There was a really long break between the last post of this travelogue and this one due to a number of reasons including work and other stuff. Anyhow, now I have some time and inclination to write down the travelogue again. Last post here.

As we were packing up and heating poha packets for breakfast, 2 officials from Himachal forest department walked in and started chatting. They warned us against camping near the lake but were polite about it. Provided us with some information about the place, chatted a bit and let us off with instructions on what to do in places like that. Pradhan (the head shepherd I have mentioned previously) was there and started complaining how the excess of camping was destroying the vegetation, adversely affecting animals and making the place filthy. He was absolutely right, to be honest. One of the reasons, I didn’t want to camp in campsite was the noise which the idiot tourists make all night long. One night, there was a group of 7-8 people who kept on playing highly retarded Bhojpuri, Punjabi songs all night after getting drunk. Another night, there was a group of some Punjabi retards who after getting drunk kept on beating an old drum and trying to sing (scream) along the annoying noise. Nobody seems to care that the place is a protected wilderness area and making noise like that, specially after dark, littering and their retarded way of celebrating a day out is highly stupid. One of the Punjabi NRIs who stayed in the campsite was dumb enough to demand chicken by whining ,” Appa ithey aaloo khaan waaste aaye hain ” ? (Are we here to eat potatoes ?)

Dumbass is in a campsite in a wilderness, 12 hours drive from Manali and at least 7 hours from Kaza, nearest towns which can have chicken and feels like he is entitled to it which isn’t really that popular food in the area just because he and his equally stupid loutish friends drove from pind Punjab to remote Spiti. It’s a small mercy that idiots like him don’t stay for more than one day. To make it better, most of people in that group were without any winter clothing.
Anyhow, as we started our walk back to campsite we saw a number of new tourists on the way.On the way, wifey got a lift in a car going back while me and ACB took a goat trail which led to nowhere, We had to slide down the slate rocks for a good 100 meters before we found a proper solid ground to walk upon. Reaching back, me and wifey decided to move on further towards Kaza next day while ACB decided to go back to Manali. The rest of day wasn’t particularly remarkable as I spent most of my time napping and walking around the Chandrabhaga river bank while wifey and ACB chatted with other guests.

Farms, Spiti river and the majestic mountains in Losar village

Farms, Spiti river and the majestic mountains in Losar village

The French girls were taking a bus to Kullu airport and from there a flight to Delhi. ACB was offered lift in car of one of the guests. Our plan was to stay for one or two nights in Losar, in Dorjee’s homestay before deciding upon what to do next. So ACB left the camp at 8 am while we got in to another car with Jamaica and French girls till Batal 2-3 hours later. There we found ACB waiting impatiently for the bus. Due to some miscommunication he had stayed in Batal while the others drove away to Manali. He could just find a spot to stand in the bus while I helped him tie his luggage on the rooftop. I don’t think that it was a very comfortable journey for him.

Our bus arrived soon after and I had to get on top of bus again to tie our own rucksacks. The bus was already full, but there was some space to stand atleast. The ride up the mountain towards Kunzum La is very slow and quite treacherous. On the way, there was an earth mover coming from opposite direction on a very narrow stretch. It was impossible for bus to go back from there, so the earth mover driver tried to turn back. All he succeded in doing was to almost roll down the slope to river atleast 300 meters below. At one time, only 2 of his 4 tires were on ground while other 2 were in air. Bus passengers actually started filming the whole thing. Thankfully, earth mover driver managed to get it back on the road and then drove back in reverse.

The only child who stayed still long enough for me to click a photo in Kyamo

The only child who stayed still long enough for me to click a photo in Kyamo

Upon reaching Kunzum La, most of the passengers got off the bus to our pleasant surprise. The drive up Kunzum La was not very comfortable and the rest of drive was unlikely to be much better, One young man told us that they were going to lake for the local festival. Goddess Kunzum was kind to us again as we finally found space to sit. Drive to Losar was all downhill and Dorjee’s guest house was actually on the outer edge of village. After asking around, we finally found the right place and got down.  I had to climb up the bus’ roof again to get the rucksacks which were completely covered in dust. The road leading to village seemed to be freshly laid. Later on we came to know that it was some central govt project to improve connectivity. But the quality of work was really shoddy and work was done  for 1 km  only. After that, it was same old broken stone trail.
We found the guest house without any difficulty but it was locked. One local told us that the family (Dorjee’s wife and daughter) were in their fields and will be back in a few hours. As we had no other option, we decided to have some snacks and wait. I walked around the village to see if there was some shop, but found nothing. There were only 3 kids who entered the guest house’s compund and looked at us as if were aliens. I saw one man working on his house and he invited me to go to his peas field and eat them fresh. I thanked him for the offer and then he told me that they had sent someone on a bike to call Dorjee’s wife back. It was a really nice gesture from them as they did it without us asking for it.

