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

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

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

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.

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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

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 :

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

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

 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

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.

I woke up at around 4:30 pm and went out of tent to find Jamaica was back. He had brought back some supplies was with him and was busy putting them away. As we chatted over a cup of tea, a guide came up and said that a foreign tourist had fallen sick and needed medical care. Turned out that a large group of tourists were doing the Zanskar to Spiti trek and one of them was showing symptoms of high altitude sickness. We had no means of contacting anyone except for one satellite phone in Batal. Just about then, a few locals from some place near Kaza came back from the lake and started to leave in their Maruti 800. The stupid guide, instead of sending the sick tourist  back to Batal in their car, hopped in himself and went away before we had the chance to say anything.
As we had no information of their location or means to help, we could only hope that the guide would be able to call up an ambulance. As I had already explore much of the area and didn’t have enough time to do anything else, I just stayed in the camp.  Jamaica is an interesting guy and it was fun listening to his stories. Did a bit of cleaning up of the camp site by picking up the trash. I wish the rules related to littering and environment protection were more strictly implemented.
Anyhow, nothing really remarkable happened otherwise and I had dinner and packed up all of my stuff which was going back with me.  Waking up next morning, I was again tempted to go out to have a ‘little walk’ around the place but checked myself. No taxi, private car etc came up for a long time, so I just chatted with Jamaica and and some shepherds. After a while, 3 guys came up, one of them a guide from one of the camps down the road. Rest were staff from an ambulance service which the guide had called up. The driver was unable to negotiate the sharp curves and had left the ambulance back there to came up by foot. For record, you can dial 1608 to call for an ambulance there.
The guide came up riding pillion on a bike. Biker told us that one of the guys in his group had broken his leg near Batal and they were staying there waiting for a vehicle to Manali when the guide came  to call for ambulance. The guide went to his group to bring them, while the rest waited. They came up after a while and I was a bit surprised to see them. It was a group of 10-11 people and not one of them was looked below 35. The sick guy was easily 50. Although, they were using  porters and mules to carry their luggage,  their journey from Zanskar to Spiti was no mean feat. Many people consider it to be one of the most difficult treks.The sick guy was loaded on the bike and driven to the ambulance. As there was enough space, the driver graciously agreed to drop me in Batal. I gave away most of my medicines to Jamaica as I had little use for them and took my leave. I kept 2-3 pills of a few, just in case
Near Chota Darraa
We walked to the ambulance and the sick tourist was given some first aid. He  didn’t speak English and most of the conversation was in gestures and signs. Only if the guide had brains to take him down to Batal with him the previous night, so much trouble could have been averted. But he seemed fine and no serious damage was done. I said goodbye to the lake and climbed in the front seat with driver. The road was rocky and difficult to drive , same as most places beyond Manali. At a point, I thought we were going too fast and I glanced at the speedometer. It read an insanely fast speed of 25 km per hour. Heh
      The ambulance dropped us at Batal at 12 and left for Kaza. A bus was already waiting for the tourist group. It was full already, so I kept waiting for another one. As the road had just opened in Kaza, I was hopeful of getting a bus or taxi soon, but the vehicles going towards Manali were very few. I had lunch in Chandra dhaba and sat outside. There were quite a few vehicles coming from Manali going towards Kaza, so it was a busy place. Driver of the bus thought himself a bit of a smart alec and keept cracking tasteless jokes about age of sick tourist and how old people should stay at home, crows as big as chicken in mountains of Jammu etc . I got annoyed after a while and walked around the place clicking some photos.But there was hardly anything to see near the road.
After 2-3 hours, rest of the tourist group  reached Batal and they left on bus taking the injured biker with them. At around 4, I got sick of waiting and put away my rucksack to spend the night in dhaba. Even if any vehicle passed through, it couldn’t reach Manali before 11 in night. Last bus for Delhi left at around 9 – 10. Better to spend night in Batal than in another crappy hotel  in Manali. I picked up my camera and torch and left to explore the area beyond the hill adjacent to hill.
