|Not all those who wander are lost. |
|I woke up at around 4:30 and went out of tent to find Jamaica was back. He had brought back some supplies was with him and was busy putting them away. As we chatted over a cup of tea, a guide came up and said that a foreign tourist had fallen sick and needed medical care. Turned out that a large group of tourists were doing the Zanskar to Spiti trek and one of them was showing symptoms of high altitude sickness. We had no means of contacting anyone except for one satellite phone in Batal. Just about then, a few locals from some place near Kaza came back from the lake and started to leave in their Maruti 800. The stupid guide, instead of sending the sick tourist back to Batal in their car, hopped in himself and went away before we had the chance to say anything. |
As we had no information of their location or means to help, we could only hope that the guide would be able to call up an ambulance. As I had already explore much of the area and didn't have enough time to do anything else, I just stayed in the camp. Jamaica is an interesting guy and it was fun listening to his stories. Did a bit of cleaning up of the camp site by picking up the trash. I wish the rules related to littering and environment protection were more strictly implemented.
Anyhow, nothing really remarkable happened otherwise and I had dinner and packed up all of my stuff which was going back with me. Waking up next morning, I was again tempted to go out to have a 'little walk' around the place but checked myself. No taxi, private car etc came up for a long time, so I just chatted with Jamaica and and some shepherds. After a while, 3 guys came up, one of them a guide from one of the camps down the road. Rest were staff from an ambulance service which the guide had called up. The driver was unable to negotiate the sharp curves and had left the ambulance back there to came up by foot. For record, you can dial 1608 to call for an ambulance there.
The guide came up riding pillion on a bike. Biker told us that one of the guys in his group had broken his leg near Batal and they were staying there waiting for a vehicle to Manali when the guide came to call for ambulance. The guide went to his group to bring them, while the rest waited. They came up after a while and I was a bit surprised to see them. It was a group of 10-11 people and not one of them was looked below 35. The sick guy was easily 50. Although, they were using porters and mules to carry their luggage, their journey from Zanskar to Spiti was no mean feat. Many people consider it to be one of the most difficult treks.The sick guy was loaded on the bike and driven to the ambulance. As there was enough space, the driver graciously agreed to drop me in Batal. I gave away most of my medicines to Jamaica as I had little use for them and took my leave. I kept 2-3 pills of a few, just in case
Near Chota Darraa
We walked to the ambulance and the sick tourist was given some first aid. He didn't speak English and most of the conversation was in gestures and signs. Only if the guide had brains to take him down to Batal with him the previous night, so much trouble could have been averted. But he seemed fine and no serious damage was done. I said goodbye to the lake and climbed in the front seat with driver. The road was rocky and difficult to drive , same as most places beyond Manali. At a point, I thought we were going too fast and I glanced at the speedometer. It read an insanely fast speed of 25 km per hour. Heh
The ambulance dropped us at Batal at 12 and left for Kaza. A bus was already waiting for the tourist group. It was full already, so I kept waiting for another one. As the road had just opened in Kaza, I was hopeful of getting a bus or taxi soon, but the vehicles going towards Manali were very few. I had lunch in Chandra dhaba and sat outside. There were quite a few vehicles coming from Manali going towards Kaza, so it was a busy place. Driver of the bus thought himself a bit of a smart alec and keept cracking tasteless jokes about age of sick tourist and how old people should stay at home, crows as big as chicken in mountains of Jammu etc . I got annoyed after a while and walked around the place clicking some photos.But there was hardly anything to see near the road.
After 2-3 hours, rest of the tourist group reached Batal and they left on bus taking the injured biker with them. At around 4, I got sick of waiting and put away my rucksack to spend the night in dhaba. Even if any vehicle passed through, it couldn't reach Manali before 11 in night. Last bus for Delhi left at around 9 - 10. Better to spend night in Batal than in another crappy hotel in Manali. I picked up my camera and torch and left to explore the area beyond the hill adjacent to hill.
After walking around rather aimlessly for a while, I found the source of 'perennial tap' in dhaba which provided water 24 hours non-stop. It was a small spring around a km from dhaba. They had laid down around 6-7 cm thick plastic pipes to transport the water back to the dwellings. Some holes, 1 meter deep were dug at regular intervals to keep an eye on pipe's condition. Although, Chandra river flows just beyond their dhaba, it's water is not drinkable due to slit.
A ridge extended sideways for quite some distance beyond the spring and I started climbing it. A water stream which merges in to Chandra near the bridge in Batal flowed beyond it. It's source was a glacier 3-4 km straight up the path on ridge which first merged with a mountain and then seemed to extend right up to the glacier. It was 2nd time in 2 days that I found myself right in sight of some place where I could easily walk to but couldn't because of lack of time and related crap. Only if I had left sooner, I could have a reasonable chance of trekking right up to the glacier. It was getting dark really fast as dark clouds covered the sky and wind got a bit colder as if it was raining somewhere.
I decided to walk as far as possible till it got too dark or started raining heavily. Till now, I hadn't paid much attention to critters on ground. But this place for some reason was swarming with spiders up to 5-6 cm across. There were so few insects in the place and even less vegetation to support any significant numbers. Presence of so many full grown spiders in such a place was very surprising. It was a bit difficult to take a picture as they hid fast behind stones whenever some particularly fast gust of wind came by. My camera battery was almost fully discharged by this time anyway. So there are not many pictures.
I still don’t believe that nectar, pollen are part of a healthy diet for a spider
I kept on walking till a few minutes past six when it started to drizzle. There was still a lot of distance left to the glacier, so I turned back. It was almost dark by the time I reached back to dhaba. A few minutes later, two bikes from Bangalore coming from Kaza side stopped by to ask for directions and decided to spend the night. They had started their journey from Shimla route and it was nice to compare notes and exchange ideas. I realised for sure that biking is a completely different form of travel than what I like. While we were having dinner, Chacha started generator to recharge his inverter batteries (for his satellite phone). I managed to get my camera battery charged too. We went to bed soon after.
