Another feather in my growing cap of treks. With so much mountain available to climb, how can I say know whenever so many trails are begging to be trekked and explored. Trekking with guides and porters and all the rest have offered a great launching point for my own personal journey through nature getting lost and finding myself again as I have done time and time again. Although I likely will be sticking to home stays and tea houses this go around, I envision myself taking on the wilderness solo with all my necessities clinging to my back as I carve the wilderness.
Expecting the Unexpected in India Day 248-252: Hampta Pass Trek
Day 1: An Afternoon Stroll
After relaxing patiently with my full pot of chai masala at my side as a warm welcome to the morning, I went down to the planned meeting point for IndiaHikes at the main roundabout in New Manali. Even though I have grown to expect the Indian concept of time, it was getting too late for my liking and I began to wonder whether I had been left behind. Even though locals friendly and confused tried to divert me elsewhere where they believed I was supposed to be meeting my group, I held firm to where I probably should be. No worries as I met my trekking group, a batch of six Indians with me as the sole foreigner. Shoved into the sumo jeep we climbed up the long winding path composed of 40 plus back breaking, rocking turns to the starting point of our trek. Since the weather in Manali had been less than consistent, I wondered how soon we would encounter our first rainfall. The first day’s trek was a short two hour or so tramp through initial deep pine? forest, before it opened up to an inclining valley along the glacier sourced stream at our side. Despite having a stellar friendly group, I grew tired of the herd so a batch of seven hastened our pace. After setting up camp, I chose to carve my own path up the steep bushy rock since my energy wasn’t tamed by the walk in the park that led me here. In the chaotic world of travel especially when blessed to be entrenched in such a masterpiece drawn up by nature, I look for those quiet singular moments to look out at what my eyes have been blessed with that day to not only appreciate my surroundings but think of what else might inspire my latest thoughts and in turn writings. Although I didn’t rise to my initial destined spot, I can’t find too much fault in gaining any added second to stare intently at the curves, marks, and dimples of each steeply ridged mountain. Back at the camp infused with shitcakes provided by our porting steeds, we tried to fight the growing chill amidst a glowing night sky before hiding into the comforts of our tent for the night.
Day 2: Can We Get Much Higher?
The day began early as always with an unwanted wakeup call of five in the blessed morning. Along with the group, I trekked (duh) along the stream in and amongst the rocks high stepping and hopping to and fro while seeing a glorious double rainbow dispersing its light on the canvas of the accumulating flow of glacial water from above. Against my desperate wishes, we had to cross that cool chilled water in a linked formation. Although the chain kept each of us individuals from slipping and collapsing into the early morning rapids, it firmly planted me in the water as the bed of pins and needles below me struck my unaware tender nerves until the crossing became complete. After returning the sensation of touch, we continued on as before amongst the snow capped and carved peaks before reaching the second night’s camp. Even though today demanded more time clambering over the trail, I was too ambitious to leave the day as it were. I had to walk, climb, strive for more. At each camp I always scan the terrain for my chosen path to pursue and today was no exception. After exploring the nearby glacier forming a breakable bridge over the river with the rest of the group, I had to turn to my own fates. I climbed with Shiva for some time until my ambition and his back separated us from thence forth. I high stepped up the thick, tall grassy ridge destined to reach the top until rainfall and the slippery terrain impeded my path. As they say, the mountain lets you climb it without any input on your part. Still from my heightened locale, I gained my moment of peace before reclining down to ground level amongst my fellow trekkers. Even though I could be taken more as an outsider amongst these Hindi speaking Indians, we all enjoyed each other’s company and I tried to take advantage of a readily available source of know how in the realm of Indian history, culture, and language.
