It was the month of Oct 2013 that marked my fourth month in the national capital. I had been a bit disappointed by Delhi in terms of food, people and art it had to offer. I later realized that I could not make judgments about the city unless I had met different people (people not from my college or locality) and covered the entire city. Despite being in an MBA college I had never felt anything close to challenging (except for Decision Making Models, where I had to save my ass after scoring the lowest internals among 180 students). It was during this time that I came across a trekking event organized by my friend Suman. I registered for it because I wanted to escape boredom and not out of any uncontrollable fascination for Mountains.
About Indrahar Pass: Ever been to Dharamshala or Mcleodganj and witnessed those snowcapped mountains? Indrahar Pass is located right there on those mountains at an altitude of 4,342 metres (14,245 ft) above mean sea level and forms the border between Kangra and Chamba districts. This high altitude mountain pass is located on the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. The trek gets slightly difficult on the last part when it requires climbing boulders, but the breathtaking views of Mani Mahesh kailash and the Pir Panjal range from the top compensate for these efforts.
Indrahar pass is a very popular trekking route that is usually accessed from Dharamshala or Mcleodganj. Located at an altitude of 4,342 metres (14,245 ft) above mean sea level, it forms the border between Kangra and Chamba districts of Himachal Pradesh. The Indrahara Pass trek is considered to be a moderate to difficult trek. The trekking trail passes through the popular camping ground of Triund, Laka Got, and Lahesh Caves. Popular camping stops are Triund at 2,842 metres and Lahesh Caves at 3,475 metres. For all the effort required to get to the pass, the spectacular views more than compensate for it. The stunning Dhauladhars of Himalayas form a backdrop of the trail for the most part of the trek.
Flora and Fauna: Wild Goat, Monal, bear (rare), dense forests of Deodar and Rhododendron, alpine flowers on the grassy ridges.
Starting point: Galu Devi temple situated near Dharamkot village is the last motorable location for this trek. This temple can be reached on foot or by hiring a vehicle from Mcleodganj as well as Bhagsu. The trail from Bhagsu is steeper. Bhagsu Nag has its own attractions, including the very famous Bhagsu Nag temple which has existed over 5,100 years. The very famous Shiva café is located near the Bhagsu fall. This is a pretty ordinary waterfall, but the café is a nice place to have hot beverages and a light chat with fellow travellers.
The trek was going to start from Bhagsu Nag near Dharamshala and end at Indrahar Pass. We left on a Friday night and we were expected to return by Tuesday morning.
Day 1- 11th Oct, 2013 (Friday):
I boarded a tempo traveler from Connaught Place in Delhi and saw 12 odd strangers to accompany me. I had met Suman and Geetanjali once at CCD. I happened to meet Sunanda an hour before meeting the other strangers since we both had to board the same metro. I was really excited about spending next few days with these strangers. We left Delhi at 9:30 PM and had our dinner at Sukhdev’s Dhaba in Murthal. The journey was tiring and I had become friends with 3 people by now. The person sitting next to me was Akshay. I was really comfortable in his presence because he spoke fewer words than me.
Day 2-12th Oct, Saturday :
The road was not really good after Chandigarh and I was completely awake for most of the journey. Moreover, a girl’s Whatsapp notifications prevented me from catching even a decent nap. I remember falling asleep around 4 AM. Someone woke me up in the morning. I am not bothered about the time; I get down, brush my teeth and enjoy morning tea at some place called Kinnu. We continue our journey and I prefer to remain awake and not miss the beautiful landscape that had welcomed us with a faint shower.
We reached our hotel at Bhagsu around 11 AM. After refreshment and telling my parents to not expect any communication for the next 3 days, I headed straight for the breakfast where I was joined by 4 more new faces- Harry, Pradeep, Rohit and Gill. We exchanged polite greetings and then I impolitely ate like an animal before its hibernation (I had stopped counting after 6 Paranthas). Porters could not be arranged and so we kept our luggage in the traveler and then started the trek at 1:30 PM with essentials, sleeping bags, etc. I was walking a bit faster relative to others, except those new 4 strangers. I soon realized they were supposed to guide us upto the Indrahara Pass. The entire group of 17 had split into 4 different groups and my group had lost its way initially, but we soon managed to meet other groups at a common point.
I bonded well with Anshul and Akshay, because of cigarettes and camera respectively. I am not a good photographer myself, but I have a decent knowledge of photography. We met other members at the ‘magic café’ which is supposedly the oldest Indian chai shop. I also met a childhood friend who had come from Gurgaon for camping in Triund at the cafe.
The trek got steeper after this point and I wanted to reach the top as early as possible, just because I was enjoying the physical drill. We encountered really beautiful clouds on our way.
I registered the images in my mind while those with a camera clicked some beautiful shots. I increased my speed beyond this point and left everyone behind. I took out my player and selected the ‘metal playlist’. I reached the top at 5:30 PM alone and had the best moment of my life on seeing the mighty Dhauladhars suddenly appearing in front of me.
