I had almost forgotten to finish this travelogue just like my previous one. Which reminds me that I should work on that one too once this is finished. No other excuse other than just being lazy and a bit too much of work. Previous post of this series.

Anyhow, my plan was to stay in campsite for 2-3 days and trek to Suraj Taal from there. But Jamaica was unable to arrange a guide which he had agreed to earlier. It really poured cold water on my plans and I was not really sure about what to do if not that. Apparently there were some seasonal nallahs on the way which were flooded unexpectedly and the guide who was supposed to go with me was forbidden by his wife to go anywhere. But we eventually convinced a local shepherd camping in a dera (shepherd shelter made of stones) nearby to work as my guide. He was the same Kashmir Singh Rana who I had met during my first visit to Chandrataal. It was not easy convincing him and he agreed only after I promised a pretty hefty payment. According to him and his co-worker shepherd who was camping with him, trekkers usually start from Suraj Taal (4883 m) and hike down to Chandrataal (4250 m) in about 4-5 days. But since he was needed at dera, he’d try to do it in 3. I was not really confident of being capable of doing that myself. But he said that he’d carry most of my camping stuff leaving me with carrying only my camera gear, some water, snacks and some emergency supplies which in total weighed only about 7-9 kgs.

Some new visitors at the lake

Some new visitors at the lake


Before we left, I had spent 3 days around the campsite walking around the area and exploring. I tried to locate the round stone I had noticed during my first visit but couldn’t find it. It probably rolled away to some other place. While wandering around, I followed yet another goat trail and ended up at the river bed. There I noticed the source of differently coloured water in the river bed. There was some clear water bubbling through the sandy river bed which gave it a different colour from sediment filled water of the river. I put my hand in to the sand from where it was coming out but found only more sand and pebbles. It was ice cold too. I still don’t know what exactly I was expecting.

Temporary

Temporary “Lake” near Chandrataal

The trek started on morning of 16th August, I had arrived on 13th. Rana carried my rucksack and some of his own stuff and we set off on a brisk pace. My start was not that great. After walking for about 20 minutes, I noticed that one half of one of two brand new hiking stick shad slid off. I retraced my steps almost back to starting point and then gave up. I didn’t want to throw the rest of it as trash, specially after seeing how the camp owners and tourists were already trashing the place. So I ended up carrying it for all of my trek and eventually back home. I just tied it to a loop on my bag and let it hang from there. Rana said that he’ll give it to Jamaica if he ever found it. I suppose, he was joking. At first we were walking almost side by side, but eventually I trailed off behind him by quite a distance. He had 20-25 years on me, was quite skinny and was carrying almost twice the weight I was. But he was still much faster than me for all of the trek.

A beautiful, windy and cloudy evening

A beautiful, windy and cloudy evening

After about 3 hours of walking, we came across our first obstacle. It was a flooded nallah which was one of the reasons why my original guide had chickened out. There were 3 like this and this one was called Kala nallah, another pagal nallah and one other I don’t remember. There was a lot of almost black mud all over where it had flooded over pushing up a lot of big and small rocks all over. Rana said that it was due to flood anytime soon as the sun became stronger and snow melted. The current was very swift and the stones were shifting due to it. Rana was just wearing simple plastic (?) shoes and he just rolled up him pajama and crossed easily using his walking stick. Since I was doubtful of crossing the stream without tripping, he carried my camera too. I had to take off my shoes, socks and throw them over. The shoes were a moderately water resistant, but certainly couldn’t have avoided that kind of water flow. My first two three steps went fine. But then the cold hit and I started to feel it all over. Then there was the issue of nearly black muddy water which didn’t allow any of the moving rocks to be seen. I had to be really careful checking my each step carefully so as to not step on a sharp rock or an unstable one. The current was very strong as mentioned earlier and it made standing difficult even though the water was barely up to my knees. I managed to cross over eventually without tripping which didn’t seem to be a big deal in the beginning.

Sheep and goats grazing on a nearby mountain

Sheep and goats grazing on a nearby mountain

A few minutes later we noticed some sheep and goats grazing just across the river and two shepherds in their dera which Rana knew. They welcomed us with some of their chai which had enough goat ghee and sugar to give any non-Gaddi person diabetes in a few weeks. But these people stay skinny and healthy due to all the work they do. They were in process of preparing lunch when we arrived and served some for us. It was again ghee served with some rice and daal. There was some dessert too but I remember it only vaguely. They get a lot of milk from goats and sheep which they can’t store. So it is usually turned in to ghee and consumed liberally. I was finding it a bit difficult just to breathe properly at this altitude but Rana kept smoking one bidi after another. The dera had one old hukkah which he prepared and smoked as shown in this video.

