Tag Archives: Himalayas

Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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World Environment Day: Where even the source is threatened

How often when we talk  talk of polluing rivers we discuss about the ways big cities are pushing their dirt into it. While talking about rivers, we cherish, how pure the rivers are at their source and then get polluted down the stream. In that sense, it was indeed painful to see the source of one of our most sacred rivers Yamuna at Yamunotri. It was pristine all around–weather, nature and the faith, but the condition of river was not at all that healthy. We have probably ourselves to blame.

Bottles, plastic and other garbage that river threw out at Sayanachatti, just 25 kms from Yamunotri.

Problem is, we are unwittingly perhaps encouraging what should have been discouraged downrightly. With the increasing connectivity, increasing number of travellers all the stops on the way are being converted into mini city hubs. With hundreds of buses coming daily during the Yatra time, we can just imagine the pressure being put on this fragile ecosystem. With this pressure comes the associated evils that target the environment. That needs to be checked or we will be letting things go out of control. Talking about cities? Condition of Yamuna just few odd kilometres from Yamunotri  had gone pathetic. We could see piles of garbage along the river. And that was what river had spewed out, what it swallowed and took along with it downstream couldn’t be seen here.

Shops along the Yamunotri trail

All along the almost six kilometre trail to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti, you will find  countless number of shops and all of them selling bottled water, soft drinks and all other things in plastic bottles. Then there are other hazardous items too in tins and cans. It is anybody’s guess that a big number of bottles out of the ones used here will find its way to the river stream. And it could actually be seen clearly.

Remains of the faith!

Situation was more alarming at the source itself, the Yamunotri where the crowd converges. It has to bear the most of the pressure and without tough handling with some path-breaking moves, we won’t be able to control the situation. There are more shops at Yamunotri, cooking everything from rice to samosas and selling everything from coke to toffees.

People taking bath in Yamuna at Yamunotri

Not just the count of the travellers, this pristine area also has to bear equal number of animals, support staff, shopkeepers, administration and infrastructure. And that all is constantly increasing. How are we going to check this? How can we restrain, when it comes to the matters of faith? Something to ponder about on this World Environment Day!

What can we do to stop this pollution? Share your views in the comments section below!

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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

Rubbing your shoulders against the ponies, fear of being hit by wooden sticks protubering out of palakis (पालकी), getting squeezed between rush of pilgrims on one side and rocky hillside on the other and a long tiring journey–nothing deters you from your faith that drives you to reach the Yamunotri temple on the foothills of Kalind mountain.

Janaki Chatti as seen from Kharsali village
Another view of the Janaki Chatti village during Char Dham Yatra season

Here faith sees no fear. And you have enough of motivation to do that, even if you are not a traditional pilgrim type–a breeze of fresh air, song of the river flowing deep in the beautiful lush green valley on your right and a majestic sight of snow-clad peaks of Garhwal Himalayas.

THE YATRA
Yamunotri is the westernmost shrine of this region. Hence it is traditionally the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand which then goes to Gangotri and then Kedarnath and finally concludes at Badrinath. There is a pattern in this pilgrimage–you keep moving from west to east. Two of these Char Dhams are the source of India’s two most important rivers- Ganges and Yamuna, which themselves meet down at Sangam in Allahabad. Other two are dedicated to two of the most important deities which happened to be source of two streams of Hinduism- Shaivite and Vaishnavite, i.e. Kedarnath dedicated to Shiva and Badrinath dedicated to Vishnu.
Waiting for the riders
Also all these four dhams are at almost same altitude zone- Yamunotri being lowest at 3293 metres and Kedarnath being highest at 3553 metres. Factually speaking, all these four dhams have trekking routes connecting each other. No doubt, these would have been the travel routes centuries ago for the pilgrims until the roads came up. Not just the route, there are many legends connecting these dhams, few of them dating as back as times of Mahabharata.
View of the Kalind mountain in backyard of Yamunotri
But another existing fact of interest is that out of the two dhams with river sources, only Gangotri is accessible by road, whereas there is a almost a six kilometer trek from Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri. Similarly, in the other two dhams of deities only Badrinath is accessible by road, while Kedarnath has to be reached by a arduous 18 kms trek from Gaurikund.
THE EXPERIENCE
A lot has changed in this region after the devastating floods of 2013. Being in the same region, all of them had to face to fury of the nature. Immediate after effect was the reduced number of pilgrims. But these four dhams command such a respect in the Hindu mindsets that, five years down the line, the number of pilgrims coming for Char Dham yatra has reached back to the pre-2013 levels. We were told that as many as 7000 pilgrims go to the Yamunotri temple from Janaki Chatti daily.
Happy with what life gives. Two porters with their dolis
That’s how the palakis are carried on the four shoulders

Personally, rivers always fascinate me and honestly speaking I will try not to let go any chance to jump in the lap of nature. Hence an invitation from the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to be part of its first ever Bloggers Bus was indeed a blessing in disguise. We were seven in all, four from Kolkata–Rangan Datta, Amrita Das, Subhadip Mukherjee and Anindya Basu; Namita Kulkarni from Mysore and besides me Swati Jain from New Delhi. (We will know more about my co-travellers in later posts. In the meantime you can click on their names to go to their lovely blogs). We travelled for six days in a bus in Yamuna and Ganges valley of Uttarakhand, exploring some so far unexplored areas. Yamunotri was the first major destination of the trip.