Village landscape

Village landscape

The houses in village were mostly made of mud, stones and wood with some concrete usage. The flat roofs were used to store dry firewood. Spiti River flowed just across the road and the old metal bridge made sounds like a jet engine whenever a heavy vehicle passed over it.
As I was walking around aimlessly, Sonam (Dorjee’s wife) came by walking briskly and opened the door for us. We had a cup of chai, rested and then walked around the village. A small, clean community with a primary school, government dispensary and connected only by a small uneven road. There were a few guest houses, a small police post and a few shops about 1-2 Km up, but this part of village was separated by a mountain stream. Dorjee family had 3 daughters, 2 were with maternal family for holidays and 1 was staying at home helping her mother Sonam with farm work.
They had built the house as a guesthouse to rent out to tourists passing through the area. It was not very luxurious but ok. Bedroom was a room with pictures of Buddhist, Hindu deities, Dalai Lama and some herbs being dried. For sleeping, there were two mattresses and thick blankets on ground. The windows were thick and air-tight to prevent cold air from getting in. People in this area need to sleep with every room made airtight. We had to open up the windows a few cm at night because we felt suffocated.
Toilet on the other hand was just a small shed around a hole on the roof. The shit fell in to a room which acted as kind of a compost pit. Not something that we were expecting, but still better than digging a hole in hard ground and then covering it up.

Local children enjoying bicycle rides
It was bit more comfortable accommodation when compared to campsite and pretty much how local villagers live. There were a few signs of modern city life though. LPG was being used in kitchen instead of wood which was the norm not too long ago. Electricity supply was fairly good and most houses had dish tv.The main dining room was kept warm by wood, coal fire. Food was quite simple but good. Most of the time, it was wheat bread with locally grown vegetables like peas, onions, potatoes etc. Very fresh and tasted pretty good.
During dinner, Sonam told us about a small village Kyamo at the end of road at a distance of about 5 km, supposedly the last village in that direction.

We thought that it might be an interesting idea, visiting the last village at end of the road, even though it isn’t exactly as cool as something like last village on border or something like that. So next morning, me and wifey packed up some water, snacks and started walking on the road along Spiti river. It was a sunny day but the wind made it feel like a really cold one. There was not particularly remarkable once you get used to huge mountains and rocks all around. During our hike of 5 km, we saw only 3 people. A shepherd and his 2 children with their herd of cows and zebus who just looked at us curiously from a distance. There were a number of mountain streams mostly fed by still melting ice on the the mountains all around. After walking for about 1 hour, we finally reached the village which was more like a cluster of 15-18 houses and fields all around.Most of the people were busy working there. One woman was not as shy as others and walked up to see us from up close and exchange a few pleasantries. We filled up our water bottle from a stream which was originated from a snow bank a few 100 meters away from the village and rested for a while. A few kids came up to look at us but ran away whenever I pointed camera at them.

After a few minutes, we started walking back to Losar. On the outskirts, we met Sonam and her daughter who were working in their pea farm. Wifey went with the girl to see their peas while I wanted to explore a cave like structure half way up the mountain nearby. From a distance it looked like a nice place where snow or water could accumulate and I thought there could be some water there. The stones coming down from that place also reinforced this notion. So while wifey went on to the farm, I started climbing up the mountain. It wasn’t such an easy thing walking up the incline on a very rocky surface after a walk of about 11 km. In the end it was all for nothing as the place was completely dry. The place had a dried out pond over there but no sign of water. Any water which had accumulated there had flown out months back. So I climbed down and followed the women back to guest house. On the way, they gave me some fresh green peas to snack upon.

Interesting plant in such a dry place

Interesting plant in such a dry place

We were pretty tired by the time we reached back home and rested while watching some old Hindi movie on TV. Right then, a small mouse entered the room and started running around. The little girl and wifey jumped up and started screaming as it came towards them while Sonam remained a bit calmer. I chased it with a broom trying to shove it away out of house, but it scampered below the TV table which was covered by a table cloth and hid there. Finally I found it hiding inside a small cardboard box. I picked it up and dumped mouse outside the window. As I was getting amused by all the scared women drama, I walked towards them holding the box in hand and claimed that the mouse was still inside. All 3 shouted even louder and started running around in circles. And I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Good end to the day.

 

This will be a short travelogue of our visit to Mukteshwar and Nainitaal in 1st week of December. The trip was for 4 days only and we kept it limited only to these 2 places. I still have about half of the Spiti travelogue pending and hoping to complete it by next month, if lucky.

