A magical walk through mystic lands – lush green meadows, dotted with hundreds of sheep; gurgling brooks frozen midway, only to resurface few metres away, the melodious sound of which you’ll fondly recall; majestic mighty mountains with snow-capped peaks, towering pine and deodar forests dwarfing everything and everyone around; free flowing winds filling you up with pure oxygen that’s never experienced in choked cities; not to forget the beautiful rainbow shimmering over the horizon as the misty cloud curtain parts….there’s no rush, everything is tranquil, time stands still as you soak in the jaw-dropping sights, no calls except for birds’ and nothing to disturb your deep spiritual connect with yourself.
A Himalayan trek is definitely a holistic healing experience!
How to Reach
Manali in Himachal Pradesh, is well connected by road to Delhi (550 km). It is advisable to book tickets for A.C. Volvo buses that regularly ply this route, as the journey takes over 12 hours.
I would recommend these buses to private transport as their suspension is brilliant for the winding, and sometimes back-breaking roads. They drive rough, but you are spared the frights, as you sleep at Pathankot, and wake up at Kullu, just prior to Manali.
The closest reliable airport is Chandigarh (300 km), from where one can drive down in a private vehicle or by A.C. Volvos.
Manali is a beautiful destination that offers different charms in all seasons. Summers witness Manali turning into an escape from the blistering heat of the plains, while winters dress the town in a graceful garb of white snow. A fact not known to typical travellers is that this popular hill station is a base for some of the most beautiful treks in India. The best time for a basic trek (even for first timers) is between April and June.
Where to Stay
From rickety lodges and home stays to the most luxurious resorts, all options are available here. A trekker would typically check into a basic hotel with clean linen and washroom. Luxuries are not what he/she seeks. There are several of them on or around the famous Mall Road. Hotel New Neelkamal, opp. Van Vihar is a good low cost option. The hotel is very basic, but the food is lip smacking.
But if it’s comfort you seek, then I’d strongly recommend Banon Resort, a 100 year old heritage property that has a variety of cottages to suit different budgets. The service is impeccable, the rooms well appointed, the food sumptuous, and the garden with a variety of flora attracts numerous birds- an added bonus. Once on trek, all you’ll get are simple tents
Our group of 10- ranging from kids aged 11 to ladies in their 40s, started off with great enthusiasm from Shangcher village, on the outskirts of Manali. Our bags and provisions were hauled up on sturdy mules, and each of us carried a light sack with necessities like water bottles (one with ORS), some dry snacks, warm jacket, woolen cap, and raincoat. Quite an assortment, but nevertheless required, as the weather in the Himalayas can change from sunny to cloudy to thunderstorm, in a matter of minutes. And that’s the fun of it!
The climb was slow, as many of us were first time trekkers. What we lacked in experience, we made up with sheer enthusiasm. And we had two wonderful trekking guides- young men in their twenties, with more than a decade of climbing experience. They encouraged and helped those who lagged behind, and also gave lot of interesting info about Himalayan herbs and their uses in local medicine. It was great fun to see the typical urbanites munching on a leaf here, or a flower there. Berries that I wouldn’t normally touch, found their way into my tummy when educated about their nutritious quality. We briefly rested after an hour, near a stream, and were warned not to touch the spiny green leaves seen all around. The locals call it ‘bicchu ghaas’, and just a brush against them is enough to cause blisters and itching, that lasts for a few hours. Something I didn’t want to, but unfortunately had to endure later in the trek, as I unwittingly touched it while photographing a butterfly.
It was exciting to see the two kids leading the group along side the guide. The ones who would not walk a few hundred metres in the city, effortlessly trekked for 5-6 kms, and had tons of energy left for mischief at the campsite. The village from where we set off, now looked like a tiny speck, and eventually disappeared behind a hill, as we changed course.
Just before sunset, we reached our first campsite called Thothi, an open space of land surrounded by hills on two sides, snow capped peaks on one, and a winding valley on the other. Our provisions and luggage had already reached, and a welcome aroma of tea and noodles wafted towards us from the makeshift kitchen tent. We were tired in body, but not in spirit. Everyone was super charged by the lovely surroundings. While we went through a stretching routine, our guides went about setting up our tents. 4 of them were set up in no time at all, equipped with sleeping bags.
Dinner by the campfire under a brilliant clear sky, rich with millions of glittering stars! No fuss about favourite food and such irrelevant stuff. All of us wolfed down the food, jostling for space near the warm fire (the temperature had dropped considerably and a cold wind was blowing). Each of us were carrying our own plate, spoon and bowl; and the experience of washing them at a stream under chilling cold water was fun.
Post dinner, while everyone retired to their tents, I tried my hand at star trail photography- an experiment that needs around 60 images clicked at a shutter speed of 30 seconds, and later stacked using a specialized software. Standing under the blanket of stars, I patiently waited for my tripod-mounted camera to capture the long exposure shots. Absolute silence all around, except for the rustling leaves, and my shivering heavy breathing under the balaclava!
My first ever Himalayan trek, near Manali, was turning out to be a wonderful experience. The company of fresh and enthusiastic colleagues only added to my energy. In spite of trekking through constant incline for over 5 kms, I felt refreshed enough to try my hand at star trail photography, something I’d never attempted before.
