Monday, August 16, 2010

Tharikhango Pass 2006

Summer of 2006 added yet another chapter in the history of adventure travels for Great Escape Routes made the first attempt to open the Tarikhang (popularly known as Bhaba pass) for the season.  

The team was all set to hit the trekking season of the year. One evening we received a group of four, a Norwegian couple just arriving from Nepal, doctors by profession and had done few treks there. The other couple from Israel was here for an adventurous honeymoon.

Within an hour the group was being briefed upon all the aspects of trekking in the Himalayas. Treks for four night and five days from Kinnaur to Spiti over Bhaba pass (4,449 mts.) with a jeep safari for five days with a drop at Manali on the 10th day was being decided by the group.

Day 01
A drive from Shimla to Kafnu, a small village at the base of Bhaba valley took us 8 hours. Situated by the side of Bhaba River, the village is now connected with a narrow road. We camped near the village for the night.

Day 02

There were four guests, two guides and one local horseman with four horses and we left the village following Bhaba River upstream. The trail narrowed further and in an hour we found ourselves in a thick conifers forest, with trees soaring up to the skies. Following the right side of the river as we ascended, the silence of the area was being constantly broken, by the sound of the gushing streams at regular intervals. Now the glaciers down the valley were also visible. It was a perfect day with a bright sunshine; the color of clear blue sky was perfectly matching with thick conifer cover and lush green valleys.  

A steep patch for about thirty minutes, uneven steps of roots and the altitude compelled us to rest. Ravi, my colleague provided detailed information of the flora and fauna of the area by the time guest enjoyed refreshing juice. Now the trail became more gradual and following it for another hour and a half suddenly the forest disappeared. An endless meadow followed Bhaba River and soon disappeared behind the craggy mountains, loaded with snow on its either sides left the guests spell bound. Capturing this Himalayan Charisma in eyes and camera, the group continued. Soon we could see our camping ground which was flat and was being divided by Bhaba River. The high snowy mountain overlooked this pleasant view.

We reached at 2 in the afternoon at our first campsite, Muling, the guest enjoyed their packed lunch at the bank of Bhaba River, as we prepared the campsite and within few minutes Ravi came out of kitchen tent, with hot Ginger lemon tea for the guest. Later guests decided that they will get wood for the bonfire from the nearby forest. The ladies learnt to make local cuisine at the kitchen tent. We were almost done with our day, the dinner was ready.

As the sun disappeared from the peaks it suddenly became dark, everyone gathered around the bonfire, the group was enthralled with the first day introduction of Himalayan life.

Day 03

The dawn broke out and the first one to be blessed by the Sun, were the snow capped mountains, this view form the ventilator of my tent was just stunning! After breakfast, we crossed the last cluster of tough Birch trees, whose ruptured barks explained the harshness of weather on them, we continued up through a narrow trail. Pace of the guests was dawdling but steady with the thin air, an introduction of Hindu mythology made the walk easy for them, “we believe in trinity (three Gods)…….” as I went on, the discussion took us to Kara, our campsite.

A relatively open valley which narrowed further up, a gushing stream of Bhaba glacier was a pleasant site at Kara. The sun was bit strong but soon a mild breeze cooled the valley. After lunch, we all settled ourselves around the camps to read or write the daily diaries.

As I opened my eyes, I saw sun setting behind the snow clad mountains and up on the steep slope I could see some movements. Ah! They were Shepard, guarding the meat they had left to dry outside their cave. Pair of active Shepard dogs was taking care of the herd which had settled around the cave, as I approached them.

For the evening, we invited Shepard to the camp where they were introduced with the guests; all enjoyed their company around the bonfire. Later on everybody retired to their tents.

Day 04

At 5 in the morning, the silent valley broke out with barking of dogs. As I came out of my tent, I could hear the Shepard shouting, later I came to learn that leopard took away one sheep from the herd! It’s very difficult to save livestock from this predator here.

