My Spiti Journey


This a long post about my month long stay in the Himalayas from July 8th to August 10th,2011.

You can either click on the separate links or move down to read through the entire post at a go.

Part 1:Built Up and My Return to the Mountains

Part 2:Entering Spiti Valley

Part 3:Exploring Kaza & Kibber

Part 4:Acclimatization at Kibber

Part 5:Valley of Lingti-the river that cuts rocks(Trek Begins)

Part 6:Shijibang Pass-the one that makes you breathless

Part 7:India-China Border,River Crossing and the Geological museum

Part 8:Some more of Satyachen and Return Journey Begins

Part 9:Climbing the Unknown and Home Sweet Home

Part 10:EndGame

Built Up 

Hardly anything good or great in life happens without a great deal of difficulties,anxiety and trepidation.My disappointment in the end of June  about the failure to go climb a 7000er was followed by 10 days of frantic research,inquiries,phone calls ,email correspondence and some real hard convincing and arguing with parents.Finally,the powers that be relieved me of my worries.

And thats how i found myself at the ISBT stand at Kashmere  Gate in Delhi around 6 p.m. of 8th July 2011.I took in the battered look of the semi-deluxe  Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation(HPTC) Bus that I and Kullu(Kulbhushan) were to take to Manali for the overnight 15hour long journey.

View of Delhi from the airplane.I flew from Aurangabad to New Delhi.

Very surprisingly,seats were reclining(unlike the asiads) and wide enough to spend a comfortable night.We were  lucky not to have to pack our big rucksacks on the roof of the bus as it would pour heavily the next morning.Kullu,true to his claim,slipped away into a deep sleep even before the bus got out of Delhi.I kept falling in and out of my slumber till about 3 a.m. at which point i gave in to the fatigue.

Our bus

Welcome back to the mountains!

It was morning and I was engrossed looking outside the window pane of the bus.We were riding on a tarry black path along the mountains surrounded by a canopy of clouds.These white shapes had covered the heads and midriffs of the mountains while fog above the river bed in the valley gave it a mystique look.Color green was everywhere to be seen.It was all so refreshing that even the most snobbish person wouldn’t cringe on seeing  the thin line of water dripping on me from over the window sill.It was raining heavily and soon I and Kullu took measures to keep ourselves and our luggage dry.But i was happy to be back in the Himalayas.Into the familiar ghats with ghastly bends around the corner,entrusting my safety to  the skill of the driver and thoroughly enjoying my reunion with this part of India.It had been 3 years since my last stay in the Abode of Snow and 7 years since my last visit to Manali.Plus,it was my first time in the himalayas in the monsoons,something that i had always wanted to do.It felt good taking in the lovely scenery.

View of outside from the bus
Inside the leaking bus

We spent one day in Manali wherein i took a random stroll along the road,checked out all markets(Tibetan,Dragon,Manu,Hongkong and Ibex Underground) to lay my hands on small interesting things,was shown to a wonderful Adventure Books’ shop by Kullu which brought glee to me,clicked peculiar sights,wondered at the Ganja(the notorious weed) plants pointed out by Kullu and which grew so much in abundance along the roadside,procured an ice axe,scarpa snowshoes and crampons(which unfortunately,i did not use in the whole trip) on rent and in general had a relaxed,lazy(read wonderful) time.Air was cool without being too cold.It was the warmest season here and one thin jacket over the Tshirt was enough.

@Manali
@Manali
@Manali
The Adventure Books’ shop in Manali

Despite its mountainous charm,like most other popular Himalayan hill retreats,Manali is kinda unclean.While you appreciate the beauty around you,you can’t but notice the filth along the pavements,the garbage collected on the roadsides,the diseased dogs and the hapless beggars.While its possible to capture only the good part on the digital card and hide the rest,these things prevent you from giving a high rating to such places when it comes to recommendations.

Enter Spiti Valley

The destination for day 3 was Spiti valley itself,more specifically,Kaza- subdivisional headquarters of Spiti valley in  Lahaul & Spiti districts of  Himachal Pradesh.Kaza is a smallish mountain town along Spiti river and  at an elevation of 3800m.The route to Kaza from Manali goes via Rohtang pass( 3978m) and is notoriously famous for frequently getting  blocked during the monsoons due to landslides and severely mud filled roads.So we began our journey in a shared taxi as soon as 3 a.m! Alas,that did not help us avoid getting in the middle of a road jam.It took 6 hours for the road authorities to bring in bulldozers and get the jam cleared while we waited in the pass as the dark of the dawn lifted and a sunny morning filled the sky and later gave way to the afternoon.We left Rohtang pass around 12.30. in the noon and headed  to Kunzum pass which marks the beginning of the Spiti valley.

The initial part of this route,which passes through Lahaul, was beautiful and green with  Chandra river along the road down in the valley.The road was tracing fine lines along  mountainsides.Few hours on like this and the landscape started changing.The greens transformed into the yellows of the barren soil covering the mountain tops and sides.The sunlight glinting off the mountains and the intermittent shadows cast by them made for picturesque beauty,one that would make the skeptical me(i always said i dont like barrenness) go trigger happy.The terrain now on was all scree and gravel and sharp rocky formations.A lot of  sand would fly into the car if the windows were kept open.Even the mounds of soil composed into tall,pointed,attractive shapes reminding one of the Lord of the Rings like landscape.It seemed that if one tried climbing these mounds,they would take no time to crumble down to the ground.There was  hardly any vegetation in this area to keep the soil held up and intact.The rocks seemed brittle.But Kullu informed me that its not really the case.On reaching Kibber 2 days later,i found out myself that the look of the rocks was deceptive and they were not as brittle as they looked from distance.