I woke up beforee 7 in morning to sound of trucks stopping and truckers going in to dhaba for a cup of tea. Those bikers had their breakfast, packed up and left soon after. As I had my breakfast, I was tempted to go out walking again. But considering that the road had just been cleared, I decided to stay and wait for a vehicle. I got a lift in a Sumo taxi at around 11. The driver had stopped by the previous day too as he was transporting a group of foreigner tourists from Manali to somewhere near Kaza. As he was coming back empty, he had a 3 sullen looking Biharis who had missed the early morning bus. That bus had passed by about an hour earlier, completely jam packed. The driver upon noticing my camera asked me to stop wherever I feel liked to take pictures. He was fairly knowledgeable about the place and kept dropping tit-bits of information every now and then. One of the suspensions of the vehicle was damaged, so he claimed that was not driving very fast. I doubted if it was possible to drive any faster on those roads.
For perspective, that blue-yellow thing at bottom is a tent
We did stop in a number of places, sometimes him pointing out something which I had missed. He offered to stop and wait for me near Rohtang Pass, so that I could catch a glimpse of Beas Kund. But it was raining heavily and the place was literally covered with clouds. The visibility was less than 20 meters. We moved on but got stuck in jam due to bad road soon after. The road was nothing except a mud track and we spent more than an hour crawling down from the pass till road got any better. Rohtang Pass was a disappointment anyway, full of shanty like shops, shitty dhabas and dumb tourists (mostly Indian) acting like fools. I can understand people posing for photos in silly dresses, sunglasses etc but what angered me was filthiness of the place. An average Indian tourist is a plague of any beautiful place.
Rest of the drive to Manali was without any incident and the beautiful sights outside helped calmed me down. Finally I had the chance to see the part of Beas where it flows through deep gorges as described in अरे यायावर रहेगा याद . Couldn't get out to explore but may be will do it someday. We reached Manali at around 7:30. All the Volvo buses had left and only Himachal SRTC buses were available. Bought one ticket for a bus leaving at 9:30. As I had quite a bit of time to pass, I walked to Old Manali and had dinner in a faux-Tibetan restaurant. Almost all of the staff had left for Pushkar due to off-season in Manali and beginning of tourist season there. Tested 'choclate momo' for dessert. It was nothing to talk about.
The bus, when it left was mostly empty, but I couldn't fit my rucksack in overhead luggage rack. A kind local suggested that I take one of empty row of seats. These buses are driven with lights on inside switched on. As I wanted to get a little bit of sleep, I put on my sunglasses, covered my eyes with my hat (yes, at night) and made myself as comfortable as possible. Managed to get a few winks of sleep, but the journey was long and bus reached Delhi past noon.
Back to the soul crushing grind of life in a big city.
Not all those who wander are lost. J.R.R.Tolkien
|A walk to nowhere in Spiti |
|Next morning, I woke up to the sound of a car's engine at around 7. Jamaica's foreigner guests were leaving and he was going to see them off till Batal. By that time, I had made up my mind to go back to Delhi. I had forgotten to mention it before that some areas near Kaza had experienced heavy rainfall and landslides. Due to this, there were blockages on a few places along the route from Kunzum La to Kaza and beyond. After I had abandoned all hopes of visiting Samudri Taapoo, I wanted to visit Kibber for 2-3 days. But as it happened, the number of incoming vehicles slowed to a trickle and I was unable to get a taxi or lift to Kunzum La or Batal from where I could get somewhere else. |
New camp mate
It didn't matter much as I was enjoying my stay at Chandrataal a lot. The relative solitude was also a welcome incentive for my inertia. By that time, I had completely lost the concept of keeping date and time. It was a nice feeling, not to care about clock and calendar. Just roam around, eat, rest and walk around till it got too dark and sometimes even past that. After wandering around whole day, I was always tired to my bones, but loved every single moment.
When I got out of tent, I found out that Si too had packed up all of his belongings and was getting ready to leave. He had been staying for more than 3 weeks for his work and was going somewhere else. Lucky chap. It also meant that unless some other tourists arrived, I was the only one staying there. At least 2 out of 3 other camps down the road were also completely empty except for staff. As the day was probably my last of the stay, I wanted to take one last look at the lake. I put a little dry fruits in my pocket, picked up my camera and left for the lake.
The wind I had talked about earlier had not started yet and the lake was completely tranquil. I sat down on a rock and took in the views for a while. I could hear the ducks quacking in some distance as well as some other birds including Himalayan Snowcock. But they are extremely shy and stay in higher reaches away from people. Gaddi dogs are a big danger to them. Si had seen a family of 2 adults and two young ones the previous day, but I was not so lucky. Hoping to catch a glimpse, I started walking around the lake, but I guess they moved away pretty fast and I could hear their calls no longer. But I did meet the duck family again.
As I reached other end of the lake, I changed my mind about walking around the lake and decided to walk to the stream I had seen 2 days ago. Last time, it was too dark to see anything in detail. This time, white clouds covered the adjoining mountain peaks. But the landscape was clear. I tried looking for the burrow, I had seen 3 days back, but couldn't find it. Came up to the small but noisy stream while searching for the burrow and crossed it. The area was nothing but a path of dried out streams and and avalanches. The path was very rocky and difficult to walk for most part. Toughest thing was to walk down heap of stones 4-6 meters high and then climb another pile again.
The other glacier in distance
Chandra river flowed to my left down the mountain and I kept following it to it's source from above. After some time, I saw a Gaddi camp in distance and noticed someone walking towards me. I was surprised to see a Bihari in his teens. Is there any place in India where you can't find one working ? ) No disrespect, just surprised to see a Bihari working for a Gaddi shepherd in Spiti. I asked him if there was any drinkable water source nearby. There was one very small stream, most of which was hidden under the rocks and he pointed it out. I thanked him and moved on. He asked me, " आप यंहा क्या करने आयें हैं ? घूमने ? (What are you here for ? Sight seeing ? )" I nodded yes and I think he must have shaken his head a little on the crazy tourist in middle of nowhere. Apparently, tourists are very rare on this trail.
I found the stream, drank some cold water and rested. When I had set out from the camp, I didn't intend to come this far. I just wanted to see the lake once more, walk back and pack up my stuff and wait for a taxi. Somehow, that didn't happen and I was 2-3 km away from lake following a trail which was barely there. With no food, water or sun glasses. Just a hat to protect from sun and a camera. In some of my walks, I used sandals instead of shoes and the exposed skin on my feet was severely sun burned. That's when I realised that the itchy feeling on my nose, whenever I put my eye on camera's viewfinder was a fairly deep sun burn. The expensive sun screen that I was using worked only if applied 3-4 times a day. I guess, one has to stay indoors for optimal results too. By this time, most of the clouds had dissipated and sun was shining in it's full glory. As I was already looking like a badly maintained brown leather bag, I just shrugged it off. What more could another day in sun could do !
