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

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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.

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.

This series of posts is about my trip to Lahaul Spiti in September 2015. People who have read the previous Spiti travelogue will find only a few things new and a lot more of rants and other less interesting walls of text. This post will have the general information and background about the events, people and purpose of the trip.

Kunzum La

Kunzum La

It was a great trip and I enjoyed it immensely. There were a couple of things planned which didn’t happen but experienced a lot of awesome stuff as well.  Unlike last time, this wasn’t a solo trip. My wife and her cousin Achin Bhai (ACB from now on ) were my companions. Neither one had been to the region before and had limited experience of trekking and camping.

Our plan in beginning was to trek to Samudri Tapu and spend about 8-10 days in the area. But there were some changes and the actual journey was a bit less adventurous but enjoyable nonetheless. We bought most of our travel stuff from Delhi except stove, gas which we got from Manali. Only ACB was carrying a tent and we were getting rest of the camping stuff from Jamaica’s camp site near Chandrataal.
Just for the sake of record and in hope that some one finds it useful, following is the list of stuff me and wifey carried:

Chandrataal Lake

Chandrataal Lake

1) Rucksacks, 70 ltr and 50 ltr. Small backpacks.

2) Waterproof and windproof clothing like jacket, trousers. 2-3 change of clothes.
3) Trekking shoes and socks.
4) Ready to eat meal packets, biscuits, chocolates, snacks, dry fruits.
5) Medicine pack with pills for altitude sickness, pain, stomach upset and other general stuff.
6) Trekking sticks (one each).
7) Propane gas and stove, from Manali.
8) Tents, sleeping bags, ground mats from Jamaica’s camp site.
9) Hats, shatter resistant sunglasses, bandanas, high SPF sunscreen to protect against the sun.
10) A portable water filter bottle and a lightweight plastic water bottle.
11) Lightweight metal pot, mugs.
12) Tape, multi-tool, torch,  and a couple of other utility items.

Much later, when it was too late to do anything about it, we realised that each one of us was carrying too much stuff. In my last trip, I was carrying all that gear in my rucksack plus camping gear and still had some space to spare. But in this one, I didn’t have any camping equipment, but my rucksack was still bursting at it’s seams and was too heavy for any kind of long walk in the mountains. We had overstocked on food and clothes in particular. More on that later.

Following was our planned itinerary :

Hiking route from Kunzum La to Chandrataal

Route from Kunzum La to Chandrataal

DAY 1: Leave Delhi for Manali by Volvo in evening.

Day 2 and/or Day 3: Morning arrival in Manali.
WORK: Hiring Sumo for journey till Kunzum La.

Day 3: Early morning departure from Manali at 4 am.
Reach Kunzum La by 12 noon.
Start trek towards Chandrataal. Approximate 4-5 hours. Night in campsite.

Day 4: Rest and sightseeing near Chandrataal

Day 5: Trek towards Samudri Taapu. 
2 routes, one the long way around covering both sources of Chandra river.
2nd route by crossing river by a trolley. Preferences for 1st. Night in Samudri Tapu.

Day 6: Day in Samudri Tapu camping. 

From Chandrataal to Samudri Tapu

From Chandrataal to Samudri Tapu

Day 7: Trek back to Chandrataal.

Day 8: Two options:  Get a lift  to Manali  and go back to Delhi on Day 9.

Option 2
Day 9: Get a lift to Kibber or Kaza.

Spend 3-4 days in region before going back through Shimla route.

Actual itinerary was much different though.

As mentioned earlier, I had visited Spiti in 2012 on a solo trip. That time, I had hiked from Kunzum La to campsite near ChandraTaal and spent a few days exploring the area. I had seen Samudri Tapu then from a distance and it was on my mind ever since.  Back then, I didn’t have enough time for the trip. Then 2013 and 2014 went by too fast and I couldn’t visit. I My initial plan for 2015 was to visit Lahaul Spiti and trek to Samudri Tapu solo. But then wifey and ACB joined in and the plan was changed accordingly. The preparations and shopping were done over the course of a month as we worked out schedule and other details for the trip. But like every time, there were moments of last minute running around looking for some stuff we had forgotten.

Hike from from campsite to Chandrataal

Hike from from campsite to Chandrataal

 Anyhow, after all being said and done, our bags were packed and we caught a bus to Manali on 30th August. We chose HPTDC Volvo bus over private bus operators even though the ticket price was twice as much. The boarding point is convenient,  buses are clean, on time and unlike private bus operators, are not staffed by semi-feral humanoids who only know how to look at their list of seats and snarl randomly. These days, the staff of HPTDC buses and the department in general is much more helpful and polite than private sector.

