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.
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.
28th May: Reach Base Camp Chitkul by road from Shimla
Day #1 29th May: Chitkul (3435 meters) to Nagasthi – Rani Kanda (3700 meters) 10 km 5 hr trek.
Day #2 30th May: Rani Kanda to Dumti (4050 meters) – 9 km/5 hr trek.
Day #3 31st May: Dumti to Gundar (4450 meter) – 15km/7 hr trek
Day #4 1st June: Gundar (4400 mtrs) to Lamkhaga Pass Base Camp (4400 meters)
Day #5 2nd June: Lamkhaga Pass BC to Base Camp 2 (Kinnaur)
Day #6 3rd June: Lamkhaga Pass BC(Kinnaur) to Lamkhaga Pass BC (Gangotri Side) via Lamkhaga Pass (5282 mts/17320 ft) / 14432 ft) 11 km/6 – 7 hr trek
Day #7 4th June: Lamkhaga Pass Base Camp to Kyarkoti (3820 meter) – 16 km/7 – 8 hr trek
Day #8 5th June: Kyarkoti to Harsil (2400 meter) – 14 km/6-7 hr trek
CHANDIGARH- SHIMLA: Pahadi Hospitality at its best: All restaurants were closed by the time we reached Shimla. After searching for food nearby passport office without any vehicle(our driver had left after dropping us at the hotel) we failed to get one. It was 12 am, the hotel manager and his assistant had to specially prepare rice and dal for us from their own personal kitchen.
SHIMLA-KALPA Enchanting Kinnaur, Irritating hydro-projects, awesome curvy drive, and the humble driver: First of all, thank you Vikas for arranging the car. Will make sure to recommend him to my friends if needed at all in the future. Today’s journey began with Aloo paranthas and a glass of bournvita just on the outskirts of Shimla. While eating parathas, we never thought that we will be hating paranthas so much at the end of our journey and we still do while I type this, however you will come to know as the Tlog progresses. Weather was pleasant and eating fresh Narkanda cherries was surely a ‘cherry on top’ to add in this journey. The tea and the mischievous kids playing at Wangtoo tea house was fun. One layer of cloth comes out of the bag at this place.Brrrrr! Though we were driving on NER, the vistas were getting more beautiful. We reached Rakpa regency at Kalpa @10pm passing through muddy Karcham-Powari stretch to the beautiful dark town of Reckong Peo, through clouds and rains which got vanished later when we entered our room. The moonlit Kinner Kailash range was the most beautiful vista ever and the long tiring journey was totally worth it for this.
KALPA – Hike to CHAKKA KANDA (~4000mtr)- KALPA and drive to CHITKUL
Chakka is a small peak which lies behind and above Kalpa town. Though a small hike for a little bit more than 1000mtr, it is a very good place for acclimatization for all the trekkers/travelers in that region. Just below the peak, lies Chakka Kanda, a lake that is culturally important for Kinnauris. It takes 2 -3 hours to reach. We hired a car to Chitkul at 4 pm from Kalpa after descending down from Chakka Kanda.
Hotel in Kalpa: Rakpa Regency & Hotel in Chitkul: Shenshah/Shahenshah/Shen Sha or whatever you call it. Both the properties are run by Mr. Sandeep Karar. All the rooms were charged 1500 INR/room after immense bargaining in advance as we did not had any options left. The stay at Kalpa has to be the best for its hospitality and views.
Hotel to Chakka Kanda Time taken: 2 1/2 hours Height gained: 800 meters. Just before lake, we stopped due to time restrictions.
Starting our day with super hot chai with amazing clouds in the sky. Parathas and Omelette were the only options for breakfast. It was an acclimatization day for all and we decided to start it by 11 am. Our guide and the support team reached at Chitkul at 5 pm. There were 8 porters and 1 cook along. They camped on the banks of river Baspa. Meanwhile, we unpacked and packed our rucksacks again just to make sure the weight is balanced accordingly that day.
Time taken: 2 hours Height Gained: 130mtr, towards Nagasthi ITBP and a small hill on the left.
Who was Marco Pallis and why Lamkhaga?
A Greek-British author and mountaineer who was famous for his writings on Tibetan Buddhism. He made the first ascent of Leo Pargial(6790m), one of the highest in Kinnaur Himal(not be confused with Reo Purgyal) starting from Harsil all the way via unexplored/climbed LAMKHAGA PASS and then into Sutlej-Spiti valley to climb the peak in 1933. Well, we are doing the right opposite to him what he did.