Walking trail alongside the valley
THE ROUTE
The trek to Yamunotri is a mixed bag. The trail is paved and has a protective railing towards the valley side throughout the trail. Although regular trekkers will find it easy, six kilometres is a no mean task at such altitude. At times it is steep enough to make you sweat and breathless, more so if you are not habitual of walking and being at an altitude of over 10 thousand feet. There are shelters every half kilometer or less. There are sitting places in these sheds. There is facility of drinking water and there are numerous shops on the way selling food, snacks and drinks. Walkers can even purchase a stick to support as a third leg. Down at Janaki Chatti, there is a well developed market selling almost everything of daily need.
Time to quench the thirst
Kalind mountain in full glory
Corns for the time pass!

There are other ways to cover the distance and most common is a riding a pony. You can hire a pony either for the round trip or the one way. Then there is a palaki where you are lifted and carried by four people on their shoulders in a seat. Then there is a doli, generally for kids and lighter people in which one people carries you on his back in a seat carved inside a basket. Now the problem is that everybody has to share the same walking trail to go and return from Yamunotri. At times and at certain narrow points the trail becomes quite crowded and there are instances of traffic jams, and even walking becomes tougher and bit of ordeal. Moreover, the cemented trail also becomes somewhat uncomfortable for the ponies and gets slippery. Imagine, there are around 2000 ponies at Janaki Chatti to take pilgrims to Yamunotri. But one thing for sure, despite few grims and whims here and there, everybody is fine with everything and considers it as a part of their journey to the deity.

THE SOURCE
Interestingly, just like Gangotri, the actual source of Yamuna river is also not at Yamunotri. As Gaumukh is further 18 kms from Gangotri, similarly actual source of Yamuna rives is said to be the Saptrishi Kund which is a small glacial lake fed be Champasar Glacier in the Bandar Poonch massif. This lake is said to be some where between 14 to 18 kms far from the Yamunotri temple at an altitude of over 16,500 ft. Saptrishi kund is also named so because of its mythological association with the seven great sages– Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasistha.
Bridge just after the Bhairav temple
Shelters for the pilgrims on the trail to take much needed rest
Time to move again with the crowd
Pilgrims from all corners of the country converse here
Views like this keep you fresh and energised

Treks to this place are very less and hence very little information is available about it. It might be bit tough but not impossible one. Actually this is indeed a very beautiful trek and legends connect it to even Ramayana and it is often said locally that this was the place where Hanuman came search of Sanjeevani all the way from Lanka. Not for the legend, but certainly for its charismatic beauty, I hope to do this trek some day. Legends say that the actual source of Yamuna being so tough to reach, temple to worship Yamuna was built down in the valley at the present site. As the secretary of the Yamunotri Temple Committee Kriteshwar Uniyal said to us, that it was impossible for the lesser mortals reach at the original source.

THE SHRINE
Yamunotri temple has three-four main parts. First one is the sprout in the rocks from where river Yamuna emerges. That is the place where the river is worshipped by the devotees ritualistically. The sprout is covered by a cage to protect it. Then there is a proper temple nearby which has three idols- one of the Yamuna, second one of the Ganges and third one too of Yamuna which is taken out during the procession and festivals. Between these two sites is a hot spring called as Soorya Kund (Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Sun god). The water in this spring is so hot that it is used to cook rice which is taken back by the devotees as a Prasad (blessing). We have seen this phenomenon at many places in Himalayas.
With the uphill journey over, time to hand the palakis
Porters having time to rest after a tiring climb
Meanwhile these innocents wait for turn to go downhill again
Remains of faith polluting the river!!
Temple and the river flowing alongside
Where Yamuna sprouts beneath the rocks inside the shrine
The main temple of goddess Yamuna

Then there are also bath ponds for the devotees to take bath before the pooja where the hot water is mixed with cold water of Yamuna to make it more bearable. There are separate baths for men and women. Besides, there are numerous shops lined up selling food, snacks, drinks, prasads, offering and souvenirs. There are also few options of stay for the devotees who are late and might not be able to return Janaki Chatti before dark.

