Friday, 19 September 2014

Trek on the Hampta Pass

At least sometimes you should listen to your inner voice. I could hear a voice inside me telling me to go to Himalayas. Sometime during the last week of July I happened to hear from 3 of my friends around me speaking about trekking in Hampta pass in the Himalayan range.  I decided to check the trekking organizers and found that there were plenty and among them Great India Outdoors (GIO) was one of the best. I felt like Himalayas was calling me and didn't want to miss that call. After consultation (permission) with the family  decided  to sign up  for the  Hampta pass trek, I  thought it would be better if some of friends accompany me, sent invites  to many, got the spontaneous response of YES from Senthil among the Chennai friends...  After some thought I called one of my best friends Srinivasan AKA Vasan, my friend from my schooling days now living in Mumbai. With all excitement narrated him about the likely experience of Himalayas and sort of got his buy in ... He also had to consult (permission) his family before a concrete yes.... So it was Srinivasan, Senthil & Sairam the three musketeers (mosquitoes) who were the destined three to take the Himalayan trekking experience head on... After all the formalities we signed up with GIO and From the time we signed up for the Hampta Pass trek, the excitement caught on to us..We formed a whatsaap group named “SSS Himalayan adventure. We had series of con calls to make a check list of purchases to be made for the trek and also what to carry and what not. 

The days of the trek were between 24th August to 28th August. With the day of trek nearing the adrenalin levels were high and we were like school kids anticipating the trek date. Landed in Chandigarh on the 23rd afternoon, took a cab To Manali ferried by the daredevil driver Gopal, who took the fear of mountains out of us. The journey was tedious but the excitement of Himalayas experience had overtaken the tiredness. Checked in a hotel Snow Valley View to comfortable overnight stay... 

24th morning like eager school kids got up at 5.30 am, got ready with our trekking gear, clicked photographs chugged out way to Manali old bus stand the meeting point of our trek guides.  To our amusement we found only us and few hawkers who looked us like as if we are aliens descended from mountains.  After few calls to the GIO guides we figured out that the trek would start only at  To kill the time we decided to spend time by the side of the huge river Beas. Had our breakfast by the river side and visited the famous Hadimba Temple. Hadimba temple apart from other reasons is also famous because the super hit film Roja was shot here.. Clicked few photographs there and came down to the meeting point. 

To our relief we could find the trek group along with few fellow Trekkers sheepishly walking down from their hotel. After a quick introduction with the trek guides we were ushered into a waiting Tata Sumo, the drive was for about 45 minutes. We were dropped near a stream and were instructed to fill up our water bottles with the water from the stream. That was the start of the new way of life to begin for the next 5 days. With much hesitation and only after assurance from the GIO guides we filled up water in our bottles. Got introduced with the fellow Trekkers and to our surprise almost all of them were from Southern India. We were 14 of us formed into group of 2, with me, Vasan, Senthil and other two in a group. Our trek guide was Kushal and Govind. Our Himalayan Trekking journey started here.

Day 1

Like school boys in a picnic we kept following our guides enthusiastically not knowing that we haven't tied our trek shoes laces the way it should be and the trekking bag hanging in imbalance ..    
With their help it was set right and we could find a great difference in the way we started trekking.  After climbing few meters up, it was a stop for photos, with all of us standing up in a rock as if we have climbed up the Everest?   During the break we were told that how important is it to keep hydrating while trekking and also the way should position our shoes while ascending and descending. The Day 1 trek though not very tough we kept asking how much time left to reach our base camp. After 2 odd hours and after crossing a stream we could sight our support team basing the tents.  The place of resting for Day 1 was called CHIKKA.The tenting site was close to a gushing stream; the surroundings were beautiful with a small hillock in the middle and waterfalls in the near vicinity.  After reaching the base we were served with Hot Tea followed by Tasty Maggi.  

We rested our bags and got into the tents allotted for us. Senthil pulled us all to the waterfalls for a photo session which was the icebreaker for the whole group. Followed up with a game of cards which took the team bonding to the next level, post dinner we had a formal introduction session over a bonfire.  Apart from me Vasan and Senthil, we had Bharat, Ashrita and Sushma from Bangalore, Pruthvi and Karthik from Hyderabad, Yashwant and Sabrina the newly married couple from US, Elam, Thyagu and Parthiban from Chennai and Surjit from Gurgaon. Surjit had a bad fall during the trek and had sprained his ankle badly, he was limping all through, and we were worried whether he would be able to walk the next day. But for me, Vasan and Surjit all the others were youngsters in their early and late twenties.  From the bonfire moment the group got together like a house of fire.  