In another 2 hours we were ready to climb for the base camp, Ravi described the route, how to cross glacial streams and walking techniques on steep slopes with narrow trails. Just next to the camp was the icy cold gushing waters to be crossed, then a continuous steep climb reduced the pace of steps. All were thrilled to experience such great heights, the valley kept on narrowing further as a deep gorge was being carved by Bhaba glacier.
It took about three hours to cross the first steep stretch; team was being brought to normal by offering a hot cup of tea.

Taking pictures, enjoying nature and moving at a snail's pace, we reached the base camp in the late afternoon. Under a snout of glacier, the last, flat and green patch was the camp for the day. The place became chilly as the sun dropped behind the mountains.
The briefing for the next day was being done by Ravi at the dinner and we all went to sleep early.

Day 05

Finally the big day came, at 7 in the morning we all left for the pass, slowly creeping through the sliding zone of the loose rocks. The first steep uphill presented a real challenge to the visitors and to their surprise; they assumed it the final ascent. As the climb concluded, one could see the face of pass twice the distance from where we started.
Refreshing everyone with a hot cup of tea, a real refreshing brewage while trekking in the Himalayas, we geared up for the final ascent.

The glacier with a wide open crevasse and a respite from the rocky terrain further encouraged the final attempt to the Pass. Now the prayer flags on the top were visible and shortly all of us stood at the top. Fresh snow on the top was about 2.5 feet, with a broad glacier down the valley. The visitors captured every bit of the wide views as their camera flashed out in all directions. But for me, it was a moment to imbibe the celestial moments of the place.

The other face of valley described something else; it was a cold desert which gets abundant snowfall but no rains, geologically whole of Lahaul, Spiti and Laddakh are the extensions of Tibetan plateau. Million years ago this whole region was a sea bed, which was still to be witnessed by us near Kibber village at a fossil park.
The glacier extended down as a veil of a Himalayan belle and then turned into a gushing glacial stream as her curls. We all decided to have lunch and then prepared ourselves to the next leg of journey.

Descending glaciers has never been an easy job, briefing the guests, I lead and Ravi swept the team down the valley. It took about and hour for us to step on the ground, where the glacier melts turns into a gushing stream. Ringing of the horse bell and rhythm of our steps matched perfectly and late in the evening we reached the base of valley.
After a long day we prepared the dinner in the kitchen tent and also shared our Himalayan adventure. Concluding day’s walk was gentle so waking up late in the morning was decided.

Day 06                                                                              
Last night we had camped at the confluence where glacial deposit of Bhaba pass amalgamates with Pin River, Buldor. From here the Pin River meandered down gradually until in disappeared into the frozen crowd of numerous peaks and countless valleys.

As Sun peeped through our tents yet another aspect of Himalayan beauty was canvassed which forced us to come out of our tents. The piled sediment layers of the mountain faces conforms a Sea in this region, million years ago.

After breakfast, we marched along the Pin River, crossing glacial streams and finally the long piles of Mane (sacred engraved rocks) suggested the presence of habitations. As we ascended to a flat ground, the village of Mud was visible on the left bank of Pin River
We camped on the flat ground; I decided to prepare dinner while Ravi took the group to visit the village and also to inquire about the vehicle booked for the Jeep Safari till Manali.

Communication has been a serious problem in Lahaul-Spiti and Laddakh since we initiated to promote it from 1990’s on the map of adventure tourism. But every year after then lodging & transport facilities became better in this area.     

As I was cooking Dal in the kitchen tent, suddenly I observed a shiny objects falling, ah! They were shooting stars. I observed the unusual phenomenon lying on the ground for some time. At the dinner we concluded the whole trek and rated the guests capable of doing some longer walks in future.

To be continued………………..!

Day 07

Being in the isolated valleys of Himalaya for these days nurtured a deep urge among the travelers to visit the habitations also. As the dawn broke behind the craggy mountains, on the left bank of the Pin River, stood Mud village. Some twenty thatched roofed huts comprised this village. After stacking the trekking gear on the roof of the jeep, we were ready to bid good bye to this lovely little heaven on earth.