I wasn’t even sure about being able to go till the last minute and booked the train tickets to Kathgodam only a day before. Our first plan was to visit Binsar and then to consider other options. Then it changed to 2 days in Muktehshwar and Binsar each. We called some properties in Mukteshwar and Binsar and asked a few questions to get some idea about the places. We caught the early morning Shatabadi train to Kathgodam. The train ride was uneventful except for some idiots throwing stones at the train near Moradabad. Seeing the kind of population living near railway station, it’s not a surprise to see that the vandals have little else to do except breeding like pigs, vandalism and rioting. Passengers raised some ruckus which forced some railways and police officers to check out and regster complaint at next station. Rest of the railway stations after that were very clean and in some ways, even beautiful. The area outside Haldwani railway station on other hand wasjust a huge slum area with too many mosques with too many loudspeakers blaring noise.

View from gusht house in Sitla near Mukteshwar

View from gusht house in Sitla

Kathgodam station was pretty neat and clean. As expected, there were a few taxi drivers on the gate asking if we needed taxis but nothing really annoying like in many other big tourist spots. The guest house we had called up previously had arranged for a taxi to take us there. We had a quick lunch and got in to the car. Roads were freshly laid but in few places there were signs of extremely shoddy work. It took us slightly more than 2 hours to reach Sitla, a small village near Mukteshwar where our guest house Roshan Villa was situated. The property is situated on top of the ridge and offers good view of the peaks of some famous Himalayan mountain peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul Parvat and a few others. For some reason, people really like seeing the mountains from a distance and most locals and even tourists consider it to be an attraction. I could see Vaishno Devi hills from my house In Jammu and Shivalik hills nearby and prefer to be on the mountain rather than seeing it from a distance. Probably that’s why it’s not a big deal for me now. But most people I met including the guides and property owners tried to present it as a major selling point. Sitla used to be a small quaint village by the looks of it, but it’s getting spoiled just like most of Uttaranchal as outsiders buy up land, more hotels and guest houses are being built and the old time charm of the place is fast fading away. We barely saw 3 houses of old design and 1 of them looked like it was about to be demolished. The land on hill which was mostly farm or orchard land was being cut in to plots and was on sale. Rows f modern concrete houses, guest houses, hotels etc. were being built or were built already. Overall it is a nice place, but it wouldn’t stay this way for more than 2-3 years. It will turn in to another crowded concrete jungle like Nainitaal in a few years if construction is not controlled.


That being said, it is a nice place and thanfully wifey liked the property and immediately declared that she wanted to spend atleast 2 nights here which was perfectly fine for me. After a bit of rest, we walked out to take a walk outside. After the crowds and noise of Delhi, it felt nice to spend some time walking in clean, fresh air of the mountains. Lots of birds, interesting insects and a beautiful sunset. We had an early dinner as we were quite hungry but couldn’t sleep early. So spent some time reading and watching TV befor managing to sleep at the usual time of well past midnight.

Next morning, the taxi reached guest house as we were finsihing our breakfast. Destination was famous Mukteshwar temple. It was a drive of about 45 minutes through forest and pretty beautiful sights as signs of human habitation were few and far in between. When we reached the temple, 2 young men came up and offered to be our guides. It didn’t cost that much and I thought that they will be probably able to tell us a bit more about places of interest nearby, so hired one. He took us to a small paved path instead of stairs to temple. The path led to a steep ledge on backside of temple. There is a hole in one of the rocks which locals believe helps women concieve if they pass through it. Supposedly a sacred place, the rocks were covered with usual kind of graffity by literate idiots. But the view of the valley below were pretty good. Temple by itself was nothing special. Just the usual kind of hill top temple which was probably a nice place a few years back, now a place with ugly construction and babas, pujaris of all types. Saw one baba in a building near main temple sitting in a executive chair. So much for life of simplicity and penance as a sanyasi. Saving grace for temples like this is that the preists don’t behave like dacoits in temples of Mathura, Haridwar kind of places. They just leave you alone and don’t try starting a conversation or sales pitch unless you talk to them first.

