Monday, 25 February 2013

Himachal Trip: Part II: Lahaul, Spiti, Sangla, Shimla valleys with a trip to Chandertal - A photo essay

Whew... A long time. To write about something that was done in a jiffy - a trip into the hinterland in probably the shortest time possible.

Part 1 spoke about the varied idiosyncrasies and difficulties that we encountered [I forgot to tell that the trip by itself was almost snuffed out before it could even begin - a non-starter. 2 Durontos were starting at almost the same time... and I was in the Delhi bound train [as that was the only thing we could take to go to Himachal] and my friend was calling me from a Coimbatore bound train [parked about 8 platforms away] and asking me heatedly as to why he couldnt find our names in the carriage... A bit of explaining, coaxing, abusing and stern warning led him to the train that I was seated in... about 2 minutes and a few seconds before scheduled departure. He didnt believe my words till he saw me seated checked with the rest of passengers about the destination. So much for friendship. Bah]

Part 2 goes about to explain the trip to hinterland... 

So, we took a spacio [the rugged hill variant of Tata Sumo] and we were ready for all eventualities -cold, hunger and trip exhaustion, so to speak and ready for the trip. We planned to meet up early and the driver realised that its his time to act up and came about an hour and a half late... LATE and we started late. [Better late than never]

About 30 minutes into the drive and we were stopped at the check post [mangalwar funda. They stopped all vehicles travelling through Rohtang La during Tuesdays between 8AM-4PM. Reason: Building all-weather roads. Dynamiting Himalayas to point of destruction and lay new all-weather roads and tunnels. Not that I complain... the BSF and Army stationed in the high altitude desperately need that road for supplies and I dont mind that a bit. So, we were trapped in Kothi with nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs. We I ended up going to a wine shop and having something to quench the thirst  [in the edge of the road. it was curfew day!] [hey, it was still hot out there and I had to have something for the journey going forward]. Nothing much happened till 3PM when we were allowed to move [was more like 3.30 ish]. My friend had spoke to a few people already (many who joined us after 11ish not being aware of the rules and staying up with us) while I was conversing with our driver [a great guy by the name Pinku] and 2 parties of interest were one truck driver who was going up north to Bathal and one family with a young guy who stayed part-time in bangalore who did farming in HP. This guy had come in an Alto with his family and was headed upto Lahaul [needs some balls and confidence to drive an Alto in those mud strips].

Kothi - the place where we got stranded. Not just the Dhaba though

We started on our way at 3.30 PM only to be stopped again at Marhi [pronouced Madi] so we can leave that place in a while. More stoppage time and pics sessions later, we finally started on our mission... our journey to Spiti. [Lesson: God tested our resolve... and we didnt flinch. Moral: Tough times dont last. Wait for your exit. Update: This thought helps me now. Feb 2013!

Enroute to Rohtang La
Saying our last goodbyes, we moved on to the upper reaches to reach Rohtang La on the way.


Vantage viewpoint
Hazy maze
Mud tracks Roads that we encountered
Alto (amongst the) Rocks!

Finally, we ended the first day at Chatru. That was our night halt. Its nothing bigger than a tent. But, with a helpful family, that runs and owns the tent, who cook nice steaming hot food [Dal bhat. Cant expect luxury here. Even chapati becomes luxury in the mountains]
We had a nice dinner of chapati that day though as stock had just arrived and we also had the truck driver who we met on the way for company... turns out that he was employed with the govt dept doing work there. I remember the conversation with him turned out to be very lively and educative. [I remember having Roxy that day. Stocked up on more than half the bottle. Wow. Smells like Rhododendron wine and tastes like that. Looks plain like water though]

First view of Ice
We started early in the morning [6.00 ish] so we can reach Chandertal lake and spend sometime there in solitude. 

Rugged Himalayas - the beginning of Spiti. Leeward side of the Himalayan mountains
We took the first break in Bathal. Bathal again is nothing more than a tent again run by a friendly Himachali family who primarily are in the business to take care of the tourists and people who traveller and want a place to rest overnight. We had hot tea here and I was also impressed to see satellite phones here. [I enquired with the owner and he said those were the only ones in the near neighborhood and thats their hedge and insurance policy too, in case of trouble]. After exchanging goodbyes [hopefully not the last ones!], we started moving towards Chander taal. 

Bathal - View around the "city"

Bathal backdrop
Bathal backdrop
Is that a detour? No, its THE route. All routes are this way. This one leads to Chander taal

Chander taal is quite comfortably situated and its slightly off the original route that one needs to take to Kunzum La. One gets a small bifurcation in the road and one needs to take the deviation [on the left] to head to Chander taal. So, our Kunzum La was postponed till we came back from the lake. 
Definite change in the texture of mountains. More leeward and desolate. Enroute to Chandler taal
Chander taal from a vantage view point
In and around the lake
Chander taal - cross sectional view
Prayer flags, mountains. lake, clouds reflections!
Up close and personal
Crystal Clear

In its full glory

We were moving up the altitude quite quickly. Chander taal is situated at about an altitude of 14100 feet above MSL and has mountains of scree in the overhang along the whole of one side. A pretty memorable moment and a very very enthralling sight to behold the stillness of the water and the quiet of the mountains... and the distant sound of water gently flowing and a subtle chirp of a bird nearby while trying to move across. One can sight a few chortens in the hills nearby [to pay homage to the dead]. The lake boasts of being a sage haven for a lot of migratory birds from various parts of the world and plays its part in the ecological balance too. The lake, apparently, has no visible source but has a clear outlet which leads to the scientific belief that water on the lake comes from underground. 

Whats worse than wearing a flimsy t-shirt at 14100 feet? Hint: wearing a 3/4ths. I did both. 

More relevant dressing but still more can be done

In the middle of this lake and mountain ranges, I tried an alternate trail and all seemed well for about 30-40 mins... before I realised that I lost my way... w/o any GPS [and phones dont work anyway]. Used mountains as reference points [almost everything looked washed and didnt help much in terms of unique features... but, hey, I HAD to find my way back to humanity, and finally made it to the normal trail after a while. 

Gods own playground with slide

Shining like a turquoise gem. Shimmering in the sun light 

On the way back, we stopped in the small shop [again, a tent owner] for tea and heard from him that the snow was expected anytime and he was moving back to turquoise that night. Off to Manali to spend about 6 months there and then come back when the pass opens [Rohtang La, Kunzum La and even the passes that lead up to Leh usually close between October-March/April when they are covered under deep snow].

We proceeded on our way to Kunzum La. Situted at a height of 14931 feet above MSL, Kunzum La is the highest point in Spiti valley and it is the entrance of Spiti valley [while getting connected from Lahaul valley]. 

To be continued... as Part 3. This is getting bigger than I ever imagined