I was new to this barrenness.Till then,i had equated Himalayas with deodars,pines,rhododendrons,lush meadows,gushing rivers and granite and sandstone.To have equally big mountains without any trees on it was a new experience(not that i hadn’t heard of it).I was curious to find out if I end up liking the barren beauty at the end of the trek.But at that point,i was happy just looking around and clicking.Whether i was to like it or not in my heart,the scenery sure was photogenic and worth getting clicked.This was the Trans Himalayas-the northern side of the Himalayas that comes under rain shadow zone and enjoys  very little rain & about 300 days of clear weather.

@Rohtang Pass
Himalayan Griffon Vulture at Rohtang Pass
Pathetic road conditions being taken care of at Rohtang Pass
My taxi mates.They were from Spiti
@Rohtang Pass

Thus,sharing the sumo taxi with 9 other people(which i later realised is a very normal thing here),after a backbreaking and cramped journey of 20 hours ,after passing through Kunzum Pass ,Losar and Rangrik villages,after clicking some beautiful views and befriending the 2 Spiti girls sharing  taxi seats with me,I and Kullu alighted at Kaza around midnight.We did not head to Kibber(next destination that was an hour’s drive away) directly because I had to get acclimatized to the higher altitude at Kaza.It would be  good for my body if we stayed for the night at Kaza.Thanks to Kullu’s knowledge of and contacts in Spiti,we could immediately check into a hotel and retire for the night.

Going toward Spiti through Lahaul
Going toward Spiti through Lahaul
Going toward Spiti through Lahaul-River Chandra

Going toward Spiti through Lahaul-Spiti like terrain starts

I couldn’t drift into a sleep immidiately.I started thinking about Tashi and the other girl i had met in the taxi.Both were from the high remote villages in these Spiti mountains,had had their schooling from Rangrik where their language of education had been English and were now admitted to a horticultural college down in Manali.I could draw an analogy between me traveling back and forth between Pune(where i have stayed for last 4 yrs for education) and Aurangabad(my hometown) and their traveling between Manali and their home in SPiti.Except that it was so much harder a journey for them.The girls were in tune with the latest fashion trends.They could be any one of the many pretty and smartly outfitted females one sees at the Tibetan market.It was kinda hard to guess that they had spent their childhood summers leading the hard life that is the norm in such mountain villages  and  winters mostly locked inside  houses in the extreme Spiti winters.Well,they seemed well off  and i am by no means being sympathetic or anything.Just that life definitely seemed so much more harder than it is for us urban dwellers at sea level and despite that,their aspirations for the future and their words about their career plans and questions and queries to me about the same(which colleges in delhi,chandigarh are good..what score do u need to get admitted there…what about the private colleges..what are the fees) seemed so very much like our own!

With all that in mind,my eyes started to shut down beneath the weight of 2 quilts.Day 3 was over and so also,my father’s birthday.

Exploring  Kaza and Kibber

I awoke with the back in spasm and faint traces of altitude sickness.By the time i saw an oily Paratha in front of me for breakfast,i was feeling acutely nausiatic and one bite of paratha triggered me into running outside and throwing up a bit(luckily in the dustbin).But after that,body was restored to normal and i was surprised to find that i could finish the whole paratha.The steam wafting from the ginger tea at the end of the breakfast was oh so soothing.I then went for a stroll in the town.Asking directions to locals  and passing by numerous shops selling more or less the same things(woolen socks,scarves(both things very much recommended for anyone planning a trek here)tshirts,arts and crafts),i landed up at  Kaza Monastry.The monk opened the doors and let me take in the tranquil ambiance to my heart’s content.Sitting inside the monastery,i meditated cuz i was feeling irritated by the scorching sun outside and was feeling an unease in the body and meditation seemed like my only option.I was alone and it was so beautifully quiet and colorful inside.Besides the monastry,there’s nothing to be seen in Kaza.Its a typical Buddhist Spiti village (Buddhism is the majority religion in SPiti)at the base of a yellow colored sand covered mountain.

Kaza Monastry
@Kaza in front of German Bakery
@Kaza

I came back to the hotel and met up with Rishi,Kullu’s colleague who was staying at Kibber and had come down to Kaza.With the two guys,i got into the taxi to resume the journey toward Kibber which was 14km away.

I reached Kibber in an agonizing pain in the back.I have never experienced this kind of severe backache before.I think it was because of the awkward positions i had been taking during the cramped journey from Manali.Despite my resolve to not do it,I finally popped in a pain killer and well,that worked to put out the pain.Life suddenly seemed so much better.

In Kibber,the NCF(the Nature Conservation Foundation) of which Kullu is part,has commissioned a local house as the NCF office.Its here that I,Kullu,Rishi and his two students were to live for the Kibber stay.It was a cozy house with 3 bedrooms,one kitchen and a common room.Locals employed by NCF would come and cook for us.They were very kind people and it felt wonderful to be gulping down cups of tea the whole day,as was the custom in Spiti!The day i arrived here,i spent most of my time in resting in my luxurious bedroom,going out to check out the peculiar local loo and clicking some shots.That was it for day 4.

The next day,i went out to roam around Kibber,situated at 4100m above mean sea level.I took the only path around which all the houses are constructed and went till the beginning of the village.From this point,i was getting a full view of Kibber.Kibber really is nestled right among the mountains.On one side,there’s  Sambalungba river cutting a deep ravine through cliffs and meeting SPiti river basin in distance.If one climbs the nearby hills,one gets the terrific view of Sambalungba meeting the broader Spiti basin deep down in the valley and also the view of Rangrik village.At night,i finished reading “Nandadevi” and started on another of Kullu’s books.

