Baleni Pass: A Walk Through Beautiful Alpnie Trail

#1 Dec 16th, 2018, 15:17
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Winters had started knocking the doors announcing the season change, sunshine had started to feel nicer and the breeze was more pleasant now. There was already news of good snow fall in Spiti areas and also on the higher reaches of Shimla & Manali region. Before it’s too cold in coming days I thought of a started planning for a trek – yet again in Dhauladhar region. It’s been a while since I have done a significant trek in Garhwal region, we seems to have confined to Himanchal and specially around Bir-Billing area. The list of what we have done in last 3-4 years is a good one and shows we have covered quite a few in the region, it all started with Crossing Indrahar Pass followed by Kareri Lake, Minkiani Pass, Bir-Hanumangarh, Thamsar Pass & latest was Jalsu Pass this year over the Holi weekend.

(Link to these walks)
Indrahar Pass: https://www.facebook.com/nkothiyal/m...6817434&type=3
Kareri lake and Minkiani pass: https://www.facebook.com/nkothiyal/m...3762434&type=3
Billing - Hanumangarh: https://www.facebook.com/nkothiyal/m...6592434&type=3
Thamsar Pass: https://www.facebook.com/nkothiyal/m...2207434&type=3
Jalsu Pass: https://www.facebook.com/nkothiyal/m...4092434&type=3

Idea was to rush out of Delhi over Diwali weekend – courtesy the higher pollution acting as substantial motivator to make you head towards mountains. On the other side, being Diwali holidays it would have been tougher for folks to leave families behind and leave for mountains, for a trek. Srikant was IN and also agreed to pass on these dates to his Marathon team with a possibility of may be a few joining. His marathon gang had shown a keen interest knowing Srikant was doing these mountain walks. I called up Vinay too, and much not to my surprise I had his nod for this.

Discussions with Kuldeep started for a trek of 3Days and 2Nights duration, all of us had to come back Delhi on Monday early morning, so the time was defined to limits. Danser Lake was his first recommendation, but, time was a day short to climb this high mountain lake at 4400 meters. Kuldeep then suggested and pushed us for Baaru Pass, narrating some good stories of a recent mountaineering rescue operation he was part of in the same region. A British guy had hurt his leg and was unable to move any further while he was travelling through the region, fortunately he was carrying his sat phone which helped rescue team locate him using his GPS location. High point of Baaru pass was majestic views one would get to see while doing this, however, it was requiring 3 nights at-least to make it a pleasant walk. I didn’t wanted group to be pushed unnecessarily just walking the whole day and being tiered at the end. So, despite Kuldeep’s strong recommendation I decided to drop this one too. The search was back to mercy of Google to help us find something in the region doable in 3 days.

This is where I found a link on Baleni Pass – to my surprise, there wasn’t much about this trek on internet, and the ones who had listed this on their sites had recommend a bigger route, Kareri Lake – Minkinai Pass – Baleni Pass making it a week long trek. Though, I would have preferred to take a different route while descending but, with limited time decided to come back the same way making it more doable and suited for timelines we had in hand. Concern, however was still at large two folds, first - Kuldeep had not done this one in past, second - the extent of snow at the top. Well, a few phone calls with Kuldeep and his accomplice in the region helped us gain confidence and I finalized to do Baleni Pass. Baleni Pass is accessed through the Khauli Valley which is also the source of Khauli River, at an elevation of about 3,750 meters located in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The Baleni Pass trek originates from Salli village and passing through a thick pine forest.

Day 0, 8th Nov: Delhi to Gaggal (Kangra), 535 Kms
Srikant meanwhile confirmed Rupesh as single entry from his marathon group, most of others had family constrains due to Diwali festive time, understandably so. Irrespective, now, we were a group of 4 and good enough to convert the plan into action. We decided to start early on 8th Nov (the very next day after Diwali), taking a halt somewhere in Gaggal region to spend the night and start walk on the mountains on 9th, with plan to be back on road on 11th around lunch time and head back for Delhi. Since it was Diwali holidays HRSTC was closed for a few days, and I didn’t wanted to rely on private operators, so we decided to drive by ourselves. On 8th Nov, at 6:00 I started from Noida (Sector 50), picked up Srikant from sector 25 and headed for Delhi (Naraina) to pick Rupesh and Vinay, finally 7:30 in the morning the group was complete and we headed for Murthal as our first halt for breakfast.
However, after just Sonipat I realized bursting of left right rear tyre, undesirable, unfortunate start to the trip. After a short breakfast break at Murthal, we headed further with regularly looking for a tyre shop and place to have air filled in. After a couple of halts for a quick road side lunch break at Nangal and tea break around 4 PM at some unknown plan we reached kangra around 6 PM. Since, we didn’t book any place to stay when we started from Delhi, were not sure of right place to stay, we parked car in the Gaggal market and thought of walking into a couple of hotels in the area. Finally, after a short search we checked in into Lords Highway Inn.