They had harvested a prickly herb which has many uses in Indian medicine and were drying it in sun. I cannot remember it’s name right now . Just touching it put quite a few prickly spines in the skin.I requested to take a few pictures but both of them wanted to wear something on their heads. One of them could not find his, so I lent him mine. We left a few minutes later after thanking them for the hospitality.

They had told Rana about another dera a few hours hike from theirs and he was keen to reach there before it got dark. But I was getting tired and was walking almost 200-300 meters behind him. At this time, I saw what seemed to be a large bird sitting on a ledge. With sun in front it was only an outline and I got excited thinking that I finally found a Himalayan Griffon perching at such a close distance. Eventually it turned out to be Rana partially hidden behind a rock smoking another one of his bidis. It was a bit of disappointment as I didn’t see any other wild bird or animal during rest of trek, even though there were footmarks and burrows every now and then. We managed to reach another dera before sunset. It had 3 shepherds who were in the process of gathering their flock and preparing dinner. I wanted to have a taste of my own MRE, but they insisted I eat with them. I sat in their dera as they cooked their food on a stone chulha (stove). It was simple daal roti, but a lot of it. I was surprised to see skinny people like them eating so much. When I requested them to pose for pictures, 2 of them got their better caps out.

A shepherd dog

A shepherd dog

For a change, I managed to setup my tent quite easily. But it was on a surface full of rocks and it took some time for me to get comfortable enough to sleep. There was not much plain enough space and it was getting too dark for me to find a better spot.

We started early next morning and noticed a few caves not far from river bank. A lot of them were collapsed or full of rubble and looked quite unsafe to take shelter unless one had no other option. These were marked on the map I was carrying and apparently some trekkers had used them in past. Walking for about 1 hour brought us to our 2nd water crossing. We climbed down a steep slope with loose gravel and I slipped a couple of times. The stream was wider and less fast than the last one, but it was supposed to have more water with sun getting higher. There were marks of more flow from previous day all over. The water there was deeper for most part, sometimes reaching up to well above my knees but we crossed it without much difficulty. As with the previous one, Rana crossed first with my camera and I followed once he got to other side.

Quite a lot of Unnamed mountain peaks and glaciers

Quite a lot of Unnamed mountain peaks and glaciers

We walked for about 4 hours more came across another stream. This one was much faster and Rana decided to stop there for the day even though it was just around 1 pm. The stream was 7-8 feet wide at it’s narrowest point but very fast. We saw the glacier where it was coming from next morning. A large piece of it had broken off and melting much faster. We were getting water sprayed on us even when we were 2-3 feet away and could hear rocks grinding against each other below the water. Rana was disappointed because his plan of finishing the trek in 3 days was affected and I had mixed feelings. It had been a hard hike through some really tough terrain and I was quite tired. But then he said that we had to cross only one other stream and we’d have reached a much better camping spot by evening. I don’t think I’d have liked to do that specially after covering that part next morning. The place where we had stopped was very rocky and we were stuck between the fast stream at front, a steep and unstable cliff face on right and main river body on left. It looked like someone long before us had stopped there. There was a big rock with rocks cleared around it providing a bit of shelter from direct sun and wind.

Easier part of the trekking trail

Easier part of the trekking trail

I took out my stove to heat up some MREs and found out that my trusty water bottle had finally developed a crack after yet another fall on the rocks. We had seen a small spring on our way and Rana went there to get some drinking water while I heated the MREs. Again, I didn’t want to throw the bottle in wilderness. The crack was at bottom, so I put some tape on it carried it upside down for rest of the trip. I had another filter bottle, but it’s capacity was not even 1 liter. I noticed a scrape on my camera body where some paint had chipped off after my fall just before the previous water crossing. There was no other damage though it could have been bad.

We wanted to start as early as possible next morning, so I set up my tent immediately after lunch. I tried to clear a small area of rocks, but there were just more rocks underneath. So I gave up moving rocks and just pitched it after removing a few pointy ones. Somehow I managed to sleep through the almost deafening roar of water and the wind throughout the night.