NCF house at Kibber
@Kibber
@Kibber
@Kibber
Kibber seen from the road leading to it.I stayed here for almost a week!
@Kibber
@Kibber
my room at NCF office

Day 6,July 13th :I was to go with Kullu for some sampling work today.A few plots of land on a pasture on the nearby hills was to be marked precisely by installing iron sticks around the plots.Going up this hillock and trying to help Kullu and his local team(only intermittently cuz i was still not acclimatized well) proved to be a good work out for me.We were there for a good 3 hours or more.While there,the birds were flying in and out of view.I saw a pair of finches.Earlier Kullu had shown me snow pigeons.Journey from Manali onwards had been abundant with  Yellow Billed Choughs.Here in kibber,they  were everywhere.We had seen horned larks during the ride from Manali to Kaza.

For  dinner,we were invited to one of Rishi’s local assistant’s house.The dinner turned out to be a wonderful one.The house was warm,compact.We were taken to a large room which felt like a combo of dining and living room.There was a tandoor on in the middle of the room,that was meant for cooking but which also kept the room warm!I was surprised to see a TV switched on in the room.Bless the ‘Direct To Home’ service providers!On one side,a lot of cutlery had been arranged elegantly inside glass panelled cabinets along the wall.On the other side,school like ground level wooden desks were arranged and behind which we took our seats.

Then came our friend, asking us “Pehle daru piyenge ya khana khaenge?“(“How would you like to have it..Alcohol first or dinner first?”)!In such high and remote mountain villages like Kibber,alcohol is an inseparable part of daily life.There’s no discrimination between men and women when it comes to consumption of alcohol,which is in fact the local barley brew called “Arak”.None of us declined the Daru offer and our glasses were filled with Arak the next minute.I was surprised for the second time that night when farsaan was brought out along as chakna!I still don’t know where he got hold of that tasty farsaan in Kibber!

I cautiously had the first sip of Arak.It tasted like beer+vodka.I finished the contents of the glass in first few minutes and yes,felt the kick!!The feeling was similar to the one i generally have when i am 2 pints of beer down.

Arak session was followed by green salad and a sumptuous meal containing dal ,chawal,delicious egg preparation and rotis and more Arak.By the end of the dinner,i was too full and pleasantly high on Arak.We left the house around 11.30p.m.This was Spiti and so it was okay to stay back and keep chit chatting as long as we wanted.People here wouldn’t mind.(as informed to me by Kullu).

I fell asleep the moment i put my head to the pillow.

A walk to the “Bantang” Nalla

I don’t know if it was because i was fully acclimatized or the fatigue of the previous day’s work on the hillock or the Arak effect,i had enjoyed a deep sleep that night and had awakened  feeling refreshed and fit.

Around 10.30 a.m. I and Kullu left for an acclimatization walk over the hills behind Kibber.Soon we ascended a hill and left Kibber down below behind a ridge.We were to go to a place  called “Bartna” nalla.On the way ,we passed a cattle & livestock grazing ground where a certain area had been fenced up by researchers to study and prove the adverse effect of livestock grazing on natural vegetation growth.Sure enough,there was striking difference in the fenced area and that outside it.The fenced area,being protected had higher level of grass growing in it-denser and taller too.Also ,a few dark green bushes that were nowhere to be seen outside the fence were visible inside.

We moved forward,always accompanied by Redstarts and Rosefinches.A Lammergier flew overhead.

It turned out to be a long walk.Kullu finally stopped at a point where s cliff separated from our hill by a deep ravine was visible.It was a vertical mass of sharp yellow,sedimentary rock.The ravine was home to Bandang Nalla.We sat down on a rocky precipice.Binoculars and camera in hands,feet dangling over the cliff below us.Kullu told me that it is this Nalla where his team has had the most number of sightings of the snow leopard in the past.During one his winters there,he had seen a leopard,a goose and a fox on this same walk.

Peak Kanamo was to our right.One route to its summit lay along the Bandang Nala.Kullu had climbed this peak solo,in record 5 hours of time,during his earlier trips to Spiti.Blue sheep were absent that day from the sight..Choughs were swooning down the valley.Kullu then made me climb down the cliff a bit and took me to see a cave where  a camera trap was set up for the snow leopard.The camera,when extracted a few months later,would in high probability have images of the snow leopard frequenting that cave.We inspected the cave from outside since the camera would otherwise capture our pictures and that wouldnt be such a nice thing!But there it was!Just at the beginning of the cave,was lying a pugmark of the rarest and the most elusive cat in the world.The mark of the pad of the snow leopard foot and of the the fingers showing up in the soil!The first time ever i had seen such a thing!!Forget the snow leopard,i hadn’t even once sighted a tiger pugmark in my life till then.This was as exciting as being one of the national geographic team for me!I had my moment of the day(i almost always do) that would make the uphill trek worthwhile.:)(For Kullu,this was a thing of the routine!).

As if the pug mark wasn’t a good enough achievement,Kullu then went on to find a golden eagle nest that he had spotted on the cliff across the valley in his previous surveys here.He was able to locate it and i saw the nest using his binoculars.It felt great.Watching the nest of a great bird of prey.You dont get to see the nests of these birds so often in your daily life,do you?!It was built on a glassy rocky surface,beside a crack ,high up on the cliff wall.It was a squarish mass formed of brown figs.There was a black thing atop it but we couldn’t be sure at the time if it was a golden eagle chick.On our return from Lingti valley trek,we did learn from another guy in Kibber that the black thing that we had spotted was a chick indeed!!Kullu added to my non existent knowledge about the bird by telling me how these birds keep the same nest for over years together,sometimes even a decade.Each year,they add twigs to consolidate it and to get rid of the damaged part.They are one of those rare species where paternal involvement is present during parenting.Amazing stuff!