I kept on walking and reached bottom of the hill where I had seen the Gaddi camp. A shepherd was getting his flock out to graze. I considered walking up to him but my path bypassed his camp and it was a rather steep climb. Having to deal with 3-4 menacing dogs wasn't an appealing idea either.
At some distane, I came across a empty stone hut which looked like it hadn't been occupied for years. By this time, I was thirsty, hungry and fairly tired. But the sight of glacier kept me going. It was one of the sources of Chandra river, 2nd one being Samudri Taapoo. The former would have taken at least 4-5 hours of walking, but most of it was on easier terrain and no river to cross. As I got closer to the glacier, amount and flow of water in the river kept decreasing. It even looked possible to pass it on foot in some places. But I didn't go that far. After a while I got really thirsty and there was no water source nearby. It was hot and I could see mirages shimmering over hot rocks. As I had no intention to walk up to the glacier in first place, I sat down on a ledge and rested. As far as I could see, there was no trace of any human being. Even Gaddis rarely came that far and there were no stone huts beyond that point. One interesting feature I saw were *some long rocks, 3-6 meters high, standing up on slope near the river. I don't know how to properly explain this, just take a look at the picture.
Some crazy erosion
After resting for some time, I started walking back towards my camp. The shepherd I had seen earlier in his camp was now on a nearby mountain with his flock. It was probably his last day in that area too as they were packing up to leave. I came up to the lake after what seemed like hours to find Pradhan's sheep blocking the trail but he was not in sight. They scattered as soon as I reached within touching distance. The campsite was empty when I reached there and I had 1 chocolate and some dry fruit for lunch . It was nearly 3 pm and I had been walking for almost 8 hours. Sunny was probably sleeping or somewhere else and I had given away all of my MRE packs the previous night No vehicle except for a single Sumo from Manali side had came that morning. Si had probably hitched a lift in that. Even if some vehicle/taxi came up at that point, it was a fools errand to packup everything and hitch a ride. So, I crawled in to my tent and slept on the mat. It was too hot to use sleeping bag.
More in next post
Friendly little birdie
|Dinner and mid-night wolf |
|I rested in the camp for a while, enjoying some idle chit-chat with the new tourists till it got completely dark. It was just a half past 7 then. The rain had nothing to dissipate the clouds and the sky was completely overcast. I told Sunny to not prepare any food for me and left for Pradhan's camp. It was hard following the trail with a torch as the rain had washed out all the footprints and most marks of the path. Thankfully, it wasn't very muddy. The camp was about a km away near the foothills of the mountain I had been to earlier in morning. |
Although, I was aware of the general location but had a hard time locating it in pitch dark. Previous night, I could see a lamp illuminating his camp from a distance, but that night there was nothing. Then I saw hundreds of gray-blue points of lights in torchlight. As some of them blinked, I realised it was his flock of goats and sheep staring at me. As I walked closer, I heard dogs barking not too far away and slowed down. It wasn't a good idea not to heed their warning. Just then, I heard Pradhan shouting loudly to hush them up. He was away from the camp and came walking in towards my direction. One of his sheep with a young kid born that morning was missing and he was gone to look for them near the lake.
We walked in to his camp and he lit a small kerosene lamp for light. I think, I should explain how their camps are. As I had left my camera back in camp due to rain, I have no pictures apart from a couple of an empty one.
The dwellings are roughly circular, made of stones 1+ meter in height and 2-4 meters in diameter. It's not possible to stand inside unless you're really short. Thy don't use any mortar or earth to keep the stones together. A plastic sheet slung over the structure makes the roof. There is a small hole in ground for a fireplace to cook and keep warm. Some space is provided within stone walls where stuff like rations, fuel, utensils etc are stored. I was told that a team of 4 men can make such a hut in a day. As there are no trees, Yak dung is the major source of fuel. Floor is covered with goat/sheep skins and grass for warmth. There are few options for contact with outside world except a radio or cellphone. Even those are mostly unusable in most of areas they travel through.
An empty Gaddi stone hut
So, we were sitting in a similar camp talking as he prepared a fire and put on some water to heat. Yak dung burns with a prominent blue flame, new thing for me. After a while he went out to get some milk from goats. As I walked out, his dogs which were at some distance away in the dark started barking at something further away. The animals get nervous around strangers, so I stayed near hut. A light drizzle was still going on at that time. After finishing milking , he put it away and started kneading dough for rotis. At first, he took really big pieces and made rotis atleast 1 cm thick and as big as the tawa (flat heating pan). I watched fascinated, a bit excited at the chance to sample unique kind of food. I was also a bit worried if it was possible to eat those things. Guess my puzzlement was too obvious as he said that those roti were for dogs not us. I think I was a little disappointed.
After cooking 3 or 4 such rotis he started making regular sized ones for us. After his bigger ones cooled down, he soaked them in chaach and fed the dogs. He had already prepared a dish of cabbage in chaach which only needed a little heating. After dogs were fed, we started to eat. I had a taste of rotis after 4-5 days and the meal tasted delicious.
I asked him lots of questions about their way of life and I'll try to explain it in my own words as best as I can.
Preparing butter in a leather bag
Pradhan and some of his companions are from far off places like Solan where they have their families, fields etc. The shepherd men leave their homes in March, April as soon as the snow begins to melt with their flock and keep on traveling over the next 3-4 months in search of pastures. Sometimes they find good ground and may stay there for a while. Otherwise they keep moving to prevent their animals from starving. They start their journey back home in late August or early September before snowfall which may take another 2 months, may be more. In nutshell, they spend 7-9 months in a year away from their homes. In their absence, women take care of fields, crops etc. Their main source of income is wool, selling old animals for meat and sometimes milk products. As they spend most of their time away from populated places, selling milk isn't an option and they usually consume it or extract ghee.
