abhi . I followed in brisk steps, with Indranil accompanying Mukherjee and Amlan walking behind. Walking for another half an hour we reached to a clearing. Looking down I realized that we had reached the top of the meadows.
There were apparently less trees here. There was a pipe line here from which Abhi was filling up his water bottle. Anuradha, Negi and Yashwant had already filled up their bottles. The pipelines must have been connected with local streams to help the trekkers. Mukherjee was just behind me. He looked quite confident after walking a long stretch uphill.
Amlan took some more time to come to the top. He looked bit out of breath. Indranil was accompanying him. He asked me to pass my water bottle. Amlan had forgotten his bottle in the tent. He was not having any serious physical problem. What I understood that deep inside he was having some sort of fear psychosis as he slowed down uphill and thus gave a stress to speed up. This made him more slow, tired and nervous.
After drinking some water Amlan said “How can these happen to me? Why was I treading behind? Indra Da, what did I do wrong?” I was about to explain him, but Indranil stopped me and said to Amlan “Who said anything is wrong with you? You just finished your breakfast late and started immediately, which caused your tiredness. Take five minutes break and start off. You are fine.”
I knew very well that this was not the reason; but Indranil was trying to mentally boost Amlan. It worked too as he got up soon and started walking. Mountains can play peculiar role in one’s psychology. I had a similar kind of problem in Roopkund Trek near Pathar Nachuni, when I had felt that infamous feeling of “Give up and go to sleep”.
Fortunately the upcoming route was relatively less steep. We walked together with Amlan, least he felt left out. On our front was one outer ridge of Pir Panjal with unnamed peaks. We could see large snow patches ahead yet another uphill terrain. An extension of the previously mentioned pipeline went downhill besides a gurgling stream.
Around 10:00 we hit our first ice patches. Our path was gradually getting uphill. Looking back I understood that we have gained quite some altitude. The part of Pir Panjal Range which we saw in prominence from Tilgan had shifted to the extreme north. The outer ridge of Dhauldahar and some part of Bara Banghal Range was was visible till extreme south. Down below a portion of Manali was still visible.
The snow was fresh and soft but not very deep. The trick to walk on such snow is to kick your boots straight into the snow horizontally keeping your heels down. One need not stomp your snow boot, but use the boot’s weight swinging your legs from the knee in a relaxed manner. The trekking stick comes handy to provide the necessary support.
Negotiating the initial snow patches, we came to a clearing. In our front lay huge snow patches till the horizon. Standing in these patches were several trees having stunning colored leaves. We settled down here around 11:00 to have some food from our lunch box.
After a break of around 30 minutes, once again we started our ascent. The uphill trek through snow and rock bypassing trees adorned with exquisite colourful leaves was both tiring and rewarding. The heart feasted on the beauty, while the head scrutinized the path and ordered the legs to pound in the right steps. The eyes were delivering the same message, but head and heart deciphered it in different manners.
The most unpredictable matter in this type of route is that the snow deposit may be unusually thin just beside the rocks. One can suddenly find one’s leg sucked up to the knee inside the snow. Sometimes it is difficult to judge how to plant the step as the pathway may be between two rocks! Initially, one is bound to misstep here and the initial feeling can be – “ OMG. A crevice!’
After a strenuous uphill walk in the snow for another 45 minutes, we came to another clearing in the middle of snow patches. Many of us had their leg sucked inside snow, but nobody was injured. From here the path was at a level, but ahead there was another steep uphill route. Yashwant and Negi asked us to wait and they walked on the snow to the left and went down. They came back soon and asked us to follow them. It was going to be down hill climb now, which at times can be pretty dangerous. We had reached almost an altitude of 3150 mts. Now it was again a descent.
It was then Indranil asked Amlan to take the lead and instructed Yashwant to accompany him. This was a good way to overcome Amlan’s fear psychosis.