Can this trek done from both the sides?
Yes. It takes ~7 to 10 days from both sides depending on the weather.
What is the route? From Chitkul : Chitkul-Nagasthi-Ranikanda-Dumti-Nithal Thatch- Base camp(Baspa Glacier)-Advance base camp- Lamkhaga pass- Base camp(Harsil side)-Kyarkoti-Harsil
From Harsil : Harsil-Banswari nalla- Gangnani -Kyarkoti-Base camp(Sukha thal)-Advance base camp(aka Pass ke neeche)- Lamkhaga pass-Base camp(Chitkul side)-Dumti-Ranikanda or Chitkul. Personally, I feel the ascent from Harsil is more daunting. Continuous ascent! unlike gradual incline at many places from the Chitkul side. But both are equal in difficulty.
Do we need an Inner line Permit for this trek and from where to get it?
DC office in Reckong Peo for people starting from the Chitkul side.
DC office in Uttarkashi for people starting from the Harsil side.
Porters are easily available from Uttarkashi or Gangotri(UK) and Reckong Peo(HP) and NOT HARSIL OR CHITKUL.
Must Equipment: Ropes, Ice Axe, Gaiters, Alpine tents(neither t3, nor t2 please) and yes Microspikes will be helpful in the month of May-June. Altitude: I am still confused with its altitude. According to our altimeter(G-shock) which was well calibrated, showed up 5300metres on the pass. Old maps say 5284metres and some source says 5326metres. Best Time: There is no best time to visit higher regions, the weather takes a toll on any day/anytime. Still it is doable from Mid-May till Mid October. Grade: Difficult
TREK DAY 1.
Chitkul -Nagasthi(ITBP Checkpost) -Ranikanda.
A simple walk for 4 hours takes us to the beautiful Ranikanda camp site at 3700m which is situated just few metres away from Baspa river. Where we faced rain, a little headache, cold and dramatic sky. Had the most delicious Khichdi and the soup for the lunch and Roti- Sabji-Salad for the dinner.
TREK DAY 2.
Ranikanda – Lal Dhang – Dumti
8am:- AP’s struggle with rucksack weight and severe AMS.
It was a long hike that day going up to 4050m. Though the weather was clear, we had no trust in it either. Soon AP informed us he was having a mild headache but was okay to continue. But from the previous evening, it did not get any better, even after acclimatization walk up to 500ft nearby. He was walking slowly along with few members and porters. He gave up just before Lal Dhang at 10:30 am. His headache remained the same. VB who was walking along with him and me took his heavy rucksack, which he was carrying and in return gave his small camera bag to AP. Meanwhile, our guide Negi saw us from the edge, which was far away on Lal Dhank. He knew something was wrong and waited for us to cross the tricky part. Things were getting serious at that moment.
Negi’s views on AP:- Returning back to Chitkul did not make any sense as it is already at 3450m. It would take 5 -6 hours to reach from where we stood and descending further till Sangla (2800m) after that was completely out of the question. Continuing all the way till Dumti, which is at 4050m is again a threatening act to do. But Dumti had an ITBP camp. It had medical facilities. It had oxygen tanks but nothing in Chitkul. The only struggle was that tough scary walk from Lal Dhang till Dumti for 4 hours in the worst weather with poor visibility, wind, snow, and drizzle along. On one side it was Baspa river which was invisible and ferociously flowing down below and on the other side falling tiny rocks and slippery slopes to negotiate. All team members were separated and were just following the broken trail. Negi was taking care of AP and was slowly walking far behind holding his hands.
We reached Dumti at 2:30 pm and along with Negi reached at 3:30 pm. But soon, he started hallucinating!
3:30pm: AP Hallucinations at Dumti
Our cook, Rathiji prepared “sheera“(they call it halwa) after a small darshan at Karu temple. We served a tiny portion to AP in the tent. It took him 20 minutes to gulp 2 serves. He did not know what he was eating, neither he was responding to anyone. His oxygen levels started deteriorating. We immediately took him to the ITBP camp which had medical facilities as I have mentioned above. We made him sit in one of the bunkers for the warmth, but soon he started dozing off. Meanwhile, we literally requested the medical personnel to give him supplementary oxygen as soon as possible. He was made to lay down by holding his hands on the medical bed. We played music in the background so that he won’t sleep which would turn out to be fatal in such conditions. It took 15 minutes for him to get back to normal, which stayed temporary.