After walking around rather aimlessly for a while, I found the source of  ‘perennial tap’ in dhaba which provided water 24 hours non-stop. It was a small spring around a km from dhaba. They had laid down around 6-7 cm thick plastic pipes to transport the water back to the dwellings. Some holes, 1 meter deep were dug at regular intervals to keep an eye on pipe’s condition. Although, Chandra river  flows just beyond their dhaba, it’s water is not drinkable due to slit.
A ridge extended sideways for quite some distance beyond the spring and I started climbing it. A water stream which merges in to Chandra near the bridge in Batal flowed beyond it. It’s source was a glacier 3-4 km straight up the path on ridge which first merged with a mountain and then seemed to extend right up to the glacier. It was 2nd time in 2 days that I found myself right in sight of some place where I could easily walk to but couldn’t because of lack of time and related crap. Only if I had left sooner, I could have a reasonable chance of trekking right up to the glacier. It was getting dark really fast as dark clouds covered the sky and wind got a bit colder as if it was raining somewhere.
I decided to walk as far as possible till it got too dark or started raining heavily. Till now, I hadn’t paid much attention to critters on ground.  But this place for some reason was swarming with spiders up to 5-6 cm across. There were so few insects in the place and even less vegetation to support any significant numbers. Presence of so many full grown spiders in such a place was very surprising.  It was a bit difficult to take a picture as they hid fast behind stones whenever some particularly fast gust of wind came by. My camera battery was almost fully discharged by this time anyway. So there are not many pictures.
I still don’t believe that nectar, pollen are part of a healthy diet for a spider
I kept on walking till a few minutes past six when it started to drizzle. There was still a lot of distance left to the glacier, so I turned back. It was almost dark by the time I reached back to dhaba. A few minutes later, two bikes from Bangalore coming from Kaza side stopped by to ask for directions and decided to spend the night. They had started their journey from Shimla route and it was nice to compare notes and exchange  ideas. I realised for sure that biking is a completely different form of travel than what I like.  While we were having dinner, Chacha started generator to recharge his inverter batteries (for his satellite phone). I managed to get my camera battery charged too. We went to bed soon after.
I woke up beforee 7 in morning to sound of trucks stopping and truckers going in to dhaba for a cup of tea. Those bikers had their breakfast, packed up and left soon after.  As I had my breakfast, I was tempted to go out walking again. But considering that the road had just been cleared, I decided to stay and wait for a vehicle. I got a lift in a Sumo taxi at around 11. The driver had stopped by the previous day too as he was transporting a group of foreigner tourists from Manali to somewhere near Kaza. As he was coming back empty, he had a 3 sullen looking Biharis who had missed the early morning bus. That bus had passed by about an hour earlier, completely jam packed. The driver upon noticing my camera asked me to stop wherever I feel liked to take pictures. He was fairly knowledgeable about the place and kept dropping tit-bits of information every now and then. One of the suspensions of the vehicle was damaged, so he claimed that  was not driving very fast. I doubted if it was possible to drive any faster on those roads.
For perspective, that blue-yellow thing at bottom is a tent
We did stop in a number of places, sometimes him pointing out something which I had missed. He offered to stop and wait for me near Rohtang Pass, so that I could catch a glimpse of Beas Kund. But it was raining heavily and the place was literally covered with clouds. The visibility was less than 20 meters. We moved on but got stuck in jam due to bad road soon after. The road was nothing except a mud track  and we spent more than an hour crawling down from the pass till road got any better. Rohtang Pass was a disappointment anyway, full of shanty like shops, shitty dhabas and dumb tourists (mostly Indian) acting like fools. I can understand people posing for photos in silly dresses, sunglasses etc but what  angered me was filthiness of the place. An average Indian tourist is a  plague of any beautiful place.
  Rest of the drive to Manali was without any incident and the beautiful sights outside helped calmed me down. Finally I had the chance to see the part of Beas where it flows through deep gorges as described in अरे यायावर रहेगा याद . Couldn’t get out to explore but may be will do it someday. We reached Manali at around 7:30. All the Volvo buses had left and only Himachal SRTC buses were available. Bought one ticket for a bus leaving at 9:30. As I had quite a bit of time to pass, I walked to Old Manali and had dinner in a faux-Tibetan restaurant. Almost all of the staff had left for Pushkar due to off-season in Manali and beginning of tourist season there.  Tested ‘choclate momo’ for dessert. It was nothing to talk about.
The bus, when it left was mostly empty, but I couldn’t fit my rucksack in overhead luggage rack. A kind local suggested that I take one of empty row of seats. These buses are driven with  lights on inside switched on.   As I wanted to get a little bit of sleep, I put on my sunglasses, covered my eyes with my hat (yes, at night) and made myself as comfortable as possible. Managed to get a few winks of sleep, but the journey was long and bus reached Delhi past noon.
Back to the soul crushing grind of life in a big city.
Not all those who wander are lost.  J.R.R.Tolkien    

