Sangla Valley Trek – May 2009


Location of the trek route-Sangla valley,Kinnaur district,Himachal Pradesh,India kinnaur-map

The trip was of 10 days’s duration-from May 15,2009 to May 24, 2009

Day 1 : I had been unable to sleep the previous night wondering if I had forgotten anything important while packing my rucksacs.I had got only a few hours to organize things,in addition to completing all formalities regarding leaving the hostel,confirming the plane ticket,buying the needed camera accessories,charging batteries for the electronic devices and rummaging through the hostel room looking for the required things(it’s a task in itself,considering it’s a ‘hostel’ room..) Must be 2.30am by the time I finally slept off.Had to wake up in 2 and a half hours’ time… Stepped inside the plane,cribbed mutely about the delay in the departure.. Read ‘Fearless on Everest’ for major part of the flight…Arrived at Delhi and immediately went off to reach New delhi Railway station..Booked a general class ticket on Sachkhand Express to Ambala and then settled on platform 4. Now waiting for the train..i have my new cam(canon 40D) in my hand..a lot of manual reading remains to be done before I get a hang of this camera.

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New Delhi Railway Station

Joined my family and rest of the group at Delhi station.Felt good.

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Sachkhand express finally arrives
New Delhi Railway Station
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My folks

Train journey to Ambala followed by a road journey to narkanda around midnight.took a few snaps through the moving Scorpio..got a few abstract,high-exposure shots of moving lights around..

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enroute Narkanda

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It was very cold there..and windy..slept off immediately after checking into the hotel room..

Day 2:Woke up to a sound of ‘chi-chi’ near the window..it was a monkey…Window was directly looking upon the road and a temple.backside balcony opened onto a valley..Got the first glimpse of the ever familiar ranges..slopes upon sloepes covered by temperate type tress..slopes were very often stepped for farming..its pleasant weather here..cold but with  a bright sunshine to accompany.

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Started day’s jounery toward Sangla…we travelled through amazing himalayan ghats..started with tall,dark green trees on mountain faces..giving way to rather barren earth  half an hour later..it was like in being in Garhwal again..the experience was rewarding for one more reason..the very high number of hydro electric power projects that are under construction on Baspa and Satluj..these two were the rivers which kept us continuous company on one side of the road,through their parallel running gorges.. I was awed to look at the kind of technological advancement that we were witnessing..tunnels,bridges,dams,roads..on such a big scale..and in such remote,inaccessible terrain..where there remained a continuous danger of landslides,violent weather,precipitous falls,loose earth on the steep slopes..ultimate civil engineering!… IMG_0249_1 IMG_0254_1

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Water gearing up to create Hydel Power
Water gearing up to create Hydel Power

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Reached Sangla..mesmerizing place..We were to stay in Swiss tents here..these tents are like any other hotel room..except that they aren’t cement concrete structures but built of canvas..tents were spacious,with a royal double bed,side tables,power points and an attached toilet-bathroom.The location was beautiful..we were very close to snow-caped mountains..stay here was comfortable..with the luxury of having a warm camp fire at night..a group of local people entertained us with their folk dance the next night..i found this typically himachali/pahadi dance quite boring..very very slow..its just a continuous repetition of the same steps over and over again..but I joined it all the same..it was fun..But the staff(I suppose it was Tibetan.by the looks of it..)was extremely ill mannered and rough.. IMG_0347_1 IMG_0359_1 IMG_0387 IMG_0417_1 IMG_0424_1 IMG_0455_1 IMG_0592_1

Day 3: A general sight-seeing day..Went to a place called Chitkul(3100m) by four wheelers..it was a very scenic place ..got down to the river bank and strolled along it..did a bit of scrambling to satisfy the soul and were back to Sangla..

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Afternoon-evening time was spent in a rappelling session..Found a suitable rock near the campsite..Having done mountaineering courses from NIM,it became my responsibility to help the trek leader set up the rappelling and belaying rope and I liked this work.It refreshed my techniques and made me realize that there’s still some time before I can think of doing solo ascents/descents.Gave rappelling demo to my group and then went about helping others get ready with the harness,carabiners,descender and clipping them into the ropes with ATC device for the belay..At the end of the day,I was a bit exhausted and had a good night’s  sleep.

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Day 4: Trek started today..The route begins fromSangla itself..The walk uphill was quite steep and the scorching heat didn’t help. It was all up,up and up..i felt quite comfortable with my rhythm set in..so I exchanged my pittu(small backpack) for the bulkier rucksack of our porter cum guide…After having started at 9.50a.m,we reached the campsite for the day at 1 o’ clock..I had taken a lot many shortcuts en route as taking an alternative longer but safer route really bores me..Majority of our group put the difficulty grade of this route as moderate to difficult..though it changes from person to person.. The campsite(2628m) was one of the best we had ever had….there was a small lake adjacent to it and mountain ranges on 3 sides..The trees here were showing very pleasant shades of brown and golden color..some of them were dried up and made up for nice abstract photographs..i and Neel had reached the campsite much earlier than others.So the two of us just sat around the lake shore and went about throwing small flat stones in the water..there were beautiful golden ripples over the water..it was tranquil there..Our bright orange ,blue and red tents were looking striking in the bright sun and the lovely green grass.. Did an acclimatization walk in the evening and gained some 100m..it again did well to boost up my confidence about my fitness level..there were rock buntings(confirmation of id remains to be done) here and there..As is very typical with bird photography,they would fly away the moment I would try focusing the lens on them….The sky was a pure azure..its worth coming this far to see this shade of blue..eyes were soothed by the  soft pink sunset that is so typical of these great mountains.. The tents and sleeping bags were very warm.Had a deep sleep that night.