Well, when we asked him how was he feeling? He did not remember how and what had happened. He did not remember anything, neither the “sheera” nor the supplementary oxygen. Every half an hour, he was given supplementary oxygen till 6:00 pm for 5 minutes and some medicines(NOT DIAMOX). Meanwhile, few members from our team had won the cricket game against the ITBP team.
AP was my tent mate. I kept on checking his oxygen levels throughout that cold night. Luckily he was OK the next morning but had to send back with one of the porters.
TREK DAY 3
Dumti-Nithal Thatch- Gundar
The day began with Parathas and Bhindi subzi for breakfast following with the small pooja at Karu temple. A walk by banks of River Baspa all the way till Gundar Camp at 4450m. It was an easy but long walk over rocks and slight height gain. We reached around 2:00 pm. SC fell in the water while crossing it just before the camp and while rescuing her, Nishchay fell too. Quite a tough moment for both of them.
By 3:30 pm, we hiked up 1000ft for acclimatization. Due to the weather, things got worse again. And it was again Parathas for lunch.
TREK DAY 4
Gundar to Immediate Camp( 2 hours before Baspa Glacier/Lamkhaga Base camp).
Probably the most beautiful morning we witnessed here. The night was just out of the world with millions of stars and the bright moon and the lit on high peaks, but it was freezing at the same time. It was difficult for me to remove the camera from the bag and tripod at that time. However, I would like to say that, those irregular nature calls in the middle of the night have given us a lot of positive opportunities to see the actual beauty through naked eyes. Words are less to describe, so does the camera.
We woke up at 4 am and had Chapatis for breakfast with Achar and papaya porridge. It had snowed a lot. The first step of the day was snow. There were pug marks of some kind of animals parallel to us. First, we presumed it to be snow leopards……LOL. But it may have been wild fox’s, we partially confirmed after immense discussion with each other. A few days after looking at the photographs, we thought that it would be some bird’s footsteps. Maybe!!!
We had to cross the Baspa stream that day. There was an icy and slippery layer on the stones. So balancing on top of stones and crossing would make us fall in the bone freezing water. It took us half an hour to cross it. But Karan fell in the water while helping out RS and she was all fine. It was a funny but frustrating situation. Snowfall increased as we move further when Negiji finally had to stop. Because going further in that bad weather and pitching tents on glacier camp would be dangerous. It took 2 hours for the porters who were behind us. Finally, at 1:00 pm, we pitched our tents with all the wet boots and wet bags.
TREK DAY 5
Immediate Camp – Baspa Glacier -Lamkhaga Base camp – Lamkhaga Advance Base Camp( aka Pass ke neeche)-5100m
We were already running behind the schedule( say 5 hours time). We started to climb at 4am. It was freezing and the weather was deteriorating again. Rathiji our cook, lead the team members, whereas our guide led the team of porters. In no meantime, all porters overtook us and waited on the snowy slopes.
We reached Lamkhaga Base Camp at 7 am for a short hungry break of dry fruits and water, as it was not easy to digest Parathas early in the morning. We took some rest and started climbing on a 50-degree incline with deep snow. Plan of the day was to reach the Advance Base camp, just below the pass which was 7 hours far from where we were standing on that snowy conditions. We managed to cover it without much headache. Few people were too fast on snow, while others were the opposite of that. Finally, microspikes came into use. There were many steep patches which itself was a task to negotiate, but we managed somehow. We reached at 2 pm. It was a task to beat the soft snow of 2ft, so that our tent could easily be pitched on hard snow. That day, one porter suffered from Hypothermia and he went mute. He was shifted to the kitchen tent as soon as the tent was ready and was made to rest near the cooking stove for the warmth. We gave him the warmee self-heating pouch. He felt okay later after gulping hot soup and hot water. So white-out conditions, freezing wind, Porter’s health, Highest Camp at 5100m, wet sleeping bags, frozen tents, snow melted “yuckk” water, etc. made it totally worth.
