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The 28-year-old French adventurer Eliott Schonfeld, winner of the GEO Adventure contest, crossed the Himalayan chains on foot and on horseback from August to December 2017. After four and a half months of trudging in trans-Himalaya, he gradually got rid of the modern comforts & paraphernalia. The aim was to replace the products of modern civilization with their natural alternatives adopted by the local communities of the Himalayas.
My body is tossed in all directions as Rinpoche, a horse farm owner, maneuvers his 4×4 on the broken stone roads that crisscross the Ladakh range. My heart and head hurt like being caught in a vice. Going from Paris(with an elevation of 35 m) to the 3,500 meters of average altitude of this high desert plateau, it takes time and I think I am not yet acclimatized. But for now, it is not vertigo that worries me than the new world around me.
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August 10: Choosing The Horse in Ladakh
I spent a few days in Leh, the regional capital of Ladakh Union Territory of India, to find someone to sell me a horse. I witnessed the Trans-Himalayan mountains up close.
They are no longer on the horizon, but vertically, erected like a tangible wall, and too high, much too high. Why did I decide to tackle such monsters? For me, who had spent all my life at sea level should have started with the lower altitudes. After two hours of driving and deep contemplation, we reached the horse farm. I see a tent in the shape of a teepee, and all around, thirty horses grazing peacefully.
The introductions were brief & the farm owner offered me a horse. The horse was white & not very big. Rinpoche helped me to saddle the horse, gave me some pieces of advice and the animal’s rope, then left me to my fate.
In front of me, around 2,000 kilometers of trail awaits me to Nepal. I calculated that it would take me five months to get through it. Before I start, I decide to baptize my steed. He needs a name that is familiar & comforting in the midst of the unknown universe that I am about to explore. It’s decided, his name will be Robert. My Ladakhi horse would be called Robert.
September 4: Robert’s fall in Spiti valley
We had been progressing on high altitude trails for a month now. Robert never gave up. As for me, I ended up taking the plunge and felt at ease when we reached Spiti valley, a cold mountain desert in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the most perilous mountains since the beginning of the expedition.
I crossed the Manirang pass(also spelled as Manerang) on one fine morning, a pass at an elevation of 5,590 meters. The landslides on this route are normal, and you have to remain focussed on each step. Four hours walking continuously… and an obstacle blocked our path — a gigantic rock was in the middle of the descending route. To move ahead, there was no choice except to climb over it.
We ventured on the rock surface and progressed a few meters when suddenly the rope that connects me to the horse yanks me back. Robert had lost his footing, he was sliding down the slope. Panicked, he struggles to get up, but that only accelerated his fall. My heart was racing. At this rate, it would fall permanently into the abyss and crash 20 meters below. I pulled the rope with all my might, but to no avail, I had to let go of the fear of being dragged myself into the void.
But a miracle happened: Robert landed on a narrow ledge from where he can no longer move or risk falling into a deep gorge. I tried everything possible to get it out of there but with my 60 kilos weight did not make the cut. There was only one thing to do: descend to the last village I encountered, 20 kilometers before, and 1,000 meters of elevation drop.
I reached there at night, exhausted and in tears. Watching me in distress, the villagers decided to organize a rescue mission. Two men, Tanzin and Karma, offered to accompany me with ropes.
After an exhausting return trip, we left for six hours of night climb. We arrived at the accident site, at 2am, I pointed my flashlight on the ledge, I scanned the light beam down the slope, expecting the worst. Robert was there, unharmed. He quietly turned his head towards me, with an air that seems to say: “But what have you done for the past ten hours?”
Bewildered, released from an immense weight, I exploded with laughter and went to hug my trek partner. I’ll never know how he got out of there alone, getting away with a few scratches. As for me, I had walked 60 kilometers, 20 hours straight, with 3,500 meters of cumulative elevation… for nothing! Whatever. Considering the relief I felt, it was worth it.
September 27: Waking Up From Oblivion In Kinnaur
But what took me? How can I be so stupid? I’m going to cross the roof of the world and I’m not carrying a pair of gloves… As I climb the frozen mountain range(Kinnaur Kailash range) that separates me from the pass of Charang-Chitkul pass or Charang La, I curse myself out loud. I’m paying for being thick-skinned. Because I was using my bare hands to climb, I no longer felt my fingers. Of course, I did not take crampons or ice axes either and I had to kick in the ice to create required traction.
Glued against the wall, I assessed my progress. It took me some hours to climb just 200 meters from a vertically packed ice slope. I told myself that I did well to sell my little Robert to a horse breeder a few days earlier. No matter how well he showed his talent as a tightrope walker, he could never have climbed such a thing. I finally reached my goal, at 5,300 meters above sea level, I was at Charang-La pass.
As I caught my breath, I observed the thick layer of snow covering the ground. I was not the only one to have successfully climbed that day. Pugmarks of a snow leopard, all fresh, dotted the ridge before disappearing on the other side. Amazed, I touched the imprints of paws’ of the grey ghost, so beautiful, so pure. Then I scanned the surroundings, hoping to catch a glimpse— not a single soul found in sight. I hoped I didn’t scare him off. The Himalayan grey ghost lurks, I can feel it. Even invisible, he accompanies me.
October 1, 2017: Going Incognito in Baspa valley
I had been walking very close to the Indo-Tibetan border for three weeks now. I had absolutely no permission to venture in these troubled terrains. Because of the territorial conflicts between India and China, the region is tightly controlled. Tourists and Indians are required to obtain permits to do any activity on the border areas. Traveling alone is prohibited.
I managed to sneak through the last military posts by walking during the night. It seemed to be playing a cat and mouse game with the Indian army patrols. More than the detours that I was forced to make, the anxiety of getting caught made every step more painful.
According to my maps and the villagers of Chitkul, the route is restricted up to the Lamkhaga pass (5,280 meters). After crossing Lamkhaga pass, I would be back in the free zone. The weather was perfect, the sky was of a serene azure color. I was walking at a leisurely pace, at a distance, I saw two silhouettes. Two trekkers, bags on their backs, were heading in my direction.
As I was about to greet them, my head spun. They were not trekkers, but soldiers. They were not two, others were behind them. I ran towards a big boulder. A minute later, I heard the sounds of the boots of the first patrolmen, around 20 meters from me, in camouflage dress, weapons on the back. It was the Indian Tibetan Border Police(ITBP), the sentinel of the Himalayas.
I curled up as much as possible in my hiding place. Getting caught here would be fatal, I was aware of it. I was trekking without due authorization, with a satellite phone and a camera. I could never make them swallow that I was unaware of the restricted area. I would have ended up in prison. I was trying to calm down. The march of the soldiers continued. Twenty or thirty men had already passed. When will it stop, damn it? It was like the whole army of the subcontinent was hidden in these mountains.
After a while, silence fell. I stood still for another fifteen minutes, then got out of my hole. At a distance, the Indian army men went up the valley and trekked to the exact place where I had planned to pitch my tent. I realized that this situation, which could have turned serious, has become a godsend for me — the army men had mapped a track in the deep snow, which made my ascent infinitely easier. One soldier even dropped food just before the summit: caramels & a packet of noodles. The army mend does it to lighten the load and use it on their return journey.
October 20, 2017: Paradise found in Nepal
On my raft, I assume myself for Tarzan. The langurs & the white and black monkeys that populate the jungles of the middle Himalayas, jump from tree to tree while I raft on the Mahakali, river marking the border between India and Nepal.
I started my descent a week ago, letting myself be carried by the currents. I still had 200 kilometers to sail to Banbassa, the Nepalese border post. I finally landed in Nepal on a riverbank. I started my exploration deep into the forest, where I came across natural pools, large holes in the polished rock filled with turquoise water, and linked together by the pearled necklace of the waterfalls. Paradise, I tell you.
I loved to explore, like a tracker, for the traces of wildlife that swarmed around me. Here, a wavy line on the ground indicated the passage of a snake. There, handprints, tiny feet: probably a bunch of macaques. Farther on, between the trunks, the gigantic web of a Nephila Pilipes, a spider with long legs, capable of capturing small bats in its nets.
Nothing makes me happier than blending in such wilderness. I certainly feel very small, vulnerable amidst nature. But the feeling of this insignificance, instead of frightening me, releases me. It teaches me not to make humans the measure of everything anymore.
What terrifies me would be an entirely “civilized” world, where the city, the road, and the cement would have thrown their grip on everything. And where a man would only meet himself. That’s what I was thinking, lying on a bed of palm leaves, by the fire. A string of green dots lit up in the warm air. The fireflies had started their ballet of stars, while hundreds of little beings, carpeted in the trees, were singing the big night concert. That evening, I slept well.
November 10, 2017: Meeting the people of Rautes: The Last Nomadic tribe of Nepal
Before I started this expedition, I had a dream: to meet the Rautes. This nomadic tribe, whose name means “kings of the forest”, lives in the remote jungles of western Nepal. These are hunter-gatherers who track down the monkey and feed on wild fruits and tubers.
After ten days of research & miles & miles going around in circles, I was on the verge of giving up when luck struck me. From the top of the hill that I had just climbed, there was indeed one of their encampments that I discovered at the bottom of the valley. Shelters, made of branches and foliage. Under one of them, a man was cleaning peppers. A woman came back from the forest with some trunks under her arm, and a teenager who was cutting something out of a large piece of wood.
The children, who were playing in the river, finally noticed my presence. Intrigued – I must have appeared to them as an extraterrestrial – they surrounded me. It provoked the adults, who looked suspicious and started talking. They were very small, dressed in a light dress that revealed parts of their body. They finally lead me to the royal tent – because the Routes have kings. A man even more naked than the others came out and stared at me straight in the eyes. I greeted him in a solemn way, then shook his hand, impressed. It is the first time that I shake the hand of a king. It is also the first time that I have seen royal testicles. What a day!
December 6, 2017: The Final Offload
I left the wood and stone hut that I built for the night and extinguished the brazier ignited by friction. Handmade bag on the back, goat skin on the shoulders, the bamboo fire starter, on one hand, I feel metamorphosed. I had set myself a challenge: replace all of my Western things with their natural counterparts. Not only did I manage to take it up, but in addition, I absolutely did not have the impression that it is limiting. On the contrary, I felt more free, independent. I learned to settle for the basic & minimum, to build what I needed to survive.
If I had been told a few years ago that I would be able to manage on my own in nature (and what nature!), I would not have believed it. After three days of a final ascent through the rocky peaks of the Dolpo region, in northern Nepal, I finally reached the Phoksundo.
Phoksundo is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen: an aquamarine crescent moon set like a relic in the galaxy of the Himalayan mountains. I sat in front of this splendor and allowed myself all the time it takes to soak up this moment. I felt good and would have gladly stayed there for days to meditate … if only I could. But the first snowflakes began to fall. Winter was coming. I was thinking about going back, going back to college, and going on with my life. Once again in Paris.
We went to Kinnaur and Spiti region in the summer of 2014 to explore the untrodden virgin peaks. Our expedition team consists of five members, Akira Taniguchi, Masahiro Fukumoto, Masayasu Murakami, Etsuko Kobayashi, and Kimikazu Sakamoto (Leader).