Some of the goats are photogenic
Their day starts usually with sunrise or sometimes earlier as they lead their flock to different grazing places almost everyday. If they have mixed flock of goat and sheep, then both need different care. Sheep aren't as agile as goats and can't reach some places specially when they've gained weight. They also need mules to carry their supplies which are usually kept separate from rest of animals. As many of grazing grounds fall in forest lands, shepherds need permits to use them. Sometimes, they are stalked by wild animals like wolves, leopards etc. Guard dogs usually take care of this problem . I saw one guy carrying a gun, but that's not common. But the bigger danger is from inclement weather. They may lose animals due to landslides, snow, floods etc anytime. The compensation they may receive from government is hardly worth the trouble. Rash drivers on roads are another nuisance. As their animals are their only wealth and primary source of livelihood, they work very hard to take good care of them.
As he told me about his home, I came to know that his 3 children have done pretty well for themselves. His eldest son is an engineer in state government, other got in to Indian Navy the previous month and the daughter was trying for a teacher's job. He himself was educated till 10th, but left school in 1970 (approximate date). Not bad at all.
While sheep seem a little bit shy
I gave him some of my Ready To Eat Meal packs and showed him how to prepare them. After that, I thanked him for probably the most interesting dinner I ever had and left for my own camp. The dogs apparently don't care if the stranger is going away from them. They kept barking in a different direction. Finding my camp was a bit easier than Pradhan's as Jamaica was having a little party with his foreigner friends and guests.
As I stood outside my tent, mother of Jamaica's friend asked if I had any ear-plugs. As I had none, she advised me to protect my ears as her son snored very loudly as did another guest. I laughed and thanked her for her advice and crept in to my sleeping bag. I woke up after sometime to a slight rustle outside my tent but didn't pay it much attention. Next morning an Indian tourist told me that he had probably seen a wolf near the lake. I thought he had mistaken a shepherd's dog for a wolf. Next day, Jamaica said that a wolf had indeed paid a visit to our camp. The rustling I had heard was that wolf investigating our tents. Can't be sure because no one had seen it.
I had been walking outside alone till past 11 in night when Pradhan's dogs were barking probably to scare away that wolf.
Just my luck.
|No mountain too high |
|Continuing from my previous post: |
I felt silly sitting idle in the camp. So after a bit of rest, *walked out towards Chandrataal again at around five. At the lake, I met two local shepherds, one of which turned out to be Pradhan ( local title for Chief). He seemed agitated as an idiot had put up his tent right on lake shore and was rude when reminded of the rules. * As I still wanted to visit Samudri Taapoo,* I asked him about a way to cross the river or an alternate route. Turned out that his friend was going to cross the river next morning. But it was a one way trip. He was to gather his flock across the river and go back towards some place in general direction of Batal that would have taken 2 weeks or more. Tagging along with him was simply out of question. I didn't have that much time and even if I did, following the routes of shepherds at their speed was not a good idea for a trek either. Dejected, I waved them goodbye and set about to walk around the lake. Pradhan invited me to his camp for a cup of tea and dinner to which I agreed to partake at a later time.
There's an insect in water
Lake water was cold but not much. I was wearing sandals at the time and started to walk in the shallow water near shore. It was fun for a while. The duck family was in the water again with an adult flying around. *The sun was just above near by mountain peaks and the views were breathtaking. Upon reaching other end of lake, I was curious to see if there was anything interesting on the grassy plain area, so kept walking. After 1 km, there was a fast muddy stream flowing down from one of the mountains. I also came across a burrow about 1 feet across but no animal visible. Didn't feel like poking around to inquire further, so left it alone. *Si later told me that it probably was a Marmot's burrow. A Pika like animal, only 6-7 times bigger.
By now, it was almost dark as the sun had set completely and stars were coming up. But most of the sky was covered with dark clouds even with a strong breeze *blowing. This breeze fascinated me. It starts every morning around 10-11 am and goes on for 10-12 hours daily. Due to this, people have to wear warm clothes even when it's bright and sunny. With strong regular wind like this, I doubt that people in Spiti need dams or coal for electricity. As far as I was concerned, I was very happy without the electricity and gadgets so far. No cell-phone signal for tens or perhaps hundreds of kms, imagine that . My only related need at that time was charge of my camera battery. But I managed to click approximately 1200 photos before it went down. One can always use portable solar panels for charnging, but I wasn't carrying one
Coming back to the topic, upon reaching the stream I decided to turn back due to the dark. Turned on my torch and started to walk back. This must have agitated the dogs of a shepherd on a nearby hill who kept barking till I was in their eye-sight. The lake at that time was nothing like the placid and tranquil water body in morning. There were a lot of waves due to wind and it was difficult to stand in the water and maintain balance. I was hoping to click some photos of night sky reflected in lake waters, but it was clearly not possible.* It was foolish standing there to wait and test my luck further, so started to walk back to my camp. Found a brownish 3 inch across spider in my path and I could swear that it's eyes shone in torch's light. No other insect or animal there except a few small things which were barely visible. No snow leopard, ibex, bear, deer or wolf either. :-< Not even *story of a strange monster in water that night. *Or may be there were and I couldn't see them. Who knows !
The walk back was uneventful and I had little difficulty in locating the trail back to camp. Found Sunny and Si about to begin their dinner. Didn't feel like eating Dal, Chawal again, so turned on my stove and warmed a Ready To Eat Meal. It was hard work turning on the stove in that wind, so gathered some rocks and made a small shelter. It was some south Indian tomato-rice dish, don't remember the name. *Slept soon after and woke up at 6 again. I was curious about seeing the lake in it's entirety and Si suggested me to climb one of the near by mountains.
I left the camp soon after and met Pradhan in his camp. He was churning 'chaach' (buttermilk) in a goat skin bag to make some butter while his friend was leaving for his journey across the river . After seeing him off, Pradhan made us a cup of tea and added a big spoon full of ghee in to both. I had heard of butter tea of Laddakh, but drinking tea with ghee was a novel experience. May be I just imagined it, but it did provide immediate warmth. After finishing tea, he called up his four dogs which were dozing nearby for their breakfast of chaach and *rice. I was told that the dogs are mostly fed whatever they eat. They didn't seem very happy to see me though. After a bit of chit-chat, I thanked him for the amazing tea and left.
Dogs eating rice and chaach
The mountain I wanted to climb was not far away and I soon started climbing. The slope was again covered with loose rocks and soil. Combined with somewhat steep slope, it was again a tough trek. I avoided loose and unstable gravel and preferred rocks for walking. Although I had seen goats grazing almost all over the place, I could find no trail there. After 40-50 minutes, I came across a small waterfall of seemingly crystal clear water. But it had small particles of gravel and was undrinkable. I had neglected to carry any water with me and it was not a nice feeling. There was little water anyway and it disappeared in to rocks just 15-20 meters down from where I found it.