We resumed the return journey and within few minutes,saw an adult golden eagle soar high above us.We traced its flight and sure enough,it turned and swooped toward the direction of the very nest we had been looking at!If only we had stayed on for some more time staring at the nest !!

With that,we walked the rest of the way down to home.Above my head,clouds rumbled,allowing for a few raindrops to fall on earth.Was this a foreshadow of what was to come in the days to come?I hoped not and there ended my day 7 .

Kibber seen from above
Kullu surveying the area around Kibber through his binocs
Taliban reaches Spiti 😛

Valley of Lingti-the river that cuts rocks

There was a ridge i had been looking at since a long time now.It was always there,visible in distance.I had to cover that distance and get to the top of the pass.I was walking, panting and huffing.Still,the gap between me and the pass was not getting any smaller.I had had other people walking briskly in front of me but soon they had gone way too ahead for me to catch up with them.I wasn’t afraid because the trail was so well marked and there did not seem any chance(turns,bifurcations) for me to get lost.But I had been walking for 2.5 hours now and waiting for everyone to stop for a nice break so that i can catch my breath again.

And that’s when it hit me on the face.The realization-that this was not a trek like any of my previous ones,where i would be accompanied by my family,family friends and other kids my age,guides and porters.There I was,with Kullu and his team of 4 locals from Kibber and the khuttewala(donkey minder) from Lullum which was the starting point of the trek.So there would be no  periodic breaks to rest oneself,click pictures and munch on chivda.Once we leave one camp,we would most probably not stop untill the next campsite arrives.And everyone would be walking quite fast.All of this meant that i could very well say goodbye to my “breaks” dream and would do better to just keep walking and try to steady by heartbeats the same time.I don’t know why this things had not occurred to me before! Ohkayyyy,alright….i said to myself and went about the task at hand(reaching the pass)cuz   i did not seem to have any other option.

So yes,it was day 8 and I had begun the trek for which i had come to Spiti with Kullu.We would be trekking for the next 7 days in Lingti valley area of Spiti.The primary objective of this trek was a blue sheep survey(secondary being collection of scat samples of snow leoprds) and that’s what Kullu and his team come to Lingti valley for  every year.I was lucky that this year,Kullu had let me join in the survey(well my field is different and i wasn’t going to  be part of the survey team) because i had desperately wanted to do a tough trek in the Himalayas and Kullu had said i could tag along!Wwe were going to use high quality tents and sleeping bags and other equipment during the course of the trek.We had 3 donkeys with us to carry the loads so that we would have only a small sack on our backs while trekking.

FOr the first day of the trek,we were to reach the campsite at Kibri(4000m).After a couple of hours’ walk from Lullum,we climbed up the ridge and landed at the pass.I thought the hardest part of the climb for the day was over.But i was wrong.We climbed down the other side of the pass and took the turn along Lingti river to go toward Kibri.But the path was frequently blocked by the increased water level of the river water.So Kullu had to take out the “Wading Suit” from his pack.With this waterproof suit on,he would cross the icy cold river water(knee length at the maximum but not so easy to cross due to the need to keep ourselves and the luggage dry and warm and due also to its forceful flow).He would then also carry others on his back where the width of the basin was small enough to allow such physically demanding endeavors.The donkeys needed to be shoved and pulled to coarse them into crossing the river water.The guys did all the hard work as i just watched and clicked shamelessly from a distance.I was already too tired to help in any big way.We crossed like this a couple more times.On one occasion,when it was Rinchen’s turn to carry people across,i opted to take the suit myself and cross instead of trusting his feet placement ,which seemed a little wobbly in the dark waters.I put on the suit and yes,it was perfectly dry inside even in the middle of the water.Beside me,Lufzang and earlier Lama,had crossed the same water with bare feet and folded pants!

It was approaching dark and we were still 2 more hours away from Kibri.The walk that day was frequently obstructed by small river crossings which took a lot of time,forcing us to take detours to avoid the water and so on.It seemed to stretch forever.Finally,around 9 p.m,,we reached Kibri in the torchlights and here again,Kullu and the guys pointed out a fresh snow leopard pug mark in the path.We immediately scanned the mountain side along which we had been walking and to our delight,the eyes of the blue sheep shone in the torch light!The snow leopard could very well be in the same area as us but we couldn’t spot him.The donkeys were unloaded.Lamaji,Rinchin,Lufzang,Lamaji(2) and Tenzing set about the cooking part.I and Kullu wasted no time in lying down flat on our sleeping mattresses.Half an hour later,i had hot soup in my hand(god bless  those Spiti people for their kindness) and khichadi for dinner.That night was beautiful.The mountain across us was brimming with beauty in the moonlight of 10 p.m.Behind,Shijibang peak,another beauty of the area,was obscuring the moon from showing up .

At 4000m,in the  middle July in Spiti,we needed no tents for sleeping into.We all lied down on the mattresses and slept off in to our warm sleeping bags.

The mountains side we came down from..The pass at the top was the highest point to climb for day 1 of the trek.
River crossing using a wading suit.
Spiti mountain seen in the moonlight at 10 p.m. from the first campsite at Kibri.
The cooker,the steam,the heat and Shijibang peak in the background.

Shijibang Pass-the one that makes you breathless

I inspected Kibri a bit the next morning.This was a place known to local Lullum people because their yaks would frequently venture into Lingti valley for pastures when they are set free in the monsoons.Locals have to go fetch them from the valley during winters when they are needed in the villages.So there were 2 houses built here by them.Knowledge of these locals ,of the area beyond Kibri was sketchy at best and there was only one person in Lullum,the guy whose donkeys we had rented,who knew about Lingti valley more than others.Excpet Kullu of course.He knew the entire Lingti Valley “like the back of his hand” 🙂 !I was in safe and expert hands indeed!