We are so much interested in the Spiti area, being impressed with the book “Spiti – Adventure in the Trans-Himalaya” written by Mr. Harish Kapadia. There seems to be still many veiled untrodden peaks in Spiti and Kinnaur. It was a big surprise to me that in Kinnaur region, only eight peaks were climbed according to the climbing record by Indian Mountaineering Foundation(IMF), the summitted peaks are:
Perhaps, climbing in Kinnaur has been restricted by Indian Govenment because of there are disputed regions on Indo- Tibet border claimed by both India and China.
We left Japan on June 13th and stayed one night at Karol Bagh of New Delhi. On June 14th, we drove to Shimla on two hired cars via Chandigarh and reached Shimla on June 15th. The main market street in Shimla was so crowded with many tourists as Indian summer vacation already started.
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Day 1: Shimla – Sarahan
On June 16th, We drove down the very steep zig-zag road to Saltuji River and went to Sarahan. After checking in Hotel Srikhand at Sarahan, we visited the very unique Hindu Temple “Bimakali” constructed with wood.
The first branch, Saro Garang, should have five big peaks like
P6080(Daboling) on Leomann Maps
But we could not see any peaks, because Saro Garang was high gorge and the mountain tops were covered with clouds. There should be P6080 (Daboling) and P6080 (Saro) on the top of the next branch, Gor Garang. But, unfortunately, we could not see any high peaks because of the prevailing clouds.
Other two branches, Mangna Nala and Sushang Nala were also not visible and did not show any peaks. However, we could see the attractive twin peak P5712 in Sushang Nala, the other side branch of Baspa River. We went back from Mastrang to Sangla village.
Day 3: Sangla village – Kalpa
We checked out of our in Sangla and drove to Chitkul village, where we arrived at around 9.15 am. Again, we could not see any high peaks because of the same weather conditions. The road ended at Chitkul village. But a new road was under construction up to Ranikanda, as ITBP (India Tibet Border Police) camp was recently set up there. The new road was opened up to the halfway to Ranikanda.
We expected to see P6465 and P6447 near the top of the Baspa River, but we could not see them because of the heavy cloud cover. We waited for about one hour on the hill near Ranikanda. The heavy cloud did not disappear, and P6465 and P6447 did not show up. We gave up seeing these mountains and went back to Chitkul village with disappointment.
After finishing lunch at a small restaurant in Chitkul, the cloud cover was clearing up. Finally, we could see P6465 and P6447 from the front of the restaurant. We were so excited to see the whole view of the attractive peak P6465 and the head of P6467 peeping from the left side shoulder of P6465.
We were very happy to see these expected peaks. We moved to Kalpa by our hired cars and checked in Hotel Grand Shangrila in Kalpa at around 5:15 pm. But, we could not see any peaks from there, as the mountain massif of Kinner Kailash was covered with the heavy clouds.
Day 4: Kalpa(Chini) – Nako village
On June 19th, We got up around 4:30 am to see the high peaks of Kinner Kailash massif from the hotel terrace. But, the mountains were still covered with dark clouds. After waiting for about one hour, finally, the sky cleared up and the mountain range of Kinner Kailash started to appear with the sun peeking out from behind the Kailash massif. We enjoyed the nice view of high peaks.
On Kinner Kailash massif, P6240, P5990, and P5983 on the west of Jorkanden are still untrodden according to the IMF site.
After breakfast, we moved to Nako. We stopped for awhile at Kinnaur district administrative HQ, Reckong Peo which is located at a lower elevation(2290m).
After about one hour drive, we reached Akpa where we could have the view of the exciting rocky peaks in the east of Tirung Gad River :
IMF confirmed to us that these peaks are still unclimbed according to their climbing record book. But, we wonder why these attractive mountains near the main traffic road have not been climbed yet and why the mountain names were already given to these unclimbed peaks.
From Ka village, we could have a view of
P5965 in the branch called Tiang Lungpa.
In Pooh village, we met one Japanese trekker. He said that the main traffic road from Kunzum La (4551m) to Chandra River was damaged by landsliding and closed, and so he was obliged to turn back from Kaza. Anyhow, we decided to proceed to Kaza as per our original schedule, expecting the traffic road would be repaired by then and re-opened before we arrive in Kaza town.
We drove up on east side mountain road from Pooh and reached Nako which was the very beautiful hill side village at 3660m by a lovely lake.
We took a walk in the Nako village. From Nako Gompa, we could see P6791 (Leo Pargial) which is the rocky pinnacle standing on the border ridge between India and Tibet. We could not see the untrodden peak P6816 in the south of Leo Pargial from Nako village.
From the garden of Kinner Camps Nako, we could have the panormic views of west mountains range on the other side of Hangrang Valley.
P6000 (Singekang), P6031, P5800 (Talanrang), and P5610 (Harman Chhang) are standing on the top of the Lipak Lungpa branch. These peaks are still untrodden virgin peaks, according to the IMF website.
Day 5: Nako village – Tabo monastery
On June 20th, We left Nako at 7:40 am and reached Tabo village at 2:00 pm after showing our passport and Inner Line Permit(ILP) at Sumdo Check Post. Just before Tabo, we saw the mountain range with P6000, P5901 (Tongmor), P5761 (Lungma), P5700 (Sibu), and P5843 (Shijabang) in the north of Tabo village.
We visited Tabo monastery Gompa, which was the small temple but had a lot of wonderful Buddist statues and the wall paintings in Kashmiri style like the arts of Alchi Gompa in Ladakh. We were so impressed with the exquisite Buddist arts.
Day 6: Tabo – Pin valley
On June 21st, We left Tabo and visited Dhankar Gompa and Lalung Gompa as a day tour. Dhankar Gompa was a small temple and most of the Buddist wall paintings were unfortunately damaged. After Dhankar, we visited Lalung Gompa, which was also a small temple but had very beautiful Buddhist wall paintings. Near Lalung Gompa, we could see the rocky mountain P5902 in the southwest of Lalung Gompa.
We paid a visit to Kungri Gompa which had a new main building under the support of Dalai Lama 14th. Kungri is Spiti valley‘s second oldest monastery after Tabo. It was built around 1330 AD.
After a short drive from Kungri Gompa, we arrived in Sagnam village at 11:30 am. We could see the attractive snow peaks P5903 and P5870 in Kuoki River, the branch of Pin River, from the entrance of Sagnam village.
After lunch at the local private house where we stayed, we had a short excursion to Mud village, the last village of Pin valley.
With its snow laden unexplored higher reaches and slopes, Pin Valley National Park forms a natural habitat for a number of endangered animals including the Snow Leopards and Siberian ibex.
We reached Mud after about an hour’s drive and took short hiking on the left branch of Pin River. We turned back to Sagnam after one hour walk, as the rain started suddenly.
Day 7: Sagnam village: Exploring Debsa Nala
On June 23rd, We went to explore the right branch of Pin River. We drove to Kaa and started walking along the Parahio stream, a tributary of the Pin river to explore Debsa Nala. We went down the steep narrow path from the village to Kidul Chu, the branch of the Parahio stream, and crossed this small stream and traversed on the other side, by climbing up and down.
At the head of Debsa Nala lies the Ratiruni Col which leads to the Dibibokri Nala – Spiti: Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya by Harish Kapadia
Finally, we went down to the flat Parahio River, spending more than one hour. Just before Thidim, we could see many challenging peaks in Debsa Nala, P5975, P6126, P6507, P6410, P6130, P6222, P6202, and P6243. Referring to the information from the IMF, we suppose that all these high peaks are still untrodden and virgin peaks. We were overwhelmed with this marvelous mountain view.
Though we wished to peep into Khamengar Valley, we did not have enough time left.
After lunch, we decided to go back and came back to the parking place at Kaa around 4:00 pm. We were very happy to have a nice view of the 6000m peaks in Debsa Nala. But it was a great regret that we could not see any mountains in Khamengar Valley. It was my mistake that we did not plan to spend two or three days exploring both Debsa Nala and Khamengar Valley with enough food supply and tents.
Day 8: Sagnam – Mud village
On June 24th, We went to the left branch of Pin River again. The left branch of the Pin River is the very wide and open pastures. There are several grazing huts. We could enjoy the wonderful view of the Pin River. P5650 was sitting with the big bottom like a mother on the top of this branch. At the junction with the path coming down from Lalung La, we had lunch and left for Mud at 11:45 am. It was a very pleasant walk.
Day 9: Mud – Kaza
On June 25th, We left Sagnam at 7:40 am and arrived in Kaza at 9:20 am by the chartered cars. The master of the Hotel Spiti Sarai at Rangrik where we stayed told us that the main connecting road is still closed between Kunzum La and Chandra River. As nobody knew when the main road would be opened again, we gave up going back to Shimla via Rohtang Pass and Manali and decided to return to Shimla via the same way via Tabo, Nako, and Kalpa.
After taking lunch at the hotel, we visited Key Gompa on the top of the hill. Then, we went to Langza which is a very beautiful pasture with several local houses. We saw the white snow peak “Chau Chau (6303)”, which was first climbed by a British party in 1993. On the other side of Spiti River, we could see Ratang Tower (6170m) which was first climbed by Indian Party (Leader: Haris Kapadia) in 1993 and the untrodden peak P6060 in the branch Ratang stream. On the left side of the Ratang, we could see P5877 which looked like Mt. Alberta in Canadian Rocky.
Kaza – Shimla – Delhi return journey
After we had one rest day on June 26th, we left Rangrik of Kaza and drove back to Shimla, via Nako, Kalpa, and Rampur, spending three days. On June 30th, we enjoyed sightseeing in Shimla. And on July 1st, we went back to Delhi by train. After two nights stay in Delhi, we came back to Japan on July 4th.
We were very happy to see many attractive unknown mountains in Kinnaur and Spiti. These areas are very vast. I regret that I made a plan to explore these big areas in a very short time. We should try again to have a more detailed exploration of one or two limited places next time.
Kedartal, as the name indicates its Lord Shiva’s lake. The legend says Shiva created this lake as a contribution to River Bhagirathi. The lake is believed to be the origin of Kedar Ganga, a tributary to Bhagirathi which joins the river at Gangotri. But, in that landscape, you happen to see Kedar Ganga originating from a glacier which feeds the lake too!
After an injury at Chadar trek, I was thinking that my left hand is gone forever! Very depressed, I was pushing hard to get some movements in the wrist. I had never thought I could go for a trek within 4 months of injury.
I still decided to make it to Kedartal lake with only one hand operational. Initially, it sounded like madness but, later I didn’t regret. It was hard but wasn’t as hard as I believed.
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Gangotri To Kedartal Lake Trek Route
Day 1: Gangotri to Bhoj Kharak
The trek starts from Gangotri and the trail is steep uphill including numerous switchbacks through the birch forest. Birch trees are referred to as Bhoj trees in the local language and so the first campsite inside the Bhoj forest is named Bhoj Kharak.
The trail is well marked, other than all uphill terrain there is nothing much to talk about. Just a few meters before the campsite the Spider Wall crossing is interesting. Almost vertical granite with a couple of inches wide footholds and quite a deep valley below … Well… it is not as scary as it is mentioned in all websites. But, yes! one needs to be careful.
Day 2: Bhoj Kharak to Kedar Kharak
The second day of trekking from Bhoj Kharak to Kedar Kharak is comparitively easy on knees but tricky and very interesting! Steep climb, blue sheep pushing lose rocks from top, we dodging those falling rocks, crossing sliding zones, river crossing at places. I loved it. What is the fun in just walking and walking? It is fun to get some dust and dirt.