Next morning, I woke up to the sound of a car’s engine at around 7. Jamaica’s foreigner guests were leaving and he was going to see them off till Batal. By that time, I had made up my mind to go back to Delhi. I had forgotten to mention it before that some areas near Kaza had experienced heavy rainfall and landslides. Due to this, there were blockages on a few places along the route from Kunzum La to Kaza and beyond. After I had abandoned all hopes of visiting Samudri Taapoo, I wanted to visit Kibber for 2-3 days. But as it happened, the number of incoming vehicles slowed to a trickle and I was unable to get a taxi or lift to Kunzum La or Batal from where I could get somewhere else.
New camp mate
It didn’t matter much as I was enjoying my stay at Chandrataal a lot. The relative solitude was also a welcome incentive for my inertia. By that time, I had completely lost the concept of keeping date and time. It was a nice feeling, not to care about clock and calendar. Just roam around, eat, rest and walk around till it got too dark and sometimes even past that. After wandering around whole day, I was always tired to my bones, but loved every single moment.
When I got out of tent, I found out that Si too had packed up all of his belongings and was getting ready to leave. He had been staying for more than 3 weeks for his work and was going somewhere else. Lucky chap. It also meant that unless some other tourists arrived, I was the only one staying there. At least 2 out of 3 other camps down the road were also completely empty except for staff. As the day was probably my last of the stay, I wanted to take one last look at the lake. I put a little dry fruits in my pocket, picked up my camera and left for the lake.
Chandrataal Lake
The wind I had talked about earlier had not started yet and the lake was completely tranquil. I sat down on a rock and took in the views for a while. I could hear the ducks quacking in some distance as well as some other birds including Himalayan Snowcock. But they are extremely shy and stay in higher reaches away from people. Gaddi dogs are a big danger to them. Si had seen a family of 2 adults and two young ones the previous day, but I was not so lucky. Hoping to catch a glimpse, I started walking around the lake, but I guess they moved away pretty fast and I could hear their calls no longer. But I did meet the duck family again.
As I reached other end of the lake, I changed my mind about walking around the lake and decided to walk to the stream I had seen 2 days ago. Last time, it was too dark to see  anything in detail. This time, white clouds covered the adjoining mountain peaks. But the landscape was clear. I tried looking for the burrow, I had seen 3 days back, but couldn’t find it. Came up to the small but noisy stream while searching for the burrow and crossed it. The area was nothing but a path of dried out streams and and avalanches. The path was very rocky and difficult to walk for most part. Toughest thing was to walk down heap of stones 4-6 meters high and then climb another pile again.
The other glacier in distance
Chandra river flowed to my left down the mountain and I kept following it to it’s source from above. After some time, I saw a Gaddi camp in distance and noticed someone walking towards me. I was surprised to see a Bihari in his teens. Is there any place in India where you can’t find one working ? ) No disrespect, just surprised to see a Bihari working for a Gaddi shepherd in Spiti. I asked him if there was any drinkable water source nearby. There was one very small stream, most of which was hidden under the rocks and he pointed it out. I thanked him and moved on. He asked me, ” आप यंहा क्या करने आयें हैं ? घूमने  ? (What are you here for ? Sight seeing ? )” I nodded yes and I think he must have shaken his head a little on the crazy tourist in middle of nowhere. Apparently, tourists are very rare on this trail.
I found the stream, drank some cold water and rested. When I had set out from the camp, I didn’t intend to come this far. I just wanted to see the lake once more, walk back and pack up my stuff and wait for a taxi. Somehow, that didn’t happen and I was 2-3 km away from lake following a trail which was barely there. With no food, water or sun glasses. Just a hat to protect from sun and a camera. In some of my walks, I used sandals instead of shoes and the exposed skin on my feet was severely sun burned. That’s when I realised that the itchy feeling on my nose, whenever I put my eye on camera’s viewfinder was a fairly deep sun burn. The expensive sun screen that I was using worked only if applied 3-4 times a day. I guess, one has to stay indoors for optimal results too. By this time, most of the clouds had dissipated and sun was shining in it’s full glory. As I was already looking like a badly maintained brown leather bag, I just shrugged it off. What more could another day in sun could do !
I kept on walking and reached bottom of the hill where I had seen the Gaddi camp. A shepherd was getting his flock out to graze. I considered walking up to him but my path bypassed his camp and it was a rather steep climb. Having to deal with 3-4 menacing dogs wasn’t an appealing idea either.
At some distane, I came across a empty stone hut which looked like it hadn’t been occupied for years. By this time, I was thirsty, hungry and fairly tired. But the sight of glacier kept me going. It was one of the sources of Chandra river, 2nd one being Samudri Taapoo. The former would have taken at least 4-5 hours of walking, but most of it was on easier terrain and no river to cross. As I got closer to the glacier, amount and flow of water in the river kept decreasing. It even looked possible to pass it on foot in some places. But I didn’t go that far. After a while I got really thirsty and there was no water source nearby. It was hot and I could see mirages shimmering over hot rocks. As I had no intention to walk up to the glacier in first place, I sat down on a ledge and rested.  As far as I could see, there was no trace of any human being. Even Gaddis rarely came that far and there were no stone huts beyond that point. One interesting feature I saw were *some long rocks, 3-6 meters high, standing up on slope near the river. I don’t know how to properly explain this, just take a look at the picture.
Some crazy erosion
After resting for some time, I started walking back towards my camp. The shepherd I had seen earlier in his camp was now on a nearby mountain with his flock. It was probably his last day in that area too as they were packing up to leave. I came up to the lake after what seemed like hours to find Pradhan’s sheep blocking the trail but he was not in sight. They scattered as soon as I reached within touching distance. The campsite was empty when I reached there and I had 1 chocolate and some dry fruit for lunch . It was nearly 3 pm and I had been walking for almost 8 hours. Sunny was probably sleeping or somewhere else and I had given away all of my MRE packs the previous night No vehicle except for a single Sumo from Manali side had came that morning. Si had probably hitched a lift in that. Even if some vehicle/taxi came up at that point, it was a fools errand to packup everything and hitch a ride. So, I crawled in to my tent and slept on the mat. It was too hot to use sleeping bag.
More in next post
Friendly little birdie