Thankfully while going downhill there were not much ice patches. But it was quite steep. In many places, we had to simply slide down on our back. Far down a frozen stream was visible. We walked slowly downhill and then negotiated a slippery downhill trail of snow followed by dried grass to reach besides the frozen river. Our guides had made steps for us with ice axe.
While going downhill it is best to walk upright and take short steps in the snow. It is important to pay attention to each step and put the most pressure on your downhill foot. A trekking stick works marvelously here to give you the balance.
Cutting steps in a frozen stream with ice axe is not easy. But Negi and Yaswant did it so fast, it looked that they do it every day in their spare time! The steps were cut in five minutes. I later came to know that the name of this stream is Phahi Nullah.
Negi led the way with Anuradha instantly following him. I have seen Anu trekking in Sandakphu and Darma valley, but she looked exceptionally fit in this trek. Maybe the extra tennis classes before the trek did the trick.
Then Amlan stepped into the frozen stream with Yashwant accompanying him. He looked quite confident now. Mukherjee was next. He was beaming with a smile and thoroughly enjoying every bit. He even posed smilingly for a shot and I could see his tension has literally dissipated. I took one final shot with my camera and joined the team. Walking on this snow was pretty dangerous. I could feel that my boot was getting sunk almost ankle deep in the snow. Somehow I managed couple of shots in that situation.
The pathway up the river was a precarious one. There was a steep uphill snow infested path. Yashwant and Negi went up that pathway to check the trail.We waited impatiently in that narrow pathway. There is no place to sit, no inviting rock here.
It took Yashwant and Negi around 20 minutes to come back. They had a chat with Indranil, who then turned towards us and instructed – “We cannot go straight as there is too much snow. So we have to traverse to the left. Everyone do the initial walk bending your body forward and out your foot firmly on the snow tracks. Use your stick for support. While negotiating a tree branch, you better be careful that it does not hurt your team mate behind.”
It was THE steepest uphill walk of the trek. Everyone was half bend, almost crouching up that slope. Brandishing my P & S Camera, I somehow managed a shot. I did not even have time to put the camera in its pouch. So I transferred it to my windcheater’s lower left pocket and zipped it.
We traversed to the left walking through ice sideways and small trees. Everyone carefully encountered branches of trees so as to not accidently hit any team member. The ice was pretty thin here. Abhi stumbled once and got his leg sucked up to knee once. I had that experience too. Occasionally there was stretch of dried grass.
Finally we encountered a huge ice patch which took us around 40 minutes to cross. The sky was very cloudy and it seemed it could rain any moment now. We took a short break sitting on a rock amidst the ice patch. It was then I observed Indranil seemed to be in great pain.
“What’s wrong ? “ I asked. I have hardly seen him in pain.
“Something has stung me near the hip. It is paining like hell.” He said “Must be some insect. There are quite a number of insects in this route. Have to take a painkiller when we reach the camp.”
We crossed the final ice patch at 4 in the afternoon. Walking further downhill through trees we reached Jogi Dug at about quarter to five. It almost started raining straight away. We promptly dumped our rucksacks to our respective tents. Amlan looked dead tired and he requested me to carry his rucksack to our tent. Our Marathon 9 hour trek of third day finally came to an end.
Some ice granules had invariably found shelter inside by shoes and had eventually melted. Now my shoes were damp. I was carrying big packet of dry tissue papers, which came handy. I stuffed the shoes interiors with them. I even cover the shoes with these papers. Meanwhile we were served with hot Maggi Noodles and Popcorns with Soup. It followed a round of tea.
“So… Was it fun today? Did you enjoy the snow ?” asked Indranil. We all nodded in affirmative. Perhaps it was a bit too much after two easy days. Everyone in the team was feeling very exhausted and cold. We all had some Sikkimese Rum with Pakora to keep our spirits high. It followed a nice session of Adda ( Gossip in Bengali). I shared some amusing events of my life and so did others. This was much needed after the strenuous walk. Tomorrow it would be a late start again.