Day 1, 9th Nov: Acclimatization day
Gaggal (Kangra) to Salli 21Kms,
Salli Village (1650 meters) to Camp site (2630 meters) – 8.25 Kms

Alarm went up at 4:00 in the morning, and so were we out of our beds. Kuldeep was outside hotel waiting for us at 6:00, perfect time to start, this is how we had planned for. From gaggal we drove to Salli village around 21 Kms further. After a few initial kms you leave hustle bustle behind and pass through beautiful small, sparsely dense villages on the way. As the elevation increases, the vegetations turns denser and changes from typical low land greenery to highland pine forests. Road till Salli was mostly good, new tar in some long patches & just a few bad small patches. We parked vehicle, and waited for a couple of shops to open up to have the quick breakfast before starting to climb. On mountains nothing beats omlattes, Maggi and a nice tea.

Walk to wilderness starts: Car was parked safe near hydro project boundary, stuff was loaded on ponies and we were all set to start. Rupesh, doing it for the first time was the most exciting souls amongst us. From Salli village there is a gradual ascend to the campsite. The trek to Baleni Pass is one of the most stunning alpine treks in Himachal Pradesh. The trail crosses several gushing streams, through lush green meadows and thick forest that is a home to numerous Himalayan bird and animal species. Initial couple of kms takes you through alpine forest, will a fairly nice laid out trail. You also cross through small green patches, perfect camping ground.

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The group (R->L) Vinay, Rupesh, Srikant, Naveen

Half way through, (almost at around 4Kms) were few huts, followed by a temple. We were told that villagers move here during summers and then fall back to low lands in winters. Temple was big enough indicating religious faith of locals and huts and sheds indicated how busy place would be in summers. We halted here for a while waiting for ponies to come into sight. It was around 90 minutes since we had started and ponies were about to start just after us, at the pace with which locals walk we thought of them overtaking us with in first 1-2 kms, though, to our surprise they didn’t.

Where are the ponies: Rupesh was loving this walk, I could see a sheer joy on his face and a lots of enthusiasm in his walk. He is feather weight and walk as if he has got wings into his legs, benefits of running marathons was clearly visible. He is an avid traveler, having been to many places, but this walk was different for him, views were more serene with no souls around. Our concern for ponies started to grew. “Did they even start ?” – we were asking ourselves, Kuldeep was also not sure of the reasons. Interestingly, since Kuldeep was doing Baleni for the first time we thought if we were on the right path. Did we miss any diversion, is this the right way – I asked Kuldeep this a few times. No sounding too confident, he asserted being on the right trail. Now for us the option was to wait for ponies to appear or have Kuldeep rush back to figure out the mystery. Kuldeep was few 100 meters behind us, and whistled and instructed us to wait where he saw a local shepherd and was having conversations with him, also, waiting for ponies to appear. Well, we decided to wait – this was a good time for a long break, we were not tiered though, since, the trail was fairly simple rise was very gradual. We unloaded our packs, laid our backs on big boulders and enjoyed the bask under sun.

What if ponies don’t come, will we still continue and halt somewhere, but where to spend night, do we have food & enough warm cloths ? – all kind of conversations happened for that over 30 minutes of wait under bright lovely sunny afternoon. Kuldeep appeared a few minutes later, though ponies didn’t and our concern grew. After a few minutes of conversation with Kuldeep we all decided to move further till the camping place with hope that ponies have started and have taken a bit longer due to some reason (unknown to us). After having conversation with the shepherd Kuldeep was sure of the path, so we all decided to walk further till the camping location. Around 3:30 we reached the camping ground for the first day, the actual place as per our original plan was further, another 30-40 mins of walk. Kuldeep though recommended this place, it had a larger flat green area offering a better place to camp. This place was a litter higher up (around 25 meters) from river bed facing the vast valley on southern side. Tents were pitched.