I saw two people waving hands at me. They were Rohit and Gil. I was the third person to reach at Triund. I went inside a chai shop and played Guitar to kill time. It was almost an hour now and the weather was chilly. There was no sign of other members and these two had gone to make some arrangements for the night and also to help others reach the ridge since it was getting dark. Anshul and Akshay joined me around 6:30 and within next 20 min everyone had arrived. We went to the forest department’s rest house, had bonfire and sips of old monk to combat the cold weather accompanied with rain. I had a good time chatting with strangers and Harry and I became friends the moment he played Led Zeppelin tracks on his mobile. We finished our booze and went inside the rest house for dinner. It’s a bliss to have hot Rajma chawal served at this altitude amidst cold weather. I talked to Prachi (a lawyer) over general lawyers’ stuff and soon everyone was in their sleeping bags.
Day 3- 13th Oct, Sunday:
Sun rose from the mountains and I preferred warmth of my sleeping bag over the scenery. I woke up quite late and still felt sleepy. I tried to freshen up and the chilled water brought my all senses alive, though the areas it touched were momentarily numb. We had our morning tea and decided to click a group photograph.
3 people turned back from Triund thinking that the trek after this would be too demanding. We were 14 now. We started our trek for Laka, which usually takes 2 hours from Triund, to reach the Snow Line café. Suman had a leg cramp and she made the wise decision of not going beyond Laka. Few more people decided to not accompany us any further. I had a good chat with Harry and Pradip just after our lunch. It drizzled for few minutes and then we started our trek to reach the Lahesh caves at Ilaka. It took us around 3.5 hours and we reached the caves before 6 in the evening. At an altitude of 3,475 metres I could not see even the faintest light coming from the town of Dharamshala. It was a full-moon night and the moonlit hills appeared too beautiful to seem real. It was time to meet the Old monk. Harry sings a Pahadi song. I liked the tune and memorised it right there. Altitude sickness had affected 2 people by now and they lay inside the caves. We were then joined by the other members. The night was harsh. I could not sleep the entire night. There was snowfall on the mountains and the negative temperature was unbearable, especially because of those chilly winds.
Day 4, 14th Oct (Monday):
Akshay was running a high temperature and Anshul had to board his return bus. They decided to return from Lahesh. Remaining 9 people marched towards their Indrahar Pass. This was the toughest part of the trek. There is no definite route and the path is really steep. One can easily feel effects of altitude when they gasp after every step. Fresh snow had shown after first strenuous hour.
The trek was scary at several points where a slip would mean death on the rocks. It was more dangerous for me considering my sub-grade sports shoes and first trek in the mountains. I was feeling scared and exhausted, I could not walk more. We walked for few more minutes and then Geetanjali decided to return, she was accompanied by Pradeep. This was a tough moment for me, on one side I had a chance to climb this high altitude mountain pass, where I had wanted to be for the last 3 days, on the other side I had a chance to descend comfortably. I wanted to make a choice that differentiated me from all those people like me who visit hill stations and just take a sigh on seeing tall mountains. I shall cherish this decision throughout my life. We were now only 7. You can see two of us climbing those steep rocks.
The trek got the toughest just 200 metres away from destination. I could not move but Harry kept pushing me. I saw that everyone else was struggling. I could see Prachi, the only girl there, moving ahead despite a bad health. I was now all motivated to reach the top. I stopped at a turn for rest and Harry almost dragged me from there in excitement.
Woohoo! We had reached the pass!
We reached there around 1:30 PM. After taking a rest for 20 min, we started moving back to Lahesh. The view from Indrahar on the Chamba side was spectacular.
I was running a high temperature and I asked Harry to consider me as an 85 Kg baggage that couldn’t move on its own. He helped me a lot during the initial steep part. I later discovered a technique of ‘ass climbing’ to descend from the rocks! We started reaching Lahesh by the evening and it was terrifying to see 3 of us missing. Geetanjali, Pradeep and Gill had not made it to the caves yet. The first two did not even intend to reach upto Indrahara. I was too tired to move outside the caves and Harry took my torch and started shouting on mountains for them. I could listen a few other voices, but if I stepped out then I would be the fourth one gone missing. It was completely dark and those 3 arrived by 10 PM. We had hot cup noodles to celebrate their arrival. We were supposed to descend upto Dharamshala the same day, but we could not send a message to Suman since there was no signal. By that time half of McGleodganj knew that 7 people were missing on the hills.
Day 5: 15th Oct, Tuesday:
Next morning Gill’s phone miraculously received a message from Suman and we conveyed her our status. We started descending down with our tired bodies. It was dark before we could reach Dharamkot. We descended the mountain using torch light and I saw Suman waiting for us with cars to take us down. I can’t really tell if this was the best moment of my life or seeing the Dhauladhars for the first time. We all tried to make ourselves look human and then boarded the tempo traveller for Delhi.
Indrahar was the first trek of my life. It had broken me mentally and physically and then rewarded my soul. I could not open my eyes fully. I had a minor frostnip on my nose. I lay my head on the seat of the traveller, looked outside at the moonlit Dhauladhars for one last time and realized that I had done something big as a first time trekker.