But my primary purpose was still not complete. From that location, only a half of the lake was visible. But it wasn't possible to climb on vertical ledge. So I walked on further towards left of the mountain till I could see all of the lake. It looked a bit like Batman's logo . Check the picture if you don't believe me. By then I was *on a fairly high position on the mountain and the people walking below looked like ants. I wondered if it was possible to go still higher as half of the mountain still lay above. But it was almost a vertical climb after that. So after savouring the view for some time I climbed down, which was easier than climbing up. Took a dip in ice-cold water of the lake and walked back to my camp to get something to eat and rest.
After yet another meal of daal chawal, I lay down in my tent to rest. Woke up in afternoon and went out to explore the area again. This time hills behind the camp . *First thing I noticed were quite a few dried out ponds, swamps. Some still had that longish grass but no water. A few meters ahead there was a weird small pit, approximately 2-3 meters in diameter with completely black stones. First thing that came in to my mind was something like Devil's Kitchen/fire site....lame, I know. Beyond that there was a dry swampy area with small pits and paths where water used to flow. The area was covered with green grass and most of the pits were still muddy, indicating that the water had dried off not too long ago. Additionally, there were small springs here and there, but the water was too less.
After some time, I left that grassy area to climb the adjoining hills. Chandra river was just on their foothills but it was almost a straight drop of 1000 meters more below. Even that place afforded some amazing views as the river passed through mountains gaining more volume as more streams joined it. At sme places it was just 3-4 meters in width, while at others in was divided in to numerous small streams spread over a large area. After follwoing the river for some distance over the hills, two other campsites were visible just as small specks. The walk after that got a bit difficult as it was almost a steep mountain face that I had to climb down. Upon reaching the foothills, I walked to the river and rested there on it's bank. Never wanted to be anywhere else.
It was getting dark at that time and dark clouds had already covered the sky. So I started to walk back towards my camp. I had to cross one of the campsites along the way and it filthy as hell. The area was full of water bottles, wrappers and other rubbish. Even a small stream flowing near by was choked by plastic bags. Those idiots should be fined and their license canceled.
By the time I reached road which led back to my camp, it stared raining heavily. I put my camera inside my bag and kept on walking. Came across a herd of mules which seemed to be in misgiving mood with no human handler in sight. Gave them a wide berth and kept walking on the road. * AFter 10-12 minutes, the rain stopped and I met Pradhan whose sheep was grazing nearby. His goats on the other hand, were on a mountain half a km away, but still visible. We walked back to Jamaica's camp and found him with some foreign guests. After a cup of tea, Pradhan left but not before reminding me of his invitation for dinner.
Another long post which I'm ending now. More in next post.
|Exploring Chandrataal |
|I never ever imagined that I'll ever wake up before sunrise without an alarm. That day was no exception. Woke up a few minutes before 6, rested and refreshed. Sleeping in a sleeping bag inside a tent is not uncomfortable after all. Got out of the bag and then the cold hit. The difference between the day and night temperatures must be 25 degrees or more. In simple words, it was cold. I hurriedly put on my jacket and stepped out of the tent. The view outside was stunning, to say the least. Grey, white clouds were *idly strolling between mountains peaks giving the impression that the mountains were smoking. |
* * Jamaica, his helper Sunny, Si and 2 other tourists *were already outside drinking tea. I asked for a glass of hot milk and mixed some drinking chocolate that I had brought with me. Combined with the scenic mountains in front of me, I couldn't have asked for more. After finishing *chocolate milk, I picked up my camera and left for Chandrataal (Chandertaal) lake. But first, I want to make somethings clear:
1) The lake is not origin of Chandra river. It only contributes a small 4-5 inches deep, 3-4 meters wide *stream to a big *seasonal nullah which itself remains mostly dry and merges in to Chandra river much later. *That small stream vanished after flowing for 300-350 m in between rocks *when I was there. Chandra river is made of two major streams one of which originates from Samudri Taapoo (Translation:- Sea Island) and another from a glacier less than 2 km away. More on these two later
2) According to markings made by government officials the lake's circumference is 4.5 km, not 2.5 as claimed in many websites
3) According to how it's pronounced , it should be Chandrataal not Chandertaal or Chandartall as it was on a board in Batal.
4) Camping within 2 km of lake and using soap, dumping etc in lake waters is not allowed. Even after reading the warning, too many 'educated, intelligent' *people try to pitch their tents right up to lake and don't even pickup their trash. * No sign of any kind basic intelligence. As if stupid tourists were not bad enough, even the concerned departments don't have enough resources to pick up and dispose of trash in a proper way.* The camping grounds which are within 2 km of lake probably will be shifted to a proper place. But vehicles will be allowed to get within half a km of the lake.
Chandrataal Lake in morning
Anyhow coming back to topic, I left for lake but didn't follow the trail. Once again, I saw Samudri Taapoo before I saw Chandrataal and that piqued my interest. Made a mental note of visiting that place too.* After crossing 2-3 small hills, the lake came into my view rather suddenly. Whatever travelers say about beauty of the place is not exaggerated. It is unbelievably beautiful beyond words. The water is so clear that you can see the bottom absolutely clearly for a long distance. Perhaps due to high altitude, there are no plants, weeds, fish etc. Only aquatic life are a few specie of insects which aren't easily visible either. Viewed from certain angles, clouds and surrounding mountains are perfectly reflected on tranquil waters almost like a mirror. *I sat there for a long time taking everything in, then started walking. After a few minutes, I found a Pika (small rodent like animal) on a small rock and managed to take some pictures of it. Ordinarily they are quick as bolts of lightning darting around rocks and burrows. Si later told me that they are sluggish during early mornings, unlike rest of the day.
Even this Pikas hates mornings
I kept walking and reached other end of the lake which has a flat grassy meadow going up to some distance. A family of migratory ducks which had escaped my notice till now, immediately took to water quacking loudly. *I was carrying just my 18-55 mm lens, so wasn't able to get any good close up shot. *At least I could click some photos of the insects, worms etc they eat
Path around other half of lake is paved by stones and marked for distance every 50 m. A lot of small birds which had really good grey brown camouflage were making loud calls nearby. *I could hear many other birds but could spot only two *types.* I walked slowly looking waiting for sun to come up but it took a really long time for it come high enough. By that time, I was back in the camp. A few tourists were already there getting off their vehicles. Most of the people I saw there, came only for 1-2 hours. They drove as far as possible, walked up to the lake and then went back immediately. Only a few stayed for a night and even less for more than one. Suited me just fine. Less idiots to spoil the place.