The real heroes are the porters. I envied them, their immunity towards the cold, altitude and the terrain. When our team, well equipped with Vibram sole trekking shoes and saying “mein guide ke sath hi jaoonga” (I will go only with the guide), these guys were walking in a pair of flimsy slippers with no grip at all and carrying a backpack of the size of an almirah! I heard they carry about 30 to 50KG! They deserve a story of their own.
We had started late in the morning and got to experience some snowfall at the end. I was in an open area, there was nothing to hide and strong cold wind brought snowflakes. Snowflakes were ramming to my face. The lightweight poncho wasn’t of any use, it was flying in every direction except to protect me from snow and wind. The romantic looking snowflakes which come in slow motion aren’t so in reality, they seemed too hostile and felt like ripping my facial skin.
In the mountains, you can hardly do anything but accept the situation- if hot sweat, if cold shiver!! There was no option than walking ahead. Fortunately, the storm was brief and the last stretch of the trail is almost flat and opens up into a beautiful grassy meadow with views of high peaks and blue sheep grazing around.
Since Kedartal has not gained much popularity as Roopkund the campgrounds are sparsely occupied. Kedar Kharak campsite is one of the best. Wide grassy ground gently sloping down and once a while the pretty visitors- Himalayan Blue Sheep grazing lazily. The campsite has good old mountains around, space, peace, quiet and some craziness. Only a group of Indiahikes had camped and ours. One of the best campsites ever!
A herd of blue sheep arrived and the whole campground came to life! People with cameras tried to approach them in all possible angles and postures. Others just stood around and took videos and pictures with mobile phones. Watching the sheep a thought came to my mind- on treks our existence comes down to that of these sheep. We want to survive, eat and sleep. Nothing else matters.
Day 3: Kedar Kharak to Kedartal Lake
On the third day trail from Kedar Kharak to our final destination- Kedartal was rocky, harsh and looked never-ending. For me, the tension of reaching somewhere before the weather got bad was mounting. Today I was better prepared with waterproof pants and wasn’t relying on the poncho only. But, there was no snowfall or rain, it was a very pleasant day! After going up and down on the rocky moraines the final steep climb through the loose rocks and slushy slippery mud kind of induced the effect of altitude.
Almost at 16,000ft air is thin, crisp and dry. Climbing 4 steps makes you huff and puff! I went up like a zombie, every two steps I stopped and looked up to judge how much more! Finally, I was there!! Dumbstruck!!
The view was stunningly beautiful in “high altitude colors”- white and thousand shades brown. Well, there was blue of the sky at times when those cottony white clouds moved. It looked like magnificence redefined! I forgot about my tired limbs and tried to capture the sheer scale of the mountains with my mobile phone. Some pictures I captured are here though any camera cannot do justice to the spectacularly magnificent grandeur of the place. I went around the place and clicked pictures … so many of them!
The romance of staying in a tent pitched right beside a frozen lake and watching the moon-rise is beyond words to express. The moon slowly rose up from behind Mt Bhrigupanth. It was just a night after a full moon and the light-filled everywhere! I sat there on a rock on the lake bed and looking at Mt Thalay Sagar when others tried to do some long exposure photography.
A porter came for water and asked me gently … “Madam Ji, kab tak yahin baithi rahegi?” (Madam, How long will you sit here?). My response right away was … “Marne tak 😅” (Until death). Soon thick clouds covered the place, dampness was felt by the skin and it was time to get inside the tent.
At high altitudes, I cannot sleep. And while trekking above 8,000ft I just don’t get sleep for a week or so. And hence I keep coming out of the tent every night just to look around, and the star-filled sky. At Kedartal I came out to check twice at 1 AM and 3 AM. The first time there wasn’t much the mist had covered most of the mountains. But, the second time was dreamy.
The moonlight had lit up the whole place. But the thin curtain of clouds masked the sky and the light was diffused and dimmed. The stars were hiding. The enchanting and otherworldly beauty of the mountains soaked in the dim moonlight was like a dream. Trust me!
A moment’s sight of Mt Thalay Sagar shining under the moonlight was worth freezing me for a few minutes. I don’t have words to explain it. It made me forget everything else and I was eternally happy! I could stand there and watch forever! It was bitterly cold but the haunting beauty of the landscape was hypnotic. I thought of making friends with the bitter cold.
Staying back at places like Kedartal is not an option. The next morning we had to leave. With tons of memories and a camera full of pictures we left.
Even though Kedartal is not ravaged like Roopkund or Goecha La the plastic still has made its presence. I could see some Pepsi Cola bottles on the surface of the frozen lake. Oh! When are we going to learn? Well, another drill on the sliding zone and descending the steep downhill trail finished our memorable trek. At Gangotri, while we settled the dues etc I finished two big fat aloo parathas effortlessly.
The jinx! Unfinished Moon Peak, unwell on Goecha La trek and injury on Chadar!! I broke the jinx!! I finished Kedartal with no issues! Yey to me!!
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as the sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn – John Muir
A blog by Kusum Sanu.. She is author of Scrapbook-A Travel Blog. She is a solo traveler, photographer, and a trekker. She believes in minimalistic living and doesn’t just visit a place but tries to truly live it.
Better late than never. After multiple attempts to convince my parents, I finally completed my FIRST ever solo trip to Spiti valley in frigid winters. Like every first thing, it was special.
So, I chose a special destination for this, SPITI Valley.
Yes, the most beautiful, serene, and one of the most exotic places in the world. Spiti Valley is one of the top-rated destinations in the Himalayas. Being a desert land, far away from the noise & bustle of city life, it provides an altogether different view of life.
But wait, aren’t the summers the best time to visit Spiti? Yes, they are. Most of the tourists visit Spiti during the months of May, June, July since the roads are covered with thick snow during the rest of the months. But as I said, it had to be special. And if you’ve ever been on a trip with me, then you’ll know that I like to visit places where there are fewer people 😅. Hence, Spiti valley in winter came out as the perfect destination for my solo backpacking trip. With the growing advent of social media especially Instagram, “SOLO trips” and “Travel bloggers” have become buzz words, but believe me people have been doing this for long, and it’s much more than some thousands of followers and hundreds of likes.
After getting the heads up from parents, I started figuring out logistics for the trip. Since Spiti is not advisable in winters, a lot of pre-planning was required. Quest started with me first approaching my all time guide, Prof. Goblin (remember him from the Kerala Travelogue 😜?). Prof. Goblin has been to Spiti thrice and visited last in February 2018. His advice came in handy for planning out what all needs to be there to fight the chilling winters in Spiti with the temperature going as low as -20°C. But that wasn’t enough, snowfall this year had been much more than last few years, hence it was necessary to check if roads were accessible or not. And at this time, the old scavenging skills came to help. I started searching social media for people who had recently visited Spiti. I was able to reach out to 4–5 people who confirmed that some of the roads were accessible while some were closed. That was great news and I finally breathed a sigh of relief. Though I had been trekking and roaming around mountains since 2013, the altitude and temperature of Spiti is much more extreme than all of my past experience and I was bit doubtful since I had been away from mountains for the last 1.5 years.
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Planning For Winter Spiti Expedition
Other than most of pre-planning regarding the clothes, medikits, gear, and a brief outline of the route, I was going to keep rest of the trip un-planned. The only plan I had was to pick the bag and reach the farthest I can go and then return back. Keeping this in mind, I only booked the bus tickets from Delhi to Reckong Peo. Being in Hyderabad, I had to first fly to Delhi, from where my journey would begin.
I flew back to my home in Delhi and damn, you could feel it in the air that you have landed in Delhi 😪. The city has been growing like anything over the past few years making it worse than before. But God knows why more people are still interested in moving to this city.
The day started with me shopping around the stores of Decathlon for the stuff that was still missing from my backpack. Since my bus was in the night, I had plenty of time to buy things and pack my bag. There’s only one bus that runs from Delhi to Reckong Peo at 20:15hrs. It’s an ordinary HRTC bus so in case you are looking for comfort, then sorry, boss it is not for you 😛. The bus journey is around 575kms and takes around 19–20 hours depending on the conditions of roads. HRTC has a well-maintained network of buses across the Himachal and tickets for most of the long route buses can be booked via this link. With every second slipping and hands of the clock ticking around, my excitement was growing to the next level. I was speculating a whole lot of things thinking about all that was going to get unveiled during the trip. It was 5 in the evening, and I made some final checks of my stuff, added batteries to my cam, and I was all set to leave.
I reached the bus stand well in time and had to wait for half an hour until the bus arrived. This bus was a bit different from the regular HRTC buses that I had traveled in. It was smaller in size, having only 29 seats. The roads in upper Himachal are quite small, narrow & have sharp turns, which makes it difficult to drive big buses. Hoping to get a great view, I had booked the window seat. After settling down my stuff, I met two guys who were also traveling to Reckong Peo, and they warned me of not visiting Spiti valley this time.
Shit, did I make the wrong decision? Was my first solo trip going to be the worst?
These thoughts came to my mind for a minute but then quickly went away since the people with whom I had talked were quite affirmative regarding the roads. With great expectations of tomorrow’s adventure in my mind, I had my dinner and tried getting some sleep on my bumpy ride.
Day – 2: Delhi to Reckong Peo
It was somewhere 5.30 in the morning and we reached Shimla. The easy half of the journey was done but the difficult one was yet to come. Though the highway from Delhi to Shimla is quite good yet I hardly got any sleep. But it was ok, the view of mountains along the roadside, the air of Himachal had refreshed me and made me nostalgic about my college days.
After stopping for half an hour at the Shimla bus stand, the bus started towards Reckong Peo. It was only a few minutes since we left the bus stand, and the driver stopped it. There was some problem with the bus, and it couldn’t go further 😥. Now we had to wait until the next bus came. This free time gave me the opportunity to interact with fellow passengers. It was during this time, I met Nikhilesh. And oh man, this guy is a hell lot of a traveler. Though he is a year younger than me but is way too elder in terms of confidence with which he has traveled to multiple places. He had done the Spiti-Leh circle way back in his first year and had recently visited SriLanka and Kashmir. And this time he was going to Kinnaur to witness the famous Holi festival of Sangla village. While I was still listening to his stories, another bus came and we boarded it.
The journey continued, the altitude increased, roads became narrower and the view kept on becoming more serene. I have spent most of the time-traveling in the regions of Parvati Valley but the Kinnaur region was altogether different. I am sometimes surprised by the fact that how can there be so much contrast in the regions of a single state. Hours passed and I was getting closer to my destination, but wait, it wasn’t going to be that simple. Just about an hour & a half away from Reckong Peo, we came across a roadblock. Huge loads of stones along with water was falling down the mountains and had blocked the complete road. The traffic on both sides of the road was struck and all we could do was to wait for it to stop. It was only after an hour, that it slowed down and JCB machines came to clear up the way.
5.30 in the evening and I was at Reckong Peo. As soon as I reached Peo, the exquisite view of Kinner Kailash was right there in front of view and I kept on staring it.
