Himachal Pradesh: Winter's trail

Himachal Pradesh: Winter's trail
DAY 1: His outline etched against that cloud-choked sky, Manu pauses a moment to catch his breath and smell the fragrance of flowers on the way to Lama Dugh (3,020m) from Manali. The gradient and thick undergrowth make the hike punishing even on the brigh, Photo Credit: Sankar Sridhar

The route to the Gaddi village of Bara Bangal is as treacherous as it is beautiful

Sankar Sridhar
December 05 , 2020
04 Min Read

Day 1: His outline etched against that cloud-choked sky, Manu pauses a moment to catch his breath and smell the fragrance of flowers on the way to Lama Dugh (3,020m) from Manali. While the gradient and thick undergrowth make the hike punishing even on the brightest day, the darkest hours are made bearable by blossoms that quilt the terrain.
Days 2-3: Too tired to graze and beaten back by armies of leeches at Lama Dugh, our mules resort to begging for food-rewarded in this instance with rice and Nutrela. The trail-less five-hour journey to Riyali Thach (3,435m) is not strenuous, so walking the Gaddi trail to Duppu (3,676m) the next day is an option that should not be passed up. A nameless section near Duppu offers a stunning landscape of bizarrely shaped boulders, some of which offer good shelter against rain.
Days 4-5: Worries about leeches and mud-slips and rivers in spate are replaced by concerns about the vulnerability to exposure, the possibility of finding fuel on the treeless slopes of Kalihani Base Camp and, most of all, the durability of the hollow ice on the Kalihani glacier (4,035m), where every step needs to be measured, every inch of ice tested.
Days 6-8: Manu makes the most of a sunny day to dry the clothes he is wearing. The trail from Devi ki Marhi to the Gaddi village of Bara Bangal (2,882m) takes in 84 ridges and is called, unimaginatively, Chaurasi Dhar. Thamsar pass (4,878m), a two-day walk from the village, offers its own set of problems, beginning with oversized boulders at the very approach to a bridgeless stream perpetually in spate. The only way to cross this is to roll up your pants and walk across the frigid waters.
Days 9-10: A score of stream-crossings and waterfall-negotiatings are some of the lesser adventures at the fag end of the trek to Rajgundha. In a 'normal' season, trekkers can jump over the streams and walk across waterfalls. But the route was so abused by the thousands of Gaddis' sheep this season that we were happy merely to find level ground at Billing, not to mention friendly villagers who were kind enough to make us dinner.

The information

Getting there
Start from Manali, which is well connected by buses and taxis from Delhi (570kms), Chandigarh and Kalka. There are flights to Bhuntar (50kms from Manali), the closest airport, on Air India (40 seater) (from Rs 5,268 ex-Delhi) every day. If you’re travelling by rail, you can get off at Ambala Cantt (from Rs 380 on 2A ex-Delhi), Chandigarh (from Rs 420 on CC) or Kiratpur Sahib (from Rs 574 on 2A) and take a taxi from there.

Air Nearest Airport Kullu-Manali Airport Bhuntar (50kms from Manali)

Air India Flight (40 seater) reaching everyday  to Bhuntar, the rates are dynamic (Rs 5,268)

Mon, Tues, Thur, Fri ; Delhi-Chandigarh-Bhuntar- 2hrs (Hopping Flight)

Sun, Wed, Sat-Delhi-Bhuntar -1hrs (Direct Flight)

Rail Shimla (350 kms)

Road
Bus from Delhi-Manali ; 570kms/13-14hrs (Rs 1,200), HRTC Buses Volvo (Rs 1,200-1,400)

Taxi from Delhi -Manali 570kms/11-12kms; (Rs 11,000)

Preparations
This is a strenuous trek, partially because this isn’t exactly a ‘pony route’. If you do find a horseman willing to risk his beasts, be prepared to help coax the mules up the final stretch of the passes, where they often sink chest-deep in snow.

The best month to walk this route is August, but for people who love snow, October through December will promise unrivalled adventure. The stout of heart could try mid-March, by when the worst winter storms stop, and the snow is hard enough to bear the weight of a man. A sturdy dome tent, sleeping bags that can keep you warm at –20°C and waterproof shoes are an absolute must.

It’s worth remembering, though, that this is a trek that is very demanding even in season and most usually steer clear of it. An entirely uninhabited stretch, save for Bara Bangal, which too is partially deserted, even a semblance of help will be impossible to find throughout the route. For those still intent on an attempt, stretching it over fifteen or sixteen days would be a safe bet.

The route
Kilometres never make sense on a trek, so distances are given in time.


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