Having so much food at five in the afternoon followed by another round of Pakora made me loose my appetite. I felt bit acidic too and immediately took a dose of antacid. I decided to skip dinner and go to bed early. The fatigue coupled with Sikkimese Rum made me fast asleep. I had such a sound sleep that Amlan’s snoring and mumbling had no effect on me.
Day 4. Jogi Dug(3050 mts ) to Kharimindiyari (3250 mts) ( 4 Hours)
Jogi Dug is a meadow surrounded by dense tree lines. On my front I could see a part of outer range of Dhauladhar and on my back I could see the outer range of Pir Panjal. The renowned peak studded portion of Pir Panjal which was visible from Tilgan was not in sight. Thick rows of trees on our right covered our vision. At Tilgan we were looking directly at western side, now our campsite was facing a little towards South east.
While approaching the campsite of Jogi Dug , one can see a small stream below. A pipeline is visible here connected to the stream so that campers find it easy to store water. Right besides the pipe is small platform of stone on which two poles have been fixed. A green cloth is tied to these poles.
I asked Yahswant what was its significance and he replied that this is the place where local villagers once prayed during a drought and got the desired results. Other than that Jogi dug is considered as a holy place because Thakshag nag (serpent god) and all eighteen Snake Gods are believed to be residing here.
Eighteen Snake Gods! I thanked to God (which one?) that I did not get this information earlier night or else like Amlan I may have had a fear psychosis. It’s not that I am scared to death at the name of a snake, but then eighteen snake Gods was too much. In city I may not have believed in even eighty snake Gods, but in a remote jungle area it was different.
I was just brushing my teeth, when I saw Indranil coming up from the side of Jungle. He was looking very relieved and exited. I understood he went to answer nature’s call.
“I got hold of the bastard finally.” Said he. Mukherjee was just about to sip his tea and he stopped. Anuradha looked at him with interest. Amlan and Abhi were not around.
“ What happened ?” I asked
“ That pain I was having ! I thought it was an insect bite. “ – Said Indranil.
“ Well .. Yes !“ I gulped a bit.
“ Hell .. No .. it was a parasite! No wonder, the pain killer did not give me any relief yesterday. The small thing was sucking into my body slowly. This morning I discovered it ..with 25% of it already inside the skin near my hip. Someway I managed to pull it out! If it had got more deeper, I would have to slash my skin with a knife to get it out.”
We were shell shocked to think whether another parasite was also trying to intrude into our body in that very minute!
“Don’t bother to search your body. If it tries to suck your body, you will feel the pain instantly. It is a stinging pain.” Said Indranil.
“But .. then this is very peculiar.” Said Mukherjee “Why does this little fella wanted to go inside our body ?”
“To Multiply !“ Said Indranil “Can’t you see ? It is a parasite! Its job to take shelter inside a body, feed on it and multiply.”
Digesting this news, we got busy in packing. In the morning when I woke up, Jogi Dug looked so sunny and bright. After hearing about this 18 snake Gods and then this parasite attack made me feel leaving that place immediately. Although I understood that the insect must have hopped into Indranil’s skin just before he crossed the frozen Phahi Nullah. I remember him leaning against a shrubbery as we waited for Yahswant to cut steps in snow.
Serving us breakfast, Yashwant gave us another bad news. The straight road up hill has thick layers of snow which would be dangerous to negotiate. We may not be able to go entirely uphill. At one time we may have to go downwards traversing a wall of snow. If we cannot do that even, we may have to go downhill with the horses and miss all the fun.
We had a hearty breakfast with Pancakes and Honey, Milk and Cornflakes, Scrambled egg followed by Tea. The sky looked as if it would rain, so we waited a bit for the clouds to clear.”
Finally the clouds cleared a bit, although there was no sunshine yet.We started as late as 12:00. We walked uphill towards North and crossed the trees. Sure enough we could see layers of snow patches totally spread out in uphill. It did not look dangerous, but Indranil said the layer was much thicker uphill. Through the trees I glanced a view of the familiar Mukar Beh peak. The sky was getting cloudy.