Chandrataal Lake in evening
I asked Jamaica about way to reach Samudri Taapooo and he replied that it can't be done. There is only one way to cross the fast flowing Chandra river which flows in between and that is a steel rope slung across the two river banks. One has to tie himself to a rope and pull himself across. I believed him but still had to see for myself.
After a short nap, I set out to explore the area again. Around 300 m away from the camp, there was a small dried out swamp, but it still had quite dense grass with patches of dried out black earth. *After climbing a small hill, *I could see a herd of goats grazing in a comparatively flat area 500-600 m below. *Two human figures, no bigger than an ant were also visible at some distance. Way to reach Chandra river was just across the hills on other side. There was only one narrow trail going down, but that was over a mountain face covered by sharp stones. I guess it was slate mixed with some other type which I couldn't identify. Reaching the base, I walked around till I reached the cliffs directly overlooking Chandra flowing 700-800 m below.
From that distance, two rope ways over the river were visible, out of which only one seemed to be in use.* Saw those two shepherds at the river bank and waved. They waved back and signaled me to come down. Shouting was not an option due to river's noise and distance. The path they indicated, turned out to be a very steep dried out seasonal waterfall. I wondered if I had misunderstood, but that seemed to be the only possible way. Taking a deep breath, I started climbing down very carefully, sometimes using my hands for support. It wasn't as difficult as it looked and I reached the river bank pretty quickly to find those two sitting on the rocks and smoking bidis.
After some small chit-chat, I asked them about a way to cross the river and if any guides were available to which they replied negatively. Guides don't come this way, I was told and it was very dangerous to use the ropeway, specially for a stranger. *I knew the reason within a few minutes as one of the shepherds stood up and walked to the ropeway to cross it. He first tied a thick nylon rope through a metal loop on the steel rope and *put a blanket on the rope to make it a bit comfortable. Then he put his legs through it and started to drag himself to the other bank *by pulling on the steel rope. Before that, he must have tied and retied the knots at least 5-6 times *before he was satisfied with the setup. I knew it wasn't easy, but didn't expect it to be that hard either. After he reached the other side, he lay there on his back for 10-15 minutes resting.
This is how you cross a river, the bad ass way
Somewhat discouraged, I walked around the river bank taking in the sights. There was no way I could cross that river using that ropeway with even half my gear. The riverbank itself was barely 25 m wide at its widest and just over 200 m long. It was obvious that water must engulf *the whole area in spring and heavy rains. The sand and rocks were still wet.* *In meanwhile, other shepherd had climbed up the waterfall to his flock. I waited for the animals to move away before climbing back up. Goats, sheep etc care not very careful about anyone being present downhill and roll down lots of loose stones while foraging. *Climbing up that steep gradient with all those loose rocks and soil was somewhat more difficult than going down.
Walking on a goat trail can be fun, sometimes
After that I walked around for a while aimlessly hoping to find something interesting. Only thing that came close was a big rock broken neatly in two with just enough space for a person to squeeze through. *I didn't feel like going back the same way I had come, so kept on walking here and there. Samudri Taapoo was in my sights almost the whole time, mocking. I found a trail after walking for 40-45 minutes but it too was on a very steep gradient and covered with sharp loose rocks and soil. There was no other way, so I had no choice but to climb that way.Looked like only animals used that trail as there were no human foot prints visible.* It was really hard work and I must've stopped at least 5 times on those 600 m to catch my breath.After a lot of huffing and puffing, I finally managed to climb that cliff and walked in to an easier area. There were a lot of dried out seasonal ponds which have water only for a few months in spring and early summer. The dried out soil was covered with small strange looking plants of different colours, white, red and green. A lot of birds there too. Finally after walking for 30-40 minutes, camping place was visible and I dragged myself back to have something to eat.
This post is too long already and I haven't finished with the day yet . More in next post.
|Trek to Chandrataal (Chandertaal) Lake |
|At just a few minutes past 3:30 am, I woke up and started getting ready. Water in shower was very cold at that time. Felt strange wishing for hot water in middle of August. After getting ready, I checked out of the hotel and reached the taxi stand. Tenzin, the driver secured my bag on roof of his Tata Sumo by a rope along with luggage of other passengers and started driving by 4:15. Apart from me, there were 3 Israeli tourists and 4 locals. A local 3 day long festival was just starting that day in Kaza and some of the locals were going there to attend it. I took a seat in back and sat down hoping to doze a little. |
View near Rohtang pass
But that hope proved to be futile. For 30-40 minutes or so, road was well paved but after that it got bad, helped in no less deal by the recent rains. It was full of rubble and stones due to big and small landslides and the ride was not exactly smooth. I even started to get a little motion-sickness but it wasn't too bad. After 5:30 am, sun started to come up and one could enjoy the sights. The scenery was beautiful beyond words. We were traveling on mountains and could see dense clouds covering the valley below. Going by the view, we could've been flying in an airplane. By that time, road had been completely replaced by a dirt track with mud up to 10-15 cm deep, sometimes even more. Just a few km before Rohtang pass, we got stuck in a jam, but fortunately it didn't last long.
This is road
We stopped in a place called Gramphu for rest and breakfast. There one more passenger joined us. He was Tibetan guy working for WWF in Chandratal (Chandertaal)area. He seemed pretty knowledgeable about local flora and fauna, so it was nice chatting up with him. By this time, I noticed that there were no trees around us, except some small 1-2 meters high shrub like things. Those too were a long way off to have a close look. While coming back a few days later, a local co-passenger told me that the tree is called Chaturbhuj and according to legend, Valmiki wrote Ramayana on bark of this tree. The fact that WWF guy (let's call him Si) had no idea about that, made me realise that there is no substitute for local knowledge and wisdom.
