The Divine Valley Trail
Duration: 8 days | Level: moderate
Had it not been for the wind-blown ridges of the Chandrakhani pass, there would have been no ‘valley of the gods’ in Himachal Pradesh. Local lore has it that when the great god Jamlu was passing through Chandrakhani, with all the minor devtas packed in a sack, a fierce wind blew open the fastenings and the devtas were scattered all over the Kullu valley.
The pass itself is a vast windswept ridgeline, with cairns dotting its length and panoramic views enfolding it. The snow-capped peaks of the Pir Panjal range and the Ghalpo peaks of Lahaul stand to the north of the pass and, to the south, the hills roll away like dunes all the way to Shimla.
A steep descent leads from the Chandrakhani pass to the quaint — and rather isolated — Malana village, with its famously reserved cultural practices (and its world-renowned hashish). The upper Malana valley is worth the five-day foray to see the hanging glaciers of the valley, which give rise to the feisty Malana River. Exit via the Rashol pass into Kashol and further into the Parvati valley. End the trek with a refreshing bath in the hot springs here.
Route from Delhi: Take the Manali highway and, from Patlikul (20km before Manali), turn into the diversion to Naggar (9km). Book into a hotel here.
DAY 1: Drive to Rumtsu (10km) and trek to Stilgan; 3hrs
DAY 2: Stilgan-Nayatapru (at the base of the pass); 6hrs
DAY 3: Chandrakhani pass-Nagaruni; 5hrs
DAY 4: Nagaruni-Bara Grahan; 6hrs
DAY 5: Bara Grahan-Kiksa Thach; 6hrs, from where you can walk up to the hanging glaciers of Malana
DAYS 6 & 7: Descend to Malana via Dadru village
DAY 8: Descend to Malana nullah (2hrs) from where you are on the road to Jari (11km). Your tour operator will arrange a taxi to pick you up from here. Do-it-yourself trekkers can hitch a ride on any of the dam-site vehicles that pass through this road.
Tour Operator: Try the Himalayan Environment and Adventure Trek programme run by Holiday Moods Adventures (Ph no. 9810413144, www.holidaymoods.net).
The Barren Splendour Trek
Duration: 12 days | Level: tough
You could do the spectacular Chandratal to Baralachala trek in just five days, but it would be a shame not to pull in the picturesque Hampta pass into your itinerary. This will also take care of acclimatisation issues, which are very likely to plague you on the shorter trek. It takes three days to leave behind the lushness of Manali and cross over the Hampta pass into Lahaul, but the effort is worth every bit of it for the incredible campsites and views along the way, including glimpses of the Indrasan and Deo Tibba and the Tokru-Shakru peaks. The Chandra river remains a constant companion up until Batal, from where on a steep hike leads you to Chandratal — an awe-inspiring lake with meadows and views that command a rest day.
Beyond Chandratal, the trek follows the trail of the Gaddi shepherds, on which wildflowers and streams provide cheerful contrast to the dun-coloured scenery. The feisty rivers of Tokpo Yongma and Tokpo Gongma need to be forded next, and then begins the final ascent to Baralachala (4,892m), the ‘crossroads pass’. It’s called that because this is where routes from Lahaul, Spiti and Ladakh join up on top with the mountains and fluttering prayer flags providing an impressive backdrop. Surajtal, a little below the pass, which is the source of the Bhaga river, is the ideal spot for your last camp.
Route: Drive from Delhi to Manali (530km) and book into a hotel there.
DAY 1: Manali-Pandu Ropa; 5hrs
DAY 2: Pandu Ropa-Juara; 5hrs
DAY 3: Juara-Shea Gohru; 7hrs over Hampta pass (4,275m)
DAY 4: Shea Gohru-Chatru; 4hrs
DAY 5: Chhatru-Chhota Dhara; 5hrs
DAY 6: Chhota Dhara-Batal; 6hrs
DAY 7: Batal-Chandratal (4,270m); 8hrs
DAY 8: Rest at Chandratal
DAY 9: Chandratal-Topko Gongma; 7hrs
DAY 10: Topko Gongma-Topko Yongma; 6hrs
DAY 11: Topko Yongma to Baralachala (4,892m) and then onward to Surajtal; 6hrs
DAY 12: Surajtal-Manali
Tour Operator: Planet Himalaya Travel and Adventure, Manali (Ph no.9816056115, www.planethimalaya.in) organises the Hampta-Baralachala trek for 10 people at Rs 29,000 (approx) per person and a luxury trek for five people at Rs 33,000 (approx) per person.
Tosh-Sara Umga Pass
The Glacier Watch Walk
Duration: 8 days | Level: tough
Every year, the Tosh valley attracts mountaineering teams set on climbing Papsura (6,451m) and Dharmsura (6,466m), Kullu’s highest peaks. Also nestled here is the beautiful Sara Umga pass (4,900m), which dips into the Lahaul valley beyond. This offbeat trek route rises up from the green dales of the Tosh valley and crosses over into the wilful wakes of Lahaul. Sara Umga has some of the best views of both valleys.
The trail meanders along the flanks of the raging Tosh River through pine forests, continuing over meadows and rhododendron clusters to the high altitude meadow and campsite at Sharam Thach on day three of the trek. Higher up is Shamshi Thach, set in a little bowl at the base of the valley. To the north is the Tosh glacier, to the east the massive face of the Kullu Makalu peak and glacier. The pass itself is a tough hike but the views of central Lahaul and the many impressive six-thousanders of the Chandra Bhaga range will make up for all the exhaustion. On crossing the pass, you are greeted by the sight of the Bara Shingri, Asia’s second largest glacier. We recommend that you spend an exploratory day at Shamshi Thach and hike up to the snout of the Tosh glacier (4,300m).
