It is that time of the year when I head to the mountains. I find myself again in the wilderness and solitude that is my safe haven. We leave from Manali early on the 9th of July. What lies ahead are 15 days of glacier training and an expedition to Kullu Pumori in the Spiti region. Kullu Pumori is a beautiful, daunting peak in the Pir Panjal range and pretty much the entire training until now has been centred around the idea of hoping to summit this 6553m peak. Manali- Madhi – Rohtang Pass – Gramfu… Gramfu is where the road divides for Ladakh and Spiti, we go with Spiti. You lose mobile network shortly after Rohtang.
We take a brief halt at Chatru (3384m). I gasp at the sight of the numerous rock peaks surrounding the little place. Towering, beautiful structures of sleek black rock. It’s tempting and scary at the same time. After lunch we set ahead for our base. You cannot miss the changing landscape as you move from Manali to Rohtang and ahead still… the air is drier, the wind is harsher, the clouds give way to the sun. But the starkest difference is the green that changes to brown. Endless stretches of moraine and the Chandra flowing in its mad rush. Most of the vegetation is just shrubs and the Snow Desert lives up to its name. It’s endless. And barren. And what surprises me the most is that something so barren can be so beautiful! I am in love with this place in its first glance. We reach our base by 5pm the same day.
Batal (3960M) is to be our base for the next couple of days. Considering that many of us are coming to this side of the state for the first time; and its distinct environment, we have to make sure we are well-acclimatized before we move any further or higher. The wind is crazy, blowing tents right off the ground unless they aren’t (overly) well-pitched. One of these acclimatization walks takes us to Kunzum Pass. 4554m. This route further leads to Kaza, one of the preferred destinations for bikers in this area. Kunzum is set in the lap of snow-capped peaks, wind fluttering the prayer flags put up on the temple there. They say there’s a stone in the temple on which you can stick a coin. If you’re a pure and sinless person, it’ll stay. (I don’t even give it a shot :P)
It generally rains in the evenings so we shuffle between the only two dhabas (shacks) at Batal. The cozy setting of the place, a cup of tea and the warmth of the family running the place are always inviting. Another day we go to the South Dhaka glacier, ahead of which lies the Dhaka glacier. Oh yes, the Chandrabhaga range of mountains runs in this region. Located between the Chandra and Bhaga river is a range of some 52 peaks, which makes the CB range. CB XIII and XIV are the most famous among them. But what’s fascinating is that only about 1/3 of these 52 peaks have been climbed.
12th July, we finally start our trek. We are going south in the direction of the Base of Bara Shigri in the Chandra Valley. The terrain isn’t too tough, but we’re walking with the entire weight of our rucksacks for the first time. Early on our journey, we have to cross the notorious Karcha Nala. Instructors tell us of some of the horrible deaths and heroic survivals this nala has been a witness to. The more I walk on this strange terrain, I realize this is unlike any place I’ve been to before. It’s extensive and endless and incredibly beautiful; but a kind of beauty that can send shivers down your spine. Set against the backdrop of the peaks, the moraine stretches in every direction till your eyes can see. It really is like a desert. Without proper parameters, I really wouldn’t know north from lost! By lunch we reach the base camp… and the first word that comes to mind on seeing the base is… Paradise!
It is completely untouched apart from the few tents we’ve pitched. We’re setting up the camp from scratch. Beyond the camp, seeming deceivingly close is the Bara Shigri glacier. The 2nd longest in India, spread over 30km. Of course, it’s hard to find a direction in which the wind isn’t trying to blow the tents off the ground. It blows incessantly and ridiculously. And over a few days, it starts getting to me – the rains and the wind. Added to that is my lack of proper windproof/waterproof clothing (big mistake). However, the days when the weather clears, I understand what ‘spectacular’ and ‘surreal’ really mean. The lake, besides which our tents are pitched, seems to reflect a million diamonds in the tender morning sunlight, the sun rises over snow-capped peaks, in the evenings the fog creates a mystic blanket over the place. Every day the sky is a different shade, the clouds in different forms, the lake’s water a different blue.
Next day we start with the glacier training. We are stronger and maybe just a little more experienced than when we began. The following days at the glacier would strengthen us further. But in spite of everything that we can do on our part and in spite of all the experience anyone could gather over the years, the mountains have had and would always continue to have the upper hand, as we would soon find out. And that incident and realisation would leave all of us shaken.
More of that in the next post though.