There were a lot of hill pigeons around.Today was the D-Day,i was informed.I had not taken  efforts to find out more about our itinerary beforehand..But that ignorance turned out be a blessing in hiding.Because as i learnt that day,we were to start from Kibri-4000m and go till the Shijibang pass which lies at 5100m and then climb down some 500m to reach campsite for day 2 of the trek.Now as may of you must be knowing,1100m is quite a large height gain!I could see the serrated ridge at the base of which Kibri lay.This was the ridge we were to climb to reach the pass at its top.We were basically crossing the mountain from one side to the other and there was no intermittent campsite.I tried not to think much about all of that and started at the rear end of the group on the climb.

First one and a half hour was alright.I t was all uphill but i could walk continuously by keeping the breath steady and rhythmic.I carried on.But later,the gap between me and others started to increase and the going became tougher for me.So  Kullu asked RInchen to not leave my side even if it meant lagging behind a lot.Rinchen walked a little distance behind me  the whole day so that i won’t trail behind alone.He continued like that,always chatting up with me and patiently giving an ear to my frustration filled words.I had been determined at the start,still determined after 3.5 hours but after that i began to lose patience.It was all very steep and without any break.We could see Lama almost running and nearing the top but he seemed impossibly far away.I started having my own breaks.The frequency of the breaks went on increasing toward the last leg of the upward walk and the time interval between successive breaks went on decreasing.I only had a small pittu containing packed lunch ,sweater and my 3 kg camera in it.But it started feeling like such a pain in the ass.Rinchen generously offered to take my camera in his sack and i could not say no to that offer.Finally,one lump of mountain after another,one narrow trail after another,one scree patch after another,dragging myself,panting profusely and cursing the mountain for causing me such mental and physical hardship for the last 4 hours,i finally landed my feet on Shijibang Pass.WohhO!!!I was at 5100m!Seemed so good after a break of 3 years when i hadn’t been on the high altitude.The view was amazing .Kullu showed me Gya,Sheila ,Labrang and many other peaks.Gya was important cuz this was the only point in the trek from where it was possible to see the formidable peak.To one side of the saddle where i was standing lay the Matterhornesque Shijibang peak.

The way we came up from Kibri to Shijibang pass has been marked red
Group at Shijibang pass on day 2 .A climb from 4000m at Kibri to 5100m of the pass.-Me in the left.
Group at Shijibang pass on day 2 .A climb from 4000m at Kibri to 5100m of the pass.Kullu in the left.
Our donkey.God bless the three of them who were with us to carry the loads.

I took some rest at the windy pass(it was really cold ever since the last 200meters to the pass),munched on raw maggi and biscuits and chocolate(all constituting the packed lunch),hydrated myself and then we began the descent on the other side of the pass.

It was all downhill now.Within an hour,we reached the eponymous campsite on a plateau on this other side of Shijibang peak.The altitude was 4750m.The cold at the campsite suited the altitude.Fire was lighted,soup and dinner cooked and served.

Kullu had said that climbing Shijibang pass was the most difficult part of the trek.That meant that the days to come were going to be ‘relatively’ easier than this day had been.This relaxed my mind   a bit though i couldn’t help speculating on the return journey,which was also going to be arduously steep.With such lingering doubts,i tried to put myself to sleep.But it was really cold that night.I had to put on a thermal pant beneath my track pant and above i was wearing 4 layers to keep myself from shivering.The sleep wasn’t as comfortable as the previous night.But somewhere around dawn,my eyes finally started finding it hard to remain open.

The day I  saw the India- China Border

I was lazily lying down on the sleeping mattress outside my tent and looking around.I was trying  to catch up on some reading and some writing when the guys spotted  a herd of blue sheep grazing on one of the mountain slopes surrounding our site.Beyond those slopes lay the snow and glacier laden mountains which formed the India- China border.That is,we were only 4 km inside the border.The acute difficulties in crossing these formidable mountains meant that there was no need for army presence on this side of the border at least.I had read about the Himalayan walls ensuring  my country’s security in the geography textbooks during school.Seeing it happen in real was a different feeling!

This was day 3 of the trek and it  was the easiest of all days in the trek.There were only 2 uphill climbs,each lasting about an hour,with a long downhill walk along a nala(Lumba) in between.This was the toned down version of the nature our daily trek,where we would climb up a mountain,climb it down till we hit the river in the valley,cross the river,climb the  mountain on the other side of the river and then climb down till a plateau was reached where the dogris(stony huts) made by the locals and/or some water source could be found.We would  gain around 800-900 meters daily and would climb down half of it to get to the campsite.

Claims by the guys,earlier in the day, about the ease of the climb had indeed turned out to be true :).It had been an easy day indeed and we had reached the campsite at Sheru(4500m) earlier than usual.I lazed around the whole of evening before turning in.

Unknown to me ,Kullu was making plans for setting his feet on one of the peaks to the west of the campsite.But more on that,later.

My tent.
Route from day 3 to day 4-from Shijibang to Sheru

Crossing Lingti and Her Very Own Geological Museum

The next morning we started a little earlier than usual because at the bottom of the plateau on which we had been camping overnight,was a powerful river to be crossed.The descend till the river was tricky and full of scree & loose soil that seemed ready to slip off from beneath your shoes.

The river bed was around 40 feet across.Kullu,thanks to his earlier experiences here,knew the spot where crossing would be possible.The water,though less than waist high,had tremendous force.So going without a rope was just not an option.Kullu had brought along two new 50m ropes,carabiners,ascender,iron pegs and the pulley device keeping this river crossing in mind.He had the system worked out already in his mind and soon ,we all  began on the procedure.