Headdress worn by monks during some ritual ceremonies in Komic monastery

Headdress worn by monks during some ritual ceremonies in Komic monastery

After a journey of about 14 hours, we reached Manali at about 11:00 am and were immediately accosted by touts offering us rooms for Rs 250. Feeling insulted and a bit amused, we started walking towards Old Manali to get a hotel. ACB had his one favourite place, but it is 5 km away from the city. We found a good enough hotel near the bridge and checked in. After some rest, we walked around Manali buying stuff we couldn’t get in Delhi. Old Manali had not changed much from 2012 apart from a few old restaurants closing down and new places coming up in their place. We thought about doing some sightseeing, but dropped the idea as we had tentative plans of coming back from Lahaul Spiti the same way and staying there for 1-2 days. 

During our time out in the city, we also booked a shared taxi to take us to Kunzum La from where we planned to start walking towards the lake. These taxis are absolutely stuffed and the drivers try to cram in 10 people inside 1 Tata Sumo or similar vehicle. So we bought 4 seats to keep some breathing space. Rest of the day was spent walking around in Old Manali and eating in whatever place looked right. Unlike last time, when the taxis were leaving at 5 am or earlier, this time the boarding time was 6 am. I didn’t like it as I wanted to have enough day light for the hike, but the driver promised that we’d be at Kunzum La by 12:30 pm. He overshot the target by 2 hours and almost ruined the whole thing for us, but that’s for the next post.

Next morning, we got in to the car and drove for 10-15 minutes. It left us at some point, I don’t remember what it was called and we entered in to the jungle to start our trek to Deoria Taal. We found a trail and kept walking led by Pammi. The jungle itself was pretty beautiful with old trees all over. There were a few small trails here and there which are used by locals and lead to different

Starting the trek

Starting the trek

villages nearby. But we kept to the main trail which was pretty easy to walk upon till 35-40 minutes.On the way we came across a mountain stream and there was a small concrete bridge to cross it.

We rested there for a while. Water was ice cold as most of it was coming from melting snow high up in the mountains. After this point, the terrain got relatively difficult with many steep ridges on the way. But the weather was pleasant and walking was enjoyable except for a few difficult stretches. It did get a bit hot later on though. Our hike took us through some dense jungles with trees, wild flowers and grass all around. This area is habitat of a few wild animals like leopard, wolves and Himalayan bears, but we never saw anything.
On the way, we stopped in a grassy area, somewhat like a bugyal to rest. It looked like some place straight out of picture postcards. A few minutes later, a few young girls walked in with their buffaloes to add a local touch to it. Pammi told us that the villagers nearby will take their livestock to different grazing grounds when snow melts and those girls were probably doing the same thing.

Trek route through jungle

Trek route through jungle

After a few minutes of walk in grassy area, we entered jungle again, but by this time we had climbed down quite a bit and the trees were different. The path was covered with fallen leaves in most of places and was slippery. It was still beautiful and peaceful with many interesting sights on the way.

On our last stretch, we climbed a very steep incline and then walked on a ridge which had a rocky path and some kind of silly boundary wall on both sides. Saw some Himalayan Griffons and a kind of lizard which was fairly common in this area. Locals had a funny name for it, but I can’t remember it now.
We again entered a densely wooded area after this and then walked out of it to reach Deoria Taal lake. It’s a beautiful little lake with green wooded area on two sides and grassy on rest. It’s not too

Shepherd girls

Shepherd girls

big but too large to be called a pond. The water is a dark shade of green and apparently not safe to drink. Some workers were putting up stones on lake bank and some others were doing it on the path which connected lake to the village below. We stopped at a small eating joint for rest and to eat something. While we were there, Pammi had arranged for our tents to be pitched near the lake.

We were tired and just rested for a half hour before walking back towards lake. There was a path around the lake in between all the trees and a very small place of worship. Later on we came to know that the locals come here for some ceremony and pour milk in to the lake from that point. We spotted a few birds including a pair of magpies making quite a ruckus. The lake was full of frogs, dragon flies hovering all over and some strange fish like creatures which came to surface every now and then but moved too fast. We completed a walk around the lake and went to that small

Campsite Deoria Taal

Campsite Deoria Taal

eating joint for dinner. There a local guide from village down the hill joined us and started telling us some tales and legends associated with the place. According to him, this is the lake mentioned in Mahabharat where Pandavs were tested by a Yaksh and only Yudhisthir passed.

It had rained a bit after we reached Deoria Taal and the weather was a bit cold. After we had dinner, we went off to sleep. There isn’t much to add after that. We climbed down the mountain next morning in to a village from where we drove back to Rishikesh. Stayed there for 2 days instead of 1 planned earlier before going back to Delhi.

 

A dragonfly hovering over lake

A dragonfly hovering over lake

 

Path around the lake

Path around the lake

Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon

A mountain stream we crossed

A mountain stream we crossed