TREK DAY – 6 (LAMKHAGA PASS)
Plan: Advance Base camp to Lamkhaga Pass to Lamkhaga base camp( Harsil side) What did we do? : Advance Base camp to Lamkhaga Pass to Lamkhaga base camp(Harsil side) to Kyarkoti
When we woke up at 6 in the morning, it was all white-out outside. Soon, we started discussing on to pass the cross or not. After a lot of arguments, we planned to go ahead. Waiting back did not make any sense. Descending to Chitkul was against our wishes. It was just a matter of 3 hours of the climb to the pass and it descended all the way down to Kyarkoti – Gangnani – Harsil. If anything worse happens within these 3 hours, nobody had an idea to escape it, except our guide Negi. He was confident about it and he leads us in a Pro way. We stood at the top at 9:00 am on 3rd June.
Looking towards HP unnamed peaks as seen from Abc at 5120m at 530am.
Negi ji had made a zigzag route to the top, due to soft snow and the light was bright. In a meanwhile, a huge layer of ice like a mini avalanche came on our way and took Aditya down a few meters on the slope. Luckily he arrested himself on the gentle slopes and began climbing much faster. It was a horrifying scene when it happened. Somehow we all reached at 9 am on the top.
The pass is located at one of the greatest water source region which divides two great rivers, where one flows into the Arabian sea and other in Bay of Bengal. All we could see is tears of joy in each and every member. It started snowing heavily from the Garhwal side and it was bright in the Kinnaur side. Realising, who was the culprit behind bad weather, we started our deadly descend soon.
The glissading was fun and risky too. Few members had many rolls, with the bags falling on one side and trekking poles to the others. The weather deteriorated and it was white out. This time, it did not stop for the next 8 hours of daunting descent. There was a huge gap of distance among members, a few of us were climbing down slowly with INFINITE no. of falls and breaking trekking sticks. The plan was to descend until the snowline. We reached Upper Kyarkoti, passing through Sukha Tal at 5:30 pm and threw our bags aside our tents.
That evening, our porters went hunting some of the juniper bushes/woods for a bonfire. They excelled in getting a large bunch of wet junipers and some wet trunk of the unknown tree which was lying down on high slopes. There was an excitement within the team on the accomplishment of the trek. We sipped many teas that evening, as most of the things were wet and ferocious bonfire by the side. I was the last one to sleep after taking a few night shots of heaven, Kyarkoti. In fact, all the nights at every camp have been beautiful for us, but this place beats all. As soon as I entered my sleeping and locked the chains of the tent, there was a scratching sound outside the tent. As if, someone/thing is scratching with hands on the outer layer of the tent. Initially, I thought someone was doing mischief among us, but everyone had slept by that time. I woke up and I switched on my tent light, no sounds! Again, I did not bother to wake up my tent mates as they all were snoring too loud. The sound of scratching continued for 2-3 hours that night and that was my last sleepless night of the entire journey.
Baspa River originates near the Indo-Tibetan and Himachal-Uttarakhand border. The valley of Baspa is named after this river. It is also known as the Sangla Valley – one of the most scenic valleys in the Himachal Pradesh. The Chung Sakhago Pass lies at the head of the valley. Baspa river is fed by the perennial Chung Sakhago glacier and shares the catchment area with a tributary of the Bhagirathi river, Uttarakhand.
After a cakewalk on the first two days, we geared up for adventurous things lying ahead for us. With extreme cold conditions leading to dry skin, some wheatish faces in our group had started changing to white faces coated with layers of sunscreens by the start of day 3.
After a 2km walk from our campsite, we arrived at the Karu Devta temple. Karu Devta is the presiding deity of Dumti. A small Shivling and Karu devta is present in this temple.
Happy ji was telling us that even ITBP had been following the traditions and practices of locals to offer a prasad in this temple every morning before starting to cook for that day. He added that if any villager is taking his goat or sheep beyond this point, the villager would sacrifice one of his goats/sheep here before proceeding further.
The trail beyond Dumti had given us some wallpaper views, however, the reality hit me as we stepped into the rocky trails. A mild pain had started in my ankle after we crossed the flat surfaces and started walking into the rock patches. However, it was very mild pain and I was confident of finishing off the day’s walk and was hoping for late-night magic for much steeper ascents waiting for us near the Lamkhaga pass trek.
We came across herds of thick-skinned cows chilling out and grazing in the valleys of snow-capped peaks. The cows that had been left near Nagasthi had traveled to this point.