First with the help of the belay from the shore,Kullu,in his wading suit,tried going across.But in the middle of the course,he fell off  in the water,the water filled in his suit and made his forward progress impossible.This try had failed.Kullu was all wet with the icy cold water.He then changed into shorts and sneakers and gave it a try again and that went on to become successful.He was across!He then tied the end of the rope to a tree on the shore on his side while we did the same to the end on our side.Lamaji was then sent across by clipping him to the safety of the rope anchored between the two ends.The idea was that we and the donkeys would cross the water on feet using the safety of the already anchored rope.The main problem was the transfer of luggage without letting it get wet.

Lamaji had taken the 2nd rope as his belay to the other side where Kullu was standing.He and Kullu then anchored the iron pegs(also sent with lamaji) at considerable height on a boulder across the shore.They used the pegs to tie one end of the 2nd rope while we anchored its other end to the stem of a tree.With Kullu shouting clear step by step instructions across the roaring water,we set up the pulley system using the pulley device and carabiners.Our contraption was ready to  be put into action!

We clipped the first of the rucksacks to the pulley mechanism and Kullu and Lamaji started pulling up the rope at the other end.The rucksack began to move upward toward the two guys pulling at it.It was all hard physical work for Kullu and Lamaji but they did it till the end.One by one,all our luggage was hauled up across the river bed.

It was now our turn to cross the water.Using the same system which Lamaji had used,we all reached across the shore(though i did fall off once owing to the flow of the water and the pull exerted on the rope by the person slipping off behind me.Thanks to our self anchor to the main crossing rope,both of us remained safe and were up on our feet in no time to cross the rest of the way.).The donkeys who were also tied to the rope,had to be shoved inside the  water and pulled across the  shore.

We were going to keep the 2nd rope as it is for the sake of the return journey.But the 1st rope had to be brought back.So kullu went across to the other end by clipping himself to the 2nd rope and sliding along it.He removed the 1st rope and then ascended the 2nd rope using a device called Jumar(mechanical ascender).

River crossing on day 3.Lamaji and Kullu(encircled) have anchored the other end.
Lamaji and Kullu pulling the loads up the pulley.That’s the hardest part of the job.
The system.
The system in action.
Kullu jumaring up across the river as the last man.
Kullu jumaring up across the river as the last man.

Hard work was over.Kullu’s  system had worked brilliantly.We had reached a place called Phiphuk across the valley from Sheru.Phiphuk was along the river side and had a couple of dogris in place.We deposited some of our unnecessary luggage here.We would collect it on the return journey .We then started  the uphill climb to the campsite called Satyachen.

We climbed up the slope for an hour and then walked another hour up along a Nala that was flowing down the mountain.In the distance,visible in a line inner to the peaks on the india- china border,lay a lump of a mountain top.The approach to this top was seemingly doable.Approach was to be taken from Yarsa,a site above Sheru .The route till about three fourth way up the mountain was looking like easy enough terrain.The last patch seemed difficult but Kullu was confident that he would be able to negotiate it.We were not sure about the altitude but it seemed slightly less than 6000m.Its location on the border meant that whoever reaches the top would enjoy the view of China beyond.This was the peak Kullu had been contemplating climbing since a few days.

Route marked in red.
The three mountains are on the India China border.Our campsite for day 3 was 4km from the border(at an altitude of 4750m).No army presence due to the formidable nature of the mountains here.

We marched on along the Nala and then climbed upto a pass called Kuli La,from where the majestic vista of Satyachen opened up before us in the valley.What i was looking beyond Kuli La,was a landscape that seemed frozen in time.It was the most untouched place i had ever seen in my life.I was awed.Truly.

View of Campsite at Satyachen from Kuli La.The campsite is encircled.

Toward left lay Sheila and peak and in front lay Labrang peak.The slopes coming down Labrang were pasture studded.The bifurcated Satyachen Nala cut across between these mountains and the slope  on which lay Kuli La,where we were sitting,absorbing the geological magic that lay before us.The scene seemed to come directly out of a geography textbook containing illustrations of the physical and geological structures.I could have kept ogling at that landscape forever .But it was very windy in the pass and so we made a downward move.I sauntered down the slope,clicking as many pictures as I could.

I was lucky to be able to land at Satyachen-An area so far explored by very few people in the world.Entire Lingti valley trek is largely unknown to Indians and non Indians alike.Its a difficult trek and number of people who know the region can be counted on hands.

I was extremely lucky to be included in the trek.The view that was being offered to me that time,was worth all the efforts spent till then.It was so awesomely beautiful and isolated in time and place.

In the next half hour,i reached the campsite down in the valley.I was amazed to find a dogri even at this place.Though evidently it hadn’t been frequented by anyone in a long time(evidence being the dung cakes collected by Kullu’s team the previous winter and the fact that we found them stacked there the same way as they had been left the last winter by Kullu’s team.)

Satyachen campsite at the base of peak Labrang.

Soup was served.Dinner was consumed with much relish since on menu was sepcially made roti and tasty egg bhurji.The stars were up and Scorpio looked down upon us from its place in the heaven.Where we were staying for that night,was nothing less than a heaven either 🙂

Some more of Satyachen

The next day,our 4th in Lingti vallaey,was a rest day for me sicnce Kullu and Lamaji went  for some of their own exploration.Kullu had seen a large pasture on his previous visits here and had always wanted to check out the pasture.But it lay quite far away from the campsite and I had no energy left.So i stayed in the camp with Tenzing and Lufzang,resting outside the tent,clicking the snowfinch,reading Younghusband’s biography and updating my trek diary.

When the guys returned home that evening,their faces were aglow with the discovery they had made while on their exploration trek beyond the ridges surrounding Satyachen.I would love to elaborate about this discovery but i’ll leave it to Kullu to do so on his blog.Its he who owns that discovery!