On the first day the tents for 2 groups we on the either side of the stream, we requested Govind that we would want to do this trek as one group.  The debriefing for the next day was by Prasanth another veteran trekker guide from GIO.  We were told to get ready by 7 am the next morning for a slightly intense trek lasting 5 to 6 hrs..  Sleep was in the tent which obviously was uncomfortable as it was the first time. Some of us had hallucination of bears chasing us and snakes Sliding into our sleeping bags.... The weather would have been around 5 to 6 degrees...


Woke up at 5.30 am to the sound of the stream and cold breeze caressing the face. Started the day with Surya Namaskar and Pranayama which got the body and mind ready for the trek, Senthil the bravo took a dip on the ice cold stream which made me shiver. Post breakfast we were briefed about the day's plan. We were told that we would have to trek approx. for 5 hrs to reach the camping site.  Stared as one group with Prasanth leading, and swept by Govind and Kushal. To our surprise Surjit was all set for the day's trek in spite of his sprained ankle...  Unlike the previous day the terrain was bit difficult and strenuous to climb. In between we had to cross a stream barefoot which was tough, the water was Ice cold which means crossing the stream was an effort in itself.    
The feet become numb after the crossing which means you get 10 mts of time to wear your shoes back. In between we ate our packed lunch and in 4 odd hours from the start we reached the camping site. Again a lovely locale beside a stream, surrounded by a mountain covered with snow. This place was extremely cold even during the day. The place of the camping site was "CHOTA BALU KA GHERA".   After stretching and resting all of us went to the nearby glacier for a photo session. We played a lovely game of Dumb Charades followed by Antaakshari.     Retired to bed at 8 pm, I couldn't sleep peacefully because of the uneven surface and cold weather.


Woke up to the lovely sight of glaciers in a huge mountain named “INDRASEN". It has a cone like structure at the top resembling like a Shivlinga.  It was an extremely cold and windy morning. It was a very calm morning with all our friends coming out of their tents with a calm demeanor and a wry smile. May be that was an indication of how the day was going to pan out. Prasanth briefed us that we would cross Hampta Pass today and it would take 5'hrs to cross the pass and 2 hrs descend to SHERU KA GHERA. All of us were excited that we would today scale 4300 meters altitude which is the highest point we would be reaching in this trek.  All our ace photographers were checking their cameras for the battery charge, so as to not to miss capturing the Hampta Pass crossing moment....  The journey to Hampta pass started at 8 am with Bharat, Senthil, Ashrita, Sabrina, Yashwant and myself leading the pack. Whilst all of us were covered with winter clothing from top to bottom, Bharat the Eskimo was in his shorts braving the cold, he was galloping ahead of us like an obsessed race horse. If our guide Prasanth was a Spider man, Bharat was Spider man 2.  Like the previous day we carried packed lunch which had apple, frooti and couple of chapattis. .. 

After an hour or so of trek, Ashrita experienced cramps in her stomach, and was unable to move... Prasanth like a trained doctor concocted some liquids from his bag, after consuming the magic potion Ashrita was on back on her feet again.  We started our journey after a break, I was feeling difficult to breathe after a certain altitude and was gasping for breath, and I could see Sabrina panting in rhythm with me.  After a while we reached near an ascent covered completely with ice.... The surface was very slippery; Prasanth pulled me through the surface with one helping hand with Ashrita in other... It was like a walk in the park for Yashwant and Senthil. I couldn't see any sign of difficulty in their faces. In fact Yashwant was carrying Sabrina's bag in addition to his... Karthik like a monk was chugging forward using his trekking pole like the skiing rod... Elam and Thyagu were keeping us in splits by playing pranks with each other. Sushma was thoroughly enjoying this.
In fact I thought she raced her way forward to hear these guys pull each other legs.  Surjit was slowly inching his way up the pass along with me without showing any trace of pain ... After 4 hours of trek we sighted Hampta pass.. It was a mountain top covered with Ice. Prasanth pushed us to walk fast as there was a possibility of a White Out. White out is clouds engulfing the mountain resulting in rain or snow fall, we could witness white out nearing us, and walked in a hurry... In this hurry many of us didn't realize that we have actually crossed Hampta Pass. At least I didn't realize it till the time Senthil told me that we have actually crossed it.  As Prasanth predicted it started raining, he ushered us into a cave in an ascent which looked dangerous to climb. I was tired, hungry and sleepy. All of these at the same time. Had an apple and slept in sitting position holding Elam's leg tightly so as not to fall.  Yashwant and Karthik literally crept their way to our cave. After 30 minutes we were ready to descent to SHERU KA GHERA.  Heard from Prasanth that our amazing Spider-Man Bharat had reached the camping site along with the other support staff by 2 pm.  I couldn't believe it cos we were yet to cross Hampta pass by then.  I thought Bharat would have rolled his way down to reach that early. Jokes apart it was an amazing feat to have reached in 5 hrs time.