The clouds of dust faded the enchanting panorama behind us as the jeep drove us through the narrow valley. Now few small settlements were also visible at the base of these barren mountains as we proceeded to visit Kungri monastery.

The only monastery in the Himalayas, at Kungri the black magic in Buddhism is practiced. The school in the same complex imparts formal education in Buddhism. An old dark monastery down on the left side of the school remains always lighted by yak butter lamps. Decorated with various images of Buddha, Padmsambhava and other Buddhist deities reflect the religious wealth of Spiti valley.

Ravi explained the significance of the elaborate paintings which packed the interiors walls of the monastery. The details and the artistic expressions in these paintings reveal the hard-work involved. The visitors were left spell-bound after visiting the complex of monastery.

Continuing our journey we drove to Attargo, where the narrow Pin valley opens up into the relatively wider valley of Spiti. From here we pointed Dhankar monastery to our guests which was literally clinging to the cliff.

In old times Lahaul and Spiti was being ruled by the Tibetan kings, a palace built at Dhankar (which means a high cliff) for the Tibetan chief who use to administer the whole area. Though he was the representative of the King in Tibet but snow on the high mountain passes isolated these lands from Tibet for about seven months in a year. This gave enough autonomy to the chiefs that later they started ruling the area independently.

At an elevation of 3,990 m stood Dhankar monastery, we stepped out of the vehicle and crossed the village, the thatched roofed dwellings appeared sandwiched between the eroded lands on the edge of the cliff. The Lama of the monastery greeted us at the gate and escorted up to this three storied thatched wall creation through a narrow staircase. The top floor has seven small rooms most of them used for meditation and prayers. The roof top was scary as we stepped on to it. Remains of wind and water erosion were clearly visible down the barren valley. The confluence of the Pin and Spiti Rivers was plainly visible on to our right and the course of Spiti River disappeared behind the gigantic mountains.

Finally, we drove to Tabo for late lunch; it was a luxury in a room with modern amenities after the trek. It was decided to meet at the dinner while we all crashed in our respective rooms.

Day 08

Wrapping up 1114 years old Buddhist tradition and culture in the lap of mighty snow clad Himalayas; Tabo monastery is Spiti’s oldest gompa and India’s oldest functioning monastery. Tabo monastery was founded in 996 AD in Spiti valley. A distinct mud brick wall surrounds the complex and the central main monastery is surrounded by smaller monasteries. The ceilings and walls of main monastery still preserve the treasure of Buddhist culture with statues, morals and Thanka paintings depicting the tales of Buddha and his successors.

The walls of the main monastery have been divided into three tires, the life of Buddha is depicted in the lowermost tier, and the middle tier has 32 stucco images and the 3 rows of Bodhisattvas on the uppermost tier.

After breakfast, we started our day with the visit to Tabo monastery, on the way souvenir stalls were all set for the day. As we entered the complex a lama greeted us and took us around for the tour, each step towards the monastery from its entrance unfolded the accounts of its existence.

Spending about two hours here, it was time now to say goodbye to Tabo also. The sound of the jeep echoed the valley as we drove to Kaza. Being the district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti, Kaza seems to be more developed in comparison to rest of the district, with important government offices based here.

We had lunch in Kaza, left our stuff in the hotel booked for us here and continued up to Ki monastery and Kibber village. At an altitude of 4205mt. Kibber is the highest motorable village (there are some settlements even higher than this in Tibet but the villagers migrate down from there in winter months) in the world. The panorama of snow clad mountain ranges from Kibber was mesmerizing; we went around the village, our lungs could easily feel the thin air. We stopped for tea in one of the village shop and rushed down to visit Ki monastery on the way to Kaza.
(Later on in 2009 I did a trek from Kibber to Korzok (Leh) over Parang-La, 5,767mt.) 