As we traveled from Gramphu towards Spiti, greenery became rarer till it was just a few small shrubs and grass in isolated patches upon massive mountains. Chandra river flowed along the road and was fed by numerous big and small waterfalls from adjoining mountains. A lot of these waterfalls flowed on the road which was already damaged. At some places we it felt like we were driving over a stream instead of a road. At this point, vehicles were few and far in between and the only sound was the roar of Chandra river and chirping of a few numerous yet hard to see small birds. Owing to altitude (4000m+) and clean air, the sky was a very beautiful and darker shade of blue. No ugly buildings to spoil the view either. You can never see such sky anywhere else. Although the road was nothing more than a dirt track even on better stretches, I hardly noticed it over the outside scenery.
Around 12, we stopped at Batal at the famous Chandra dhaba run by an old couple and their son. There's another dhaba nearby but it doesn't seem to be as popular. I thought that they had named it after the river Chandra which flows just a few meters away but later came to knew that the lady's name is Chandra. They are a helpful and jolly couple who take good care of their guests as well in every way possible. Theirs is the only place within tens of km which has a phone. How they managed to persuade BSNL to install a satellite phone there is a mystery. Oh, I forgot mentioning that there is no cell-phone coverage after Gramphu. There's no electricity either except generators and solar power in some settlements. Pure bliss While I was clicking photos, Si asked me 2-3 times to conserve my camera battery as I wasn't carrying any spare and there was no way of charging it.
Locals call this bird Chinguk (?)
I had a plate of daal-chawal, my first meal of day before we left for Kunzum La. I was expecting some kind of exotic local food but was disappointed. Their main clientèle aren't very adventurous with their food. A road has been constructed from Batal to Chandrataal, but the distance is 14km while from Kunzum La, it's a trek of 8.5 km. As I was more interested in trekking, I decided to take the trail from Kunzum La. On the way, a convoy of 9-10 Mahindra Bolero vehicles was stopping the road. Turned out that one of the vehicles had an accident, luckily no one was seriously injured.* They started moving soon after taking the vehicle off road. After noticing Hebrew markings and Israeli flag on some vehicles, I asked the Israeli tourists about it. I was told that this was Desert Queen, a group of adventurous Israeli women which travels around the world exploring deserts. I was impressed.
Si had gotten off in Batal where he had some work and I got off the Sumo in Kunzum La pass. It's a comparatively flat but picturesque road junction. There is a temple dedicated to a female deity Kunzum. Tenzin, as helpful as always introduced me to a a few people waiting there for a ride to Chandrataal via Batal route. One of the guys turned out to be Jamaica. I was familiar with the name through a forum BCMTouring.com and asked if he was the same guy. I had the impression that he was a tour operator in Spiti, but had no expectation of finding him in Chandratal. Turned out that he operated a camping place near Chandrataal. Another surprise. I thought there was only one or two such places there and I had not decided whether to avail of their services yet. Later, I found out that there were four. Heh. Jamaica advised me to take a tablet of Diamox if I was to trek 8.5km to Chandrataal. I hesitated at first, considering that I had no symptom of any sickness except for that small period before Rohtang. I had taken a tablet for motion sickness soon after, just to be safe.
But I still followed his advice considering his experience. He told me some basic directions about locating his camp which didn't make much sense to me. According to him, the 8.5 km trek would take more than 4 hours. I was incredulous at the 2 km per hour speed. I wasn't there on a slow-walk competition with a snail. That Desert Queen convoy soon caught up with us and the women alighted excited and shouting loudly. So much for the peace and tranquility. I put my rucksack on my back, tightened the straps and left on the trail to Chandataal 1-2 minutes later. After walking for 10-15 minutes, the road was still visible for a long distance with only 2 vehicles in sight for a long time. The sun was shining brightly but a stuff breeze was blowing. After 1 km or so, the rocky mountains had very little vegetation. The area was littered with small and big pieces of slate like rocks all over, most of them red and black. Only if it was a red morning or evening sky, it'd have looked a lot like a Martian landscape.
On way to Chandrataal
After walking for 50-60 minutes , I stopped to rest. That heavy rucksack combined with unstable rocky path wasn't making walking any easier. After mostly flat ground, the path turned rocky and undulating pretty quickly. This kept on repeating every 1-2 km for rest of my trek. Sometimes, the trail was broken up by ridges carved out in the mountains by waterfalls, landslides or glaciers. Climbing up and down those rocky ridges was the hardest and most tiring part. As there was no firm foothold on the loose rocks, people have to be really careful while walking on them. I had a glimpse of a grey water body, shimmering in bright sunlight. It looked so different from Chandrataal and I was confused. I was told that the lake should've been visible by now but it didn't look like anything in the pictures. But after walking further, a portion of dark greenish blue lake came in to view, driving away the confusion. Nestled between mountains, even the partial view looked so beautiful from distance.
There is a trail if you look closely
Till now, only sign of life apart from small shrubs were some small insects and harder to spot sparrow/finch like birds. Around 2:30 pm, I spotted a herd of goat and sheep, guarded by a pair of dogs but with no shepherd in sight. The dogs, one of which was a strange red colour were 100 meters away from me and paid no attention, but the flock was directly in my path. They kept staring till I reached close and then ran away in all directions. Then I noticed Si walking a few meters behind me. Catching up, his first remark was, " Hey, you're walking so slowly !"
I thought, " Right you idiot. Let's exchange my 20+ kg backpack with 2 kg bag of yours, then we'll talk about it." But it was more than likely that he'd have walked faster even then. I asked him about distance left and he checked his GPS device to answer "approximately 2 miles.". I thought it was 2 km and that caused a lot of confusion over the next 2 hours. Within a few minutes, he had left me far behind. By then, I had finished up a half-liter bottle of Frooti and was on my only water bottle. Till now, I had seen only dried out seasonal waterfalls and Chandra river with it's undrinkable water which was a medium shade of grey due to soil erosion. ( No reference to 50 Shades of Grey book, haven't read it). Even that was far away . By now, I could see some camps in foothills of mountains across the dried out nullah, but there was no direct way to reach there. After walking for some more time, I came across a small grassy meadow like place and lay down to rest. I think I dozed off for a while and woke up with a slight headache and nausea. But a drink of water gave some relief. After crossing 2 more dried waterfall/rockslides, I met a Gaddi shepherd near his dera (camp) and asked him if I was on right trail. He said it was just 2 more km away. Now I realised that Si had said 2 miles not km. The shepherd invited me to rest in his camp and have some tea but I didn't feel like doing that so soon. I thanked him for the help and walked on.