The descent looked more treacherous than the ascent. I and Surjit were scared to even look down; it was steep and slippery with loose rocks... Prasanth like a Tarzan was jumping from our rock to another with Ashrita. This sight made me more scared and I was praying to all the gods that I should reach the base without any fall or injury. Before my prayers could reach the god, I stepped on a rolling rock and was tumbling down; Prasanth the savior held me tightly and steadied me. I thanked my stars gulped some water and resumed my downward journey...  Though it looked like the plains were in near vicinity, it took a long time to reach. To our dismay our camping site was at least 2 kms from the mountain base.. I walked to our camping site like Will Smith in the movie Independence Day (in the climax scene) dragging my trekking pole. Our camping site wore a deserted look with no one outside.  I peeped into the kitchen tent to find Ashrita and Prasanth. Was offered a tea which gave some energy to tell them the I was having a splitting headache.  The headache you experience sometimes could be because of Altitude Sickness... I returned to my tent popped up a pill and was trying to sleep. The cook offered hot pasta which was yummy. Senthil was also experiencing Altitude sickness.  Both of us had Garlic with hot water which is the medicine for this.  After a while Vasan walked into the tent with anger masking the tiredness. He was upset with the way Prasanth had pushed us, leaving behind few. He was more upset because Parthiban was unable to walk and literally had to be carried to the tent.  The evening was uneasily calm with all of us confining ourselves to the tent, with niggles, pain and tiredness.  Assembled for dinner around 8, with no energy to eat. Post dinner immediately retired to our tents.

In the tent I was just mulling through the happenings of the day in my mind and was feeling happy of having achieved something... This was one of the challenging moments I have experienced in my life. It was a challenge for physical and mental endurance... The weather was punishing with scorching sun in the morning and cold winds in the afternoon, was finding it difficult to breathe in the altitude, rain made it worse, with the wet ground being slippery  Unrelenting Ascent of 60 degrees, treacherous descent ,Slippery glaciers and the long walk to the tent.. Oh god, I would never forget this day in my life... This day had taught me many lessons.  Interestingly apart from my own experience I learnt valuable management lessons from my trek friends. To narrate a few:

When Sabrina was finding it difficult to breathe Yashwant carried her trekking bag and moved on...  He took the task off her which she was finding it difficult to complete so that she could complete the other task of trekking with ease. At the same time he with utmost confidence in her moved on without pampering her being with her or guiding her.

Surjit in spite of his sprained ankle which happened on Day 1 continued the trek with great determination and grit... Looking at him trekking without showing signs of giving up was a great motivation for all of us... I personally took lot of inspiration from him.

Senthil: He was the glue for the entire group. But for him this group would have not come together like the way it did... He made everyone comfortable and was ever ready to help....

Bharat the inspirer was the one leading us all the way every day. His energy was infectious...

Vasan: Can I call him the yoga guru. Yoga was just one of the many things he taught. His sense of calmness brought serenity to the entire group....

Everyone had something in them, which was learning for me.
I slept like a log that night without any hallucination or disturbance....