Key, a fortified monastery built in tiers on a hillock is just seven kilometers away from the main town of Kaza. Unusual to the traditional method of building monasteries on the flat ground Key was built on a hill top. Mongol, Dogra and Sikhs invaded Spiti valley repeatedly and ruined down the whole valley including monasteries, this forced people here to build monasteries on mountain slopes. The treasure in the monastery consists of Thanka paintings and a rare collection of Buddhist manuscript.

As we paved our way up to the monastery, the snow clad mountains metamorphosed into golden color and the sound of musical instruments from monastery were piercing the unflustered valleys of Spiti. Revolving the prayer wheels from the entrance a dark and narrow staircase took us to the top floor. The interiors were decorated with bright colored Thankas, portraits, bronze idols of Buddha and other Buddhist deities.

From the roof-top of the monastery, wide views and the course of Spiti River as it twisted and disappeared behind Kunzum ranges was an unforgettable site. The luminosity of the sun faded down through the craggy mountains. By the time we drove down to Kaza the whole valley got soaked with the moonlight.

Day 09

We started at 5:30 in the morning from Kaza and stopped at Losar village for breakfast and to enter the Passport the Visa details of the foreigners at the police check post. From Losar, soon the paved road turned into rough with gravel but there was no respite to the jeep from driver and within 50 minutes we could see the top of Kunzum pass. CB ranges behind the pass were like a jeweled crown on Kunzum pass.

Now on the other side of the pass the jagged bed of Chandra River took us down to Batal for Lunch. An old lady greeted us from a tent by the side of road. Walking around the place, I found many concrete slabs and metallic plates. They have been erected in the memory of those who lost their lives while exploring not olny youngest and highest but the longest mountain system on this planet.

Driving further down along Chandra, finally after an extensive journey through the Himalayan cold desert, eventually the green meadows towards Rothang pass appeared. As the jeep touched the zero point Rothang pass around 4 in the evening, the lush green valley of Kullu was a delightful site. It took another hour for us to reach Manali where the accommodations were booked in advance.

The last dinner of the tour was at Chopsticks restaurant, in Manali, which we hosted before we bid good bye to the gusts.

Day 10

Next morning we drove back to Shimla.

Trekking in the Himalayas is a sacred desire for adventure world and the lust to march through the highest mountain system of the world is fulfilled here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Himalayan flora

Himalayan wild flowers in monsoons

Himalayas are full of life; they have been a temptation to travelers from all around the
globe to cherish their profound beauty. Monsoon in Himalayas is a dream for nature
lover, mountains and valleys wrapped under a thick veil of fog, being constantly waved
by cool breeze unveils the hidden beauty under it. The Himalayan flora have always kept
the world inquisitive, the thick green coniferous cover loaded with moist moss, every tree
narrates a different story. Forests, meadows, riversides and even craggy cliffs are adored
with diverse flora.
The foothills of north Indian Himalayas sets a carpet, for this symposium with nature.
A photo presentation of these introverted and charming wild flowers discovers our
relationship with them.

Dutch clover


African blue Lilly

Wild geranium

Wild strawberry flower

Wild strawberry

Himalayan raspberry

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Woodville Palace

Wood Ville
Woodville is one of the oldest and finest houses in the Shimla East. It became the honored residence of the Commander-in-chief of British armed forces in year 1865 with its first occupant General Sir William rose Mansfield. Later it was used as the residence for the same post till 1881.
In year 1881 the villa was being bought over by Sir James Walker and passed in the Alliance Bank of Simla. Late in year 1923 was bought over by Raja Sir Bhagat Chand of Jubbal who tastefully converted it into his summer Palace. The house has lovely surroundings, wooded walks under the Himalayan Cedar grooves. The owner still lives in the estate.    

Monday, May 31, 2010

The tree of Gods

As The Himalayas derives their name as ‘The abode of snow’ so does the Himalayan Cedar. Right from mythological saga, to scientific feat, ‘Devdar’, ‘The tree of Gods’ stands high as its name. So the tree shares a deep rooted relationship with society, sine ages.