One of the main characteristics of high altitude villages in Himachal is that everything closes very soon and the town turns to almost dead by 8 p.m. So, whenever you are at such a place, figuring out a place to stay & eat should be your top priority. Though this wasn’t the case for me. While on the way, I & Nikhilesh had talked with Rohit (our host) via Couchsurfing and had got a place to stay. So, I used the rest of the time in enquiring about the next day bus to Kaza. I was hoping to get the tickets as well, but since the bus comes from Shimla, I could get the tickets only in the morning.
The bus to Kaza leaves at 7 a.m from Reckong Peo and in order to get a good seat one should reach the bus stand by 6 a.m. That meant that I had to wake up early the next day. After roaming around the streets for a while, I went to our place of stay where Rohit told us interesting stories about various places he had been to. And the day ended with the delicious hot dinner of Kinnauri chowmein and momos.
Day – 3 Reckong Peo – Tabo
In order to reach the bus stand by 6, I had set the alarm for 5 a.m but laziness overpowered me. Thinking that not many people will be traveling to Kaza in this season, I got a bit relaxed. The bus stand was 2kms away from our place of stay which gave me a good option for an early morning walk at 2300m. But, I was wrong. By the time I reached the bus stand, all the seats were gone and the bus was totally packed. Now I had no choice rather than going the whole way standing. There was no point in getting disappointed since it was not going to help. So, I cheered myself up and stood by the pole near the engine area of the bus to enjoy the scenic beauty of the mountains. Though my initial plan was to travel till Kaza and then explore the nearby villages. But the last night’s conversation with Rohit & Nikhilesh, made me change the plan. The bus usually takes 12 hrs or more (depending on the roads) to reach Kaza. That meant my whole day will go only on the bus. So, I changed the plan and decided to de-board at Tabo. The whole route from Reckong Peo to Kaza is just magnificent. The roads, the valley, the mountains, it’s just amazing. At one point you are the bottom and at the other, you are the top of the mountains. Though we faced two roadblocks on the way, the PWD & BRO teams were quick enough in clearing out the routes and we were able to pass through them in half an hour. The route from Reckong Peo goes via the villages of Spello, Pooh, Nako, Chango which falls in the Kinnaur district and the Sumdo village marks the beginning of the Spiti district. I didn’t take a pit-stop at Nako since the lake was totally frozen at that time. However, the bus did stop at Nako for half an hour which gave me some time to capture the air of the place. But in case you are visiting Spiti in summers, do take a moment to visit it.
Fun Fact: Nako was the name of my hostel in pre-final & final year at IIT Mandi
11 kilometers from Sumdo, there’s a village called Gue, which is famous for India’s only Mummy of a Buddhist monk. It was excavated around 550 years ago and is a mystery in itself. Since Gue is a bit off-route from the usual Spiti route and the whole road is covered with heavy snow on both ends, it’s very difficult to get public transport to the village in this season. Excited by the stories, I had planned to visit the place in case I could get a lift but hard luck it didn’t happen. After a journey of 10 hrs & 150km, I finally reached my destination for the day: Tabo. Often referred to as “Ajanta of Himalayas”, the village is famous for its 1000 years old monastery. The Tabo monastery is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure of India.
Roaming across the streets of the village, I was trying to encapsulate the maximum beauty of the place. It was very different from what I had imagined and it reminded of the villages shown in the movie 3 Idiots. The next task was to find out a place to stay. Locals on the bus had told me that the monastery has a guest house where one can stay at affordable rates. Unfortunately, they hadn’t started the services this year yet.
After chit-chatting with locals, I landed up at Namkha Homestay. Not many homestays are open during the winters, but luckily I was the only guest at Namkha for the day. The homestay is run by Mr. Bittu and his wife and is only a few meters away from the monastery. After settling up my stuff and having the warm tea, I went for a walk around the village and the nearby mountain & caves.
The day ended with dinner in the traditional kitchens of Spiti and chat with Mr. Bittu & his family. I got to learn about their lifestyles, culture, and experience of living in a place like Spiti. They also told me that a doctor was also going to visit their homestay in the night and will be going to Kaza the next day. This meant that I wasn’t the only one who will be searching for a lift in the morning 😅.
Day – 4 Hitchhiking from Tabo to Kaza
Though I am not used to sleeping early in the night, I slept around 9 last night. Consequence: I woke up before 5 in the morning 😝. It was still dark outside and I couldn’t do much. I waited for the light to come out and then went for another walk around the village. By the time I came back, everyone was up and I realized that some other guests had also come last night. I got the chance of interacting with them during breakfast. They were a group of 4 friends who had come all the way from Bangladesh to visit Spiti valley. After talking with them for a while, I bid farewell to Mr. Bittu and his wife and left for the main road in search of a kind soul who could take me up to Kaza. The luck wasn’t bad that day. I had to wait for half an hour after which I found my ride. A shopkeeper from Tabo itself was going till Kaza to deliver some stuff and there was some vacant space in his pickup truck. It took us 90 minutes and I was in Kaza by 10.30 a.m. The whole route was totally different from what I had seen on the last day. There was snow, more snow and more snow on both the ends of the road. All the mountains were covered in thick snow.
I spent some time roaming around the streets of Kaza. The streets were covered with snow as well. I did slip a couple of times but managed to maintain the balance 😅.
Most of the people in the Spiti valley are either Govt employees or self-employed in the business of homestays or taxi. This provides them the option of earning while staying in the village itself. Kaza is comparatively a big town and people from nearby villages come here for their daily work. Kaza houses the highest petrol pump in the world at an altitude of 3800m. The town is also the district capital of Spiti and is used as a pit stop by tourists since it has a large number of homestays and hotels. But I had something else in my mind.
Gypsy ride to Key monastery
Having wandered around the complete town, I decided to continue the journey and go towards the Key village & monastery. The hunt for asking about the rides started again. Had it been summers or sometime in the evening, I would have easily got some shared taxis or lift from local villagers but it didn’t happen. Most of the people working in govt offices return back to their homes by 4 -5 in the evening. I was alone and a personal taxi would have cost me a lot. It was somewhere around 12.30 in the noon. On locals’ advice, I went to the petrol pump and started asking from the vehicles going in the direction of Key monastery. Half an hour passed like that.
The wait finally ended when 4×4 gypsy coming from the petrol pump stopped and asked me where I wanted to go. The guys were going till Kibber and agreed to drop me on the way near Kee Monastery (Kye Gompa). They run a trip planning company by the name of Aventurah and organize group trips in and around Spiti valley. They also have a homestay in Kaza, so in case you are planning a trip in summers, then you can DM them on their Facebook page.
They dropped me near the main road, from where I had to walk for about 2kms to reach the monastery. The weather had become clearer by then. The clouds were less dense and the sun was much brighter now. Covered by snow on all the ends, the monastery was looking stunning. The monastery has a great history of its own. It had been attacked by Mongols, Dogra army, Sikh army in the past and faced massive damage by an earthquake in 1975. But it stands still as the biggest monastery of the Spiti valley.
I spent a couple of hours exploring the whole monastery. Meditated for some time, picked up woods along with student monks and had warm Spitian/Tibetian butter tea. I also met some of my fellow passengers from the bus last day who had directly come to Kaza. Having spent some quality time at the monastery, I decided to move further. Next up on my map was the Kibber village.
Kibber village and wildlife sanctuary
Kibber used to be the highest motorable village in the world till the time Komic & Hikkim got connected via the roads. As usual, I was dependent on the vehicles to get a lift. But, this time rather than waiting on the road, I started walking towards the village. Kibber is about 7kms away from Kee Monastery and guess what I didn’t get a single vehicle going in that direction 😛. A lot of cars did cross me but everyone was going back to Kaza. As a result, I had to walk all the way up and I ended up doing my highest altitude hike ever 😄
Distance: 6.8 km | Altitude change: 3860 m to 4120 m |Temperature: Around -10°C | Weather: Cloudy with snowfall.
This hike was an experience of its own. Initially, the elevation was quite flat and I was enjoying the view along the walk. But after 3kms, the elevation increased by 250 meters. There were about 10 hairpin bends on the road and thanks to my to fate, it started snowing as soon I entered this area. Now I had two choices, either to stop and get my rain cover out or to keep moving until I reach the village. I chose the latter 😅. After the long tiring hike of 2.5 hrs, I managed to reach Kibber alive. While on the way, a car driver had told me about the Namgyal homestay which was open these days and I headed directly towards it. The architecture of the homestay was quite similar to the one I had stayed in Tabo. And just as last time, I was the only guest at their homestay 😅.
It had already been a long day, it was snowing outside and I was tired too. So, I avoided going out and decided to sit with the family. Now, this is the best part of traveling alone. Instead of having a conversation with your friends, you get a chance to interact with people who you don’t know. The people in Spiti are way too nice. They treat you like their own family members. The uncle & aunt at the Namgyal homestay were great hosts. Their stories were as good as the food they made.
Other than the famous Kibber monastery, Kibber is also known for its Snow Leopards. Kibber has a wildlife sanctuary that spans over an area of 2200 square kilometers. Wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, tourists from all over the world come to see the Snow Leopard in its natural habitat. Though they live near the mountain peaks, during the winters the come down in search of their prey(Ibex 🐑) which comes near the lake in search of the food. This gives an easy option of spotting Snow leopards. And this was the reason why I saw so many cars coming from Kibber to Kaza. But I didn’t have any plans of going and seeing the leopard. I had come to the mountains and I was already more than satisfied 😊
Day – 5
Just like the last day, I woke up early in the morning. The plan was to visit the famous Kibber-Chicham bridge in the morning and then leave for Kaza. At an altitude of it is Asia’s highest bridge. But God had different plans.
It had snowed heavily last night and roads were covered with 1-2 feet thick snow. Though the bridge was only 2kms from the village, snow would have covered the footsteps making it difficult to spot the way. I still decided to give it a shot. Uncle gave me a brief idea about the route and with my cam in my hand, I left the house. Since there is no mobile network in Spiti valley except that of BSNL, I had already downloaded Google maps offline for the worst.
The route was quite clear up to a point though it was covered with heavy snow. But after a point, I lost the way. I tried creating some way myself and ended up putting my foot in 3 feet deep snow. I wasn’t carrying any trekking poles which made it difficult to figure out the depth of snow. Moreover, there was no one around who could have helped me in finding the correct way. In the end, I surrendered to the situation & decided to return back to the village.
After the early morning struggle with the snow, I was back at the homestay. Most of the families in the villages were clearing snow from rooftops. It was Holi that day but not many people were as excited about the festival as we are in Delhi and other north Indian states 😝. Though there was something more important for me to ponder on. Holi being a public holiday meant that local people will not be going to their offices i.e few chances of getting a ride back. I had to rely on the fellow tourists but since most of them travel in groups, there’s hardly any chance that they will have vacant seats in their cab. I also had the option of walking all the way back to Kaza, though covering 19km by foot would have taken away most of my day. And then my hosts came to rescue. Uncle’s mother went to talk with a group of people who had come for filming Snow leopard and had been staying in the village for the last 8 days. The group was leaving for Langza. Though they were eight people along with the driver and had a lot of equipment, they agreed to take me along with them. Since they were going up till Langza and it was one of the villages on my checklist, I decided to accompany them till there instead of deboarding at Kaza. Thanks to my conversation starter deadlock, I couldn’t interact with them much 😓 . We reached Kaza around 10 a.m after which I had to de-board since someone else was going to join that group. During the way, I had made my mind to visit Langza but looked like it was not going to happen. I tried inquiring about shared taxis but no luck. So I changed the plan and decided to visit Dhankar instead. Dhankar houses one of the five monasteries of Spiti valley. I sat near the bus stand with some locals basking in the sun who were also waiting for the cab to Dhankar. While I was still waiting at the bus stand, one of the guys from the group I had traveled in the morning came looking for me and asked me to follow him. He introduced me to his friends who came from Kalpa and were planning to go to Langza. They had some space in their car and were fine with me accompanying them. And they were going to return back the same day so the return was also not an issue. What could have been much better than that 😄?