Mesmerizing evening: It was beautiful to see sun going behind the mountains on right side of the valley. Horizon was painted orange and red, it was mesmerizing to see change in colors every few minutes till sun was completely down. It was around 6:00 when sun was going down and place started to cover under the dark blanket. We choose a place at some distance from the camps for bonfire, woods were arranged and fire was set. We sat around the fire, holding our drinks, chatting up on so many topics.

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Camping site

Day 2, 10th Nov: Summit day
Camping location (2630 meters) to Baleni Pass (3750 meters) – Total distance covered 7.5 Kms
It was a perfect morning, sun was still not above the mountains at 5:45, so it was a bit cold. We all stepped out of our tents wanting sun rays to fall on us, knowing it would still take time – we kept on glaring the horizon with anticipation of bright rays to warm us up.

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Day 2, all set to start

The plan on day 2 was to start early and reach pass before 12:00, the weather on passes changes quite drastically post noon. We were late, it was almost 8 while we finished our breakfast and clicked group photo to start the day 2 walk. Day of summit is generally the most exciting day when you carry all the excitement of reaching on top of a mountain. Mind is all set and tuned to encounter the challenges and persistent effort the day would demand. Sun was still not up in the sky, first 30 minutes was cold, we filled in our water supplies and headed further. From camping location for first 1 km the trail starts to rise up, not too steep though, this gives you a nice acclimatization for the tougher path ahead. We reached first milestone (a small temple), crossed moraine patch, near the water fall and headed for second milestone (another temple). After crossing the fall, the last 200-300 meters patch leading to temple was steep, but the walk was more comfortable since it was a grassy patch. We halted at the temple and relaxed a nit under warm sun rays.

The tough trail: Rupesh was leading us well, his walk never made us feel this was his first trek. Confident steps, tireless & consistent pace impressed us all – apparently daily run has kept him agile enough to walk comfortably on mountain curves. Vinay on the other hand looked a bit tiered, I could sense some strain in his walk and exhausted feel on his face. I decided to fall back and accompany Vinay to motivate him to walk further up as much as possible. The steepest part starts from the temple, this surely is a real steep trail. You are required to raise your head significantly enough to see the top of this ridge. Rupesh was going strong even on this trail, I was walking along with Vinay. Srikant generally walks at a very consistent manner, but, I could feel he was a bit sluggish from this point onwards. I attributed this to a probable fatigue state and the sudden elevation, but, knowing him I was surely he would take a bit of time to get adjusted.

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Climbing up after crossing the stream

The dilemma to go further: “How much to go, how far is it, how much time it will take” – these are obvious questions one starts asking on the toughest part of the trail. Kuldeep, himself was doing Baleni pass for the first time and the oldest member of team had done it some 18 years back – so apparently he was also carrying a faded memory of the trail. Carrying the responsibilities of guiding us and leading the team, Kuldeep had to respond to these constantly raised questions – “we must be close, pass should be just a walk away on the ridge after reaching on top of this mountain”, was the assertive response. His response though acted as source of energy for tiring legs and drained minds. We reached the mountain and walked a while on the ridge, the views opened up, you were at level with high snow clad mountains, the views were mesmerizing. But, the ultimate excitement to probably see Baleni pass every close by, a few minutes away. Aaah, heart broke when Kuldeep pointed us to Baleni pass quite a distance further away, that too after another steep trail covered with snow.

Views are significantly awesome from here itself, why do we need to climb further – Rupesh was first one to react, Srikant to my surprise acknowledged. Vinay had already done the significant part of this trek but climbing this high. Really, am I going alone on top – I never had a this question on my mind. I was surely going further, but will anyone walk along with me ? Another round of deliberation started with those obvious questions – “will it be difficult to walk on snow, how far is it, how much time will it take” ? At a normal pace, from here on it looked like a 1:30 – 2 hours of further walk to the pass. It was already 11:30, general advice is to cross pass by 12:00, the weather changes rapidly without any alarms on passes. With this 2 hours of estimate we were running behind schedule. Never force any one on mountains rather motivate leaving it for one to decide, I did the same & started walking. I walked for 10 minutes, stopped and looked back waving the group giving a sense of easiness of the trail. I think by then they had made their minds, I could see them relaxing under sun and waving me to go further alone.