Here in Himachal Himalayas, Sub-tropical to temperate kind climate supports conifers. Hindu mythology believes Himachal as winter abode of lord Shiva who meditated under it. Local dialect ‘Pahari, describes it as combination of two words, Deo-God and Dar-tree. Soaring up to 60 to 80 feet Deodar fills the Himalayan valleys with its green.
Male pollen on cedar tree 

Deodar is a member of conifers family, evergreen, with leaves modified into needles. Rosette arrangement of needles, distinguish it from the rest of the family members. It also presents a best example how they adapt themselves to the harsh climatic Himalayan conditions. The modification of leaves into needles minimizes the surface area to the sunlight, thus avoiding excessive transpiration. The thin mucilage on needles shields the frost in winters. Thick bark of the trunk and branches also protect it from harsh climatic conditions.

                                              Cedar sapling sprouting out from the seed

The typical Himalayan wooden architecture in Himachal is also due to Himalayan Cedar. The resin in the tree possesses a unique property of being anti-termite, devise it a perfect tree for wooden architecture. The elasticity and flexibility of the wood makes it suitable for Himalayan regions which are regarded as seismic-zones. Thus during earthquakes the entire wooden structure would shake and regain its original position instead of crumbling down or bending down as iron girders. This causes minimum loss to the wooden building.

Another reason for choosing Cedar as a suitable building material is due to the climatic conditions, Himalayas experience a very harsh weather conditions in winters and some higher regions here remain under snow for about 5-6 months. Cedar wood as other trees is a bad conductor of heat and electricity, thus trap the heat inside the room in winters irrespective of the cold weather outside.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Famous peaks and early climbing in Himachal Pradesh.

The hidden Himalaya.

As this is my first post of year 2010, I would like to forward my heartiest best wishes for the year ahead. The highest peaks of Himachal Pradesh and some from Uttaranchal has been discussed here.

Jorkanden (6473 M)
The highest peak in the Kinner-Kailash range; one can admire it comfortably from a bungalow at Kalpa. Often mistaken called Kinner Kailash (which is a smaller holy pillar to north of it). It has been climbed by the I.T.B.P IN 1974 and by the IndianPara Regiment in 1978.

Rangrik Rang (6553 M)
The highest peak in southern Kinnaur rises on the Thrung valley and on to Racho glacier. To its north is the Baspa valley. Its first ascent was made by the Indo-British team (Chris Bonington – Harish Kapadia) in 1994. They climbed the north East Ridge from the col. The north face is the ultimate challenge on this peak. There are several high peaks in the valley.

Reo Purgyil (6816 M)
The highest peak in Himachal Pradesh. It rises to the north of Shikpi-La, from where the Satluj enters India and is formidable challenge justifying its name, abode of demon. The first ascent was made by I.T.B.P in 1971 but no details were available; this climb was always questioned. In 1991 four climbers from Delhi (Yousuf Zaheer) climbed to the top by the west ridge-wets shoulder. On the top they found an old bamboo stick, putting at rest any doubts about the 1971ascent!

Hansbeshan (5240 M)
One of the beautiful unclimbed peaks of the middle Himalaya. It rises above Nichar on the road to Kinnaur. It will be a good challenge and represents many peaks up to these heights in the area, totally free of any restrictions. The area has hard rock faces and easy approaches. A veritable for climbers, if height is not major consideration.

Swargarohini (6252 M)
The highest of a group of five, this peak forms a path to heaven, followed by Pandavas, Draupadi and their dog. It has been attempted from both the Ruinsara valley as well as from the Jamdar Bamak in the Har-ki-doon valley. Swaragohini II (6247 M) was first climbed in1974 by and Indo-Canadian team. In 1985 an Indian party made the second ascent and first of Swargarohini III (6209 M). In 1977 Indians climbed Swargarohini IV (5966 M). The first ascent of the main peak was made by the instructors of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in 1990. They climbed a complicated route to the east col and followed the gentle ridge to the summit. Due to a dangerous cornice they stood about 5 M below the peak.


