Solo On The Himalayas
Noronha flees from the city to negotiate the 4268-metre high
from Hamta Pass
comes a time when you heed a certain call, an irrepressible
urge to just get up and go. Fortunately for me, this August,
the right set of circumstances - job-related stress and a
whacked out personal life combined to lend credence for my
perpetual need to break free.
I landed in Manali (Himachal Pradesh) for my two-week sojourn
into the mountains with a single point agenda, to do a trek
where I could touch snow. After innumerable forays into the
Sahyadris, at last I was on the threshold of fulfilling my
childhood dream of exploring and experiencing the grandeur
of the Himalayas.
Far from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, Manali was like
a breath of fresh air. Though it was a little too commercial
for my liking, nevertheless the gallery of towering mountains
peeping through the clouds and the Beas roaring down the Kullu
valley, a sound you can never be too far from anywhere in
town, would rank among my best sightseeing experiences.
Manali, at 2050 metres, was also the highest place I had set
1 at Sethan in Hamta Valley
are quite a few trekking options around Manali and the most
frequented circuits are to Chandra Tal (Moon Lake) in Lahaul
and from there on to the Baralacha La on the Manali-Leh road
over the Hamta Pass and Deo Tibba base camp, over the Chandrakani
Pass into Manikaran. Most of these treks are spread over 4-21
days depending on the circuit. While every second shop, or
thereabouts, on the Mall provides trekking-camping equipment
and guides/porters, on the recommendation of a friend I met
up with Mohinder Singh of Snowland Holiday Pvt Ltd.
We discussed and arranged a 4 day-3 night trek to Chandra
Tal. Unfortunately, the road to Kaza in the Spiti valley was
closed due to landslides and I had to put off my trek by a
couple of days. As the Kaza road did not clear up I had to
cancel Chandra Tal and instead made arrangements for a trek
over Hamta Pass into Chatru in Lahaul.
from Hamta Pass at 4268 metres
I set off by taxi accompanied by an all Nepali team of two
porters, Narender and Maniraj and the cook cum guide Ramji
to Pirni, the starting point of the trek. After a final check
of the equipment we were on our way, the target, Hamta Pass-4268
The first stage was a steep and back breaking climb through
thick pine forests to the village of Sethan (2800 mts), an
ascendancy of almost 800 mts in three hours. We made good
time and my entourage were pretty surprised that I could match
their pace and didnt whine like a typical city babu
whom they come across quite often. It was hard and exhausting
work though the breaks at the ice-cold mountain streams acted
our way to Sethan we were treated to some fantastic views
of the Kullu Valley and Manali Pass. Just below the village
of Sethan, we halted for lunch and then moved on to set up
camp in a clearing called Pandav Groove around 1.30 pm. Later,
I stretched out on a flat rock to enjoy the scenery and immediately
fell fast asleep. The evening chill was a rude wake up call
from my siesta and I got into my thermal underwear and trousers.
For once I was dressed or rather overdressed for
dinner, which was served at 6 pm, the earliest dinner I have
ever had. I was out like a light once I snuggled into my sleeping
Woke up to the aroma of black coffee and a chilly morning.
As is usual with most folks, after coffee, I got the urge!
I therefore found a spot with a view and did a bit of downloading.
The aftermath with ice cold stream water was pure agony, not
recommended for the faint hearted. As I returned to the campsite,
a visible picture of discomfort, Ramji told me with a broad
grin that he normally provides warm water for calls of nature
and that I should inform him before I take to the bush. I
did not know whether to laugh or to cry.
grazing at Camp 2 at Juara
a hearty breakfast, we packed up camp and headed up the Hamta
Valley around 7.45 am. It was another an 800-metre climb and
a 10-kilometre trek to our next camp at Juara (3600 metres
approximately). The weather was clear and pleasant; the breeze
wafted across the valley spreading the scent of wild flowers
that carpeted the valley floor. Thin light clouds sailed in
the blue sky. One can walk for hours in such surroundings.
I thoroughly enjoyed this stage of the trek.
We had to cross the Hamta River and fortunately, theres
a log bridge. I didnt fancy getting into the icy waters
after my washing experience in the morning. We walked on the
true right of the valley through the Gujjar grazing grounds
of Chikka over side-streams fed by beautiful waterfalls and
past several herds of cattle and sheep. We were now above
the tree line with only a few birch trees higher up. Just
as we turned into Juara, we were treated to a spectacular
view of the entire Hamta Valley below us with the river in
full glory cascading down, carving a gorge and then disappearing
into the faraway Kullu Valley. We had to cross another side-stream
to get to the camp site and there was no other way but to
wade through. I flung my shoes across the stream and entered
the icy cold waters which reached up to my thighs...if I were
2-3 inches shorter, Id have frozen my youknowwhat! We
set up camp and had lunch at 12.30 pm. All I wanted then was
a short nap and a bath. I smelled so bad that even the normally
inquisitive horses wouldnt come near me. I plucked the
courage and went down to the stream. After a few minutes of
agony, I felt refreshed and donning clean underwear was like
heaven. The evening turned out to be more chilly than the
first one and even after wearing every piece of clothing I
was carrying, I still needed something more to warm me up.