I immediately picked up my backup and got into their car. Other than three new faces, there was one familiar face in the car. A girl from the morning group was there as well which I later got to know was a popular Instagrammer, Prakriti Varshney. I did get a bit of doubt since all of them were talking about visiting different places in Himachal, which is only possible in two cases: either you run a travel company or you are mad for traveling. But being low on confidence again, I was silent during the whole ride & didn’t talk with those guys 😓.
After a short journey, we reached the fossil village of Langza. The weather was much better than the last day. The sun was bright & clear and the cool breeze was flowing slowly. The view of Langza village with the tall statue of Buddha was looking heavenly. This was my favorite spot of the whole trip. There was a positive and soothing vibe at that place. Though the surrounding mountains were similar to yesterday, still there was something different about this place. I sat there for awhile enjoying the mesmerizing scenery until my mind came up with the idea of visiting Dhankar as well. The roads to Hikkim and Komic were totally blocked with snow and there was no way of reaching there. Dhankar was the only option that I was left with.
Since the folks with whom I had come were going to leave late, I decided to walk back to Kaza. Locals at Kaza had told me that there was a shortcut by which I could reach back in 2 hours instead of taking the 16kms road route. But just like Kibber, it had snowed here as well and villagers at Langza advised not going by the shortcut and I resorted back to the road route. It had only been a few minutes since I left Langza, after which 2 traveler vans coming from the village stopped near me and offered me a ride till Kaza. And the only thought that I came to my mind was:
Hey bhagwan, aaj itna meharbaan kaise 😄
I thanked those guys and hopped into their van. That was a group of people of varied ages from cities all across India who were on Winter Spiti Expedition with Spiti Holiday Adventure. Though the journey wasn’t that long, I tried interacting with some of the folks in the van. And with that group, I again met a popular Instagrammer: Shramona Poddar which I only realized after de-boarding the van 😝.
Serendipitous stop at Shichling
It was already 3 p.m by the time I reached back Kaza. The search for the next ride started again and this time it ended quite soon. A guy was going back to his village Mane with his family. The guy was going to drop me at Shichling from where Dhankar is about 8kms by road. We got late in leaving from Kaza since the guy got occupied with some stuff. It was 5 in the evening by the time I reached Shichling village. Getting the lift now was difficult. I waited for some time but it had started to get dark and chances of reaching Dhankar were also getting dim. I also had a thought of walking up to the road but that wasn’t going to help.
Disappointed and disheartened, I had to return back to Shichling. Shichling is not a popular village among the tourists, hence I was afraid of getting any homestays. Luckily I found the one and only guest house in the village. And guess what, I was the only guest this time as well 😄. But this time, the stay was bit different. Unlike other homestays where the kitchen was on the ground floor and room on the first floor, this time the room was in another building. Some sort of pooja was going on in their home, due to which the main space was occupied by monks. I thought this would limit my interaction with the family but I was wrong. Uncle himself came to my room. Having already gone around the village after settling my stuff, I still had a lot of free time available. I had a long chat with Uncle about how their lifestyle evolved over the years and what all has been going around the valley over the past few years. The dinner that I had that day was probably the most delicious one from the whole trip. Now, it was time to make the decision for tomorrow. On one hand, my mind was struck with the thought of visiting Dhankar and the other part was like let’s start the return journey and extend the trip to some more places. The fight finally ended and I decided to board the morning bus back to Reckong Peo. There’s only one bus that runs from Kaza to Reckong Peo. It leaves at 7.30 a.m from Kaza and reaches somewhere between 8.30–9 a.m at Shichling. So, in case you plan to board the bus, plan accordingly.
Day – 6 Dhankar monastery and return to Reckong Peo
My body had become habitual of waking up early over the past few days, and I was already awake by 5.30 a.m. Having nothing much to do, I was lying in the bed, revisiting the memories of the past few days. While I was lost in the thoughts, uncle came up with the tea. I quickly did the morning routine, had breakfast, bid farewell to the family and was out on the road in wait of the bus. It was already 9 and there was no sign of the bus. I had no choice rather than waiting. I pulled out my camera in search of capturing something new & different and look what I got.
Though I wasn’t able to visit the village, I was able to feel its beauty while standing kilometers away from it. Thanks to God, my zoom lens and the weather that day 🙏. Another half an hour passed and there was no sign of the bus. While I was waiting, an uncle from the nearby house brought tea for me. Oh, Man, who does that for a stranger. Remember, I told you people of Spiti are too good. One can only expect such gestures in a place like Spiti. After waiting for 2 hours, the bus finally arrived. There were not many people on the bus this time. I grabbed the window seat and went back to capture the charm of the mountains. On the way back, I decided to take a detour from the trip and make a visit to my college campus at Mandi. I checked with the bus stand at Reckong Peo about the direct bus to Mandi. There was a bus at 5.30 in the evening and the next bus was in the morning at 4.30. The journey from Reckong Peo to Mandi was going to take 14–15 hrs, so I was aiming to catch the evening bus. But that didn’t happen. My bus from Kaza to Reckong Peo got punctured halfway and its compressor pipe started leaking. Salute to our driver who somehow managed to drive the bus until we reached Pooh. It took an hour for the bus to get repaired after which continued our journey back to Peo. It was already 6.30 by the time I reached back Reckong Peo. The evening bus was already gone and I had no choice rather than staying up in the hotel overnight and catching up on the morning bus. I got a room in a hotel near to the bus stand and had the Kinnauri chowmein for the one last time.
The Lamkhaga pass trekking is an amazing but exhausting experience. We trekked through beautiful villages, farm terraces, river streams, forests, and suspension bridges. Jaw-dropping views compensated for the boulder-strewn terrain & strenuous climb. 8 to 12 hours of trekking on average every day.
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The route to the Lamkhaga Pass is exceptionally scenic with the bhojpatra forest, small glacial lakes and a mosaic of flowers(particularly pink rhododendron) adorning the lower Kyarkoti valley. The loose scree before the pass posed a challenge but at last, we were atop Lamkhaga pass that divides Garhwal from Kinnaur district of Himachal.
After a gap of 1 year, It is the mountain that has been calling me, and it’s time to answer said my heart this September. We, a team of 8 people decided to climb the Lamkhaga pass (Approx. 18000 ft.) one of the toughest, roughest and challenging terrain in Baspa Valley on Indo-Tibetan border that connects Chitkul village of Himachal Pradesh with Harsil in Uttarakhand. A journey of around 100Kms in 9 days at an altitude of above 12,000ft.
Climbing the mountains to embrace the challenge, to enjoy the air and behold the view has been my passion; it’s just not about the view which comes after the toughest climb that makes the Body, Mind & Soul fulfilled, but the happiness and growth that occurs while you are climbing it with your team.
I have been an avid traveller/ trekker in the Himalayas and the last time I climbed was Pin Parvati ranges in 2017 and my lust for the Himalayas only grew year after year since my visit to Kailash in 2004. I call this a Lust because this seeking never gets fulfilled.
Living in a city is having a completely entangled life, not necessarily engaging or involving. The luxury of spending time with self is a challenge & we are always connected with the outside world but hardly get time to be with our own company in this mad race.
The mountain scenery is breathtaking, quaint villages are beautiful, living is stress-free & so it’s easy to see intense life and spunk in people’s eyes. Learning to embrace the moment is truly a humbling experience. As the Chinese proverb goes, be calm and take things as they come, The Journey clears the mind from the constant chatter; you are at peace with self and you get to see priorities, Goals & people in your life with whom u would like to spend time. It improves relationships & quality of life. It is said “A man with clarity reaches his goal sooner than the man with confidence”
Trekking or mountaineering is the only option where there are no chances of saying sorry. If you commit a mistake that too at 5K plus altitude, life would be the one saying sorry to you, anything can happen on the mountains, yet you keep the faith on mother nature and pursue your journey and enjoy every minute of it.
We pace our walk to catch our breath. However, if we walk too slow or stop too long in between, We might reach the tent after dark that too in biting cold weather.
This is equally real in our working life. Many years, we work hard to climb the corporate ladder. There are always a few resources, yet many things to accomplish in the organization. Those who stay positive, agile, and focus on the goals always succeed to the top. For them, the goal is purposeful Therefore, a purposeful goal inspires everyone to be agile and stay focused. Above all, to support one another in reaching the destination on time.
The journey also opens up conversations on various subjects from the world economy to how much pepper to be added in dal to make it ideal, it was physically exhausting and muscle numbing but the spirit to reach the top boosted the soul. Trekking means a travelling experience with thrilling excitement.
On reaching the top of the mountain, I could feel that both my heart and lungs were pushing their best, the panoramic view of the majestic Kinnaur & Garhwal Himalayas, mesmerized and sunk me. I was excited with tears in my eyes but equally calm, as a kid, I always looked up the blue sky and wished for wings to fly up to the mountains. I Believe I can fly… I live in that moment every time I climb the Himalayas. Nothing like being on top of the world.
Change is an unpredictable journey, experiencing the predictable and expecting little unpredictable ones always spice’s up the journey. It’s not only on the climb to the Himalayas but also for life. Travel teaches as much as or sometimes more than a teacher, Travelling shouldn’t be just a tour, it should be a tale. When I reflect upon the journey I realize, be comfortable with the discomfort to reach new heights. Embrace the present & sometimes, it is perfectly okay to get bruised.
Last 25 days I have been to the most exotic yet most secluded corners of Indian Himalayas. I have hiked and climbed one of the most challenging and dangerous regions during this expedition. I was extremely lucky to witness some incredible landscapes and was lucky to see it’s fascinating yet unique wildlife.
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Auden’s Col Expedition
My expedition was in Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand. It was roughly around 180+ km covering all major valley in the region including Gangotri National Park, Rudragiyara Valley, and Rudraprayag Valley. And I, along with my team was the first one to summit the infamous- Auden’s Col this year.
From hailstorms to snowstorms; From lush meadows to the infinite ocean of snow; From insane bad weather to crystal clear sunny days; From high altitude glacial lakes to starving for a glass of water, From life to death and everything in-between, I have seen everything during this expedition.
It started from one of the mighties places for Hindu pilgrims, at Gangotri and ended at another mighty adobe, at Kedarnath- The home of Shiva. In between, I have hiked to Kedar Tal, Patangini Pass, the infamous- Auden’s col, Mayali Pass(which I couldn’t summit because of an excessive amount of snow), Marsar Taal and Vasuki Taal.
Summiting Auden’s col was a very personal and emotional achievement for me as I was coveting this for so long and finally, it had happened.