The long winding road

The long winding road

Before leaving, our guide Dinesh told us about a few interesting spots including a short hike through jungle and a waterfall. He also told us about sightings of leopard in area which raised our interest. We took his number and promised to call him in case we wanted to visit those places. We walked for a while down the road and found a path leading to small Methodist church. I had read about people admiring the place, so walked down to see. It was a small ordiniary building and was closed at that time. Nothing really special or interesting about it. Reached the market, had lunch and asked driver to drop us back. On the way, he offered to take us to another place like Mukteshwar (can’t remember the name now) and then drop at Nainitaal in evening. But we liked the idea of staying in Mukteshwar to hike through jungle, possibly spot a leopard and see the waterfall. So before dinner, we called up Dinesh to arrange the trip. We had a very heavy lunch of multiple plates of Rajma chawal in Mukteshwar and ate a lot after reaching our guest house. Even after this, both of us felt hungry after a while. This exceptional appetite stayed with both of us all through the duration of trip.
Dinesh reached our guest house half an hour before the scheduled time and sat outside patiently waiting for us as we got ready. We walked on the road with a few shortcuts every now and then before entering the jungle. On the way saw an old abandoned house with some dried fruit trees. He claimed that the family was scared away by ghosts and many people saw ghosts at different times. The house seems like it was used by the village drunkards  quite often. The path through jungle was a wide trail which was used by villagers as a shortcut. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, we didn’t see any leopard, though we saw 2 brown deers who bolted at the sight of us. I couldn’t even think of raising the camera to take a picture. Seeing them disappear so fast down the slope with trees and shrubs all over was an amazing sight. After walking on the trail for about one hour, we reached Mukteshwar and met a friend of Dinesh who informed us that a para-gliding team was offering the activity nearby. The day being our wedding anniversary, wifey was feeling a lot more adventurous than me and immediately said yes

Haunted House

Haunted House

.

After signing a disclaimer form and payment, we walked to the jump location. It was a sheer drop of 700-800 meters. As they were strapping up the gear, I asked the instructor who was going to jump with me about spare parachute. He laughed and said that if we ever needed one, we will crash long before we manage to get it opened. Awesome !
After strapping up, we waited for suitable wind. Standing a few feet from the cliff, I wondered if I had it in me to run up to edge and jump. Asked the instructor, how was I supposed to run with both of us strapped together and he said that the wind will lift up the parachute . We wouldn’t need to run at all. But the wind took it’s own sweet time and I started wondering if I felt afraid or not. I felt a lot more butterflies in stomach in Spiti near ropeway of Chicham village, but that’s a story for another day.

As I was standing there contemplating all this, the wind came up in suitable direction and we were immediately lifted and above the ledge. Everything seems small from a height, but a lot more smaller when there is no ground between the feet. We flew/glided/whatever it’s called for 8-9 minutes before we came close to landing spot in between some fields. Just then, a sudden gust of wind lifted us a bit and instead of landing on clear ground, we went rhough middle of a row of apple trees. Nobody was hurt though except for minor scratches here and there.

Para-gliding

Para-gliding

A man was tilling his land using a bullocks where we landed. Saw this thing after a long time. 3 excited children came up running and started helping us untangle the mess of tangles strings and fabric.

Wifey had to wait too before they had suitable wind. As their parachute came closer, we could hear her shouting excitedly. After packing up the parachutes, our instructors led us through the fields to road where a Jeep picked us and dropped us up the mountain. Dinesh and his friend were waiting for us there and we walked a small distance to a restaurant to have some snacks. They arranged a taxi to take us to the waterfall. Their proposal of hiring a bicycle was interesting but we didn’t have enough time and wifey didn’t like that either. The car dropped us at the start of trail which was being widened till some distance. I hope that the work didn’t progress much and the trail retained it’s original character. Don’t want yet another place to get “developed”.

Waterfall

Waterfall

We walked for 15-20 minutes alongside a small stream, crossed a few huge rocks to reach a waterfall about 9-10 meters high. I was expecting something generic, but this was way better than that. It looked a lot better in real life than it does in these pictures. It was too cold to do anything with water, so I consoled myself with wetting my hands, but wifey took off her shoes to stand for a while in ice-cold water. According to guides, there is a lot more water during rainy season and a lot of generic idiotic tourists during monsoons and peak season which get drunk, litter and makea nuisance of themselves. We saw a few styrofoam plates and plastic junk on the way anyway. Indian tourists will never learn to behave themselves.

We stayed there for a few minutes and started walking back as it was getting dark. Had to take a long route back as the shorter one passing through jungle is closed off after sunset. Dinesh had talked about another similar hiking trail and offered to take us there next day, but we eventually decided to visit Nainitaal.

We booked an old heritage property kind of property in Nainital the night before but had some confusion as it had recently changed ownership and names. Anyhow reached Nainitaal without any thing strange. After driving alongside the lake, first thing that welcomed us was the loud noise coming from the huge mosque with a tower solely built for housing 4-5 loudspeakers. What kind of person thinks that blasting so called prayer through such loudspeakers annoying everyone else is a good idea !! Thankfully our hotel was up the hill at quite a bit distance away away from this noise atleast.

After some rest and snacks, we walked to the town below and walked alongside the lake looking for a place to eat. Contrary to what I was expecting, the town was pretty clean with dustbins and well maintained publiic toilets every few meters. Later on found out that the authorities burn all the rubbish just a few km from the town in mountains. Still better than junk everywhere, I guess. A small stream which flows in towards taxi stand’s direction from the hill nearby was thankfully not converted to a sweage dump but still had plastic waste every 2-3 feet.