Happy ji was telling us that the thick-skinned cows cannot survive the slightly hot weather after winters, hence it’s left to graze on its own in the high hills for 3 to 4 months.
He added that the villagers manage their living with one cow for a few months till the winter and would go on search of the herd during the beginning of winter. It was interesting to hear from him that no wild animals roamed in this part of Kinnaur and the herd of cows left to graze here would usually be found in its full count by the villagers.
We were also joined in the trail by ITBP jawans who had to camp at Nithal tach. The ITBP jawans were reminding us every now and then to hydrate ourselves, protect ourselves with the monkeys’ caps instead of exposing our ears to the heavy winds of these hills in our yet another long walk along the river. And, there started the second round of conversations with ITBP jawans.
From current affairs to experience in the Indian army, we had talked about almost everything that had flashed into our minds then. Then the conversation drifted to Gundar Nala crossing that lay ahead of Nithal Tach. ITBP jawans passed us some energy drinks to us and we had stopped for a short break. The commander of Dumti started describing how the ITBP personnel crosses the Gundar Nala if the situation demands them to do so. He said every time when someone in ITBP needed to reach Gundar, they would apply mustard oil all over their body, walk through the super cold waters and then cross it as the water level may sometimes even reach their shoulders.
With our trek happening in the last week of May, he added that we might just get a little lucky as water levels may not be that high in May. Having had a long break here, it was time to move ahead.
After a walk of a few minutes, the Yamrang peaks were just in front of us. After an uneven patch, we had finally come down to the valley and the flat river beds greeted us. Time just flew away as we walked along the river bed hearing out the adventures of few ITBP jawans.
It started to snow as we were just a few minutes behind Nithal. Few of us moving in the mountain trail with ITBP could see the dwarfed figures of the rest of our trek group crossing the Dumti meadows from a slightly higher inclination. Nature keeps reminding us that humans and their problems are so tiny in front of Mother Nature. However, despite our tiny size, we, humans continue to use too many of our natural resources at an alarming pace ignoring the warning signs from every other natural disaster.
Cheerfully schlepping our groceries, tents and sleeping bags, few porters got past us in the mild snow as they had to rush through and set up the campsite before the weather becomes worse.
Camping in high hills, far far away from the human habitation and yet experiencing the luxury of tasty cooked food and some good sleep in thick sleeping bags/tents is an inevitable dream without the support of the porters, who carry heavy loads of groceries and other items just for a few hundred rupees a day. The physical support provided by the porters to fulfill the dreams of a few trekkers despite the challenging weather conditions is often overlooked. They are the indisputable guardian angels of a mountain expedition.
Our trek group had our lunch amidst the mild snow in Nithal, while Sonu Negi ji was helping the porters cross the river beyond Nithal. It was the same sight that the commander of Dumti had described us. From the top, we could see the porters removing their layers and crossing the river with the luggage on top of their heads.
Just after the snow intensified, the commander of Dumti came to us and announced that they have worked out a jugaad for us to cross the river. As he had to immediately head back to Dumti, we bid him goodbye with some final handshakes and wondered what was in store at the river crossing.
Luckily, the water levels in the spot chosen for us to cross the Gundar nala wasn’t that high as we had imagined. After hopping through a stretch of rocks and crossing a proper bridge, we were standing in front of the two more water crossing points.
Water was flowing in its full force. Happy ji and some more support staff brought a ladder and positioned it for us to cross the river. We realized this was the jugaad that the commander of Dumti had mentioned to us back in Nithal.
With the ladder in its position, it was time for an initial load test. Happy ji and a support staff hopped and jumped crazily over the ladder to check if it could withstand our weight. Chetan Phalke from our group captured a small part of Happy ji’s crazy hoping to reach the other side.
Then, it was our time to cross the river with the ladders. With the first one done with ease, we had one more water crossing lying ahead.
There hasn’t been a day that has passed without me lamenting to people on my inability to put on weight despite my hearty appetite. However, my less weight proves to be a great blessing when it comes to climbing or jumping over boulders and rocks. This time a river crossing with a ladder was done and dusted with ease :)
After the river crossing and some slow walk along with the uneven patches, we finally arrived at the Gundar campsite. The ankle pain had intensified on the third day and reduced my pace. After campfire and a tasty dinner, it was time to hit the bed.
In every walk of nature, we receive far more than what we seek. We have blessed with some mesmerizing views of snow-peaked mountains as we hopped over some more rocks to cross the rivers.