If I’ll flaunt my achievement by saying it was my lone effort for this giant achievement, it would be so naïve and dishonest of me. I owe every bit of success of this expedition to mountain legend and big brother, Sonu bhai @raachotrekkers. Without his and the team’s immense efforts, nothing would’ve been possible. I genuinely thank you for doing what you are doing for years and years, Thank you bhai ji!
Meanwhile, I’ll try to share these incredible landscapes I was able to witness in my most honest and humble way.
Gangotri to Kedar Tal
My clock read 4: 20 PM. I quickly wore my shoes and had to come out of my tent to wipe off the huge amount of snow accumulated above my tent. And then I looked up the sky it was all hazy and cloudy in all its glory!
The last 4 hours had been completely rough. Snowfall and thunderstorms have dominated the afternoon. Today’s climb was pretty intense and after about 7 hours of some super steep climbing, we reached the base of Patangini Pass at around 4920 m above sea level. There was not a single cloud in the sky, and hardly any wind when I reached the campsite. Within no real-time, the weather has decided to change. Black gloomy clouds started hovering over and it didn’t take too long to stated snowing heavily. It lasted for about some 4 hours. The landscape outside was completely white-out. This is what Life in the Himalayas is all about, the unpredictability.
I came out of my tent to get some water for myself. As the temperature outside was way below zero, there was no ready water source nearby. We had to melt the snow to get some water for ourselves. But the view outside was an absolutely thrilling one and make you feel worth all these hardships in the mountains.
A few days back I wrote about Mt. Shivling, Mt. Thalay Sagar, and Mt. Meru being my crush mountains.
Thalay Sagar is a mountain in the Gangotri Group of peaks in the western Garhwal Himalayas, on the main ridge that lies south of the Gangotri Glacier. It lies in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, 10 kilometers southwest of the Hindu holy site of Gaumukh (the source of mighty Ganges). It is also the second-highest peak on the south side of the Gangotri Glacier (after Kedarnath).
But the fascination starts here, it is more renown for being a dramatic rock peak, steep on all sides, and a haunting dream for mountaineers. It is adjacent to the Jogin group of peaks and has the glacial lake Kedartal at its base which is very popular among the trekking community.
Climbing History Of Thalaya Sagar Peak
A team of Japanese first attempted the summit in 1955 but unfortunately, an avalanche hit them just before the summit and resulted in fatal death of all climbers. In 1985, again a Japanese team has first made the successful summit from it’s North Face. And after that in 2008, a mountaineer from Bengal named Basanta Singha Roy became the first Indian to summit the peak.
From that day till today only a handful of mountaineers have climbed Thalay Sagar and the rest of us (including me) have done this in our wildest dreams!
If you’re climbing to the glacier as notorious as Auden’s col, what route would you prefer?
Would you take the typical route which starts from Gangotri and attempting Auden’s col via Rudrigayara Valley or you would rather take a longer route which goes all the way to mighty Kedar Tal first, then you climb 5100m to a pass called Patangini Dhar; cross the ridge, negotiate an infinite ocean of snow, reach Auden’s Base and then attempt the summit from Gangotri III side? I chose the latter.
It was a longer route which first takes you to Kedartal first and then you march towards the mighty Auden’s Col. It also serves as kind of an acclimatization climb (though calling Kedar Tal hike as an acclimatization climb is quite unfair due to the difficulty of the route to Kedar Tal).
Also, the trail to Kedartal was very messed up due to the immense amount of untimely snowfall the region has received and the trail after Kedarkharak was also affected badly with avalanches and landslides.
Generally at this time of the year, one would expect the Tal to be in its beautiful turquoise blue color but because of heavy snowfall, Tal was completely frozen. And trust me, it had its own charm!
If you will ask any mountaineer which is that dream Mountain which you want to conquer, the answer will be likes of Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Denali, etc. My dream mountain is right there in the rightmost corner of this picture, it is called Mt. Thalay Sagar. Yes, two mountains in Himalayan ranges have fascinated me like anything in a recent while: 1. Mt. Thalay Sagar (6904 m) 2. Mt. Meru (6660 m)
Now I will need a life or two to describe how beautiful and fascinating Mount Meru is. I probably will talk about it sometime later. Its infamous “Shark’s Fin” route which was first summited by Conrad Anker & Renan Ozturk, and it’s stories give me utter goosebumps.
On the other hand, Mt. Thalay Sagar is like a dark horse, rather an underdog. Thalay Sagar is located 16km Southwest of Gaumukh Glacier. If you hike to Kedar Tal, you can see it right there in front of you. Thalay Sagar rise right from its base to sky-high at Kedar Tal.
Thalay Sagar is a rarely attempted peak in the Garhwal region. A team of Japanese first attempted the summit in 1955 but unfortunately, an avalanche hit them just before the summit and resulted in fatal death of all climbers. In 1985, again a Japanese team has first made the successful summit from it’s North Face. And after that in 2008, a mountaineer from Bengal named Basanta Singha Roy became the first Indian to summit the peak.
From that day till today the only handful of mountaineers have climbed Thalay Sagar because of the difficulty it’s route possesses.
As I rightly mentioned the word “dream” as I don’t know how many lives I will take to summit it (if at all this ever happens). But is it even a dream if it’s not out of your reach?
P. S. A very close friend of mine and a professional mountaineering guide Som Nath also shares the same dream. The only difference is, right now he just came back from Deo Tibba Summit Expedition and now he is scaling the Stok range; summiting Kang Yatse II.. while on the other side, I am right here, writing this silly post, eating chips, shamelessly dreaming about submitting Thalay Sagar one day!
Porters: Superheroes of Himalayas.
Porters- the most underrated fraternity working and living since ages in mountains. While people around the globe have slowly started recognizing the importance of a Sherpa in mountaineering, porters, however, remain unsung. While the work of a sherpa and a porter is closely aligned, there’s a significant difference when it comes to the responsibility they share. Porters are the community lives in the mountains who make their living out of carrying loads in the mountains.
Porters are the reason why every single trek/expedition ever succeeds in high altitude Mountains. Be it a moderate-high altitude hike or extremely high altitude mountaineering expeditions, it’s almost impossible to succeed in any expeditions without porters. They are the real backbone of mountaineering, and I mean it big time.
Everything you see in the mountains that nature didn’t put there – a porter did. For people like us, the trail can be hard, the air thin, and the gears are really heavy. Porters are accustomed (naturally gifted I would say) to the altitude and thin air (many even have different physical characteristics from you and me – special adaptations to cope) and spend their lives carrying loads in the mountains. Their physic is naturally gifted to sustain the inhuman weather conditions that you and I hardly can.
Next time if you happen to meet a porter when you’re in the mountains, give them a huge smile, ask them if they need something and pay them good. They are the most interesting fraternities one can find in mountains, having so many stories from the corners you and I only can imagine.
Kedartal to Kedar Kharak
Nature, the earth, this whole wide landscape can teach us what our school can’t, what our job can’t, what our everyday life can’t. They can make you realize certain things after which you can never think those things in the same way.
Being here, in the middle of this calamity-turned-magnanimity, watching a beautiful sunrise unfold over Mandakini Range, my tiny brain unable to comprehend nature.
But, when you realize you are just a small dot, you feel liberated. Liberated from the chains of life – job, bills, and everything. Even if for a moment, this feeling of liberation is most satisfying. You feel a sense of calmness.
To put things into perspective – the human eye is the widest ever lens – there is no other lens/ camera that can see as wide as we do in a single frame. Yet, my eyes could not see beyond 0.0001% of this Mandakini Range spread over till my eyes could see and beyond.
Every time you witness such magnanimity – watching a sunrise or a sunset, among most of these untouched regions, you come on terms with several unstated facts.
That you are just a speck in this entirety. You are even smaller. You are perhaps nothing.
Patangini Dhar to Auden’s Col
This Col in the picture connects Gangotri range on the right to the Jogin range on the left, two of the biggest mountain massifs in the Uttarakhand region of Himalayas.
The approach to Auden’s Col was definitely exciting as hell because the infamous speculations about this Col stand really high amongst all the climbing sections across the globe.
The last evening we have set up our camp right at the base, and it was scary because we faced a crazy snowstorm a day previous to this, we haven’t really seen the Col till the morning thy day and we weren’t really sure if we will be able to attempt it or not. But luckily the weather opened up to wonderful daylight and that soft snow made it an amazing ascent for us.
Bad weather at such high altitude in the mountains is literally a curse, you should do whatever to please the Mountain Gods and really hope for good weather windows while you are approaching the summit. Respecting the mountains is really the most important thing.
As you can totally see in this picture the scale of what we are in front of these huge mountains, bad weather can easily take your life in such hazardous situations. One should always be respectful to nature.
From my side, I sang a few songs to please Mountain Gods. We did face extreme snow blizzards and crazy bad weather when we were 2 camps prior to the Col but luckily it all went well on the day it mattered the most. I must say the Mountain Gods do enjoy my songs!
The Final Ascent To The Auden’s Col: The D-Day
I was literally day-dreaming this moment for the last two and a half years. So there I was, upon the base of Col. I could feel the clouds within my reach. Exhausted and exceeding my limits- physically and more importantly emotionally, in a blissful state of oblivion.
I woke up freezing in extreme cold, it was pitch dark outside, even after adjusting my eyes I couldn’t make out what’s going on outside my tent. I looked at my watch and it was about 2:30 at night. I could hear the wind blowing mercilessly outside my tent. Even after all the possible attempts of warming my body I just couldn’t stop shivering and it continued through the day until we camped on Khatling Glacier.
Seeking mountain’s permit, putting one step after another against the cold wind, crossing crevasse one by one slowly, only aiming to go higher towards the peak which seemed near but at the same time so far.
The battle was less outside and more inside. It took away almost everything from me. And there was not much left after hiking and climbing for many days, missing out on peaceful sleep due to spending many nights at an altitude above 5100 meters. Above all, one has no appetite, eating food was already an achievement at this height.
One can see a huge ridge at the distance in this picture, it’s Col. The Col connects Gangotri range- I II and III to Jogin Range I and II at the altitude of 18,200 ft.
When the snowy, slippery and steep path opens up to this view, the best we can do is to cherish the moment in silence. We often fail to express true joy in words as it can only be felt and lived.
I invariably notice little flora and fauna during my expeditions, ask questions about every wonder of nature that falls on the way, but almost always fail to vocalize the feelings when I see the magnanimous and humbling vistas like these.
It is moments like these that keep inspiring you to climb more and more, venture into the absolute wilderness, see more and come back to the mountains. Because once you have lived with them, for any period of time, there is no going back.
This sharp rock face standing tall in the frame appears to be as a rabbit’s ear from a distance when you are approaching the Col and hence the name.
It does sound cute, but reaching this Col was one hell of an effort. We started at around 3:30 in the night from the base, which looked so close but it took us more than 7 hours to reach the top.
The snow was so soft that we almost went waist-deep in it at some patches, the oxygen levels are very low at the height of 18000 feet, so taking every step in that deep snow was way more than tiring, and to top it all the huge crevasses were hidden below us under this soft snow which was the definitely the most dangerous part.
Suddenly reaching to this point unexpectedly was surely the highlight of that climb to the Rudrigiyara Valley.
Descending Auden’s Col
The descent from the Auden’s col is among the most fascinating thing I have ever done in the Himalayas. I will keep this section right up with the likes of Pandu Pull crossing in Pin Parvati Expedition. But this section challenges you more technically due to its terrain.