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Day 5:  We were to go to Shivlinga pass today..but majority of us weren’t happy with the prospect of gaining 1000m in one stroke.So we cut short the plan a bit.(i.e.as it later turned out,by just 200m..the guide of course, had told us that the according to the new plan,we should gain only 500 m..but one should never believe the himalayn guides..they always give an underestimate of distances and overestimates of altitudes..) The climb today was 100% uphill..In the beginning,I tried following a self-made zigzag path in order to save energy..but soon,the slow pace began to bug me and I started taking the shortest i.e.the straight path up whenever possible..it saved a lot of time..not that we were in any hurry..but I just don’t like the idea of climbing slowly..neel and Abha,the youngest trekkers in the gang,being only 8 years old,showed remarkable and absolutely commendable fitness and braveness.These two are the most lovable members of the group..being as sweet,innocent,and good natured as they are..the kiddos are not the usual lot who keep cribbing or crying for small small things..i used to call them monkeys sometimes as they,espe.neel used to walk with such ease on the mountains,despite begins so young..Me,Nissim,Nell andd Abha were together for most part of the trek today..With a certain pride,I had taken a slightly different route than the one suggested by our guide and the other three followed..all of us had ultimately to reach the top..so I followed a shorter route towards the northern ridge while others were going up the face,traversing it at some points…something like George Mallory..he used to prefer skyline i.e.ridge routes over going through couloirs on the face..and I loved this relative solitude.. I guess Me and Nissim were cocooned into our own private worlds while climbing this  route..each one of us had taken an unofficial responsibility of taking along one of the two kids..we enjoyed this little company immensely..Unlike with adults,it was very  simple to deal with them..and we all love Neel’s usual antics..he is one enthusiastic,energetic,sweet little guy…and Abha,our pink loving Barbie doll..but a tough one at that..

When I climb,I like to avoid a bull’s walk..i try scrambling through loose rock,scree,slippery soil..not always to take a short cut..but that’s the way I like to climb..using a technique and in a style..I admire the grace with which some climbers negotiate tricky ground and I picture myself in that league..

Reached the top(4008m) quite early..just sat near the many cairns that adorned and marked out the top..It began to snow and tents were pitched by the porters just in time..then it started raining too..skies cleared after a while and we came out of the tents to a perfect rainbow spread over 180degrees..i had never seen a more beautiful arc of colors..mind blowing…sunset afforded some of the best shots of this trip..absolutely splendid.

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Spent the entire evening chatting away with nissim..she did some landscape sketching,while I borrowed a 300 mm lens from tim,the Australian guy who was coming with our group for the trek and clicked some macro snaps..it was very cold and add to that the wind chill factor..couldnt sleep properly at night as sleeping bags refused to get warmed up at this altitude.. Copy of DPP_0006_1 DPP_0013_1 Copy of DPP_0011_1 Copy of DPP_0014_1

Find more sunset photoshere.

Day 6: Woke up and got ready for the last leg of the trek..We reached the pass in half an hour only..it was a col(col and pass essentially have the same meaning)..On the other side of this col,there was a partly frozen tarn/lake..the waters entertained the reflection of the surrounding geography..A snow covered slope,crested by a cornice extended from the point where I was standing to down below till the lake..it was a nice little adventure  to go till the edge of the cornice,try overlooking beyond onto the depth..this might have been dangerous..but I felt that the snow below me was quite solid..so I was confident that the glacier or the corniced part on which I was standing wouldn’t give way.. We had to descend this other side of the mountain..right till the base of it to a village named ‘Chhansu’..This descent was marked by a number of times where we had to cross glaciers..where we had to go down it,me,Ashok the guide or Dr.Mulay would go ahead,do the work of step cutting and then the rest of the group would follow in these steps..At some points,we simply glissaded down.. The snow was tricky at times..

Once we reached the tree line,route was again very simple..it passed through a forest and then came the very pleasant meadows..i went on clicking pictures of beautiful spring flowers and finally exhausted my 4 GB CF card..The green carpet under us was dotted by bright yellows,whites,blues,and purples..then were the usual rhododendrons..we came across a lot many fiery waterfalls..early stages of Shivlinga river..the climb down was a bit demanding on toes but it was the best day of the trek… Reached Chhansu at 4.30..we were a tired lot..it started raining again..so spent the evening in tents and night time around campfire.. Had a sound sleep that night..sky was star studded..revised my usual lot of ursa major,spica,arcturus,bootes,leo and saggi..even saw corona borealis..milky way was visible around 2 am in the morning…