I rested in the camp for a while, enjoying some idle chit-chat with the new tourists till it got completely dark. It was just a half past 7 then. The rain had nothing to dissipate the clouds and the sky was completely overcast. I told Sunny to not prepare any food for me and left for Pradhan’s camp. It was hard following the trail with a torch as the rain had washed out all the footprints and most marks of the path. Thankfully, it wasn’t very muddy. The camp was about a km away near the foothills of the mountain I had been to earlier in morning. 

Although, I was aware of the general location but had a hard time locating it in pitch dark. Previous night, I could see a lamp illuminating his camp from a distance, but that night there was nothing. Then I saw hundreds of gray-blue points of lights in torchlight. As some of them blinked, I realised it was his flock of goats and sheep staring at me. As I walked closer, I heard dogs barking not too far away and slowed down. It wasn’t a good idea not to heed their warning. Just then, I heard Pradhan shouting loudly to hush them up. He was away from the camp and came walking in towards my direction. One of his sheep with a young kid born that morning was missing and he was gone to look for them near the lake.
We walked in to his camp and he lit a small kerosene lamp for light. I think, I should explain how their camps are. As I had left my camera back in camp due to rain, I have no pictures apart from a couple of an empty one.
The dwellings are roughly circular, made of stones 1+ meter in height and 2-4 meters in diameter. It’s not possible to stand inside unless you’re really short. Thy don’t use any mortar or earth to keep the stones together. A plastic sheet slung over the structure makes the roof. There is a small hole in ground for a fireplace to cook and keep warm. Some space is provided within stone walls where stuff like rations, fuel, utensils etc are stored. I was told that a team of 4 men can make such a hut in a day. As there are no trees, Yak dung is the major source of fuel. Floor is covered with goat/sheep skins and grass for warmth. There are few options for contact with outside world except a radio or cellphone. Even those are mostly unusable in most of areas they travel through.