Once you cross the Auden’s col and descent down, you encounter a steep vertical gully. One needs to negotiate this long vertical descend to enter into Rudragiyara Valley. Once you cross this gully, you straight away get exposed to gigantic Khatling Glacier.
The gradient of the gully is almost 70° so you just can not simply descend down using your crampons & microspikes and do rappelling straight away.
As this gully is almost a kilometer long, you have to fix a rope to get the support and make your way all the way down. In some cases, you have to use carabiniers to ensure extra safety if the snow level is higher.
You get the bird’s eye view of Khatling Glacier from here. The landscape was totally obscured by haze and the visibility had started decreasing slowly- notorious Himalayan weather after all!
Auden’s Col to Khatling Glacier
Khatling Glacier: An ocean of crevasses
Once you cross the Auden’s col, you enter into infamous Khatling Glacier. It resides on the south ridge of Bhilangana Valley which separates Rudurigiyara Valley from Kedarganga Valley.
Khatling Glacier is an ocean of snow terrain invaded with infinite (I mean it!) crevasses & hidden crevasses. It’s a long 19 km glacier with various challenges imposed with it.
If you’re on Auden’s col expedition, Khaltling Glacier is one of the biggest challenges because of its crevasses. And if the weather is bad and if it snows while you’re on it, it becomes more dangerous as fresh snow covers the crevasses and you absolutely can not spot where these crevasses are. It looks like a flat surface but once you step on it, it breaks rigorously.
With all these revolved around this, Khatling is also one of the prettiest regions in Garhwal Himalayas. Being completely out of the shadow of civilization, it has some of the most spectacular and mesmerizing landscapes to offer.
Only a handful of climbers have hiked to Khatling Glacier by now (and this secludes me to hike this) because of its remoteness, involvement of technical climb, and various risk involved in it. I genuinely feel very fortunate to be among these few.
Khaling Glacier and Crevasses
A crevasse is a very common term used specially in glacier navigation field. Crevasses form as a result of the stress generated when two semi-rigid pieces above a plastic substrate have different rates of movement.
Crevasses are a major safety concern, especially when traversing glaciers. The Indian Himalayas is home to some of the giants and renowned glaciers of globe. Khaltling glacier is one such long and deadly glaciers which connects Kadar Ganga Valley and Rudrigyara Valley.
Khatling Glacier is full of Transverse and Longitudinal crevasses which is a result of shear stress from the margin of the glacier and longitudinal compressing stress from the lateral extension.
Crevasses often have vertical or near-vertical walls, which can then melt and create seracs, arches, and other ice formations. crevasse may be as deep as 40 metres, as wide as 20 metres, and up to several hundred metres long.
The most tricky thing here is the hidden crevasses that are buried under the hefty amount of snow and many times very tricky to identify.
The Gateway of Bhilangana Valley: Khatling Glacier
The Bhilangna valley is situated in the Tehri district of Uttarakhand. This area falls under the bio geographic zone 2B-Northwest Himalaya (Rodgers et al. 2000). Ridges of Vasuki-Tal, Sahasra Tal, and Masar Tal surround this valley from east and west respectively. Similarly, mighty Khatling glacier and Tharti division lie in north and south respectively.
Khatling is an important glacier of Garhwal Himalayas which is also the source of river Bhilangna. The icy glacier of Khatling is surrounded by magnificent snow-capped Himalayan peaks such as Jogin group (6466m), Sphetic Pristwar (6905m), Barte Kauter (6579m) Kirti Stambh (6902m) and many unknown peaks.
This lateral glacier situated in Tehri district is the source of river Bhilangna. The moraines on the side of the glaciers look like standing walls of gravel mud.
The Route To Bhilangana valley
There are several routes you take to reach this valley- the conventional route is to reach Ghuttu and ascend via Ree and Gangi another is via Mala Village, Uttarkashi but it’s a very long route takes additional 6-7 days of hiking.
This valley is the gateway to many secluded corners like Masar Tal, Vasuki Tal, Shastra Tal, Mayali Pass, and also the gateway to mighty Khatling glacier.
There are few Unnamed peaks in this region which are virgin and don’t have much information about it. One in the frame is among the same.
Turn back from Mayali Pass
The Art of Turning Around
The art of knowing when to turn around is a humble art. And most important in my opinion. I understand the frustration of returning back especially when you have invested a lot into it. Not just the finance part but for your mental, emotional, and physical investment.
For instance, me being always stuck in my otherwise 9 to 5 world, it’s almost impossible to plan and execute such high altitude expeditions again.
Last year I had to turn back from Mayali Pass (Western Garhwal Himalayas, Uttrakhand) because of excessive snow conditions. The trail lead to the pass had more than 3 and a half feet of snow along with the very bad weather conditions which make the hike very difficult as well as dangerous.
When the “what ifs” seize to hijack your amygdala, when it stops feeding you with illusions like “ then these unwanted screams in your head start boggling.
The art of turning around is about taking control over that voice in your head that so desperately is trying to convince you that “the weather will change”, “it’s not that bad”, “you invested so much into this already”, “coming back another time is going to be so painful, so better get it over with now!”. . When you master the art of turning around then there is no doubt. It’s easier said then done, to be realistic in a situation where you have invested so much. Practice makes perfect and I heard this quote of Dalai Lama.
“If you can do something about it, don’t worry. If you can’t do something about it, don’t worry”.
There are few clear cut indications when you need to turn around apart from special conditions like absolute scarcity of water resources, bad weather, physical injury, wrong gears for the terrain, and the list goes on. Maybe I’ll attempt this again in the coming years, just maybe.
It may feel bizarre to drive to Kinnaur and Spiti valley during wintertime, but for a die-hard solitude seeker — with a goal to unplug and get off-grid, spot endangered Snow leopards & other rare wildlife in Kibber wildlife sanctuary and learn how the people of Spiti valley survive in freezing sub-zero temperatures — the winter snowscapes of the Spiti valley and Kinnaur Himalaya are a true refuge and a place for the mindful pause.
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Snow Leopard Trail In Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary of Spiti
The winter trip to Spiti has its own charm and vulnerabilities. The charm lies in the tranquility — so peaceful that you would hear yourself breathing — of the Spiti valley, less to no crowd, snowy winter landscape, no electricity, and no internet.
Spiti Snow Leopard
Expedition In Kibber
Dec to March
4270m ( Kibber village)
Rong Nala gorge of Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary & Pin valley
Snow Leopards, Himalayan Ibex, Himalayan Blue Sheep, Red fox & Himalayan Snow Cock
Spiti Snow Leopard Tour Highlights
Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh which literally translates to an abode of snow is located in trans Himalayan ranges, the outermost range of the Himalayas. Spiti is a place frozen in space and time with vast valleys, glaciers, interesting geological features and towering trans-Himalayan peaks.
The extreme environmental events like avalanches, snowstorms, landslides, and rockfalls are common is this part of Himachal Pradesh state. Rare Himalayan wildlife like Snow leopard has adapted their body to survive under such extreme climatic conditions.
How To Track & Sight Snow Leopards in Spiti valley?
Patience is key, as with any wildlife expedition. You need to be at the right spotting places at the right time. It is not an easy task to pursue these enigmatic cats who live and are prey on Himalayan blue sheep at an altitude well over 3,500 meters from the sea level, at temperatures close to -30 degrees.
The right times are early morning and late evenings. And the right places are Kibber wildlife sanctuary and Kibber-Chicham village plateaux, slopes between Kee, Gete and Tashigang, Shilla Nalla area, plateau around Langza, Hikkim, Komic and slopes around Demul, Salung, Rama and Lalung.
Snow drive to Kinnaur and the Spiti valley in winter is a complete digital detox and an expedition itself.
The winter Spiti valley itinerary covers one of the most treacherous parts of NH – 5 and Sumdo to Kaza road. In winters you get to know local life and culture more intimately and see for yourself how hard it is to survive in the Himalayas.
The fragility & hardships of the winters in Spiti valley is punctuated by the limited road connectivity, driving on icy roads, no running tap water, limited warm water, subzero temperatures, and no room heating. But the major concern always is the fragile road connectivity which gets snapped when there is heavy snowfall and avalanches block the road for weeks.
Snow Leopard Sighting Rising In Spiti Valley & Kinnaur
Even though the process of population estimation is still underway, the staff of the wildlife wing has already recorded 49 snow leopards in upper Kinnaur(Asrang-Lippa wildlife sanctuary), Pin Valley, Tabo, Tharot-Miyar, Bhaga, Chandra, and upper Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh.
The most frequent sighting has been in Kibber Plateau, slopes between Kee, Gete and Tashigang, Shilla Nalla area, plateau around Langza, Hikkim, Komic and slopes around Demul, Salung, Rama and Lalung.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature is an international organization(IUCN), the apex body working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, has put the Snow leopards in the vulnerable category in India. In this category, the species are likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening its survival and reproduction improve. Vulnerability is mainly caused by habitat loss or destruction of the species home. The situation is opposite in the Kinnaur and the Spiti valley of India where the population of snow leopards is growing.
Spiti Valley: Snow Leopard Tour Itinerary
Day #1: Shimla – Sarahan Sarahan Altitude 2100m Distance covered 180 km. Drive Duration: 7 hours (Overnight at hotel)
Day #2: Sarahan – Kalpa:Kalpa Altitude 3000m. Distance 85km. Drive Duration; 5-6 hours(Overnight at hotel).
Day #3 Kalpa – Kibber Village: Kibber altitude 4270m. Drive duration: 7 – 8 hours(Overnight at a Homestay).
Day #4: Rest day at Kibber. Explore Kibber village and Kibber wildlife sanctuary.
Day 5,6, and 7: Hiking and following the elusive snow leopard around Kibber wildlife sanctuary. Reach early at spotting places like Rong Nala in Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. Snow leopard tracking guides and porters will accompany you to the spot. There would not be any specific routine for these 3 days reserved for spotting snow leopards as we need to move to the spotting places as soon as we hear about the sighting from our spotting guides.
Day #8: Kibber – Reckong Peo
Day #9: Reckong Peo – Shimla
Winter Spiti Tour Itinerary
Shimla, Sarahan, Kalpa, Nako lake, Tabo, Dhankar, Pin valley, Lalung, Ki, Kibber, Gete, Tashigang, Hikkim, Langza and Komic. SEASON: December – March CLIMATE: Bitterly Cold MAX. ALTITUDE: 4,520 m (Komik Village) NUMBER OF DAYS: 10 days TRIP TYPE: Road Trip & Snow Hiking
Day #1: Shimla – Sarahan: Sarahan Altitude 2100m Distance covered 180 km. Drive Duration: 7 hours (Overnight at hotel).
Day #2: Sarahan – Chitkul village: Chitkul Altitude 3400m. Distance 106km. Drive Duration; 5-6 hours(Overnight at hotel).
Day #3 Chitkul – Sangla – KalpaVillage: Kalpa altitude 3000m. Distance 75km. Drive Duration: 6-7 hours. (Overnight at a hotel)
Day #4: Kalpa – Nako – Gyu – Tabo.Tabo altitude 3300m. Distance 160km. Duration: 7-8 hours (Overnight at a Homestay)
Day #5: Tabo – Dhankar – Mud Village.Mud altitude 3900m. Distance 70km. Drive duration: 4 – 5 hours(Overnight stay at a homestay).