 
Fast Facts
1. Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri temple is a trek of 5.5 kms. A normal person will take 2 to 2 and half hours to walk down the trail.
2. Ponies charge 1200 rupees one way and a palaki 4000 rupees one way.
3. Travelers are normally allowed to leave till 5 pm in the evening from Janaki Chatti towards Gangotri.
4. There is enough of water and food available on the way.
5. There are also sheds for the shelter from sun, rain and wind.
6. Always walk towards the hillside to be safe as there are lot of pulls and push from various elements.
7. Avoid travelling in dark on the walking trail.
View from the bridge that leads to the shrine across the river
How to Reach
Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand at the far end of the Yamuna valley in westernmost Garhwal Himalayas. Janaki Chatti is the last road head. One can reach to Janaki Chatti by public transport i.e. buses or any private means- buses, taxi, personal cars, two-wheelers etc. All of them have to be parked at either Janaki Chatti or Kharsali village.
Walking back to Janaki Chatti
It becomes really crowded at times
Turning back for some lasting views
Meanwhile, he has found the best place to have a undisturbed power nap
A fulfilling journey comes to an end

Nearest rail heads are Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun. Dehradun to Yamunotri is roughly about 180 kms. Roads are generally very good up till Janaki Chatti baring for a few landslide zones. Route from Rishikesh to Janaki Chatti goes through Dehradun, Mussorie, Yamuna Bridge, Naugaon, Barkot, Syana Chatti and Hanuman Chatti. It is almost an eight hour journey from Dehradun to Janaki Chatti.

You can see a video of this trek to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever been to Yamunotri? How was the experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Not so long ago everybody reaching here would be showcasing the photograph of testimonial to the visit as a badge of honour to have reached the highest motorable road in the world. Such was the glamour of being to Khardung La pass, also known as gateway to Nubra valley. It was one of the must-see destinations for visits to Leh-Ladakh.

Off late owing to firstly, constantly opening of many other high roads around in Ladakh and other places of world and secondly, because of many challenges to its claim of altitude with better and actual GPS measurements–Khardungla has suddenly become from highest motorable road in the world to one of the top 10 highest motorable passes in the world. And few other claim that it is not even in top 10. Challenges to Khardung La’s status have surfaced years back from Marsimik La. And now we have many higher passes in Ladakh itself than Khardung La.

Hill top besides the Kahrdungla pass

That might be the different story altogether about altitudes and the motorable roads. But still Khardungla has not lost its sheen. It still retains all the sign boards claiming its altitude to be 18,380 feet (against 17,582 feet what is claimed now) and also the glamour among all first-timers to Leh. It still is thrill to drive to Khardung La and beyond to Nubra. Bikers or other returning adventurers will seek to look for other passes far and beyond in Ladakh, even the Urming La which is now called as highest road in the world after its access last year was thrown open. But leisure travellers have different thoughts.

Mountain passes and these Buddhist flags have an unbreakable bond!

Actually, most of the layman travellers still come here with the impression that Khardung La is the highest motor able pass in the world. For them, Khardung La is still and achievement. And mind it, even crossing a 17 thousand feet altitude is no mean task. Then, all those who plan to go to Nubra valley from Leh have to do it by crossing Khardungla Pass. Interestingly Nubra valley is bit lower in altitude than Leh. Hence tourists will feel more comfortable in Nubra, but than they have to cross 17,500 feet to reach there.

South Pullu, where every traveller has to get themselves registered at army checkpost
Road coming from Leh criss-crossing the valley below on way to Khardungla
Tourists capturing some memorable moments

Another notable point is that Khardung La is very close to city of Leh, it is just over 40 kilometres. There are many travellers who come to Leh with a very limited time. Those who reach here by flight have to already sacrifice their first day of trip in resting and acclimatising. So those who have limited time, they keep local Leh sightseeing, monasteries like Hemis and Thiksey, magnetic hill in their itinerary.

Landscape changes as you move high up
Signs of some fresh snowfall, weather can change here dramatically
That’s how snow looks like at Khardungla, almost all the year round
Mountains around Khardungla look all white with rocks engraved in between

To all such tourists, trip to Khardung La adds the adventure quotient in journey. Going to such an altitude will always be adventurous. Journey from Leh to Khardungla takes roughly about an hour and half depending in the traffic and road conditions. By traffic I mean the army convoys blocking your speed. This is strategically a very important mountain pass for Indian forces as this gives them access to Nubra valley and areas close to POK. Hence it is kept in motor able condition almost all the year round, even in heavy snowfall.

A view of the Khardungla Pass from the other side of the road towards Nubra valley
This pass is completely under the control of the army and the place has many stories to tell
Top of the Khardungla top

Best time to go to Khardungla is early in the morning. Roads would be free of slush and vehicular movement will be less. Even the weather is generally favourable in the first half of day at such places. Those who cross in the morning towards Nubra, should try to cross Khardungla pass before it gets dark in their return journey in the evening.

Pass has an army canteen, a temple and public facilities

Khardung La pass at sunset

You can easily find taxis in Leh to take you to Khardungla. Hotels, where you stay will arrange for this. If you don’t intent to go further to Nubra, than Khardungla can be at the most a half day itinerary from Leh.

Lets watch a video of the proverbial last mile drive to Khardungla from South Pullu on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you been to Khardungla Pass? How was your experience? Please share with us in the comments section below!