Our guides came back after 30 minutes after finishing cutting steps in ince. One by one we came to edge, from where we were to go downhill. I looked forward and saw that it was a steep 70 -80 feet downhill path full of ice. This gradient must be of 70 degree. It looked almost straight. Here everybody would need some hand holding to get down.
Descending down a snow filled vertical gradient is never easy. Though this was nowhere near a snow filled vertical downhill from Tunganath in winters, yet it had its own risk. To start with, you may twist your ankle badly and topple down.
With the help of Yashwant and Negi who guided us down the slope though the fresh cut steps, we started walking down. Holding our guides arm with one hand and getting support with the stick in the other hand Amlan , Anuradha and Mukherhee went cautiously down the slope. I kept my body slightly backwards so that I do not stumble down forward. The steps had been reasonably cut and after reaching a certain level, we could manage the rest on our own.
Completing my descent I was bit taken aback with what I saw. Negi was coming down holding Abhi’s hand. But Indranil was coming down without any support. He was descending in a back crawling manner with both arms and two feet on the snow! I looked at him somewhat in bewilderment.
As they came down I asked Indranil “What was that style?”
“It is the safest way to get down in this kind of slope. Of course you cannot do it when you have much more to descent. But only thing I did forget was to put on my gloves. Hell…. My hands are freezing.” said Indranil with a smile.
I looked at his hands and said “You are impossible!” Mukherjee agreed with me. It was 1:15 p.m.
The rain started a bit more heavily. Although it was tolerable, we switched into our Ponchos. From the point of our “vertical limit” downhill it was a straight uphill climb in the snow. The snow was soft here. In many places our shoes were getting ankle deep.
And then it was a descent. Bless our spirits it was not entirely vertical, but it was quite a long descent with large ice patches. Shooting photographs was quite a task getting down this slope, yet I continued my job. Here the ice was not that soft and was easier to walk. At the bottom there was another ice patch which was quite soft. We crossed that quickly and walked up by a grass laden path uphill.
Our camp was nearby, so we sat down on some rocks to open our Lunch boxes which Negi had packed like previous days. It was 3:36 in the afternoon and we all were feeling hungry. After devouring the food, we marched on for another 15 minutes till we came to our final ice patch, when Anuradha suddenly had an idea to slide down on snow. The place had a gentle descent of ice. Far below on the left was a heart shaped ( seriously !) pond !
Anuradha had quite fun in sliding. Mukherjee and Amlan joined in the act too.Along with Indranil, Abhi and I obliged by taking photographs.
Kharimindiyari looked absolutely out of a foreign film location. Surrounded by ice patches, the small grassland was at the foot of huge snow slopes. Just besides our tent was a small water body which flowed into a small stream. The waterbody was created from the ice patches itself! Sipping tea with “Masala Pasta” we witnessed light and shade caressing on the enormous mountain range in front of us. These were the lower sections of Bara Banghal Range, a part of the Dhauladhar Range which ends in the Beas valley.
There is the famous Bara Banghal trek which takes a traveler to the most remote village of Himachal Pradesh – Bara Bhangal village. The settlement is cut off by high passes and thick snow almost half of the year.
The “Masala Pasta” was nothing but Pasta cooked like Indian curry with lot of chili. Most of us could not manage to finish it. In the end we added lemon juice it to reduce it “Chilliness”. Anyways it tasted good with the strong tea.
In the night the mercury fell to its lowest. It was almost 3 degree Centigrade. Like other days we huddled inside the warm kitchen, where Negi and Yashwant with their support staff was busy cooking. Except me, everyone had some sips of Rum. I was not sure what caused my acidity the earlier day, so I played safe. Indranil amused us with his extempore songs with hilarious lyrics. Negi yet again proved to be great cook and we ate voraciously whatever was given.