Day #6: Mud, Pin valley – Kibbervillage: Kibber altitude 4270m. Drive duration: 6 – 7 hours(Overnight at a Homestay).
Day #7: Rest & acclimatization day at Kibber. Explore Kibber village and Kibber wildlife sanctuary.
Day #8: Kibber – Langza- Komic-Hikkim-Tabo
Day #9: Tabo – Reckong Peo
Day #10: Reckong Peo – Shimla
Spotting Snow Leopard & Other Wildlife in Spiti valley
Spotting of wildlife(specifically snow leopard) includes short hikes and trekking in the snow in Pin valley and around Kibber Wildlife sanctuary. One should be in no illusion about how difficult it would be to photograph a sheepish snow leopard at a decent range. Their camouflage, surreptitious movement and shy demeanor make them difficult to spot and locate.
Winter is the best time to spot the mountain cats because snow will drive them to lower elevations where it’s easier to find food, and starting in mid-February, mating season commences, so you’re more likely to get leopards crossing into each other’s territory.
How to visit Spiti during winter?
Rohtang and Kunzum pass get closed in late September or early October month, so the only way to reach Spiti is through Shimla – Rampur Bushahr – Reckong Peo – Nako – Tabo – Kaza route. Kinnaur district headquarters Reckong Peo is well connected to Shimla and Chandigarh. Direct public transport HRTC buses are available from Delhi/Chandigarh/Shimla to get to Reckong Peo. Shimla – Reckong Peo road remains open even when there is heavy snowfall.
A HRTC bus runs from the Reckong Peo bus stop in the morning ( departure 7 AM) and reaches Kaza around 6 PM. No public transport exists in the Spiti valley in winter so traveling by own vehicle or shared taxis are the only mode of transportation.
Snow Leopard Trivia
Unlike the other wild cats, Snow leopards don’t “roar”
Although Snow Leopards are usually found between 3,000m-4,500m altitudes, snow leopards can range up to 6,000m!
There’s no record of a snow leopard ever killing a human
A snow leopard can jump 10m in one (big) leap!
Snow leopards are mostly solitary.….unless it’s mating time
Climate change is possibly the greatest long term threat to the snow leopard
Snow leopards have light green or grey eyes, most big cats have yellow/orange eyes
Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk
High in the lofty peaks of central Asia, a rare, elusive cat sits curled on a rocky ledge overlooking a deep, rugged valley. A cold wind wisps frozen snow into the thin air, creating a dazzling silver shower against a brilliant azure sky. It’s quiet up high, just the occasional crack of a distant glacier, a few rocks dancing down the shoulders of near-vertical mountains. Across the valley, a herd of blue sheep, the cat’s favorite food, grazes peacefully on a steep southern slope. Piercing feline eyes are fixed on nothing but see everything. There are no people in sight, just miles and miles of snow-clad peaks in every direction-a sign that all is well at the roof of the world. The big cat rises contentedly, rubs at the knees of the mountain gods then disappear.
Tracks, vanishing into the snowy mist, are the only evidence it was really there. This near-mythic beast is the snow leopard, the highest mammalian predator, and symbol of all that is free and truly wild in the mightiest mountains on earth-its presence, its aura, a living soul given to citadels of stone and ice. Like no other large cat, the snow leopard evokes a sense of myth and mysticism, strength and spirit. A mystery cat shrouded in a snowy veil, seldom seen but always present.
To the West, the snow leopard is a cat of strange, foreign lands, a prowler of high peaks, symbol of survival in the high mountains. To Asia, the snow leopard is embedded in ancient lore and lately has become the symbol of unity and conservation in a region Marco Polo described as “noisy with kingdoms.” For local people who share their mountain realm, there is respect and fear.
Not personal fear, for the snow leopard doesn’t harm humans, but fear of the occasional night stalker that kills precious livestock, the literal lifeblood of existence for those hardy souls who share the snow leopard’s world. The snow leopard is endangered, Imperilled by ever-growing human encroachment into its mountainous world. Even with international protection, it is still killed for its bones and luxuriant fur or in retaliation for killing livestock. Climate change adds another dimension of stress to the snow leopard’s world, warming the great mountains, pushing the snow leopard and its prey higher and higher. Like the polar bear and Arctic ice, the snow leopard’s habitat is sharply defined with no options for a retreat or alternative refuge-the balance of life is easily degraded but not easily restored. Beyond the mountaintops lies extinction. Strangely, the snow leopard ranks high among notable rare animals-alongside the bald eagle, polar bear, lion, tiger, and panda-yet it is perhaps the least studied and certainly the least written about. There is a good reason why we know so little about the snow leopard. Its support system is a delicate veneer of vegetation draped over the highest and most rugged landscapes on earth.
And the great mountains are not always a friendly place. For centuries, treacherous travel, rugged terrain, ageless border disputes, and political intrigue have kept this region of the world from the in-depth study. The seven great ramparts of central Asia present one of the most formidable and foreboding environments in the world. Their names alone evoke a sense of wonderment: Altai, Pamir, Tien Shan, Kun Lun, Hindu Kush, Karakorum, and the mighty Himalaya. Here, in the land where the snow leopard finds comfort, humans can suffer frostbite and sunburn at the same time. Anyone who has traveled in this region will attest that half the enterprise (and half the adventure) is just getting around these impressive giants of the world. To study the snow leopard is as much bold adventure as a scientific expedition. The high places attract two kinds of adventurous spirits: those who drink at the moment and move on, and those who are moved deeply by an awesome connection with something beyond human description. The latter cannot leave behind only footprints. Their souls would not bear it; they must in some way tithe to the spirit mountains, the spirit cat-in time, deeds, words.
– Snow Leopard: Stories from the Roof of the World by Don Hunter.
Weather conditions and essentials to carry
It gets really frigid. Winter travel requires serious protection from the bone-chilling Himalayan weather. So you’re going to need layers. Lots of them, along with thick winter clothing. If anything, you shouldn’t underestimate how cold and windy it can be. The temperature often drops to -30 °C. The air in Spiti is very thin due to high altitude and no vegetation so it is advised to see your doctor and take the required medication. If you have prior experience of trekking or hiking high altitude terrains then there shouldn’t be any problems related to high altitude sickness.
Backpack (70-90 liter) for multi-days Hikes.
Trekking Boots – High ankle support boots.
Trek Gaiter – To prevent snow/moisture seeping inside the boot.
Down Jacket – Thick, windproof material, fleece and feather based recommended.
Trek Pants – (at least 3 Trek Pants), no Jeans. Synthetic, Quick Dry fabric-based Trek Pants are ideal.
Full sleeve woolen/fleece – (at least 2)
Full sleeve T-Shirts – (at least 4)
Thermal Inner – (for Lower body recommended/ upper is optional)
Sunglasses – It is a must for a snow hike. UV rated ones.
Socks – (3 pair of woolen and 4 pairs of cotton socks)
Waterbottle – (2 water bottle, each 1 liter). Avoid plastic drinking bottles.
Energy bars/dry fruits. Very essential for surviving the winters in Kinnaur & Spiti Medicine Kit
Accommodation in Kinnaur & Spiti Valley during winters
There are plenty of options to stay in Kinnaur. Options are limited to only homestays in Spiti because most of the hotels get closed due to water and heating issues.
Kalpa-Charang winter hikes
Charang is the last village on the Indo-China Border. The last ITBP post is located in this village. For the city folks, the village offers a complete escape from the busy city life. No network coverage – bosses can’t call you. For a comfort trip seeker, I will recommend Charang only during summers. Kalpa in winters, with the temperature plunging to about -15 ºC & heavy snowfall blocking all the roadways for weeks – the place is either for the brave hearts or for ignorants like us.
Visiting Kinnaur and spending some time with the locals was high on my bucket list for a long time. Finally, I got a chance to check out the Chitkul village in Sangla valley before our Lamkhaga Pass trek in May 2017, thanks to the impeccable planning of Gautam Baliga ji. On the 18th of May, Gautam, Aashish and I boarded the only Shimla to Sangla(altitude 2300m) direct bus to reach our destination for the day – the Sangla valley.
After an 8 to 9-hour journey on the HRTC bus, we reached Sangla at 5 pm. Tucked in the lower Himalayas in the district of Kinnaur, the Sangla valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in Himachal, located around 25 km away from the Indo-Tibet border. Sangla derives its names from a Tibetan word Sangala which means “passage of light”.
We checked into Baspa guest house in the valley and after a few minutes of break, we headed out to explore the Sangla valley. After 10-15 minutes of walk, we reached the Bairing Nag temple.
After reaching there, we came to know that outsiders are not allowed inside the temple. But it’s still worth a visit for the amazing exteriors of the temple and the peaceful surroundings.
A few hours into Sangla, I could feel that the best thing about this place is not just the beauty of it, but also the most friendly and amazing locals in this place. We had a great time in the Bairing Nag temple playing a game of volleyball with the kids and clicking pictures with the locals visiting the temple.
The next day, we visited the Sangla Buddha temple/monastery. One of the monks in the monastery had done a part of his monk studies in Bylakuppe, and he got immersed into a long chat with us after he came to know that Gautam and Aashish were from Bangalore. With our visit to Sangla happening just after the release of Baahubali-2, it was evident from our conversation with monks that the Sangla valley was no exception to the bahubali fever that had gripped the entire nation that time. The monks in Sangla told me how several locals in Sangla had traveled to Shimla to watch this movie as there were no theaters in Kinnaur.
If you are one of those traveling to Kinnaur. no matter how much packed your itinerary may be, you must take a day off to explore the beauty of Sangla and Kamru. Sangla is undoubtedly one of the most idyllic spots I have visited in Kinnaur, thanks to the natural beauty and the super amazing locals there.
Places to visit:
Bairing Nag Temple Sangla Buddhist Monastery Kamru
Reaching Sangla Valley
Sangla is 360 km from Chandigarh and the travel may take 15 to 16 hours. Delhi to Sangla is approx 580 km. Below is the approach route for Sangla: Shimla ⇒ Kufri ⇒ Fagu ⇒ Narkanda ⇒ Rampur ⇒ Jeori ⇒ Tapri ⇒ Karcham ⇒ Sangla Public transport: There is a Chandigarh-Shimla-Sangla daily direct bus that starts from Shimla at 6 am. 2-3 buses also start from Reckong Peo for commuting within Kinnaur that stops at Sangla.
Best time to visit Sangla:
Best months to visit Sangla village is from mid of May to early October.
Day #4: Gundar to Lamkhaga advance base camp (Kinnaur side) (One may break this climb till base camp 1 and next day to advance base camp…….we skipped)
Day #5: Advance base camp to Upper Kyarkoti after crossing Lamkhaga pass (Again, you may camp at Lamkhaga pass base camp of Gangotri side followed by trek till Kyarkoti…….we decided to continue beyond base camp and camp at upper Kyarkoti)
Day #7: Upper Kyarkoti to Kyarkoti
Day #8: Kyarkoti to Gangnani
Day #9: Gangnani to Harsil
This is a remote pass and very few groups have finished this. Thus it could be a good option for all those who love to visit the under-explored!