After lunch, we had a boat ride like all tourists do.Wasn’t bad and I actually enjoyed it as the weather got colder and a mist descended all around. Couldn’t see any fish though. Walked back to the hotel for dinner and sleep. Caught the same train back to end the journey.

Next morning we just lazed around the campsite. All the guests from previous night were gone and more were expected to arrive only after noon. We asked Dorjee to prepare some pulao to carry with us for dinner. In the meanwhile, we packed up some essentials to take with us to the campsite. At noon, the driver who had brought us from Manali to Kunzum La, arrived with 2 Indian women who stopped at campsite for tea. Early on we were all expecting to hike to the lake carrying all our stuff, but the driver offered a lift till the lake. So we put most of our stuff in the car. Wifey, ACB and Dorjee went with it while me, Emili and Andrea preferred to walk.

Once the car left, we started walking the same way as previous day. For a while, I was walking in front. But Andrea soon paced ahead and Emili after her. Within 15-20 minutes they were far ahead of me while I was huffing and puffing my way through. It was only in the evening that I learnt that the 2 lived and worked in French Alps. While the mountain range is not as high, these women were French pahadins and I could never hope to keep up with them They stopped a few times to let me catch up, but I realised pretty soon that trying to keep up with them will be stupidity. Once we reached near end of the trail, Andrea started walking even faster. Emili told me that she is annoyed by the wind. I just stayed behind and followed the trail. No reason to show any annoyance against the wind.

I think that they must have reached end of the lake at least 20-25 minutes before me. But it was my turn to get annoyed when I reached there. The tents were put up exactly in that place I had asked Dorjee not to use. From my last time, I knew that camping is not allowed within a km of lake. Later on found out that the limit was increased to 2 km. Anyhow, the tents were put up just about 250 m from the lake and very near some mud pits. I had asked him to put up the camp further down the empty ground where the earth would be drier and we wouldn’t be breaking any rules. I really hate people who act like an ass in such places and in this case I was doing the same thing as them.

 

But packing up tents and putting them up again was not really an option at that time. Wifey and ACB seemed really tired and any such suggestion would have meant them asking me to do the whole chore myself, if at all. Everyone had their stuff out by the time I had reached and packing up everything again to move would have taken another 30-35 minutes which we didn’t have. Just at that moment, ACB realised that he had left some of his essential stuff back. Dorjee immediately offered to bring that back if ACB agreed to meet him half way. The French girls seemed only too happy to have a chance to walk some more. So Dorjee scampered off to main campsite while ACB and French girls left after him to meet him half way on his return.

All this happened within 8-10 minutes of my arrival before I had the chance to say anything. I just watched them leave and crawled in to the tent to rest for a while. But it was getting dark quickly and I still had some work to do. As mentioned earlier, the trek to Samudri Tapu depended a great deal on water level in the river. So me and wifey got out of tent and started walking across the ground. On the way, I say a lone yak staring at us from a hill. The animal kept staring without bothering to graze for t least 10-12 minutes. I wondered if it was alone, but found out that it was part of a herd later. The mountain streams and waterfalls I remembered from my last trip were still there but the water was not as muddy as the last time. About that time, we felt some rain drops and a few minutes later snow or was it ice ? But it was only for a minute or so.

View from a top of the hill

View from a top of the hill

A swift wind was blowing and we felt every bit of exposed skin getting chilled. We crossed one stream after which it started getting a bit dark. We climbed on ridge at the end of mountain and admired the view. In distance I could see the point I had walked to during last time. The river was about 700-800 meters below and looked not that bad. I still decided to wait till next morning to make up my mind.

The sun had dropped behind mountains at that time and it was getting dark really quick, so we started to walk back to our campsite. From a distance, we could see lights in one of the tents, meaning ACB and French girls were back. But on the way, we noticed that the Yak herd we had seen earlier on the hill was directly in our path. For a moment, I was in two minds whether to take a detour or go through them. We chose latter as they didn’t look threatening. Some of them looked at us in curiosity but mostly kept on grazing. Only that black and white one kept staring again.

Once back at campsite, we found ACB and French girls playing some card games. We were all feeling hungry by the time and heated up the pulao that Dorjee had packed for us. It got cold within 2 minutes of heating due to the cold wind but everyone said that it was fine. After dinner, wifey joined them in their card games while I tried to get some shots of night sky. But my second battery too unexpectedly ran out. Now we had only wifey’s Nikon Coolpix, but it doesn’t have any manual mode that I know of and is more or less useless for night photography.