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Reaching climax: On the top of the Manali-Leh route


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To sum up the rides before and after Pang, I can just say that while it was all thrill before Pang, it was sheer joy after that. In a hindsight, one can say that all troubles are marked just to reach Pang, Leh is a cakewalk after that. But having said that, Pang to Leh is also about the climax of a astonishing journey and crossing milestones, one after another.

Reaching Pang! Read: Where whisky and brandy are ferocious nallahs!

Changing landscape, as we move higher up towards More plains

After the restaurants and dhabas at Pang, as you move ahead, we leave the army transit camp on one side (Read: Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world). Although Pang itself is over 15000 feet in altitude, we immediately gain height further for around five kilometres. That’s when we reach More plains, a plateau of enormous proportion at this altitude. Criss-crossing this plateau is a road unthinkable at this altitude and better than many of our city roads.

Ghost on the way! Read: Loops of the haunted!

Looking back towards Pang from the road
Towards right on the vast expanse of the plateau
Road taking directly to Tanglang La and further to Leh

It is an expressway at altitude of 4800 metres, more than half the altitude of Mount Everest. This is almost 50 kms of flatlands between Pang and Tanglang La pass. Flanked by mountain ranges on both sides, this plateau is good enough for dozens of football fields. Amazing, breathtaking and serene, this is a place like no other on this planet, and perhaps one of the most beautiful road journeys in India.

An inhabitant of the plains welcoming a stranger in me!

Have a look at the video of this ride on More Plains on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

This is a long and at times, monotonous drive. You will find no village or habitation on the way. Only persons you meet will be fellow travellers going to or returning from Ladakh. Except for some riders stopping here and there for the photo-ops you will find everybody enjoying the speed.

Road conditions? Read: Himalayan Rides- Road from Manali to Rohtang & Gramphoo

I had an interesting experience while on this stretch. I had just crossed roughly about ten kilometres, when I found a group of bikers coming from the lake stranded on the road. One of the bike had a flat tyre. They were trying to get it repaired, but were somehow not able to do. I stopped to enquire. I was carrying a new spare tube with me. I handed over my tube to them. Although they were a bit reluctant as I was travelling solo and was still on my onward journey. But I told them that my bike had puncture resistant seal in both tyres and I expected that to work fine for me, as it had so far. Moreover the route ahead till Leh was supposed to be perfect. They even offered me the cost of the tube, but I laughed them off and after a few handshakes moved on. That was one of the satisfying moments of the trip, nature makes you more and more humble in its lap.

Travelling solo? Read: Lonely at Baralacha La

Just before Debring in More plains is the diversion to Mahe and Tso Kar lake.

Continue this journey further, enjoying the vista until we reach Debring towards the fag end of the More plains. Debring is a BRO depot and now also has a well-developed dhabas and campsites for travellers to have food and stay on the way. There is also a diversion just before Debring for Leh via Tso Kar and Mahe. Tso Kar is a high altitude lake famous for its wild ass and white sand. Many travellers will take this route to cover Two Kar and Two Moriri lakes in either their onward or return journey, instead of making a trip to and fro Leh.

Lot many things on different boards, but nothing to tell that where this road goes!

After crossing 50 kms of More plains, we again start to climb and this for the last time before reaching Leh. Still ten kilometres are left befor Tanglang La- the highest point on this Manali-Leh route.

Expanse of the valley before Tanglang La

I was travelling in September and at that time of the year roads were generally in very good condition as most of the snow around had already melted. But it can be tricky around July-August as snow is still there and melting, so it will not only worsen the road condition but will also make pools of water on road at different places.

The perennial trekkers moving up towards Tanglang La
Looking back from top. Two black spots are two trucks going towards Pang
Road criss-crossing the mountains

Reaching Tanglang La is a huge achievement as well as relief. We know it is just downhill from here onwards until Leh on good roads. The goal seems to be nearer now. Besides there is always a feeling of accomplishment after reaching to this height.

Bikers at Tanglang La
A temple at Tanglang La, only few care to go inside.
The board marking the altitude but now many challenges to its ranking.
View from the top… you are on top.

It is often termed as Gateway to Leh. Tanglang La is at an altitude of 5328 metres (17,480 feet) and is also among the world’s top 12 highest passes. Here is the video of last five kilometres ride to Tanglang La while coming from More Plains. It’s amazing. You almost feel like on top of the world. Enjoy the fascinating views on both sides of Tanglang La.

A highway of mountain passes! Read: Journey to the roof top – Five of the highest mountain passes in the world.

Once we move to the other side, it is a very straightforward road. We have to go down by atleast seven thousand feet until Leh in about 110 kilometres. It is almost like going down a gorge. Roads are good and after 20-25 kilometres you feel like getting close to habitation again.

Back to habitation
Nice to get down in sunlight
Soon back to villages

You can see villages and also electricity but will have to wait till Upshi to get mobile signals. Upshi is where we meet Indus river, cross the river through bridge and move in the Indus valley.