Narender and Maniraj, my resourceful porters, arranged a bottle
of rakshi (locally brewed liquor) from the nearby Gujjar camp.
I had a bit but it was not my cup of tea. I preferred to stick
to my usual rounds of whisky. Another good dinner and we were
all out for the count...wondered what my mom would say if
she heard I was eating vegetarian food and going to sleep
at 6 pm.
Breakfast over, we set out up the valley at a fast pace as
the weather was turning bad and we wanted to beat the dark
clouds creeping up from the valley.
Valley - 3600 metres
we climbed higher, the grassy flower-filled meadows with herds
of goats and sheep gave way to loose rock and scree as the
climb got steeper. Soon we entered a gorge with sparkling
waterfalls on the left of the valley, called Bhalu Ka Khera
as bears are known to use the caves on the mountainside to
hibernate during winter. From here we could now see snow-capped
peaks at the head of the valley as we approached the pass
and the source of the Hamta river.
A short tough precarious climb over ice and rock later we
were at the pass-4268 mts. Smoking a bidi (I had run out of
cigarettes some time back) amidst the mist and clouds was
a whole new feeling. And then as if the mountain gods wanted
to bless me the clouds cleared to unveil a magnificent vista
of Indrakila and Indrasan (6221 mts) with its huge hanging
glacier (the source of the Indrasan river), the Indrasan valley
below us and the mountains across the Chandra river on the
extreme left in Lahaul.
compared to the Kullu Valley, which is full of lush green
meadows, Lahaul and Spiti has a barren, lunar-like landscape
which has a beauty of its own. After our fill of being on
top of the world, we descended to the base of the Indrasan
valley via goat trails, doing a fine balancing act on the
six-inch wide winding paths. My efficient crew had the tents
at the campsite of Shiagouru up in no time.
After a long session of photography we had an early dinner
and I got snug in my sleeping bag for a well deserved nights
rest. The temperature soon shot down to almost freezing and
there was a thin layer of frost lining the tent. Sleep was
difficult to come by and even after a couple of swigs of whisky
I was still twisting and turning the whole night through.
Yet another frightfully cold morning with beautiful clear
blue sky. Breakfast - banana pancakes with coffee for breakfast...man,
I was being spoilt! We packed up camp and were at the crossing
of Indrasan river at 7 am....the only thing worse would have
been to cross the river at 6.30 am.
Hamta Valley below the pass - 4000 metres;
Camp 3 at Shiagouru
and the porters just ran across while I froze on the bank
staring at the icicles in the water deliberating to
cross or not to cross. Finally I gathered the courage
to take the plunge and as advised by Ramji made the fastest
100 meters dash of my life. Even as I stepped ashore the porters
had a roaring fire going and I knew why. I couldnt feel
my feet and my soles were all purple and blue. It took a good
half hour to get back the colour in my soles, what an experience.
It was a most painful incident.
After crossing the river we descended at a very rapid pace
as we had to be in Chatru before 9.30 am to catch the bus
from Kaza to Manali. The bus passes through Chatru anytime
between 9:30 am and 10.30 am. Once we hit the valley floor,
we recrossed the Indrasan river just before it flows into
the raging Chandra river, this time fortunately over a log
A short walk along the Chandra and we were at Chatru, an almost
abrupt end to the trek though we still had the bus journey
back to Manali.
There are no fixed schedules for buses and most of the services
depends on whether the roads are clear of landslides. The
bus to Manali finally arrived at 11 am...and boy, was it loaded.
The journey back to Manali via Rohtang Pass over some of the
most treacherous road conditions Ive ever been through
turned out to be as heart-stopping as the vistas on the trek.
The narrow road winds up the true left of the gorge and it
felt like the bus was clinging to the mountainside. The driver
meanwhile was busy chatting to the conductor even while he
was negotiating the ultrasharp turns with incredible skill
Pass was an anticlimax after all the hype I heard about it,
crowded with tea stalls, taxis, buses and tourists. However
the 50-kilometre drive from Rohtang to Manali was amazingly
beautiful. The whole adventure set me back by Rs 4500 but
it was worth it. Return to civilisation was a bit jarring
but I was refreshed and riding on a high. I was
ready to take on the world.
of Indrasan from Hamta Pass
author is sales manager (Mumbai), The British Metal Corp.
(India) Pvt. Ltd. He is an avid trekker and a self-confessed