Blurry shot of milkyway

Blurry shot of milkyway

During this time, the sky was lit up by lightning numerous times just beyond the valley we were in even though sky overhead was mostly clear. Not a good sign at all. During this time, the girls were star gazing and ACB was probably meditating or asking himself some questions. After some time, they started their card games in one of the tents again, I waited outside for a while for moonrise, but it was behind the nearby mountains and wouldn’t have become visible for 3-4 hours more. The wind was getting too cold and strong too. So once my camera battery ran out, I put camera back in tent and watched their game before we all went to sleep.

Sleep, which neither one of us had enough of during the night. We all had one sleeping bag, fleece lining and a ground mat which was not adequate for the night at all. As mentioned earlier, the ground was damp which didn’t help the matters. A very cold and strong wind was blowing made even colder by the precipitation happening nearby. We were sleeping fully dressed in our clothes which we wore during the day and still felt cold. We all slept for 10-15 minutes stretches interspersed by waking up too often all through night. Early morning just after first light, I was tossing and turning when I heard a quack followed by another a few seconds later.

The duck friends

The duck friends

My duck friends were back ! I hurriedly got up to put on my boots just outside tent. My bare hands touched ice on zipper and on the tent. The boots were inside the shelter and thankfully had no ice inside them but the laces felt frozen. I somehow put them on walked out towards the lake with my camera. This time there were two duck families instead of one and they were walking on the shore. ACB was also out trying to take their picture which they didn’t like. I could take only 2-3 pictures before my camera battery died for good. I got wifey’s camera but couldn’t get any good shots. At that time I noticed that the tents, ground all around us was all covered with ice. The yak herd from last night was still in the same places but apparently was not grazing.

The sun was getting up in sky but we were on bottom of the peaks in their shadow. After a few minutes, I started walking towards the opposite side where I could see sunlight. I also wanted to see the water level in river. As I expected the water level had actually increased since last evening even though it’s usually lower in the mornings. The channels which were mostly dry only 10 hours before had water flowing through them. This was the final straw on any attempt for Samudri Tapu. I felt a bit dejected but little could be done at the time. I wasn’t really prepared for a solo trek at that time either.  When I reached back, the yak herd had reached near the lake and some of them were actually taking a dip in the water.

A yak grazing near chandrataal lake

A yak grazing near chandrataal lake

People often say that some water bodies change their colours according to day time. This is very true for Chandrataal lake. The view is completely different early morning. Coming closer to the lake, I could see some insects inside the water and I picked some for a closer look. Tried to take pictures and battery on Nikon died too. So I don’t have any pictures, but the insects looked a lot like very small black-brown shrimps. Last time I had seen one kind which had put up small stone chips as a kind of shelter or armour around it’s body.

Next morning after breakfast, we put some snacks in our backpacks and started walking towards Chandrataal lake. We took the trail route through mountains rather than road. It was uphill walk for a while, but nothing too difficult. Again the landmarks I remembered from my last visit like bunch of black stones, dried out seasonal ponds were all there. Interestingly we also found out some ponds which still had not dried out. Instead of straight walk to lake, I took a detour to show Samudri Tapu to wifey and ACB. They were not too thrilled by the extra walk. Walking distance via road is about 3 km. Our one way hike was about 4.5 km, but a lot more interesting, to me at least.

Starting the hike

Starting the hike

The trail we followed took us past the usual route and we came across the lake from it’s western flank. The usual poses and photography ensued. We walked along and settled down for some rest along it’s northern side. A few local tourists were already there having some kind of picnic. After a while, Jamaica too came along with a couple of his guests. The two French girls had completed the circuit around lake before us and came around to rest. I grew restless sitting in same place and annoyed by noisy tourists and wanted to walk around the lake. Wifey tagged along while ACB just wanted to relax, meditate and in his words “ask myself some questions” . So me and wifey left him there with Jamaica and other tourists and walked along the lake. I had done it 3-4 times last time I was there and it felt good to do it again.

View of Samudri Tapu

View of Samudri Tapu

Upon reaching the other side, we rested there for a while and had some snacks. That side was deserted and we could see only 1-2 tourists walking towards our general direction. After enjoying the views for a while, we started our walk back which went on without any incident. I was hoping to spot the duck family I saw last time or some other birds or animals, but there was nothing. When we reached the other side, ACB, Jamaica and the French girl were all gone.