The day dawned brightly with sun showing its face from behind the mountains...  The day’s trek was scheduled to begin at 9 am; hence all of us were lazing around chatting about the previous day's experience. Like other days the camping site was a scenic beauty with a lengthy stream following majestically nearby.  We made it clear to the guides that all of us would trek together irrespective of the time it would take without leaving anybody behind...  From SHERU KA GHERA we have to descend to place called CHATRU which is at 3300 meters altitude. The trek would be for 3 odd hours.  Though it sounded easy, the major hurdle was to cross the stream which was at least 20 mts in length. Crossing it barefoot was a challenge as the water was extremely cold. Our own Tarzan tried to make it look easy by crossing it. We crossed the stream as a group holding each other's hand...  The feet became numb and cold, got back to normalcy after generously applying tiger balm in the feet.
This descent was also steep and rocky. We were trekking through Spiti valley which is dry with no vegetation.  After an hour off descent we could sight a road and some vehicles... This was the first sight of civilization after 3 days...  After resting in a hillock we crossed a stream again, luckily this time there was a makeshift bridge to cross the stream.  After 30 minutes of trek we encountered a steep climb and descent which again looked treacherous.  Our Tarzan, not to waste time and to be ahead of the rival trekking group guided us through a slippery glacier which was an experience..  He did this with finesse and made it look easily.  We reached our camping site CHATRU to be greeted with aromatic smell of Biryani made by our cooks.

Like the other days the camping site was near a stream or can I call it a river, the water was gushing fast at a speed of Rapid 1. After Biryani we were ushered in waiting Tata Sumo to proceed to Chandra Tal. A lake which is at 4600 meters altitude.  The literal translation of Chandra Tal is Moon Lake. The drive to the lake took 4 hours in a road which didn't exist... In between we stopped in a place named BAATAL which had a STD booth run by an elderly couple... This was the first time we could contact our family after 4 days. Spoke to my wife, mutually relieved to know both sides are fine...

Chandra Tal was like a paradise in earth. The water was pristine and the surroundings were breathtaking. The lake was surrounded by mountains and the place was extremely windy.  Spend time in clicking pics and some of us showcased our aerobatic skills to pose photographs. Reached the campsite back at 8 pm. This was the last night of camping so we decided to spend as much time possible together. Senthil our cheer leader suggested that we share our experience of the trek .This was a moment of taking the bonding to the next level... I could feel the energy of the entire group and some of us were very emotional while sharing the experience. Vowed that we would stay in touch and possibly explore a trek next year in the same group. Retired to bed at 10 pm. I was emotional and recollecting the 4 days of trekking experience, didn’t know when I slept 

Day 5..

Woke up to the greeting from Vasan, wishing me Happy Birthday.  This is the first time in many years I am away from my family on my Birthday.  I was missing my family, but was more than compensated with the lovely people around wishing me with genuine love.  Pleasantly surprised to find a cake (made of Suji Aaata) was organized, had fun cutting the cake and shaking legs for Lungi dance. It would be an unforgettable birthday for me for many reasons. It was a bliss to celebrate this day in Himalayas ... I couldn't have asked for more.

After breakfast we proceed to Manali by road.  The road to Manali was very well laid, with the army maintaining it. The roads in this part of the country is built and maintained by Border Road Organization (BRO). Briefly stopped at Rohtang pass to click pictures and have Corn.  From this place on we felt like we are back in the mundane of routine... Reached Manali at 2 pm. Had lunch with all the folks for one last time. Bid goodbye and boarded the cab to Chandigarh. I think we were destined to have bad drivers during this trip. Comparing to the driver who drove us back to Chandigarh, Gopal the driver who drove us to Manali was better.  It was like a choice between Devil and Deep Sea.   Reached Chandigarh at 2.30 am on 29th morning. Stayed at a hotel in Chandigarh. Breakfast at Pal Dhaba was the best way to begin the morning... Our flight back to Chennai was via Mumbai. We boarded the flight like superstars to find Dharmendra the erstwhile superstar in the same flight.... Landed in Chennai at 6 pm to be greeted by my wife and sons....

Every moment of those 5 days were special. Cannot single out one moment though. My bonding with Vasan became stronger. My admiration for Senthil grew multifold... Surjit, Yashwant, Sabrina, Ashrita, Sushma, Bharat, Pruthvi, Karthik, Elam, Thyagu and Paarthi are no more mere Acquaintances, they are friends for life.  My personal conviction and belief has scaled up to new altitudes.

Am glad that I did this trek. I rediscovered myself in many ways. I could feel the energy the mountains radiated. The enormity of the Mountains and the gushing streams taught me humbling lessons which I have never learnt. I was able to spend time for myself and feel my inner self.  My outlook about life has changed after this trip. It was one of a kind of experience which would stay with me for life . So would the friends I made during this trip...   

I would want to end this long blog by thanking my wife without whom I wouldn't be what I am today. She has been my pillar of strength and motivation for me to pursue my passions....

God Bless.......