Day 3: Crossing the Hampta Pass
Today was the almighty, highlighted day that we all came here for to at last cross the Hampta Pass. Unfortunately two members of our brigade had to turn back due to sickness which lessened our number to a batch of five. With the almost constant view of snow encapsulated peaks streaming from side to side above the pass, we continued our climb over each glacial snow patch that stood before us as a slippery temptress but a break from the rocky foregrounds that became a theme much of the way. Once atop the Hampta Pass, I was ready for the change in terrain that had been much talked about from the green, lively, and wet Manali valley to the next awaiting us. On this solid thick land of white we made our turn and while doing so saw in our great fortune clear unperturbed views of some seemingly unassailable peaks that were likely kilometers beyond but stood perceptively within grasp at our status of 4200 plus meters above the unseen sea level. These mountains were jaggedly cut in miscast formations like a masterly tuned Swiss Army knife with random splotches of ice staying within reach of the glacier that had for ages held its prominence upon the ashy black rock. Along the way down on the somewhat steep cliff edge I couldn’t help myself from keeping a wandering eye on the mountainous landscape around me. Despite spending already quite a bit of time in the Indian Himalayas, the land has still kept me under its natural spell, a prisoner of Mother Nature’s calling. Even one of the peaks reminded me of the eye of Sauron in Mordor as a split twin peak with a stream of white slicing it in half at the top. Once firmly positioned on the floor level of this particular mountain valley after the slipperiness of the untainted ice, we continued our walk through the meadows of pink and rose framed by the U-shaped ridges at each of our sides. With our horses grazing amongst the varied shades of red and the mountains always standing tall as a tempting background, the picture and moment seemed too perfect, well worth freezing in time if such an option were possible. Although I stood on the rolling greenery, the stark chill white willed to another stratosphere felt so near and not just thanks to the unrelenting wind that cut through our campsite. I had time to do my typical additional trekking but the steep loose rock and soot that formed the edges of the valley kept me caged to the tent but even so I couldn’t stop myself from sneaking a peak here and there to look longingly at what nature so perfectly yet unpredictability drew up. The time in the tent among other struck up conversations upon the trail weren’t all for not. Besides perfecting my Indian wobbling head nod that I didn’t plan on purpose but rather arose by nature, I gained some insight into various Indian curiosities of mine such as how so many Indians know at least three languages, how Indians tend to mince English with Hindi seamlessly forming a unique urban Hindi, the different village focused pilgrimages dedicated to various Hindu gods, and most importantly or rather incredulously to my own previous assumptions, the imprint the British has left on India still after all these years. I didn’t know that India is the country that it is today because of the British colonization period. Several of the individual states were perfectly willing and content to form their own countries and with so many empires including the Mughals having their hand in India the idea of a unified subcontinent seemed like a farce. To keep their business interests in line, they needed all parties to be on the same page to be more capable of being controlled. In a sense India is like Europe with various languages, cultures, religions, and identities sometimes standing in opposition of one another. Also the British implementation of the railway opposed Gandhi’s beliefs. With an easily accessible railway, it ruined he and his followers concept of the religious pilgrimage that can bring one closer to nirvana. I also had to ask my usual inquiry into the Pakistan/Indian hostility including the added topic involving Kashmir that once again went back to the British in some respects after the independence of India. For dinner we ate well as always with the standbys of chapati/roti, dal, and rice amongst the other accompaniments such as subzi, which is Hindi basically for mixed veg. Before going to sleep, I stood for a moment to appreciate the Milky Way above me as well as the many dead stars that shined brightly in this confusing light year gap between us until a shooting star that disappeared behind one peak to call an end to this night.