The Second Leg
Dawn arrives pretty early in the mountains, the sun rises by 5 am! Waking up to bird song is always a pleasure, and when the avian beauties are Himalayan, the melody is pure magic. As I wriggled out of my sleeping bag, and stepped out of my tent, I saw a couple of participants sitting atop a flat rock, soaking in the morning sunrays, a vital source of Vitamin-D. Seemed like a scene from a mythological film, except that the clothes were western. Several tiny and not so tiny birds were flitting from one shrub to another, while we helped ourselves to a sumptuous breakfast- the most important meal in a trek! (The next meal depends on several factors, not always in one’s control). Suddenly, a huge Himalayan Vulture flew right over our heads, and there were loud Oohs and Aahs, as most of the urbanites were seeing a vulture for the first time in their lives!
After a brief stint of bird watching, we set off towards our next camp. The climb was steep, but the guides chalked out a safe path for us, zigzagging all the way along. After a laborious 2 hour trek, the group briefly rested- I was the rear guard, and far behind with the slowest trekker- a gutsy lady in her 40s, mother of two, on her first trek, wearing simple sports shoes. She later revealed that she had worn the same pair of shoes for her honeymoon at Manali, 15 years ago!!! Quite a testimonial- to the shoes as well as the one wearing them.
Close to the resting place, we got to see snow for the first time. We’d been eyeing the distant snow-capped mountains longingly for a while, and it was a pleasant surprise to get it right in front of us. The kids went berserk, playing in the dirty snow (it was 2 days old). The guide chuckled, and asked them to restrain themselves, for fresh snow awaited higher up.
Crossing a Himalayan stream, having an invigorating sip straight from the same, was blissful. As instructed by Hira, I didn’t gulp it down, rather sipped it slow, rolled it on my palate, and then let it flow in. A necessary precaution, or else the ice-cold water would have shut down my throat for good! So many firsts on this trek, I’m losing count. The last half an hour was spent negotiating through another frozen stream, most of them slipping and cursing, getting up only to slip again. I quickly learnt the footing needed, copying the guide’s movements, and was soon walking on the snow like a pro.
The campsite at Mayali Thach was straight from a movie scene! Loads of fresh snow around, few of the participants forgot all weariness, and set about making snowmen. Apart from our 5 tents, another smaller toilet tent was set up! Necessary at this height, as going out in the open would mean frozen bottoms!
The legendary Pandu Patthar beckoned in the distance next morning! Mythology says that the Pandavas used these unbelievably heavy stones to grind wheat. If the legend is to be believed, the Pandavas must be gigantic in size. It took us close to 4 hours to reach that spot, trudging through loads of snow, expertly led by our dear guides. They also showed off a bit- effortlessly gliding on those tracks where we could hardly manage a foothold. It was scary at first, slowly changing into nervous teetering steps, and finally smiles all around as we learned to manoeuvre the slippery snow. It was disappointing to learn that we wouldn’t be able to reach Saurkundi Lake, a decision taken after seeing a thick blanket of snow on the track, making it impossibly risky to go ahead. Such are the surprises that trekking springs up- some sweet, and some ugly. Having our packed lunch, perched on a huge stone, surrounded by snow all around, and an angry sun glaring at us, we were jerked out of our stupor by the crazy sight of a Yellow-throated Marten scampering up a vertical cliff, chased mercilessly by Ravens.
On way back, we stopped at a safe frozen stream, and played in the snow to our heart’s content. Snowball fights, sliding on snow, and crazy selfies followed. We camped at the same site for another day, exploring the area around. We added several species to our list, and enjoyed listening to tales of adventure and thrill during campfire. One of the participants gave us a scare, as her nose started bleeding at night, a sign of altitude sickness. Going 300 metres downhill at 10 pm, with spooky shadows cast by our own torches, is an adventure I won’t forget in a hurry. But that’s the standard remedy for this problem. And thankfully, the girl was fine by the time we returned.
The Last Leg
The last campsite at Reyush Thach was a different experience altogether. A luxurious fixed campsite, with a huge tent ensured that all of us played games (chinese whispers, dumb charades et al), had soup, and a proper food with dessert after 5 days. We could see Manali spread out in front of us below, and it was so windy that I feared our tents would be blown away. Hundreds of sheep grazing on meadows made me question whether it’s India or the Swiss countryside. Descending is even more tricky than climbing, and we had our fair share of scares before we finally touched Shangchar, our base village. The locals were kind enough to offer piping hot tea to us (We were hit by cold rains on the last day), and even invited us for lunch, but we politely declined. They were the first humans we were seeing after 4-5 days.
An unforgettable trip for sure, one that I’ll cherish for a long time. Trekking teaches you so many things- patience, precaution, adjusting with elements, overcoming obstacles, being one with nature and with yourself, and when it’s a Himalayan trek, it’s not just an adventure. It is a healing experience, a balm for the battered soul, glowing sunshine for the burdened heart.
So, when are you heading off to the Himalayas???
Co founder,Mid Earth
Describes himself as Teacher, nature lover, offbeat traveller, poet, author, public speaker, motivator, knowledge sharer..