Route: Travel from Delhi to Bhuntar (470km) on the Manali highway and carry on to Barsheini (80km), which has several small hotels.
DAY 1: Barsheini-Tosh; 4hrs
DAY 2: Tosh-Buddhaban (3,020m); 4hrs
DAY 3: Buddhaban-Sharam Thach (3,505m); 7hrs
DAY 4: Sharam Thach to Shamshi Thach (3,800m); 5hrs (optional: exploratory day at Shamshi Thach; 5-6hrs)
DAY 5: Shamshi Thach-Kuta Thach (4,100m); 4hrs
DAY 6: Kuta Thach-Sara Umga pass (4,900m) and onward to Putiruni (3,800m); 8hrs
DAY 7: Putiruni-Chattru; 6hrs
DAY 8: Chattru-Manali by road (126km)
Tour Operator: Above 14000ft (Ph no. 9816544803, www.above14000ft.com) is an excellent adventure travel company offering many offbeat and unique treks, as well as popular trails, in Himachal and Ladakh. The Sara Umga pass trek, for a minimum group of five, costs Rs 32,000 per person.
Indrahar Pass Trek
The Gaddi Shepherds Trail
Duration : 5 days | Level: tough
The mighty Dhauladhar range contrives to cloister Chamba and Kangra districts, so they remain the exclusive homeland of the Gaddi shepherds. The Gaddis are familiar with every track, ravine and gorge in the Dhauladhar region and make for excellent guides. It is only fair then that the trails across this range are declared open for trekkers only after the Gaddis are done crossing over from the Kangra side into their summer grazing pastures of Chamba, Pangi and Lahaul.
The Indrahar pass (4,350m) trek in this region is a tough but surmountable gem. Triund, a ridge that lies at the start of this trek, is a beautiful camping place with panoramic views of the Shivalik hills and the plains of Punjab. To the north are visible the Mun, Slab, Rifle’s Horn, Arthur’s Seat peaks and more. In winter, Triund’s vast and rolling ridge makes for great skiing.
The climb to the pass is hectic but provides ample compensation with its views of the Manimahesh range, especially the Manimahesh Kailash. A steep descent from the pass leads to Kwarsi — a beautiful Gaddi village perched on a steep slope surrounded by thickly wooded pines. Bharmour, the temple town in Chamba, is not too far and if you are sufficiently upbeat, you could take another beautiful four-day hike to the Manimahesh Lake, said to be the abode of Shiva, the reigning deity of the Gaddis of Gaddehran.
Note: The passes of the Dhauladhar are accessible from June until November, subject to snow conditions. The snow base at the pass is particularly slippery in May and June.
Route: Travel from Delhi to McLeodganj.
DAY 1: Dharamkot-Triund (3,975m); 4hrs
DAY 2: Triund-Lahesh cave (3,500m); 4.5hrs
DAY 3: Lahesh cave-Chhata Parao via Indrahar pass (3,700m); 5.5hrs
DAY 4: Chhata Parao-Kwarsi (2,750m); 6hrs
DAY 5: Kwarsi-Lamu, 4.5hrs to roadhead; Lamu-Holi, 10km by jeep; Holi-Kharamukh, 24km. You can hitch a ride with local taxis till Kharamukh, which is on the highway. From there, you’ll get plenty of buses and local cabs.
Tour Operator: Akash Adventures & Tours in McLeodganj (Ph.no. 9418032495, www.akashadventures.com) organises treks on this route for Rs 1,800-3,000 (approx) per day.
The Dak Route
Duration: 5 days | Level: easy
A ruined fort sits high to the west of the Jalori pass (3,223m). Believed to be the secret pleasure palace of a former king of Mandi, the views from the fort and pass are spectacular. Another trail from this pass veers towards the Serolsar Lake, situated in a bowl of this ridge with an old pagoda-style temple standing regally above the rim. In days of yore, the postman took this route to deliver post to the villages of Outer Seraj, giving it the name ‘dak trail’.
The trail ends at Kullu Sarahan, where you can enjoy a relaxed day by the river. But don’t end the trek here. Take the trail going up to the less-visited Bashleo pass (3,277m), a short, if steep, hike through dense forest. The pass throws open views of the grand Shrikhand Mahadev range and the lush Tirthan valley below. Stop at Gushaini, where you can stay at Raju’s ivy-clad cottage (Rs 1,000 approx. per person, per day, including meals; Ph.no. 01903-225008, 9418149808). Just the idyllic end that this lovely walk needs.
This sparsely populated region’s unique features include its biodiversity, the fact that there’s little tourist traffic here and its local economy, which is based on traditional livelihoods. It is ideal for a family getaway trek. Open April-June and September-November.
Route: Travel from Delhi to Shimla (360km) and then to Shoja (213km). At Shoja, you can stay at Banjara Retreat (Rs 4,400 approx. per couple, per night; Ph. no. 9910345220, www.banjaracamps.com), which has both old-style wooden houses as well as newer huts. On the way back, you can drive back from Gushaini to Delhi on the Manali highway.
DAY 1: Stay at Shoja and walk to the fort. This will help with acclimatisation.
DAY 2: Jalori pass-Serolsar lake; 2.5hrs
DAY 3: Serolsar lake-Deem; 4hrs
DAY 4: Deem-Tarla; 3hrs
DAY 5: Tarla-Kullu Sarahan; 8hrs
DAY 6: Kullu Sarahan-Bathad over Bashleo pass; 5.5hrs. From here, drive to Gushaini (19km).
Tour Operator: You can arrange your own guide from Shoja (Rs 300 approx. per day) or ask Banjara Camps to organise a sahib-style trek for you at Rs 2,500 approx. per person per day.