Day 4: Not Until Hell Freezes Over / Chandertal Lake
This fateful morning may have brought the conclusion of the Hampta Pass trek with a planned eased descent to our camp for Chandertal Lake but it didn’t end or should I should begin with a whimper although that may have likely happened as well. Despite the confusion of what I just wrote, we were starting the day by crossing a glacially chilled river before the sun had even bothered shed a speck of light upon our already shaking bodies. I tried to get my singing voice in tune ready for the width of this river that stood frighteningly wider than any other I had crossed before. My singsong turned into a blithering mess of a hum intermixed with my conscious need to shout out expletives and other animal-like sounds no human could persuade into a coherent translation. This water was and still is bone chillingly cold. Every nerve of my feet and the lower half of my legs felt as though they had been dropped into a tank of needles and the tiniest, sharpest shards of glass before dropping into the depths of sensitive numbness. Not only did we rock as a unified chained unite as the rippling rapids tempted our entrance into the frozen embrace of its waters but the damn thing never seemed to end. Easily one of the most painful physical experiences right up there with some of the scars on my motorbike trip and it didn’t even end when we reached shore. On land once more, I began bouncing like a jackrabbit trying to leap myself out of the pain shuffling this way and that and pounding my ghost white feet into the comparatively warm wet ground hoping to shock them back to life. Thankfully Ankit our main trekking guide brought a bottle of warm warm with him to pour upon our lifeless feet. Still I acted like a man thrown atop a bed of hot coals skipping, dancing, acting like a cartoon character all in an effort to regain consciousness in my toes and feet. Still in the midst of chill and pain, we put on our shoes and began walking with the initial need not to be to complete the trek but to simply get that damn blood flowing again. The rest of the trek was easy with the only hiccup being a minor case of the Delhi belly that pulled me behind hidden boulders more times than my body would have preferred. We kept chatting as we always had and with Ankit we bonded over our shared experiences of pulling away from the white collar corporate culture that seemed mandatory at the time during those mind f$&@ing moments until the light had finally been shed upon us and we answered its call. After a pit stop at our camp in the tiny village of Chattru where we were brought back together with our two fellow trekkers that had to turn back the day before, we took a loooong bumpy, rocky ride to Chandertal Lake. In my chosen window seat, I got grand views along the way that reminded me of a slightly greener version of Ladakh with mountains and peaks none overly tall but held their promise with their confused features that cut designs of their device. While the sumo jeep shook us like a demon washing machine, I looked out entranced with no other care or thought in the world that could distract from sights like this. After we passed over this road that at times melded into a river, a road practically built on rocks and water, we reached Chandertal Lake. Chandertal Lake is my substitution for missing out on Pangong Tso Lake near Leh. Although it is nowhere near as big, it gave me that feel with crystal emerald aquamarine blue knocked dead cold with a background of light brown, blondish dirt and rock mountains held behind it. The contrast between the blue and blond made it what it was but a mountain not even frame behind any awestruck onlooker of the lake sprouted from the CB range was one of the most beautiful peaks I had seen forming an almost too perfect converging tip that had a blanket of white draped over it. After taking Bollywood worthy photographs of the gemlike lake and exploring more heightened advantageous views of the peak, we rode back to our camp and what a pain it was especially with eight of us not including the driver crammed in tight without the slightest space to call our own. Along the way we had to help a couple of cars loosen themselves from the grips of the river scarred road. When we finally reached camp, it was a relief to finally loosen myself from the cramped enclosure of the vehicle. After some more chitchat and delicious food including a northern favorite dessert of sweetened shaved carrots, we all went to sleep as this last official night of the trek and in the tents.
Day 5: Back to Manali
After eating breakfast of puri puffed and deep fried bread (God I am in love) and channa dal and tidying up the campsite, we left for Manali but that departure came to a rushed stoppage when our vehicle overheated and couldn’t come back to life upon several at times that involving rolling and pushing the vehicle back and forth. After switching vehicles so that us trekkers could get on the road, I found myself in the backseat squeezed like a straight jacket between Dhiresh and the pile of most of our backpacks. This sucked to begin with but when we rocking and get thrown multiple times side to side and in the air I couldn’t wait any longer to be back in Manali. The winding beaten road continued to and over the Rohtang Pass where we fought through a endless hovering cloud of fog to get to the Manali valley and finally Manali itself. After saying our goodbyes, I got my bus ticket out for the following morning to Shimla and walked through the blissful nature park hidden away from all the noisy chaos of Manali to Old Manali where I took advantage of wifi and my chance to catch up on some good writing.