An empty Gaddi stone hut

So, we were sitting in a similar camp talking as he prepared a fire and put on some water to heat. Yak dung burns with a prominent blue flame, new thing for me. After a while he went out to get some milk from goats. As I walked out, his dogs which were at some distance away in the dark started barking at something further away. The animals get nervous around strangers, so I stayed near hut. A light drizzle was still going on at that time. After finishing milking , he put it away and started kneading dough for rotis. At first, he took really big pieces and made rotis atleast 1 cm thick and as big as the tawa (flat heating pan). I watched fascinated, a bit excited at the chance to sample unique kind of food. I was also a bit worried if it was possible to eat those things. Guess my puzzlement was too obvious as he said that those roti were for dogs not us. I think I was a little disappointed.
After cooking 3 or 4 such rotis he started making regular sized ones for us. After his bigger ones cooled down, he soaked them in chaach and fed the dogs. He had already prepared a dish of cabbage in chaach which only needed a little heating. After dogs were fed, we started to eat. I had a taste of rotis after 4-5 days and the meal tasted delicious.
I asked him lots of questions about their way of life and I’ll try to explain it in my own words as best as I can.

Churning milk the traditional way

Pradhan and some of his companions are from far off places like Solan where they have their families, fields etc. The shepherd men leave their homes in March, April as soon as the snow begins to melt with their flock and keep on traveling over the next 3-4 months in search of pastures. Sometimes they find good ground and may stay there for a while. Otherwise they keep moving to prevent their animals from starving. They start their journey back home in late August or early September before snowfall which may take another 2 months, may be more. In nutshell, they spend 7-9 months in a year away from their homes. In their absence, women take care of fields, crops etc. Their main source of income is wool, selling old animals for meat and sometimes milk products. As they spend most of their time away from populated places, selling milk isn’t an option and they usually consume it or extract ghee.

Their day starts usually with sunrise or sometimes earlier as they lead their flock to different grazing places almost everyday. If they have mixed flock of goat and sheep, then both need different care. Sheep aren’t as agile as goats and can’t reach some places specially when they’ve gained weight. They also need mules to carry their supplies which are usually kept separate from rest of animals. As many of grazing grounds fall in forest lands, shepherds need permits to use them. Sometimes, they are stalked by wild animals like wolves, leopards etc. Guard dogs usually take care of this problem . I saw one guy carrying a gun, but that’s not common. But the bigger danger is from inclement weather. They may lose animals due to landslides, snow, floods etc anytime. The compensation they may receive from government is hardly worth the trouble. Rash drivers on roads are another nuisance. As their animals are their only wealth and primary source of livelihood, they work very hard to take good care of them.

Some goats are photogenic

As he told me about his home, I came to know that his 3 children have done pretty well for themselves. His eldest son is an engineer in state government, other got in to Indian Navy the previous month and the daughter was trying for a teacher’s job. He himself was educated till 10th, but left school in 1970 (approximate date). Not bad at all. :)

I gave him some of my Ready To Eat Meal packs and showed him how to prepare them. After that, I thanked him for probably the most interesting dinner I ever had and left for my own camp. The dogs apparently don’t care if the stranger is going away from them. They kept barking in a different direction. Finding my camp was a bit easier than Pradhan’s as Jamaica was having a little party with his foreigner friends and guests.

While sheep seem a little bit shy

As I stood outside my tent, mother of Jamaica’s friend asked if I had any ear-plugs. As I had none, she advised me to protect my ears as her son snored very loudly as did another guest. I laughed and thanked her for her advice and crept in to my sleeping bag. I woke up after sometime to a slight rustle outside my tent but didn’t pay it much attention. Next morning an Indian tourist told me that he had probably seen a wolf near the lake. I thought he had mistaken a shepherd’s dog for a wolf. Next day, Jamaica said that a wolf had indeed paid a visit to our camp. The rustling I had heard was that wolf investigating our tents. Can’t be sure because no one had seen it.
I had been walking outside alone till past 11 in night when Pradhan’s dogs were barking probably to scare away that wolf.
Ah well…

Just my luck. :)
More to come later.

Himalayan Griffon