All water gone next morning

All water gone next morning


We started our hike next morning at around 5:30. That mad Paagal nallah was just a small trickle of water at that time, nothing like the loud cascade of water and stones crashing through the mountainside. We crossed in 1-2 hops and resumed our march, The terrain progressively got more difficult from this point onward for various reasons. After walking for 80-90 minutes we climbed down another steep slope to cross another stream, more like a small river. There was supposed to be an ice bridge but it had melted and we had to cross it the old fashioned way. I was a little curious about seeing that ice bridge and was disappointed. I did find a goat (?) skull on the river bank though.

I just placed this skull on this rock to take the picture.

I just placed this skull on this rock to take the picture.

We walked upstream for about a kilometer looking for a suitable place to cross. The water there was comparatively calmer and deeper. Since it was still early morning and the glacier was not that far, the water was just above freezing temperature. I legs were numb within a few seconds of getting in to water and took 2-3 minutes of exercises to get the feeling back after crossing. A few minutes later, we climbed back up on the next mountain using a steep goat trail which actually got me sweating.

View from mountain after crossing

View from mountain after crossing

After this, the terrain was flat for a while which was a relief. We found another dera after about a kilometer which had another gaddi and his assistant. Rana didn’t knew him but that didn’t prevent him from inviting us for a cup of chai and something to eat. He then showed me a an Olympus camera lens still in it’s carry case and asked me what it is. He said that he found it near his shelter a few years back. My excitement was short lived as it was in pretty bad condition.He explained that  his dogs “played” with it and he was curious why it didn’t have a glowing light like it had when he found it. I had no idea what he meant by this. He was happy enough to just give it away, but I gave him a little cash I had for it. All these shepherds told me that there were a lot of foreigner trekkers on the route a few years back but not so much anymore. I had seen one group in 2011 and mentioned it in the blog. I still have that lens and intend to open it up to see the inner mechanism.

Another cup of chai with ghee and lots of sugar and milk

Another cup of chai with ghee and lots of sugar and milk

From there, we walked for 5 hours more and crossed two more streams which had only a few cm of water. After we crossed the first one he told a story in which one of the trekker or maybe it was a porter had been swept away by the current few years back.  After this , we walked through a very large flat area which was mostly swamp like with lots of water channels, large rocks and strange plants growing everywhere. Just before that, there was yet another stream in which the water was flowing under the rocks with only a little on top.  We could see the pass and vehicles on road from some distance. It took one more hour of walking to reach Bara Lacha pass and a few minutes of downhill walk to reach Suraj Taal. After 3 days of hard work it was a rewarding, yet a bit of underwhelming sight. I knew that it was small but it was even smaller than I expected. Then there was rubble from road just above it which had covered almost half of it’s bank. But it was still a beautiful place. We walked till it’s bank and rested for a while. Rana helped me setup the tent and we had a lunch of of  MREs. Rana and I shook hands and he took his leave to go back to his dera. He said that he’d reach back in 2 or 3 days .

First view of Surah Taal. Road is on right

First view of Surah Taal. Road is on right

After he left, I walked around the place taking pictures and enjoying sunset. The point where I had set up my tent was only about 50-60 meters down from the road, but there was no way to climb up due to huge boulders. The only reasonable path back up was about half a km of walk which I didn’t want to do carrying all my stuff. So I found a shorter and a bit more difficult way up for next morning. It was not a path, just some rocks which seemed stable enough. Even walking around at that altitude was a tough job and the fatigue was making everything including walking on a slope or even lift a small rock more difficult.

There were only a few vehicles on the road and most of them barely slowed down as they passed the lake. During my time there, I saw only 3-4 people who stopped their vehicles to take a few pictures, stare at me staring them back and move on. The traffic ceased a few hours before sunset and I had the whole place to myself. Only 2 vehicles passed through after that till the time I was awake. I wanted to do some night photography and then decided against it once I set foot outside the tent. The wind was too strong and the cold made my every exposed body part freezing cold. So I took a few pictures from within the tent and ended it for the night. It was a bit strange being truly alone in such wilderness for the first time. An exhilarating and terrifying feeling at the same time. A bit more terrifying because at times, I imagined something moving right outside my tent as I was about to fall asleep.