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Tiered, much needed break


Reaching the top: It was almost 12:10 now, I thought we had spent some good time here, we could see sun going under clouds and making it colder. We were short on water, but could see a stream under glacier further up on the mountain. We will try taking small breaks and if possible rather no breaks- I told Kuldeep and without wasting much time further we carried some food and started the journey further up. We started pacing ourselves with quick on snowy, icy patch – it was not easy to walk on muddy slippery trail making us slow down at times. I could see herd of sheep climbing down, a bunch of shepherds with their stock were climbing down the mountain. The extent of snow and grew as we moved further up, I was pacing it up well with Kuldeep and eventually after 50 minutes of almost nonstop exhausted and absorbing walk we were at the pass. Beautiful it was, views on the other side were mesmerizing. Sun was still out shinning, giving us opportunity to click a few photos.

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Mandir at the top

Kuldeep was in discussion with shepherds who were still at the pass trying to get details of route on the other side of the pass. The trail beyond pass leads to Lam Dal, a high altitude lake, he pointed his finger in the possible direction. Few minutes of conversation ended and shepherds started their walk down the trail. Sun was under clouds now making it much colder, my mittens were in my back pack which we had left behind with the group. My hands were freezing fast, making it difficult to operate the camera. This was good an indication to it windup all and get down as early as possible. We offered prayers at the small temple at the pass, clicked a few more photos and after spending some 20 minutes at the pass we started our downward journey. Getting down through snowy, icy muddy patch was quite tricky, at some specific places every step was kept diligently. At 1:00 we were back at the point where the other group had halted, but they were gone by the time we descended. We thought of resting here for a while and had lunch (parantha’s with pickle), it was a good 30 minute break. We almost didn’t take any major break for the rest part of downward journey and reached back at the camping place at 5:00.

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At the top


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With Kuldeep at the top

Another Blissful Evening:
Yet another blissful evening, today, the discussion was primarily on the day’s walk. I knew Srikant wasn’t unwell and it was tough for Vinay to go further up, Rupesh am sure could have done it. Despite being a mix day for the group, everyone was happy for the nice walk and the extent to sweat and perspiration it took for each one to reach there. We scrolled through some of the photos clicked at the top. We stayed out near bone fire till 9:00 glaring the galaxy and millions of stars up in the sky with an occasional view of white trail generated by meteors.

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Day 2, Vast Valley

Day 3, 11th Nov: Day to descend and return back to civilization
Camping location (2630 meters) to Salli Village (Road head) – 8 Kms
My sleep broke at 3:30 in the morning and my bladder was full enough forcing me to get up and move out of the tent to take a leak. Oh, this surely is one of the most difficult part on mountains, when you are warm enough inside your sleeping bags. Well, how long I could hold it, I debated myself, not long enough for sure – apparently, I gathered all mental strength and stepped out of the tent. To my surprise it was heavenly mesmerizing, I barely remember seeing those millions of glittering starts up in the sky, the prettiness up in the sky was all worth standing out in the cold night at 3:30. I stood out for few minutes glaring the sky and appreciating my decision of stepping out of the tent on a cold night. We finally got up at around 7:00, it was yet another bright morning, weather was pleasant – sun was yet to come out completely. We finished our breakfast by 8:00, packed all our bags to be carried back and started the downward journey. Our journey in most of recent trekking haven’t been complete without some of us taking a dip in the stream on way back home. Vinay, was constantly looking for a place to take a dip to shed of all the possible tiredness.

The journey back is not exciting enough, when you are following the same trail. Generally, this is the time when you retrospect and take a flash back of the journey so far, the good, the pleasant, the beauty and the pain of climbing these beautiful mountains. Rupesh surely had a wonderful first time experience, he was returning back with tons of wonderful memories and phots which surely would make a few jealous in his running group. He was in all sort of enthusiasm to narrate these moments and show them the beauty through what he had captivated in his camera. We covered downward journey of 8 kms in 3.30 hours and reached Salli village at around 12:00. Kuldeep started late after winding up all the camping stuff and was walking along with ponies this time. We thought time was enough for us to quickly grab some food and hunt in the market bought us to a small restaurant offering homemade mutton rice, plentiful 3 plates costed Rs 210 only. Kuldeep also reached meanwhile with all the stuff, everything was unloaded from ponies loaded into the car and we started journey for home.

Baleni pass surely is one of the most beautiful low altitude passes on Dhauladhar Himalayan hills. Valley is quite vast, offering great views, varied landscape, beautiful stream for larger part of the trail. This surely is one of the beautiful alpine treks in the region. First day the elevation gain was 978 meters while covering the distance of over 8 Kms, and the next day, the vertical gain was 1118 Meters in less than 4 Kms. Here’s what MI application captured.

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Distance covered and altitude gain


Some more photos of this journey are here:
https://www.facebook.com/nkothiyal/m...4252434&type=3

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