Donkey!
Snow leopard scat sample.
Snowfinch

The night on earth arrived with its starry companions above.That night,i wanted to sleep outside the tent.The reason being the numerous occasions on which i heard stories from Kullu and the others of how they would sleep  with their sleeping bags,out in the open without a tent,in -30 degree celsius temperatures of winters,on their previous treks in Lingti.I wanted to see if i could do the same at least in the warmest season in the area.So i took my mattress,sleeping bag and an extra sweater with me outside the tent.The mattress was spread across the grass and i lied down  cocooned inside my sleeping bag.It was warm enough in the beginning but after an hour i started to feel cold.I kept staring at the stars above me and tried to doze off  but that feeling of cold wouldn’t go away.I therefore spread my extra sweater as another layer from inside the sleeping bag.That did the trick and then sleep took over for the rest of the night.

Return Journey Begins

Day 6:Today we were to start tracing our path back to Lullum.Kullu’s work was almost over.He had got the snow leopard scat samples that he had wanted to collect.We began the trek back around 8 a.m.Kuli La was the first acscent for the day.We were going to pass the campsite at Sheru and move on to the one at Yarsa.Yarsa lay up the Nala from Sheru and at the base of the ridge that would lead to the top of the unknown peak Kullu had been thinking of climbing.Reaching its base that day itself would give an advantage while pushing for the summit.I was enthusiastic about the climb but by then i had  already burned myself down a lot by the constant up and down climbs.I had started having doubts about my ability to climb till the top of the peak as the push would involve an altitude gain from 4700m to 5900m.So i tried concentrating on reaching Yarsa.We spent a lot of time,around 2 hours at Phiphuk,to cross the river.Crossing this time was easier since we just had to slide down the rope that had been placed there 2 days earlier.The rope was retrieved and we started the steep climb up to Sheru.By the time we reached Sheru,i was already feeling exhausted and the prospect of 4 more hours of the uphill climb that lay ahead till Yarsa  daunted me even more.From Sheru onwards,Lama and Rinchen remained with me through the whole time.It was only because i had someone waiting for me through the whole trek to Yarsa that i could reach there before sunset.By then it had become mentally taxing to climb the steep slopes,one after another.

Yaks in action..this is the commotion after our donkey minder made them run away from our route.These huge creatures are amazingly shy!!
River crossing during return journey.All credit to Kullu for coming up with the pulley contraption.
River crossing

We reached Yarsa by around 6 p.m. and i discovered that we had just missed the sight of a Himalayan wolf standing few feet away from our tents.I later copied Kullu’s click of the wolf .He was a handsome,bright looking wolf!I later realised the reason those snowcocks had been making so much noise back when we were nearing the campsite.

Tenzing.
Dung on fire.

Yarsa was a beautiful campsite.In the west ,the peaks glowed pink with the light of the setting sun.We were nestled right in the middle of the mountains,along the Nala(Lumba).And it was cold.I slept off that night with the comforting thoughts that the hard part was over and all that remained between me and the civilization were the last 2 days of the trek.

Climbing the Unknown and Home Sweet Home

SO as i have previously mentioned,Kullu had been thinking and planning about climbing an unkown peak that he had set his eyes on.At Yarsa,we were right at the base of the ridge leading to this peak.I finally had made a decision that I was not in the fittest condition to attempt  the summit.There remained further 2 days of trekking which was not all downhill and i also was booked on a trek to climb a 6000er,Stok Kangri in Ladakh after a week’s time.I did not want to jeopardise my chances on Stok Kangri on account of having over exhausted myself even before the Stok kangri trek had started.And i was sure that I would require more than 5 hours to reach the top of the peak if I were to go for the climb .So i opted out of the summit attempt.Kullu would instead take Lamaji,the strongest team member,with him on the peak.I was going to rest with others at the campsite.Our strength,by this time,had already gone down by 2 since earlier that day,Lufzang and Tenzing had left Yarsa in order to reach Lullum the same day.At Phiphuk,we had came across a large herd of Yaks and among them,Tenzing had spotted his own Yak who was seriously injured on the neck due to some infetion or possibly a snow leopard attack.The locals pay a lot of money(around 35k Rs)to buy a yak and it was imperative that Tenzing takes the yak home as soon as possible for treatment of the injury.So it was upto the two Lamas and Rinchen to mind the donkeys till Lullum.

Kullu and Lamaji left at 4.45 a.m..They only  took a couple of chocolate bars,water,woolen clothes and ice axes with them.I would love to write on this part but i think i want to read about it when Kullu writes it himself.Needless to say,the guys were successful in summitting this peak.Its altitude was 5900.I’ll link Kullu’s post about it here when he writes about it.From what he described,it all sounded amazing.What was great was that they were so fast on the steep climb that they could return to Yarsa within 5.5 hours since leaving the camp that morning!

We resumed the return journey and were soon negotiating the  the initial stages of  climbing Shijibang pass.As expected,the climb up the pass(even though Kullu had mentally divided it in nice,distinct 4 stages and had made the mental work easier) proved very taxing for me.To add to the woes,i had stupidly been lazy and not filled up my water bottle at the last water point.By the time i was halfway upto the pass,i was dehydrated.Everyone was,for the lack of water around us.I dragged on and on for that was the only way to a chance to drink some more water.The next water point was directly at Kibri.There wasn’t going to be anything in between!

I couldn’t have made it to the pass without Lamaji’s constant supporting words and his kindness in taking my sack  on his back  in order to lessen my efforts when the going got tougher for me in the last leg of the climb.After what seemed to me like a tortuously long time,I was at Shijibang pass(5100m).Without wasting more time and thereby getting even more dehydrated,I and Lamaji proceeded on the way down to Kibri.It was 1100m of downhill climbing once we crossed the pass.