One last vehicle for the night with lake reflecting the lights

One last vehicle for the night with lake reflecting the lights

I woke up after sunrise and had some chocolates and dry fruit for breakfast before staring to windup the camp. Any exertion was still pretty hard and I did it slowly so as not to over exert. There was no traffic on the road at that time and started only after 8 am, I think. After all the packing was done I half carried , half dragged my luggage up to the road. Jamaica had promised that he’d send a car to pick me up from there and I waited along the roadside for it. Later I found out that the driver he asked to do it demanded too much money and he didn’t send anyone. I didn’t knew that at the time and I waited for around 90 minutes before the sky was covered by dark clouds started dropping half frozen rain. It got a extremely cold within a few minutes and I started walking down from there by the roadside. There were quite a few vehicles passing at the that time. I waved at a truck for lift and thankfully he stopped. The driver had delivered some supplies in Leh and was going back empty. He didn’t talk much and I was not in mood for idle chit chat, so most of our journey was quite peaceful. A ride in truck was never on my bucketlist, but was a fun thing to do. We stopped at 2-3 places for rest and meals in Lahaul area which is quite a beautiful place by itself. We reached Keylong in afternoon and he dropped me near the bus station.

View of the area as I waited for transport as I waited next morning, only a few minutes before everything was covered by clouds

View of the area as I waited for transport as I waited next morning, only a few minutes before everything was covered by clouds

There was one bus scheduled to leave for Manali in a hour and I waited at bus stand till it arrived and ticket counter opened. The bus ride was unremarkable and I reached Manali at around sunset time. During my last visit, me and wifey had stayed in a kind of fancy resort on the way to Old Manali. It had hot running water, fancy bathrooms and all that other expensive hotel stuff. Since she was coming to join me in 2 days, I thought that it’d be a good place to stay. But I apparently looked like a hobo, because the guy on reception desk said that the hotel was priced beyond what I could possibly afford. I had not bathed for 6 days, had almost matted hair and beard and was wearing same clothes for 4 days. But still….

After that I just walked to Old Manali and found a cheap guesthouse where people were more used to people like me. I had a hot shower, shampooed my hair, overgrown beard to get all the dust out. The water ran very gray and brown for quite some time. There isn’t much to say after this. I wandered around Manali town, discovered a few new spots, gorged myself in different restaurants till wifey arrived. Then we did more of that stuff together for 2-3 days more.

During this trek, I saw a lot of interesting things like plants, geographical features, rocks, glaciers, insects and more. Only problem is that I know almost nothing about most of them. I did take a lot of pictures and intend to find out more about them, if time permits.
For now, it’s time to end this 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.
Batal
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 :D
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.
Sigh.
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

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

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 of the goats are photogenic

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

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

Himalayan Griffon

 

Continuing from my previous post:

I felt silly sitting idle in the camp. So after a bit of rest,  walked out towards Chandrataal again at around five. At the lake, I met two local shepherds, one of which turned out to be Pradhan ( local title for Chief). He seemed agitated as an idiot had put up his tent right on lake shore and was rude when reminded of the rules.   As I still wanted to visit Samudri Taapoo,  I asked him about a way to cross the river or an alternate route. Turned out that his friend was going to cross the river next morning. But it was a one way trip. He was to gather his flock across the river and go back towards some place in general direction of Batal that would have taken 2 weeks or more. Tagging along with him was simply out of question. I didn’t have that much time and even if I did, following the routes of shepherds at their speed was not a good idea for a trek either. Dejected, I waved them goodbye and set about to walk around the lake. Pradhan invited me to his camp for a cup of tea and dinner to which I agreed to partake at a later time.

There's an insect in this picture

There’s an insect in this picture

Lake water was cold but not much.Continue reading

I never ever imagined that I’ll ever wake up before sunrise without an alarm. That day was no exception. Woke up a few minutes before 6, rested and refreshed. Sleeping in a sleeping bag inside a tent is not uncomfortable after all. Got out of the bag and then the cold hit. The difference between the day and night temperatures must be 25 degrees or more. In simple words, it was cold. I hurriedly put on my jacket and stepped out of the tent. The view outside was stunning, to say the least. Grey, white clouds were  idly strolling between mountains peaks giving the impression that the mountains were smoking.

 

    Jamaica, his helper Sunny, Si and 2 other tourists  were already outside drinking tea. I asked for a glass of hot milk and mixed some drinking chocolate that I had brought with me. Combined with the scenic mountains in front of me, I couldn’t have asked for more. After finishing  chocolate milk, I picked up my camera and left for Chandrataal (Chandertaal) lake. But first, I want to make somethings clear:

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