One pond we found on the way

One pond we found on the way

There was not much to see or do there for day for us, so we started the 3 km walk back to camp via road. Wifey just put her foot down against taking the “off beat path” back. In a way, it was in line with my principle of never taking the same path back. hehe. On the flip side, that “road” is just a dirt track and coughs up copious amount of dust every time a vehicle drives by. So we just covered our noses with bandanas and started the long march. Combined with tiredness from previous day, not being used to this altitude and the walk that day, we started feeling tired pretty quickly. After we had covered about 2 km, we saw a pickup truck coming from lake’s direction and signaled it to stop. It was being driven by a worker from one of the workers from another camp. Only empty place where we could get in was back of the pickup truck. It had 2 tires and some junk lying around. Not an ideal situation, but still better than nothing.

First close view of Chandrataal lake

First close view of Chandrataal lake

It was just about half a km ride or so we thought. The driver seemed to be on some kind of kamikaze mood and drove likewise taking shortcuts every where. Imagine taking shortcuts on a mountain road.  We kept on bouncing around in the back and got covered with a thick layer of dust. Once it finally stopped, we got out on wobbly legs and covered in dust from head to toe. After mumbling thanks for the ride we walked towards our tent to shake it off. I had a mild headache early on since morning and this ride had turned in to a thumping one.

View of Chandrataal Lake from other side

View of Chandrataal Lake from other side

When we reached the camp Jamaica and ACB were both busy talking to some other guests in camp site and wanted me to join. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone and just rested after cleaning myself up as much as possible.

 

Later on, I asked Jamaica about possibility of doing the trek to Samudri Tapu and water level in the river. He flat out ruled out any possibility saying that the water level was too high and some of the trekkers who follow the same route for a while for some other trek had to turn back. The rope route option was dependent on some shepherd passing by, but the chances were pretty slim. I decided to wait for a day more to see if the crossing would be possible and asked Jamaica for some thing to do in the meanwhile. He suggested that he could ask one of his workers to put up a tents for us near the lake on the southern side.

Snow covered lit up by moon light

Snow covered lit up by moon light

I felt that it was a great idea as if there was some chance of water level receding, I could start the trek from there instead from campsite 5+ km away. If I remember correctly, both ACB and wifey and “opted” out of trek to Samudri Tapu when we were at the lake. A small setback, but I was really adamant on doing it one way or the other. Jamaica was leaving next morning for Kaza and had plans to come back in evening. So he asked one of his helpers, Dorjee to make arrangements. We spent the evening in kitchen tent drinking chai, talking to tourists from all over and had a late dinner. After a while when it got dark, I got out to do some star gazing. The sight of Milky Way is a sight to behold, specially at this altitude. There are hundreds of stars in every inch of night sky and is a great place to look for shooting stars, satellites, planets and almost any other thing of interest in the night sky.

Milky way looked awesome

Milky way looked awesome

While others were inside, I spent some time taking pictures of night sky. Unfortunately, almost every single picture I took there turned out crap as I ignored to turn off image stabilisation on lens. The pictures looked OK on camera screen but a lot more blurry when zoomed which I checked out much later. I was carrying one extra battery but wanted to conserve as much as possible, so didn’t spend much time checking quality of pictures. I don’t exactly know what happened, but my older battery ran out that night without any warning, probably due to too many long exposure shots. Next day I also realised that there were two dust particles on camera’s sensor It screwed up a majority of pictures I took. As I was not carrying a blower, most of my pictures from this trip are just shit quality.

 

We woke up early morning and had one shower to make up for coming up  6-7 days of shower less existence. There is one big problem with Himachali plumbing system in hotels and most homes. There is no option to have pleasantly hot/warm/cool water. It is either scalding hot or freshly sourced from a nearby glacier. It’s OK if you want a bucket bath, but for people  who like a shower there is no respite. Mixers if present, don’t work. To top that the idiots had linked the toilet bidet to gyeser. Imagine the surprise.

After an annoying bath, we picked up our bags and started walking towards the taxi stand. That’s when I realised that I had packed too much things. The stuff we had picked from Manali was the proverbial last straw. But little could be done about the issue and we reached the taxi stand about 5-10 minutes late. The driver tied up our luggage on top of the taxi and we started the long drive towards Lahaul Spiti.

View from Chatru

View from Chatru

We stopped at a small place called Marhi full of dhabas and had light breakfast. Met one middle aged man from Chandigarh who was doing to whole Chandigarh Lahaul Spiti circuit on his bicycle. It was good to see more Indians getting the taste of adventure. His plan was to reach Batal by end of the day. Considering how the roads are and the altitude, I thought he’d be lucky to reach Chatru in the time, but he seemed confident.

Once we crossed Rohtang, the view of narrow valley with Chandra river flowing through came up, just like I remembered it. The dirt track or road as some people call it was just as bumpy, rocky and bone jarring too. A lot of unmelted ice banks, some as gray as the rocks were visible in a number of places.  Our next stop was Chatru  which had one less dhaba than the last time. Inspite of what the driver had promised, we were way beyond schedule and asked him when we could expect to reach Kunzum La as I knew that he’d stop at Batal for lunch too. He told me not to worry but I didn’t believe him  and was proven right later on.