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Day 7 trek was over..our four wheelers were waiting for us in Chhansu the next day..the tiny village looked amazing..we even had two puppies come by our side of the town..one of them had the name of Badal!!what a coincidence..travelled back to Kalpa(2736m) Kalpa is a beautiful,tiny,neat village nestled amonst the hills..theres no particular monument to see here..but one can just stroll along the road which winds through coniferous trees,among the continuous sound calls from so many tiny birds..we even passed a  football stadium on our way..the bird chirping accompanies you everywhere..the small houses were very elegantly built..me and nissim decided upon this place as our future residence..we made some big ambitious plans for it. 🙂

We went to another tiny village named Roghi.The very shrot journey is marked by the deadly ghat.For the entire length of the route,there’s a 4000feet drop on one side of the vehicle..its terribly magnificent.There’s also a ‘Suicide Point’ here..this information was given to us by our driver kamal,right when most of us had already started breaking into a sweat, looking in the valley beyond the windowpane.

In Roghi,we visited a temple..and on the way to it,passed an ancient abandoned wooden house,walls of which were intricately carved with Himalayan monals.Roghi was very aesthetic in terms of its structures.The flat stone roofing shone brightly during the daylight.We then called it a day and came back to Kalpa.

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Day 8: was spent in the road journey from Kalpa to Shimla.

As the route lost altitude,heat in the air increased.But the terrain reverted back to the lovely conifers as we neared Shimla by evening.We were lucky to get shots of a beautiful sunset while passing through Kufri..

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Day 9: This was a general sightseeing and shopping day in Shimla.First visited Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.An old styled and well preserved architecture.This insti was built in Scottish Baronial style around 121 yrs ago.After serving as a viceregal lodge,it witnessed many an important meetings in relation with the Indian independence and partition.Post-independence,it became the President House and president used to visit this place every year as a summer retreat .Dr.Radhakrishnan,during his tenure as the president,converted this place into IIAS. A part of the insti is now a heritage monument.We took a guided tour in this part of the building. And were awestruck by the elegant wooden interiors,old chandeliers and the regality of it all.

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We came to know that Bhalchandra Nemade,a well known literary figure,who happens to be a close acquaintance of my family friends who were also with us for the trip,was currently staying in IIAS as a national fellow.We paid a visit to his quarters and were delighted by the warm welcome he and his wife provided us. We talked about general things for a while.The humbleness of this man really struck me very pleasantly.He was very friendly and jovial an his wife all kindness.

Residence of Bhalachandra Nemade,IIAS
Residence of Bhalachandra Nemade,IIAS

Next destination on the itinerary was the Himalayan Bird Park.It was a small park and it showcased a few stuffed animals like-Ibex(!),Snow leopard,leopard,bear,reindeer.The highlight of the park and,well,the only birds that could be found there,were the Monals.3 types of them-The multicolored,most beautiful Himalayan Moanal,then the Cheer Monals and then the Kaleeg monals.They were wandering about frelly,without any fear in the inside area.There were no cages or nets to separate them from us visitors.Birds would often walk about on the side pavements created for visitors.Took a few pics b4 someone informed me that it wasn’t allowed to do so..A nice trip indeed!

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Monal

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Rest of the day was spent shopping in the sweater market and roaming about on the Mall road.

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I loved the feel of  Mall road in the twilight,passing Town hall,Corporation building and the Christ Church.Atmosphere was very lively.Enthusiastic looking,fashionably dressed tourists and multicolored lights along the path..Nice soothing weather..i found a small second hand books’ shop somewhere on the way..it was so good to get lost in those old pages..As Nissim had correctly informed me,hill stations here are an excellent way of laying hands on rare books at a low price..foregn tourists,after they are done with reading them, generally sell off their books in local shops while they are on a long tours.. bought a few nice books..was treated to  a delicious round of apple pies in Honey’s Hut before going  back to hotel and getting ready for the overnight journey to Delhi.

Honey's Hut
Honey’s Hut

Day 10 :Reached delhi around 8 am.directly went to the airport.Met up with Radha..no,Lt.Radha Singh,that’s way I like to save her name.Checked  myself  in and now sitting in the Indian airlines flight to A’bad.Read ‘Annapurna’ by Maurice Herzog for some time and now updating my diary.

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I have had a great time during the entire trip.Learning to operate my new DSLR was a very satisfying experience.For the first time in all these years,I had the freedom during the trek,to not follow the guide and take my own route.and for the first time in many years,I wanted to and tried to ‘experience’ the trek..instead of racing ahead of everybody just to claim that I reached a particular destination ‘First’..i genuinely tried to walk with the slower members of the group..didnt succeed for major part..but at least I tried..sort of gave me a new perspective on being a team member..All the bouldering,scrambling,rappelling,glissading,sidestepping was most enjoyable and I am glad that I did this trek.i will now go back to Pune with a fresh mind and those beautiful memories of pink sunsets,orange sunrises,flowery meadows,colorful and cozy tents,times spent doing arbit discussions with Nissim,talking kiddish with Neel and Abha,time spent trying to organize all the luggage with parents and well,time spent walking uphill,insulated and lost in my own thoughts..it was all beautiful..

Click here to find the complete photo album.

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