Climbing down was my forte.Compared to climbing up,its always less demanding on the mind and lungs.Sure,you have to take care of not slippping and knees sometimes hurt,but thats okay.(though i am sure that after some more years,knees are going to be weaker than they are now and i doubt i would be sticking to my statement that its okay even if the knees hurt a bit.)

Lamaji in Shijibang Pass(5100m) on the return journey.
Shijibang Peak
Our route from Day 2 to Day 4(Yarsa to Satyachen) marked in red.picture clicked in return journey.

We reached Kibri by the end of the next 2 hours.The way had been so steep that every 15mins,i used to wonder how on earth had i been able to climb up the same ,just 4 days earlier.

Having reached Kibri at 6p.m.,we had ample time to just sit and laze around till soup and dinner were cooked.I was relieved that this was going to be the last night in Lingti.

I had loved this trek.Sure,everyday of it,i cursed the mountain for making it so difficult for me to climb up and down upon it.But every night would bring a great satisfaction of having survived through the grueling trek.This trek had proved to be a mental and physical (in that oreder)endurance  test for me and i had come to love that test.

Wth these thought drifting through my head,i laid out my sleeping bag in the open,beside the burning fire and put myself to sleep.

The grasseater-Kulbhushan(Kullu)
me with my favourite donkey at Kibri(4000m)

The next day,our 8th in Lingti,we walked up the pass that lay between Kibri and Lullum.Almost racing down the way from there onwards,we reached Lullum in good time.Trek was over!

Blue sheep(Bharals)seen across the valley on the ridge in front of us.
My Group..back at Lullum after the trek.

A sumo taxi was already waiting to take us back to Kibber which was 3 hours away from Lullum.

Back in Kibber,it was time to celebrate.Lamaji invited us to his house for dinner that night.And what a fabulous dinner it turned out to be!Fried beef and arak and mouthfulls of  beef momo.I came back home to the NCF house in a pleasant high and was soon deep asleep.

Rigours of the Road in the Himalayan Monsoon.

I had always wanted to travel in the Himalayan Ghats during monsoons.I had always imagined just how beautifully ferocious the mountains wouls look when the rain pours down upon them,flooding  the ricers and spreading a green carpet across the slopes.

I was granted my wishes and some more.For when we started down for Delhi from Kibber on 22nd July,we got stranded for 2 days in the valley due to landslide and the consequent roadblocks.finding the road obstructed by big boulders which had fallen down from mountain slopes due to rains became a common occurance in our journey through a sumo taxi.This continued till the end of Rohtang pass.We spent 3-4 hours at the beginning of the pass from Lahaul because the weekly maintainance work was on in the pass.But it was worth the wait cuz thanks to this maintainance work,there were no blockages that we had to  face at Rohtang.Nonetheless,road was so muddy that the fear of the wheel getting stuck in it kept looming in front of us the whole time.On the third day after leaving Manali,i and Kullu landed at Manali,just in time to catch the 7.30 p.m bus to Chandigarh.The overnight journey in the state transport volvo bus was mostly about trying to sleep in the last seat(which was not so difficult,after the exhaustion of the last few days).We arrived at Chandigarh bus stand at 6 a.m.From there we took a bus to Delhi and  alighted at ISBT around 10.30 a.m.I was back in the urban civilization!

First brush with the road block on the return journey from Kaza to Manali.It forced us to go back and stay at Kaza.
First brush with the road block on the return journey from Kaza to Manali.It forced us to go back and stay at Kaza.
My ride from Kaza to Manali

My Spiti journey was over(at least for the time being.I do nurse plans to go back in December if only  to check whether all the winter stories told by Kullu are true :P).There had been so many new experiences packed up in this journey that its hard to stop reflecting on them.

This was my first ever trek where I was accompanied only by a like minded friend and not family or people from some trekking club.Most of the road journey was done backpacker style.We used to reach place A and then see what options we had to reach B.We would then proceed to choose the option that would save most of our time and money.We travelled in state transport and cramped shared taxis.I stayed in Kibber for almost a week and there,i had wonderfully delectable dinners with the local families .At NCF office,i met some people involved in wildlife.I would never have had the chance to meet them had it not been for this Spiti adventure.The Lingti Valley trek was rendered  the most memorable by the difficulty of the terrain and the long distances we used to cover everyday.The perfection with which Kullu had taken care of the logistics right from Delhi till the end of the trek and then back to delhi doesn’t stop amazing me.His knowledge about SPiti and Lingti is undsiputable and everyone in Kibber and Kaza seemed to know him.It was thanks to him that we had no trouble finding accommodation and transport from Manali onwards.

Kullu,saying that i am thankful to you would be an understatement for I really am glad  that you offered to take me along on this beautiful journey.I do hope that one day,as is your plan,you write a book on your very own Lingti Valley.

With this,I’ll take everyone’s leave now..Happy Smiles!

Stay tuned though.Pictures from the northern most state of India will soon be up here!

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5 thoughts on “My Spiti Journey

  1. Hey, it wasn’t me that you saw that day, for I had stopped cycling by then since I fell terribly sick. And if you saw someone cycling towards Chandratal in yellow jerseys they could be the rest of my team. 🙂
    You seem to have done quite an exploration yourself, I would be interested in knowing about this trek of yours.

  2. Loved the entire write-up. I have been planning to go up there myself to try my luck at photographing a snow leopard in the wild. Will probably go through the folks at Kibber Youth Council, have also reached out to Khulbhushan Singh to see if he is going to be thereabouts end of the year. Your write-up has just the right amount of details with excellent pictures. Thanks for sharing your experiences up there!

  3. thank you writing about our spiti landscape,wildlife, places and village. I hope your blog will help to people know about spiti deeply. thank you neha

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