Some Good samaritans: Chacha-Chachi of Batal

Along the Indus after crossing Upshi towards Leh

As soon as you reach Upshi, everything changes- landscape, topography, weather, altitude and the mood. Mobile signals are back and calls are being made. You are still more than 40 kms from Leh but mind has already started working on where are you going to stay in Leh. Body seems to be demanding rest already.

Have you ever travelled on this route? How was your experience? Please do share it in the comments section below.

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Pang : Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world


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View of Pang dhabas (towards right) and the army transit camp (towards left), as seen from the way up towards More plains.

Pang is a magical place. It brings you to an entirely different world, like the one never seen before. At an altitude of over 15,300 feet this is also claimed to be the highest army transit camp in the world. Army claims the altitude as 15, 640 feet. For a traveller- a biker or a driver, Pang is in midst of two entirely different terrains. While coming from Sarchu is the rough routes of Kangla Jal while on the Leh side is the super-highway of More Plains. Both worth a journey of lifetime.

Dhabas around Pang, with ample facility for food as well as tents, beds for night stay.

Establishment at Pang would have been come up as a place for stoppage for armed forces moving to and fro to areas bordering Pakistan and China. Being an open valley close to stream and less windy in comparison to Sarchu would have made it ideal place for transit. When adventurers started taking this road journey, they also found place good for camping, as they will always feel assured because of close proximity of the transit camp, if in case of any emergency. Later on locals came up with restaurants here to provide food to travellers. Slowly camping facilities kept growing and now most of the dhabas have rooms and beds for bikers, trekkers, to stay overnight. Transit camp is still very helpful for locals and travellers in providing medical and communication facilities. I have often used paid satellite phone facilities at these transit camps on the way to inform about my well-being to my family.

More permanent sort of structures coming up at Pang, due to ever increasing numbers of adventure seekers.

But staying at Pang isn’t a mean task physically. It is quite challenging to stay at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. More so, when you are tired because of tough ride from Manali to Pang. Many travellers will feel acute AMS here. Still many locals will suggest to stay at Pang instead of Sarchu, despite its higher altitude because it is less windy.

Have a look at a video below of way to Pang and places around camp.

 

Another video below of route from Bharatpur to Pang, a magical view of mountains turning into gold when struck by first lights of sun!

Manali-Leh route is also known for its five high mountain passes. Have a look at a video below of all the five from Rohtang to Tanglang La

As I said Pang has some of the most fascinating terrains on its both sides and amazing roads constructed in them- sheer engineering marvel. Among them is the Kangla Jal. Flowing over a rocky bed at an altitude of 4878 metres, Kangla Jal makes for an amazing landscape. Kangla Jal is in a valley and there are towering mountains on both the sides. It is located where Miyar connects to Zanskar valley. A beautiful road has been carved into rocky sandstone formations making it a spectacular sight. But than it is also one of the toughest (often people say ‘the toughest’) water stream (Miyar river) to cross on Manali-Leh route. Water flows from the top and falls into the deep gorge overlooking Pang. Still, you won’t always find water here, as in the video below, it is completely dry (it was in late September). That is what makes it unpredictably beautiful. When there is water in the stream (mostly early in the season upto August) the flow of water changes as the day progresses and recedes towards evening. Old-timers will say that the best time to cross it is early morning when the sun if soft and the snow hasn’t started melting. Middle of the day will account for the most severe flows. Even for vehicles, life is tougher for bikes as they might have to cross kneedeep freezing cold water in great flow. A bit of challenge! However a newly laid bridge has made the life somewhat easy for bikers.

For those who love haunted stories, Gata Loops offers a couple. Very  interesting that a road of 21 hairpin bends taking up the mountain is also related to such stories. Gata Loops are in between Sarchu and Pang. Travel to these loops in the video below-

Pang is also the place where we see the unique soil formations on the mountains, and some very unusual structures. Vistas here are quite different, special colours of the sand & rocks as well as few images which have become iconic in this Manali-Leh journey for decades now.

Also read: Where Whisky and Brandy are ferocious Nallahs! 

Climbing up the mountain overlooking Pang and moving towards More plains

Factsheet: At an altitude of almost 4600 metres, Pang is 80 kms ahead of Sarchu. Tanglang La is further 70 kms from Pang and Upshi is another 60 kms from Tanglang La. It normally takes no less than three hours of biking to reach from Sarchu to Pang, depending upon the number of photo stops you are willing to take.

Have you ever stayed overnight at Pang? How was the experience? Please share your views in the comments section below.

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When getting down becomes the toughest part : Gangabal to Naranag

When it comes to last day of a trek, we often expect it to be a relaxed day, more so when it is all down hill. But don’t think so when you are on Kashmir Great Lakes trek. To my surprise, last day trek from Gangabal to Naranag actually turned out to be one of the toughest day of the trek.