The trails had turned uneven after Nithal and we came to a screeching halt near the Baspa river crossing, about 2 km from Gundar. We had to cross the river to get to the other side and about 3 feet of water was flowing in its full force. A walk in the super cold water was on the cards.
First Gautham ji and Kohinoor removed off some of their layers and went to the other side. Then, Happy and Rajeev along with three of us held each other’s hands and we formed a chain and crossed the river. Thanks to the lovely capture by Gautham ji (view video in above FB post), this memory (me, Chetan and Hiren crossing Baspa river) is as fresh as it just happened yesterday.
After some hiking beyond the Baspa glacier, we had finally reached the lower basecamp of Lamkhaga pass by 12 noon.
After a long halt of lunch and some tutorials from Happy and Rajeev on snow sliding, we moved further ahead. With a major part of the day still left, it was indeed a sensible decision to skip camping in the lower basecamp and go further ahead. The path beyond Baspa glacier has been steep and the path ahead wasn’t going to be an easy hike.
With the legs washing off my pain killers, my legs literally went on a toss walking over the rocks and uneven surface. The treacherous uphill climb was like adding fuel to fire to an exhausted and injured ankle.
But I wasn’t the only one doing the zombie walk. Almost the entire group had become tired few meters up. It was like a never-ending hike.
All of us in the group had become completely exhausted. We were counting our steps and taking a break after every 30 to 50 steps. We had been walking, and walking.. and walking.. but the campsite was nowhere near sight. The thought of hiking up with an injured ankle is always easier said than done. With ankle pain turning deadly with every step, I was unsure if I could even make it to the campsite and just hoped I don’t crash or faint somewhere in the snow.
It was 20th May 2017, and as per schedule 10 of us were to start for the Lamkhaga pass trek from Chitkul village in the morning after our breakfast. Even before the beginning of the Lamkhaga pass trek, I had got an adventurous start for the trek in Chitkul.
Back in our room early morning that day, Gautam ji and Aashish had motivated me not to quit the trek in haste and that they would try to support me and keep me moving throughout the trek. Thanks to the encouragement provided by all my 9 fellow trekkers and some timely medical help from Kohinoor Indrani (the engineer turned pharmacist in our group), I was finally able to make up my mind and go ahead with the trek with a crepe bandage & painkillers.
Though I was trying to appear normal, I could hardly take a few steps. A nervous Sonu Negi ji, who had discussed the condition of my leg multiple times with Gautham ji, was hoping that all goes well throughout the trek. After a briefing by Sonu Negi ji following our breakfast, we started hiking up and within a few minutes, Chitkul was out of sight.
The fairly flat walk in the jeep trail along a frisky Baspa river
We followed the frisky Baspa river in our gradual ascent beyond Chitkul along a fairly flat walk in the jeep trail to ITBP checkpost.
With the exception of the few army vehicles and cowherds passing by, there were hardly any tourists in the trail beyond Chitkul. 4 km from Chitkul, we were greeted by well-built army personnel from Himachal with a huge moustache. We had reached the Nagasthi check-post and halted there for a few minutes to show our permits to move further.
The Himachali general who had served 15+ years was astonished to notice a woman trekker in the group of 22. He happily shared his views on how many women have started scaling the challenging peaks like Everest and are becoming on par with men in most of the fields. He shook hands with all of us to meet again in Dumti the next day. Sometimes the mere company of our jawans and a few pats from them are enough to recharge us to continue further.
The so-called Indo-Tibet border starts from Nagasthi and extends for 100+ km along with the Yamrang ranges. Civilians are not allowed beyond this point. Due to security reasons, photography is not allowed nearby ITBP checkpoints or in the army camp zone.
Kohinoor, who carried the heaviest bag amongst all of us with a lot of medicines & homemade food for the entire group, gave some generous amount of the tasty homemade rotis to our group and the army personnel there. The homemade food would have been a great change for the ITBP jawans, who survive on the packed food most of the times. After a short rest in Nagasthi, we moved towards Ranikanda.
A couple of hours beyond Nagasthi, we were greeted by our porters who passed on some snacks and an energy drink. And after an hour’s walk, we were finally in Ranikanda, welcomed with some hot lunch to feast into.
