*Disclaimer: The post is short (two parts) but the trek is not. It is one of those never-ending treks that happen once in a lifetime.*
“Where are my shoes? Did anybody see my shoes? And my woolen socks too, they too were stuffed in my shoes”, said a not-so-distraught Pandit G, my trek guru.
The remaining two in the group, myself and Rijul, immediately adopted a sarkari babu stance and refused having seen any shoes anywhere.
“We don’t have a guide. I don’t have shoes. Tarun, you don’t have any sleeping mat. Ideally that’s how we do Trans-Himalayan treks”, said Pandit G with a bemused look on his face.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Chamba. We are about to embark on a beautiful but taxing trek in the Pir Panjal Himalayas; the Darati Pass Trek (4700 meter / 15420 feet approx.) Hide your shoes, we are a pair short anyways.
Chamba, as I have said on numerous occasions, is a mystery. The last time I traveled to Chamba, I thought I had seen it all. But I was wrong. With every turn a new world opens up. This time we were to experience the magic of the Churah Valley.
The Curious Case of Lost Shoes – Day1
It was decided to travel grand on this occasion. The plan was ambitious; from Chamba to Lahaul (Darati Pass) to Zanskar (Poat La and Mun La) to Gulabgarh (Umasi La). We intended to cross five passes within a span of 15 days. As usual, the trek plan was formulated by Pandit G and we just followed all his instructions.
The journey was supposed to start from Chamba to Chanju at 1030 in the morning. But strange are the ways of HRTC, they change bus routes and schedules at will. The 1030 bus runs no more, which would have taken us directly to the Chanju Village where from the trek starts. Now we boarded a bus to Nakrod Village on the Chamba – Sach – Pangi State Highway. Nakrod is a small village just before Bairagarh on the Sach Pass Highway. A road branches off from here towards Chanju – Charada. Transportation for Chanju on weekdays is not a problem because sharing cabs run at frequent intervals.
The first leg of the journey requires traveling 56 KM on a well paved road until Nakrod. The second leg of the journey requires traveling approximately 15KM on an average road. At the diversion point, which is popularly called Zero Point, another road leads to the Chanju Village, which is 10 KM from the Zero Point. The last leg is bit risky because the road condition is very bad. One should be thankful to the PWD that they dared to construct a road in that region.
IMO, we should be thankful to the PWD in Himachal Pradesh because they have sacrificed many lives to give us road connectivity in the remotest regions of the state. We will have a separate post on it some other day.
We had already traveled 25 KM from Nakrod. This was a real surprise for all of us. There were villages, schools, and health centers even this far from the mainland Chamba. Finally after a long tiring journey of more than 5 hours from Chamba, we reached at Dantuin Village, the last village connected by road.
There is a Bhagwati Mandir at Dantuin populary known as ‘Maral Khundi Mandir’. There is a lake by the same name up in the mountains in the Mum Dhar ranges. Some call it ‘Chaurasi Ka Dal’ while the locals call it ‘Maral Khundi Lake’. Way to the Darati Pass and ‘Chaurasi Ka Dal’ converges at Dantuin Village where we stayed on the first night. The temple complex too has stay options but we got invited by a gentleman for night stay in the village.
There are inscriptions in Tankri Script at the temple. Actually, in the Chamba district Tankri is still seen at forts and temples. It is the only indigenous script that still breathes and I am thinking of working on it. There are a couple of guys in Himachal working on translating Tankri documents. More about it later.
It didn’t turn out to be a good night although. First it was mosquitoes that happily camped inside our sleeping bags and sucked gallons of blood. And then it was aftereffects of alcohol. The two brothers of the family that invited us had a real bad fight. They were slamming each other like trained WWE professionals and wanted to chokeslam each other. We didn’t enjoy this free of cost entertainment. The fight lasted a couple of hours and the elder brother won the Championship.
It rained the whole night as expected. It poured in the morning as well. The brotherly feud continued in the morning. In a nutshell, it was a pretty bad sight. A dark sky outside and fiery sparks inside. The man who had agreed to accompany us to the top of the pass refused too.
And our leader lost his shoes. Where? Nobody knows. We are yet to figure where we he misplaced his shoes. But there was no stopping him. He decided to go on with his floaters. And he did successfully cross the 4700 meters high pass. Shoes or no shoes, there is no stopping Pandit G.
It was raining and atop the pass there always is accumulated snow. Until now I have seen only gaddis’ or nepalis’ daring such an act. Walking on big boulders as huge as an elephant with just floaters on is certainly a superhuman act. Did I say that I gave him my woolen socks? Probably that made it easy for him. 😉
Even the shepherds we met later were surprised to see him walking like them. And we were next supposed to cross the mighty Trans Himalayan Passes; Poat La and Umasi La. Pandit G said he would buy rubber shoes at Pangi. Now that’s courage. I can’t even think of crossing any pass in those rubber shoes, let alone the snow laden Trans Himalayan Passes.
*Soon we will read about other misadventures of Pandit G in a separate blog post. High Time I write one about him.*
A Rainy walk from Dantuin to Gujjar Settlement – Day2
There was no guide. It was a wet – n – grassy trail where losing your way is not a big deal. But under the able guidance of our leader Mr. Pandit G we started our march. He has crossed many passes without any guide, so it was not a new experience for him. We were told that one can reach Tindi (Lahaul) on the same day by crossing the pass, if started early. Lahesh Cave was our target for day one. Little did we know that it was a far-fetched dream for lesser mortals like us. We lost our way twice. After walking six hours in faint drizzle, we managed to locate the settlement of Gujjars.
Unlike other passes, it is located on a fairly high altitude deprived of big grazing grounds. It is on a gentle slope with greenery all around but there are no vast grasslands which we were expecting to see.
We settled down at the Gujjar settlement. It was still raining. And we still didn’t have any one to guide us. The Gujjar’s offered to take us to the pass. First they asked for 500 each, then they kept on multiplying it with every passing hour. We decided to wait until the next morning. It rained the whole night.
And it continued to rain in the morning too. The Alyas/Lahesh Cave was close by, we were told but there was no point stepping out in the rain. Later in the evening, when we had given up all our hopes of moving out, we heard a familiar sound.
It was the sweet sound of a Gaddi’s whistle. Our guardian angels had finally arrived. They had taken permission at the Maral Khundi temple, which is called ‘langha’ (to pass) in pahadi language. And now we were following in their footsteps. A brisk walk of 45 minutes lead us to the Alyas/Lahesh Cave.
There was no cave as such. Not even a rock overhang fit for bivouacking. It’s just something very much in the open. There was a nalah (Darati Nalah) flowing close by, at 30 meters approximately. And it looked beautiful. Flash floods and landslides in 2012 had changed the course of this stream and subsequently the path to the top as well.
FYI, Gaddis’ from Churah and Lahaul call it Alyas and not Lahesh. Lahesh is used by the gadherans i.e. the gaddis’ of Kangra and Chamba. Those going from Chamba to Lahaul over the Pir Panjals are called Lahulesi. Sheep grazing in the Lahaul grasslands have distinct features than those grazing in Dhauladhar grasslands.
The weather was clear and the food we ate was delicious. We got to know that one of the gaddis’ in the group crossed the pass with a foreigner couple decades ago, probably in late 80s.
And then it started raining. Soon it became all noisy and although we were lying close to each other, we had to shout out to speak to each other.
“Don’t you think we should be moving out from here?”, said a visibly distraught Rijul.
And then the gaddis’ starting shouting. Something had terribly gone wrong.