Outside the temperature was some near 1 degree Centigrade and cold winds was hitting on our face. Only good thing was that the sky was devoid of clouds and we saw that familiar scene of starlight sky. Retired to the tents, Anurdaha and Mukherjee had problems in getting into their sleeping bags, maybe because their limbs got stiff from cold. Amlan got inside the sleeping back upside down! In the end Indranil had to come and position most of us correctly inside our respective sleeping bags!
Initially it felt divine sleeping besides a stream where icy cold water was pouring in. Listening to that lapping melody of nature, I was just about to fall asleep when that inevitable thing happened. Amlan started snoring followed with his mumblings ! I had completely forgotten about it.
Anyways I was not letting him ruin my sleep in this paradise. I took out my MP3 player and switched on to my favorite song. Lying under the stars, besides a flowing steam and white dunes of snow I soon fell asleep listening to Rabindrasangeet ( Songs of Tagore) sang by Debabrata Biswas.
Day 5. Kharimindiyari (3250 mts) to Chikka ( 3100 mts) ( 5 Hours)
I got up at around 05:15. There was a bit of golden patch over the mountains in front of me. Already Indranil had been loudly vocal asking me come out with my camera. Initially I could not hear him as I was listening to Rabindrasangeet whole night. I did not waste my time and took some shots. The golden light was touch and go and i managed some descent clicks.
As I was brushing my teeth Mukherjee came to me and asked “Do you believe in spirits ?”
Whatever I have seen about this fashion photographer in the last few days, he seemed quite a sober guy. So naturally I was surprised at his question.
“Spirits ? You mean Ghosts ?” I replied back with some surprise.
“Yesterday night, I almost believed in spirits.” Said Mukherjee with a smile.
The weather was bright and sunny in the 5th day of the Trek. In front of us the lower sections of Bara Banghal Range was shining bright. It was a heavenly sight to behold. It looked quite different from the dull morning at Jogi Dug. Even the snow dunes behind us were shining brightly. In midst of that, someone talking about ghosts and spirits was ridiculous.
“ Okay, what is the story ? “ I asked Mukherjee.
“Yesterday night , say around 3:30, I heard somebody talking. Initially I thought Indranil and Abhi was talking among themselves. They generally go to sleep bit late.”
I may mention here that our tent was pitched between that of Mukherjee and Indranil’s tent. Anuradha’s tent was pitched just after the tent of Mukherjee.
“But” continued Mukherjee “They never chat so late. The voices were not clear, somewhat muffled. I remembered that Indranil had told me those dies in the mountain; their spirit roams around the hills. Also at Jogi Dug one of the assistant had asked me who were talking so late in the night in your tent.”
“Then what happened? “ I asked with a smile. Already I had guessed what might have happened.
But Mukherjee had understood it too. He broke into a big smile and said “Suddenly I realized the language was actually Bengali. Instantly my whole fear vanished. I realized it was Amlan talking in his sleep.”
I laughed at the incident and narrated similar incidents where some human acts were credited to ghostly activities. Other join us too in the laughter. Amlan asked innocently “Do I really talk in sleep?”
Kharimindiyari was the most scenic camping ground of the entire tour. staying there only for four hours in the morning seemed like a sheer injustice. I wish we could spend an entire day at this place.The snow and sun provided us numerous composition for photography and all of us (except of course Anuradha) took numerous shots. Mukherjee came out lot of ideas and his experience of studio lighting came handy.
AS we were having breakfast with Chola Batura (Negi really knows variety) we encountered some foreign tourists who seemed to be coming back from a trek .They greeted us with usual “Namaste”. They had quite a number of porters with them. Interestingly they had come to ski in this terrain and were going down to build up a small camp. They pointed far above towards the snow dunes and I saw to my surprise that there was an improvised snowmobile standing in the snow which was originally a Tata Sumo. Talk about Adventure sports, and someone is bound to come out with something unique.