After a short rest in our tents, few of them suggested an acclimatization hike, and so 9 of us started ascending up a nearby hill. It was a steep ascent of 100 metres and it took close to 45 minutes to reach the top. After Aashish, who had diverted to the other side of the stream finally reached the top, it was time for the group pics.
There is no more rewarding feeling than being among the first few to reach and explore a destination that others haven’t yet had the pleasure of witnessing. After enjoying the virgin beauty of the valley from the top and some chit-chats for an hour, it was time to descend down.
We descended amidst some really heavy winds. At least, I was not the last one to get down this time. Niren who had ascended so quickly was telling me that descents were his weakness. The hot soup waiting for us in our dining tent was our motivation to rush back to the campsite. With some more time left for the dinner, Kohinoor got his pulse oximeter and we were having some fun time testing it out and measuring the oxygen levels of all of us. It showed my reading as 87, so Kohinoor suggested to take a deep breath and take the reading once again. This time it reduced further. Since everything was appearing normal, we didn’t bother much about it. After this incident, the oximeter was packed up and never taken out for the rest of the trek.
After some hot paranthas with Govardhan ghee for dinner, it was time to settle down in our own tents. Aditya, who was particularly looking for a tent with people who don’t snore, slept with Gautham & Aashish. Aditya had to quit his Lamkhaga pass trek in Dumti (in 2015) due to altitude sickness, however, he finished off the 2017 Lamkhaga pass without any issues. His brisk walk on all the seven days is probably attributed to his sound sleep and his tent partners. Now, we know that the choice of tent partners also impacts the completion of an expedition. Jokes apart, the rock-solid determination of each of the ten trekkers in the team and favourable weather conditions played a major role in the successful completion of this trek.
After a good breakfast in the morning, we started our trek around 8 am. After the oximeter readings, Vivek had suggested me to have 4 to 5 litres of water for proper acclimatization and the aftereffects of drinking loads of water were showing up while walking along the trails. We could see the ITBP jawans, the communication engineers and the mule herders making their way to Dumti to set up their checkpoints.
The walk with ITBP jawans made me realize how thankful we Indians are, to have a defence force, who give up their families and a comfortable life to guard our borders, while we sleep peacefully. Though the Tibet border beyond Chitkul is considered a friendly border without interruptions, the high altitude and the unpredictable weather conditions don’t add up to an easy daily routine.
The ITBP jawans walking with 40kg backpacks and heavy rifles heard out from us on why a frustrating city job requires a long break in mountains, and we got to hear from them on how badly they miss their families, the tasty home food and the luxuries of city life. They thanked us for the tasty homemade food provided by our team (obviously the credit goes to Kohinoor) and invited some of us for having Chole bature for dinner in Dumti campsite. We realized that walking the entire stretch of 14kms with ITBP is a tough row to hoe. With some handshakes to meet soon in Dumti, the forces moved ahead at a fast pace.
At regular intervals, Happy Negi ji kept reminding us to slow down as he felt all of us were going at a rapid pace. After some sauntering and enjoying our walk along the meandering paths, we stopped for our lunch a few minutes before the Dumti campsite.
Since the porters were behind, we had to wait for them to get past us with the tents. After reaching Dumti, we were told that the tea would be served only after offering prayers to the Karu Devta temple, about 2.5 ahead of the Dumti campsite. As the ritual goes, cooking in Dumti campsite starts only after offering the cooked prasad to the Karu Devta, and for years together, ITBP has been following the tradition introduced by the locals. Happy Negi ji, Baliga and few others went to the Karu Devta temple for the prayers as we settled down in the campsite.
Mild snow showers started as we were sipping the hot tea in our dining tent and we rushed back to our tents to give space for the porters and support staff in the dining tent. The snow continued for about an hour. When I came out of my single person tent at 7pm in the evening, a thin blanket of snow had covered the campsite and the views were amazing.
The conversations of the Pune group were the only sounds that could be heard in the silent and the peaceful Dumti campsite. With a long time left for dinner, I joined them for some intense card games. Abhinav, the master strategist was winning most of the games and he gave us little chance for us do work out our tricks. Finally, with Happy Negi ji calling us for our dinner, it was time to wrap up our game.
After a tasty dinner, Sonu Negi updated us that after two days of easy walk, we might be greeted with rocky terrain and some challenging river crossing the next day. It was evident from his briefing that some adventures were waiting for us on day 3.