Bandarpunch west (6102 M)
Previously known as White Peak, this southwesterly neighbor of Kala Nag has a long approach of 18km over the Bandarpunch glacier to its summit. It was first climbed in 1984 by an Indian team (Haarish Kapadia) who followed the north East Ridge. The east face that defied Gibson and Tensing Norgay in 1950, remains unclimbed.

Shila (6132 M)
In 1860, a Khalasi of the survey of India climbed this remote peak. It remained as an altitude record for forty-seven years, as the height was computed to be 23,046 ft. however the modern survey has diminished it to 20,120ft (6,132 M).

Gyagar (6400 M)
A beautiful high peak between the Lingti and Chaksachan nalas in Spiti, it defeated an attempt in 1987. Its name means Indian. It is strategically located and can be seen promptly from Tibet. The first ascent for the peak was made in 1989 (Dhiren Pania) by an Indian team from Bombay.

Gaya (6794 M)
The highest peak in Himachal Pradesh remained unknown till the late 1980s. This stupendous rock monolith at the tri-junction of Spiti (Lingti valley), Laddakh (Rupshu) and Tibet (Pare-Chu) offers a long and difficult approach to the base of one of the finest rock-climbing challenges still left. After the early exploration of the routes in 1983 and 1987 (Harish Kapadia), the peak was being approached via Lingti valley when it was possible to cross the river gorge. The attempts by this route in 1996 and 1997 reached high on the mountain and climbed nearby summit. An army team in 1995 claimed an ascent which was disapproved in scrutiny. In 1997 a strong and huge team from SAARC countries attempted the peak from the north (Col H.S. Chauhan). They too misidentified the main peak. Thus Gaya remains unclimbed.

Ratang Tower (6170 M)
This peak rises on the Ratang-Gyundi divide in the western Spiti. It has been only climbed once, in 1956 by Peter Holmes and Rikzen Ladakhi. There are several other peaks on the same ridge and on this valley which awaits climbers.

Manirang (6593 M)
Straddling on the divide between Kinnaur and Spiti this towering peak has a brief history. In 1952 Dr. J.D.V Graaff, in 1994(Harish Kapadia) climbed it. A direct route also has been attempted on this peak in 1988 and 1996.

Parilungbi (6166 M)
A mountain in other country – such peaks were used as landmarks on the border; here between Spiti and Ladakh. They were also trade posts. On the summit of this peak stands a survey pole (Parang – la Station 1). It is situated at the head of Lingti valley – Yangzi Diwan pass, overlooking the Parang-La trade route. It was climbed in 1987 by an Indian team (Harish Kapadia).

Central Peak (6285 M)
The mountain rises at the northeast end of Bara Shigri, sandwiched between the jungles of peaks. It was climbed by two British women and two sherpas in 1961.they reached the saddle between Central peak and it southern neighbor, Lion (6,126m) and then climbed both peaks. Theses peaks have had repeated ascent thereafter.

Manimahesh Kailash (5,655 M)
Every range in the Himalaya has its own Kailash. This one in Chamba is the most formidable challenge by its southern approaches. It rises above the Manimahesh Lake and Chobu pass. the first ascent was made in 1968 by an Indo-Japanese team by the easier northern approach.

Papsura (6,451 M) and Dharmsura (6,446 M)
A prominent peak on the watershed dividing the Tos and the Brara Shigri glaciers in Lahaul, Papsura is the peak of evil. To its southeast is Dharmsura which is the peak of Good. Papsura was first climbed in 1976 by a British team which came over the Malana glacier, crossed the pass of the Animals and the Papsura glacier to climb the western couloir of the south face to the summit, despite an accident to the first summit team.
Several expeditions have confused Dharmsura with Papsura. Dharmsura (previously known as White Sail) was first climbed by a British expedition in 1941.

Gepang Goh (5870 M)
A fine, inviting peak above the road to Keylong, first climbed by Gen C. G. Bruce. It has a group of various summits and only a few of these have been climbed or attempted. One of the summits was climbed by Indian Army team in 1997.