The sun was shining brightly and so was reflection from snow. We put on on our anti glare sunglasses to prevent any remote chance of snow blindness.The descent from Kharimindiyari was extremely steep and we had to kneel down and slide backwards at some places over soft snow. It followed with a small traversing on snow. By now the team has traversed so many times that all crossed this area with much easy and confidence. Crossing that ice patch we again went further down through shades of tall trees until we reached beautiful meadows.
The grassland was adorned with colorful flowers having a backdrop of snow capped mountains against blue sky.It looked straight out of a Yash Chopra film and all needed was a Juhi Chawla running around singing “Likhha Hain in Hawao Main” or a Sridevi chirping “Rang Bhare Badal se”.
Alas, we could not afford to have such a high budgeted heroine. In the end Anuradha posed instead of Sridevi or Juhi. Mukherjee and Amlan obliged the role of photographer.
We crossed a small stream and yet another ice patch. Looking down we could see the huge reservoir at Jobra far below. Walking downhill we finally sat down just above Jobra Nallah to have our lunch. We had started at 9:30 in the morning. It was 12:30 now.
Post lunch we crossed the small foot bridge over the streaming Jobra Nallah. Chikka is a popular place for hikers and campers too. There are readymade camping facilities available here too and some tented shops are available which sells soft drinks and other snacks. Yashwant had bought us some cold drinks during lunch.
It is good for people to hike but it was sickening to see people having littered the place with thermocol plates and other garbage. I do not know which hiking team of Manali commits such nuisance in the name of hiking or trekking. Walking through a narrow and slippery road besides trees we reached the meadows of Chikka crossing more ice patches. Many tents were pitched. All of them were day hikers with family and friends accompanied by instructors who had come to have a firsthand taste of trekking. There were no takers of Hampta Pass yet. Chikka is the starting point for Hampta Pass Trek.
Our tents were pitched a little ahead behind some rocks just under the imposing walls of mountains that stood in an imposing fashion with several huge snow deposits between its ridges. A small waterfalls could be seen above falling into the ice deposits. Deep down below in the ravine the Alaini Nallah was flowing like a full-fledged river. Far down in the front where the meadows steps down into the river bed, the Nallah comes out of the ravine flowing with the backdrop of a snow capped mountain to make that picture postcard photograph.
“The route to Hampta Pass is that way.“ Indranil said as he pointed towards the river bed. “You go on straight and ultimately you have to turn right.”
“We will do it in our next visit” said Abhi.
“Definitely. Say, Indra Da do you think I could try Roopkund ?” Asked Amlan who seemed to be beaming in confidence.
“ Yes, why not ?” Indranil said in a reassured manner.
“This trek will do your confidence a hell of good thing buddy” said Mukherjee with a wink “ provided you do not make those ‘orgasmic’ sounds in the night and scare us.”
As they were chatting I looked at the sky. The clouds were getting dense. I was thinking of a shot to be taken next morning. But a trial run was needed before that. I took up my DSLR and the tripod. Looking at the sky, I carried my Poncho too.
“I am coming from the river bed.” I said to Indranil and walked on. Legendary Photographer Ansel Adams had taken several photographs of a flowing river in long exposure with a snowcapped mountain behind. I had taken a similar shot at Goecha La, but composition wise I thought could do better here. Of course pictorially that small mountain in our front was nothing like Kangchenjunga.
The trick to get such a shot where you get real close to the river with a mountain in the backdrop is to find the right rock. The rock on which you need to fix the tripod with camera. After some trial and errors I found the desired rock and took some test shots. The light was bad but I had found my desired frame.
As I was coming up I spotted something green far down the river bed. The light was pretty bad now, but there was no mistake that it was a green colored ‘A styled’ tent. It looked like a four men tent. There was no sign of any horses or any other tents around. It looked as if it was a hiking team who were enjoying sleeping in a tent on a river bed.
It was going to be our last night in the trek, so we sat our kitchen tent in the night and had a musical session. Indranil told Yashwant, Negi and the support team members to join. Sitting under the starlit sky and having imposing cliffs around, we had a memorable musical sessions on the meadows of Chikka. Buckets, plates and spoons were used as musical instruments and everyone seemed to be a music talent. Negi made some special dishes and we readily devoured them.