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes Trek

Nandkhol Lake in the backdrop of Harmukh peak

Weather has been perfect accept for the first night rain. It has been bright and sunny. Well, it was known before hand that last day has to be steep descent. But excitement of finishing the trek did overcome the challenge. Moreover we didn’t expect it to be that tricky affair.

Time to pack up for the journey.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

Looking back at the tents, which were our shelter for the night.

This is one of the trickiest descent I had faced in all these years of trekking. I will still not call it ‘the’ trickiest as I have kept that tag for trek from Chandaniaghat to Sutol in Uttarakhand during the Nanda Devi Rajjat 2014. That still sends shivers down my spine. Will talk about it some time later.

Stream that comes from Gangabal lake and goes down to Sind river

Also read: Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Route along the stream

Gangabal is at an altitude of almost 11,500 ft and Naranag is at 7,450 ft. Thus it is a descent of around 4,000 ft. But out of this a steep descent of 3,000 ft has to be done in just last 4 kms of the trek on muddy, boulder filled route in the midst of thick of pines. It takes a toll on toes and knees to hold the body weight and keep hold of the slippery path.

Saying goodbye to the last of the higher camps of the trek

Initially, trek doesn’t look so intimidating. Its a beautiful river crossing, with a very relaxed and gradual walk along the stream. Horses were packed with luggage and ready to move on path different from us, right through the valley.

Horses crossing the stream, but they were supposed to take a different route from us

After walking along the stream for a while, we leave it aside and move upto the ridge, on the other side of the Harmukh peak.

Stream goes down to the valley

Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be

There were few boulders on the way, but they were easy to negotiate.

Climbing up the ridge through boulders

It was a beautiful view on the other side of the ridge. There were signs of reaching close to the civilisation, as we could see shepherds, flocks of sheep and some women from the nearby villages.

On to the ridge, you can see hundreds of sheep spread in the meadows.

Also read: A tale of seven lakes- Gadsar to Satsar

Its a beautiful view out there. Treeline at the far end, beautifully crafted green hills on one side, stream on another and majestic Harmukh peak on the back.

A panoramic view of the right side of the trek

The route from Gangabal to Naranag is one of the busiest on the whole trek. Despite trek being tough, there are many adventure lovers going to Gangabal from Naranag for short trips, camping or just fishing fun. Actually, on this trek, this particular stretch has been in use for ages due to its mythological importance as well as natural beauty.

Also read: Satsar to Gangabal- Photo Journey to the climax

At the far end of the hill, just where the tree line starts, you can see a Forest Hut. This place is also ideal for camping, if while coming from Naranag one has got no more courage or energy left to go upto the Gangabal lake.

Treeline and a forest hut

Even when we reach the tree line, we actually don’t just enter the forest straightaway. Still, for a fairly good distance we have to walk just along the fringe onto its right. Interestingly, we don’t loose much of altitude even till here.

Curious looks of the cow give enough indications of the village close by

We keep going up and down the trek, in and out of the pine forest for some distance. By this time, we will be encountering locals in a fairly good number. Some gujar villages are also there to be seen.

Entering into the pine forest.

Almost after covering six kilometres we get a restaurant and it gives a welcome break with some kahwa, tea, biscuits and maggi.

Also read: Kashmir we know less about – Naranag

Ever changing vista of the route

The real descent lies in last four kilometres, that means after covering two-third of the distance. Its a muddy, rocky, slippery, trail right amidst the thick of the pine. It has to be covered very carefully. At time you start feeling for the ones going up to the Gangabal through that route. These last four kilometres almost seem endless.

First view of the Naranag

Even when, we have first sight of the Naranag, it is no relief, as there is long distance still to cover. But you can always relax yourself by talking to the locals, enjoying the beauty, clicking the photographs and make the last day as enjoyable as possible. Its always good to take firm steps, even if you walk slowly. You can still reach the road head at Naranag by 3 pm.

Also have a look at the video of the highlights of the day’s trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you trekked from Gangabal to Naranag? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Satsar to Gangabal : Photo journey to the climax!


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After a satisfying fourth day, it was time to move towards the climax on the 5th day of the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. It was supposed to be the last day of climb. Satsar campsite is at an altitude of 12,000 ft and Gangabal campsite is at a an altitude of 11,500 ft but on the way we have to cross the Zach pass at an altitude of 13,400 ft.

How to prepare? Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes Trek

So, lets travel through the day’s trek in photos. Starting right from the first light of the day-

Its early morning after a wonderful night of stargazing. You just can’t imagine, how this sky looked like in the night. Its cold still, but all ready to move.

Its getting brighter and campsite is buzzing with early morning activities.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

Its climb right from the word- go. A steep fall on the left and cliff on the right. We had to cross through boulders and loose rocks.

Looking back at the Satsar campsite from bit of height.It is tiring though. Crossing boulders is always tricky and tough on knees. Reaching to another ridge.

Time to have some rest after having crossed most of the rocky terrain. Looking at those mountains make you you so humble.