A big goat and sheep herd

A big goat and sheep herd

Once we stopped at Batal, we had lunch of daal and rice. The old couple at Chandra dhaba was still there cracking almost the same jokes and jolly as always. The building that was under construction in 2012 across the road was completed and was being used as a rest house by BRO or PWD or some other organisation I don’t remember.

Driving on further, the stretch from Batal to Kunzum La was as treacherous as always and took as about 1 hour to cross that.The taxi laboured from one steep hair pin turn to another towards the top of mountain. Sitting inside, I grew excited as the destination came closer. The weight of rucksacks was in back of mind my mind, but I had done it once before and was confident of doing it again.   Kunzum La temple seemed a bit bigger and the whole passage was lined with large flags on poles which weren’t there last time. We reached there at about 2:15 pm instead of just around 12:30 to 1:00 pm as promised by the taxi people. So I wanted to hurry up before it got too dark and cold.

Start of hiking trail from Kunzum La

Start of hiking trail from Kunzum La

Once we got off the taxi, we started getting our luggage gathered and ready for the hike. Just as I gathered up all my stuff, a particularly strong gust of wind  blew my hat in to a deep ditch.  Once I retrieved it, we all put up our rucksacks on our backs . About that time, wifey and ACB wished that Jamaica could come to take away our bags. There were a few pretty tourists near the temple. I said that I’d consider taking them along if they carried the luggage. But as nothing like that was going to happen, we started walking. We had walked just about 10-11 steps when a car came up behind us honking like mad and Jamaica stepped out. He had came to Batal to pickup two French girls who were his guests and had enough space in the car for our rucksacks. His timing couldn’t have been any better. Goddess Kunzum was very kind to us that day and once again too, but that’s another story. ACB and wifey got Jamaica to take away our luggage and I got my pretty tourist girls to carry it.

We just kept our small backpacks and water bottles with us and sent rest of luggage with Jamaica. We took the trail and started the long hike. It felt good to be back in the place which never really went off my mind since the last time. All the “landmarks” which I remembered from last time like the stretch with sharp red rocks, a steep climb at end of it and first view of the lake a few minutes later were there as I remembered them. It is a very rare thing as the so called development destroys and mutilates whatever little natural beauty we have left.

First view of Samudri Tapu

First view of Samudri Tapu

For some time, I walked in front while ACB and wifey were in back. But after a while, wifey started complaining of symptoms of high altitude sickness. She took the pill but it takes some time to show effect. So ACB started walking in front, while I stayed with wifey as she walked slowly, Our late start was proving to be costly as the strong wind which blows daily in the region was making life miserable. I wrapped a woolen scarf around my head but the wind managed to chill back of my head easily. At the same time, strong sun managed to make all the exposed skin red as a tomato in just 2-3 hours.

From a height, we spotted the new camp site but the only trail I could spot looked more like a goat trail and too difficult for wifey at that time. Later on, I found out that was the new path which was indeed difficult for a while, but much shorter. We didn’t knew at the time and just kept walking on the older trail which had an easier gradient. But it started getting dark and cold and we decided to get across a bit sooner. Getting down from the mountain proved to be a bit of trouble as the “path” I chose was a passage dug up by a glacier among rocks. It took us a lot longer than I initially expected but we got down and across the stream eventually. Once we climbed up the road, we started walking towards the camp’s direction. ACB seemed worried about my decision of direction as I had told him that the camps were in other direction earlier. Along the way he kept asking if I really knew the way.

With Chandrataal in background, ACB, looking for a trail to get across

With Chandrataal in background, ACB, looking for a trail to get across

I too was not really sure on how to find the Jamaica’s camp in dark among all other campsites, but kept that thought aside. First priority was to reach the campsite, then to search for Jamaica’s. Once we were about half a km from campsite, a car carrying a tourist from Singapore came by from the lake’s direction. We requested them to drop us at Jamaica’s campsite. The tourist ( I forgot his name) kindly agreed and we all hopped in. Luckily for us, they were staying in the same campsite, another stroke of luck.

Once we reached the campsite, we took off our shoes and stumbled in to the kitchen tent where Jamaica was sitting with his guests, the two French girls we saw in car, Emili and Andrea. We had some chai, rested and then had some dinner. Jamaica said that he had spotted us on the mountain and whistled and shouted to get our attention as we had passed the trail but we couldn’t spot his signals. My pedometer read 8.70 km, but felt like 16 km. It probably would have been 2 km shorter if we had managed to take the newer trail.

At the time, neither one of us was in very talkative mood and we just entered our tents and fell asleep within seconds.