I have met so many persons while trekking in India, whom maybe I will never meet again. But they remain in my memory for ever. Negi and Yashwant were two additions to that list.
Day 6. Chikka ( 3100 mts) to Pandu Ropa (2900 mts) – 1:30 hours
The perfect light fell into the valley at around 8:20 in the morning. I had already finished packing my stuff and was ready with my camera. I walked to the river bed to my pre determined spot. Far way I could see some figures outside the green ‘A styled’ Tent.
It took me around 30 minutes to get my picture postcard shot. I packed up my things carefully so that I do not miss any gadgets. Walking back I casually looked towards the river bed to find that the tent had vanished. Even there was not a single soul to be seen anywhere in the river. “Talk about fast packing” I murmured to myself and strolled back.
By 10:00 we had finished our breakfast and were ready to go. We tipped Yashawnt, Negi and the support team members handsomely and thanked Indranil for yet another memorable Trek.
The walk to Pandu Ropa via Jobri was easy and uneventful. Jobri has a Hydro Power Electric Dam, which is why there is a metal road. Photography is strictly prohibited near Jobri. Pandu Ropa is a historical place where there is small area around a water body. Local says Pandavas stayed in this area during their exile. Well, there are so many places where Pandavas are said to have stayed during their exile. Near Banhara there is an Arjun Gufa too. I am not so sure how historically accurate these fables are.
Anyways the Panadavs got 14 years to travel so they could have gone anywhere from Leh to Kanyakumari. There is a small stone structure at Pandu Ropa, which has been repeatedly painted white and thus has lost its originality.
At Pandu Ropa we had chilled Beer to refresh ourselves with enough snacks. The joint was run by an old couple who were very friendly. It started raining heavily and it was not till 1:00 p.m. our vehicle arrived to drop us to our hotel at Shuru. Indranil’s local team manager Deepak welcomed us back and we thanked him for his suggestion of this trek.
“Sab Aap log to Kamal Kar diya” Said Deepak to Indranil ” Ekdom Trek route kholkar aa gaye” ( Sire you did a great job. You opened the trek route for other trekkers.)
Sitting in the car driving through hairpin bends in the hilly roads I was thinking that the trek finished off quite fast and I definitely will have to come back here soon. After all I have only one life!
How to Go
Manali is the base of Trek to Hampta Circuit Trek. Best way to reach Manali is by Volvo service from New Delhi.I would highly recommend Volvo services by Himachal Pradesh State Tourism. Never take Volvo services by Swagatam Holidays. Not only their seat allocation system is faulty, they charge extra money for putting your luggage in their luggage hold. Of course one can always hire a Car.
Where to Stay and Eat
If you opt for Hampta Circuit Trek or any other trek which start from Jagat Sukh or even from Jobra, Shuru is the best place to stay instead of Manali. There are several hotels at Shuru. We stayed at Shuru Heights, which was pretty descent. Food was good too.
Time to do Hampta Circuit Trek and other details
You need basic fitness level to do Hampta Circuit Trek. If you want to encounter the type of snow as depicted in my blog, between 15th May to 1st week of June is ideal. Mid June to July is ideal for flowers. Since Hampta Circuit Trek is not a very common route, it is generally done on a package rate. There are only few agencies who does it. We went with Indranil Kar of Ongoz Escapdes ([email protected])
Mr. Anshul Soni and Shri Legendary Harish Kapadia for identifying some peaks of Pir Panjal and answering many queries
1. Paye Paye Pahare by Pradip Dey Sarkar,Boiwala Publications, 2002
2. Across Peaks and Passes in Himachal Pradesh by Harish Kapadia, Indus Publishing Company, 1999
3. Digitized Maps of India provided by the University of Texas at Austin
4. Trek Map by Aventura Outdoors