Closer look at the mountains far on the other side of the valley with a stream flowing down.

Though flowering season has almost ended, but we could still find some smaller carpets here and there.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai PassContemplating the moves! Looks like another peak to climb!! The ridge at the top is the Zach pass, the last high pass of the trek. It would be all down after that hopefully.And than climbing to the top turns out to be a feast for the eyes, when all of a sudden nature turns out to be a big canvas spread right in front of you (see the video below)

They were indeed moment of pure joy. Everybody assembled on the pass with twin lakes in the background. Tricolour was unfurled and numerous pictures were clicked with every possible angle.

What was one of the best places to click an image of the lifetime… our guide stands here.

Harmukh Peak in its full glory. See hoe the snow cover its edges.

The view of Gangabal lake (also called as Harmukh Ganga) located at the foot of Harmukh peak, as seen from the Zach Pass. It is one of the most sacred places for Kashmiri Hindus.

This is Nandkhol lake at the base of Harmukh Peak, it is smaller than Gangabal, but is used more often for the camping.Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be

It is now descent of around 1400 ft till the campsite. Looks easy?Not so, if you see from this side… Mules on their way to the campsite at Nandkhol.It isn’t a straightforward descent as well. What we see is the first halt in a valley at the base of Zach Pass in this side. We can see some shepherd huts and a small stream flowing down from Gangabal lake.

Another view of the Harmukh peak in the glaring sun.

Reaching at the first stream. There is another small hill to climb, before another descent.

Time to relax, as we were aware that campsite isn’t far now.

 

The perennial trekkers for the company in this huge meadows.

The Harmukh Glacier that feeds the twin lakes. Glazing in the sunlight.

Whodunit? A rock as big as this one, cut into two pieces in the manner would have been due to hell of a happening!Finally the campsite on the banks of the Nandkhol lake. Looks so pristine!
The man-made bridge to cross the stream coming from Gangabal lake towards Nandkhol Lake.Finally, the Gangabal lake an altitude of 3570 metres. This fish is home to many types of fishes including rainbow and brown trout.Joy of reaching the climax!July to August is the best time to be here. You will find more snow if you are here in June. You feel so calm and relaxed here.

Having visited the Gangabal lake in he evening itself, there was an urge to go there again in the morning. Campsite was at Nandkhol lake and it is almost a 20 minutes trek between the two lakes. So, quite determined, it was the early in the morning.Mules were getting themselves ready for another hard day.It was getting brighter on one side.And then, there were first golden rays of sun on the Harmukh Peak.

The 4th Day: A tale of seen Lakes – Gadsar to SatsarSun was very quickly to its full glow..Calm waters of Gangabal lake in the morning. But it was still not calm enough to get a clear reflection. You never feel like it is enough of the photographs. Its amazing that how nature keeps changing its colours. Kashmiri Hindus still come to this lake for many rituals or to pay homage to their ancestors. Locals often travel from Naranag to Gangabal for fishing or just a short trek.

Light falls on the Gangabal lake and the whole colour of the nature changes once again.
Also read: Kashmir we know less about – Naranag

Some tents at the banks of the Gangabal Lake.Reminiscent of what would have been a part of a pontoon bridge  long time back. It looked quite astonishing as to how these extremely heavy pieces of iron would have been transported here. They seemed too heavy even for a mule to carry it. Its all bright, mules have had their green feast and everybody seems to be ready to move on the final day…You can also watch a video of this 5th day trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes Trek? How was your experience? Please share in the comments section below.

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Rub your eyes to believe this amazing view!

How often we trek and come across some very beautiful natural scenes as we have never seen before. But then there are few scenes which will freeze in your memories for ever. What, if such a view comes in front of your eyes all of a sudden, in a very unlikely manner.

That’s how it happens when trekking from Satsar to Gangabal during the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, we have to climb three ridges one after another in a tough climb. And after three hours of energy sapping trek we reach to the top of Zach pass at 13,400 feet (also mentioned locally as Gangabal Pass), and all of sudden  a view opens up like a canvas- Harmukh peak right in the front and twin lakes of Gangabal and Nandkhol at its base. A perfect vista to fill ones eyes… so close, yet a bit far. What a fitting climax to a unbelievably beautiful trek!

You can watch the video of the last few minutes of trek, when this amazing view suddenly props up in front of eyes-

Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes trek? Share your experience in the comment section below.

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A tale of seven lakes : Gadsar to Satsar

The best thing about six day Kashmir Great Lakes trek is that every day, you get a new landscape around and that prevents it from getting monotonous.

Early starters: trekkers crossing the glacier

Also read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes trek

Fodling up: Gadsar campsite

Having already covered the first three day, we move ahead to the next campsite. Fourth day trek is from Gadsar to Satsar. First two days of trek were without passing through any lakes but next two days were all about lakes. Third day, we passes as many as five lakes on the way including big ones like Vishnusar, Kishansar and Gadsar. This fourth day was also all about lakes. Actually name of the next campsite is Satsar which means seven lakes.