He had miscalculated the length by more than half a km , as I found out a while later. But by then, I was very tired and was using a trekking pole a lot. The cheap made in China thing was of shoddy quality but was of good use at least then. That taught me not to underestimate worth of a good trekking pole . Somehow I managed to keep on trail and reached the closest camp. Si, Jamaica and two other people were already seated there sipping tea and invited me to join the party. I immediately dropped my bag, camera, stick etc. to the ground and walked over to them. It had taken me nearly 4 hours to walk those measly 8.5 km. After resting and a cup of hot masala chai, Jamaica helped me put up my tent. I didn't feel like walking to the Chandrataal Lake just then, so just walked within a few 100 meters of camp site taking in the views. After a hot dinner of daal-chawal, I crawled into my sleeping bag and was asleep by 7:30. It had been a long day.
Campsite at last
NEXT: Chandrataal, Samudri Taapoo
*While searching around the net trying to remember the actual name which spelled out like Malika or Malka, I came across a news article according to which one 63 year old woman was killed and 2 other injured in an accident on 26th August. Although they haven't mentioned it, the place seems to be Spiti. Sad.
|From Manali to Spiti |
|Due to my own laziness and some other limitations, size of photos posted here may seem too small. In case you want to see larger (and more) photos, you can check my photo gallery or Picasa album Most of the work with the photos will be done in a week or so. |
I had read about Lahaul and Spiti *in a book अरे यायावर रहेगा याद (Arey Yayavar Rahega Yaad ) a long time back . Though I don't remember much details now, but visiting the place became a 'thing to do before I die' for me. I love trekking in mountains, but never had the opportunity to do so *in way that I like. So when a chance came up to visit the place on a solo trekking trip, I dropped everything else for this .
The place is remote, rugged and not easy to travel compared to most other tourist destinations. So it took some preparation, physical as well as material. One needs good stamina for trekking specially at that altitude of 4000m +. *Just lifting weights and beefing up muscles is not the solution. I could write something on this but I'm hardly an expert and this blog is not the place for this topic either. Choosing luggage, tools etc was another area where I had very little experience in. I browsed a lot of websites, asked a lot of silly questions but managed to gather a list which could help me survive the trip. I picked up a 70 litres rucksack, sleeping bag, multi-tool* from Delhi and bought *propane stove, tent, *mat, ready to eat meals, etc from Manali. This was in addition to the *other stuff that one carries like clothes, first-aid kit, high energy snacks etc.
* * * * * I reached Manali on 15th August via a Volvo bus. Now I'm thinking of avoiding these buses operated by private operators as they are generally in poor condition, seats are mismanaged and the staff is rude and stupid. *Even that bus ride was late by 2-3 hours and reached Manali by 11:30 am. I had woken around 6 before that when the bus had stopped at a roadside dhaba for breakfast. Don't know the place's name, but it was very green and beautiful. After sometime, one could see apple orchards along the road with almost ripe apples hanging from branches. * After that, I was unable to go back to sleep and kept mostly awake till the bus stopped *in manali 5 hours later. I didn't feel like roaming around searching for hotels as I wasn't going to stay there for long. So followed a tout to the nearest hotel which didn't turn out to be all that bad. After a quick shower and an early lunch, I stepped out to explore the city.
New Manali is just a crowded and noisy market typical of many Indian cities. So I quickly *left the place and walked up to Hidimba Mandir. A lot of tourists there too, but atleast it had a good tree cover. The temple like most other* temples in Himachal is made of timber and earth. Her son with Bhim, Ghatokach has a place beneath some trees just a few meters away.
Hidimba Temple, Manali
From there, I walked down to Old Manali half a km away. *One has to cross a bridge on a Beas tributary which seemed flooded to me. But for locals, it was normal water level. After walking through the market, one comes across an old temple dedicated to Manu, who is considered* progenitor of human race according to Hindu beliefs. * The outer structure of temple is around 20 years old compared to centuries old inner sanctum.* *A foreign tourist was trying to teach some local kids whistle using a grass blade without much success. Old Manali still maintains the character and charm of an old town in places and thus is a better place for people trying to escape the chaos of cities. Although the shops and eating joints are tailored towards foreigners, it's not as annoying as New Manali. After spending some time there, I wandered around till I found a signboard with directions for Vashisht Kund 3 km away.
One can enjoy hot water bath at any time of year there. The water has a slight smell of Sulphur and the temperature is just right for soaking *in for a long bath. A temple alongside is dedicated to ancient Indian sage Vashisht. After the temple, I walked to a roof top restaurant nearby to eat something. The river, *mountains and apple orchards offered an amazing view from there. *It was getting dark by then, so I walked back to my hotel to sleep.
Inside Manu Temple, Old Manali
Next day, I was out of hotel by 9:30 and searching for a place to have some breakfast. All Tibetan owned shops were closed due to a protest against Chinese atrocities in* Tibet. I* Settled for honey porridge and mint tea. As I was awaiting for food to arrive, I noticed a Tibetan procession protesting against Chines atrocities in their homeland Tibet. People were walking quietly in a straight line carrying banners . It was very different from usually noisy, disruptive and chaotic marches which are the norm elsewhere. But I don't think that Tibet can win freedom using non-violent means like these. No oppressor has been thrown out just by non-violent protests. *I did sign their petition though when one volunteer requested it later in evening. Alongside Beas river bank, authorities have put aside a wooded area for a park called Van Vihar where people can stroll through enjoying the woods. Even though the area was a bit littered, a relaxed walk was a nice experience.
View near Vashishth Templ, Manali
After that, I walked around in market searching for camping gear which I hadn't bought till then. Some places rent gear too, but buying it was only slightly more expensive. Bought a few packs of ready to eat meals, chocolates, biscuits, fruits etc which must've added at least 4kgs to my backpack. *Arranged for a seat in a shared Tata Sumo taxi which left at ungodly 4:00am in morning. If you leave later, you can't reach Kaza in time. As I was going to Chandrataal Lake, my stop was in Batal or Kunzum La. But the price was same. I paid the driver some advance and asked him to make sure that he calls me at least once in morning and walked back to my hotel to pack. It took some work, but I was finished by 10:00 pm. Everything in a single bag that one can sling over back. Nice.* Set an alarm for 3:30am, went to bed but kept watching TV till 12:30.
Van Vihar near Beas river, Manali
NEXT: *Journey from Manali to Chandrataal (Chandertaal) Lake