I have just come back after spending close to month in the Himalayas and for me it was different from what most of the people would associate mountains up North with. Away from the hill stations with over priced hotels, expensive souvenir shops and the maddening crowds, I spent close to three weeks climbing the great mountains, having lunch at cliffs over looking the vast valleys, gazing at stars through clear skies, camping in orchards or lush green meadows and waking up to see the sunrays shooting into the skies from behind the snow capped peaks.
I was a part of Youth Hostel Association of India’s (YHAI) National Himalayan Trekking Expedition which aims to promote and encourage a love for nature and outdoors among the participants of the program. Saurkundi Pass and Saar Pass were the two treks under this program and each trek was a 11 day affair. With time on my side I decided to go for both and it was a memorable 3 weeks in the hills.
The first that I went to was Saurkundi Pass. The trail to this pass that lies at an altitude of 12900 feet ASL takes you through some of the most scenic walks in the PirPanjal range that lies in the Kullu Valley. The base camp for the same, where one reports and spends the first 3 days acclimatizing, attending rappeling & rock climbing sessions and getting to know fellow participants, is located at a small village called Babeli that lies 7 kms north of Kullu on the NH21. .
The base camp lies surrounded by mountains on all the sides and across the road flows the Beas river with numerous shops on its banks that offer rafting trips on the river.For most of the trek as one heads up the mountains and heads a bit north the Beas can be viewed during the hike or from the campsites for the day. Along the trail lie numerous streams, both big and small that would eventually make their way to the Beas that flow south after originating somewhere on the Rohtang Pass that lies up north.
The actual trek begins only on fourth day of this 11 day adventure. After a short bus ride from the base camp through twists and turns of NH 21, the trekkers alight on outskirts of a small village called Patli Kumul. The trek begins with a moderate climb with fields of wheat on both sides of the trail before leading onto the first village enroute called Badagram. As one crosses the village of Badagram one is welcomed by a dense forest of pine and deodhar and the sunrays have a hard time piercing the branches and leaves before they reach the earth. A hike up the forest leads to the lunch point with the vast Kullu valley for view. And a short hike from the lunch point leads you to your first campsite, though technically its actually a local’s home in the village of Segli.
The campsites, each one of them has a charm of their own but the best one for me was the next one Hora Thatch- Thatch meaning a meadow in the local language - which was the one that we headed to the next morning. Hora, though a meadow lies in a forest of pine and deodhar trees – found in abundance in Kullu valley. The next days walk was a fairly easy one and the views just kept getting better. But this was also the last of the days where a village or a hamlet lay enroute. The climb of almost 2000 feet was gradual for most of the part except for just before the campsite for the day when the pathways led straight up.
If the previous days trek seemed easier, the climb from Hora to Maylee was all the more so. The trek started a bit late than usual in the morning but no longer did we start we reached the lunch point. Lunch points throughout the trek are places that offer stunning views of beautiful landscapes. And lunch breaks are long enough for you to enjoy the views as well as catch in a bit of nap. A short walk from lunch point is the campsite for the day – Maylee thatch. One needs to descend down from usual trail knowing very well that one needs to climb up the same way next morning. But then if you know that the next morning the sun will rise beyond the Chanderkhani pass overlooking the valley, it will be well worth it. And all the more worth is the climb to Doura Thatch. Although the distance to the next campsite is not much the climb is pretty steep but well worth it. The vegetation has disappeared and lush green meadow makes an appearance with surrounded by peaks that over look the vast valley.
Doura is the last campsite before the climb to Saurkundi Pass and the descent there on.Except for the initial climb from the campsite, the ascent to Saurkundi Pass is not very steep. The trail slopes up very gradually before the giving way to to the vast plateau of Saurkundi that offers views of various mountain passes on all sides like the Chanderkhani pass to the east, Rohtang pass to the north.
It is just before the pass and here that one experiences walking in snow. However depending on the weather conditions at times one may expereince it even before or at times are faced with the prospect of walking in hard snow or ice rather than fresh and soft as one would want it to be.
The ascent of a thousand or so feet from the previous campsite that takes a few hours of tiring walk becomes well worth the efforts when one has to slide down the snow. One just needs to sit on the snow and give himself or herself a push and whhhooosshhh you have descended a few hundred feet down in a matter of a few seconds. Though exciting a prospect initially, as the slide ends the your butt freezes over and you cannot feel anything below your waist because of the numbing and chilling expereince you just had. Though you may have challenged your fellow trekkers to a snow fight during the first few days, here one would want nothing more than to reach the next campsite asap to change into a fresh set of dry clothes. Some of the brave ones though do not miss a chance to pelt others with balls of snow and the others seek revenge and fight back.
The descent leads to the campsite of Longa Thatch which is the penultimate campsite. Personally I did not find this campsite interesting as it was just a collection of cramped up tents put up close to each other in a small piece of flat land. Add to that the tiring day that the trekkers had leads them to have dinner and hit the sleeping bag early enough.
The descent continues the next day at a fairy relaxed pace where one spends close to 3 hours at the lunch point. And finally one again gets back to civilization for the first time after Segli. The campsite again is a local villager’s home offering views of the Kullu valley.
Its ironical that the final day of the trek is so uneventful. One gets closer and closer to civilization that has been enthusiastically avoided over the past week or so. A descent from Lekhni to the village of Parsha and finally to Alu ground where there is bus waiting to give us a ride back to base camp Babeli. There is excitement of course of successfully completing the trek but one also realized that the journey is over. For me though, I still had Saar Pass to look forward to. And off I went to Parvati valley where another adventure was awaiting…
PS : To see some more pics, check out my Facebook album here