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

The altitude for the day hovered around 12K feet. Trek starts by crossing a glacier and there is small climb after that. Albeit small, but it was first glacier to be crossed on the trek.

Looking back towards Gadsar from the ridgeside trail

Also read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai Pass

Zigzag climb upto the hill top

Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be!

Lonely at the top, well above the treeline, a tree stands alone on the ridge

Trek thereafter is gradual and quite beautiful. It was a small climb though initially followed by a gentle ascend along the hillside. The climb goes on becoming smoother as we pass through a ridge covered with lush green meadows.

In no time we are at a high again
With the trail getting easier, the walking moves turn to dancing
Landscape to the right across the stream. See the waterfall emerging just from middle of the hill… amazing!

Second half of the day’s trek passes through a stream and than a couple of lakes. Once we leave this ridge and river valley and turn left we come across a large plateau with mountains to the left and a stream flowing on the right.

Meadows on the left of the trail
The perennial trekkers giving us the company

Its a flat trail through the meadows. There is another ridge far on the right side. River does have a rocky side and we can see a lot of boulders.

Turning left to the plateau, leaving the valley behind
Along the stream towards the lunch point. You can see the ridge in the front, across which will start the seven lakes of Satsar

We had our packed lunch on the far end of this plateau alongside the stream, just before the start of another small climb towards a ridge, which houses another army check post. Thus it is second consecutive day of passing through an army check post. But this time the checking wasn’t as rigorous as was the previous day.

First of the lakes of Satsar

We cross the ridge to be on the other side and all of a sudden the landscape changes again. Its a tough walk through boulders. Now we approach what is first of the seven lakes of the Satsar region and the biggest one.

First lake is the biggest of seven lakes of Satsar

Calm and cool water of lake tempted a few of us to take a dip, but this isn’t advisable for all as the water is too cold and bodies are quite hot after a long trek. Jus be careful. This first lake also has a plenty of place for camping and the surroundings are quite picturesque. But we still had some trek left before reaching our campsite.

Meadows have now turned into big boulders

Trek further is bit tricky as there are a few ups and downs through rocky boulders on either sides of the lakes that we come across. Purportedly there are four to five lakes in a series on the route, all connected to each other.

We keep moving and passing by the lakes

But how much water you will find in them, depends lot on the season of the trek and also the weather. As soon as we cross last of the lake on this route, we have a small descent to the campsite on the right.

Lake on the rocks! Lake no…

There is a stream flowing close to the campsite, but there is no lake here. This is Satsar campsite.

First view of the campsite from the top of the ridge

Having already counted four-five lakes, obvious curiosity was about remaining couple of them. Once at the campsite, we came to know about two other lakes hidden high up in the mountains on the opposite side of the campsite and to the left of the last lake that we passed through to reach the campsite.

Early signs of autumn!

It was another at least half an hour climb from the camp. Broadly easy trek all day through helped us in reaching the Satsar campsite well in time, hence we had enough time to go to the twin lakes. But only few of us were able to gather courage to go for a trek again after a tiring day.

That is the mountain in whose lap are hidden two beautiful lakes
Shepherd huts on the way up to the two hidden lakes. Far down you can see the Satsar campsite along the stream

We climbed upto the first of the twin lakes, only to know that the second lake was further up. It wasn’t far but the way was quite tricky, with huge boulders on one side and steep ridge on the other. Finally three of us mustered some strength to go up.

First of the two lakes… second lake is further up in the mountain in the bowl
View of the first lake from the other side (on the base of the second lake)

It was another 20-25 minutes of challenge but we were finally through and it was indeed worth every effort. These two lakes were also connected. Water from the first one will flow down to the second one and then overflowing water from the second one will turn into big water fall.

Finally we reach to the second lake and you can see the glaciers around. This should be well above the altitude of 13K ft
An iceberg flowing in the lake!!!
In this image, you can see the tail of the first lake and the mouth of the second lake, although there is a difference in the altitude. I would have certainly liked to take a shot with both the lakes in same frame but for that another climb of half an hour was needed and that would have been tougher than all what was done so far

All these water bodies were being replenished with glacier waters. Both lakes were quite beautiful, just like a bowl in the lap of mountains.

View of the first lake from the height of the second lake

Quite satisfied after enjoying the second lake, it was time to reach back to the campsite. It felt more fulfilling due to the fact that only three of us among the group of more than 30 trekkers managed to trek to the hidden lakes. We had seen the all possible lakes among the Satsar. It almost seemed like a mission accomplished, for the day at least!

View from the top. The peak you see on the centre left in the background is the Harmukh Parvat, base of which was going to be our destination of next day, a culmination of the great trek

Also read: Kashmir we know less about- Naranag

We could have enjoyed the views from the top for ever, but than the sunlight and clouds signalled us that it was time to be back to the camp.

You can also watch a video of this lovely day’s trek here on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes trek? Share your views in the comments section below.

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