Been wanting to write this for a long time but due to time constrains was not able to.
Well this time it was a cycling tour from Manali to Leh on which I have been working for a long time. I had to accompany the participants till Sissu in Lahaul Valley. Here I had to do a Reece for some new destinations.
It all started with just an input from Dhruv Bogra, Business Head India for Jack Jones/Vero Moda for a cycling trip from manali to leh. That was all for us to make it a grand event. We contacted many companies and finally Maggi, CamelBak, PostMyGreetings.com, DPS Manali, Justmyneighbour, Orex, Brandappz and Pioneer advertising came up along with us and offered all the little help they could do.
Everything arranged and planned with Ian as the group leader the day came 24th August 2012 when I had to leave for Manali to receive the group after three days.
Staying in Jagatsukh, a small village nearby main town Manali is an experience in itself. Jagatsukh, just below the Deo Tibba peak, besides the stream coming from the same glacier gives one great views of the Manali on the right and the Kullu Valley on the Left.
The first day i.e.25th was spent meeting with the local operators and hotel people seeing if everything had been planned well or not. The day ended with just eating out with the locals and planning.
Was up way before the first light of the sun on Sunday with a plan to climb up a hill and see the sunrise on the Friendship Peak. Started walking from the Jagatsukh valley at 4:30 AM and climbed as much as I could, while Sandeep was strong and climbed till the top going through wild grass which had grown till the chest. Finally we came down and with a shower started our day ahead.
All the arrangements had been done so we headed to DPS above the Hadimba Temple almost a straight climb to see if everything was planned well. The day ended again and we rose to another good sunrise.
The participants had started to roll into Manali, and the days became hectic. Everyone arrived and I had some time to explore the area on my own, so I took the cycle and headed towards Old Manali. After crossing the bridge one road goes down along the river and meets the main road. I took the road less travelled and was in the middle of apple orchards. It’s an amazing experience to be in between apple orchards with great views all along and the sun setting to the shiny apples.
Finally the day came; today we started the day with hiking till DPS with all sort of stuff that was needed. At the venue everything was ready and the participants started to flow in. With everything arranged and set Sandeep started the event by thanking everyone associated with the event, followed by Col.Vinod Shukla from GREF who inaugurated “Salute the Jawaans” campaign.
This campaign was arranged by PostMyGreetings.com, they had collected cards of thanks from across India for the Jawaans posted at the Manali Leh Highway and on Khardung La (the world’s highest motorable road). The cyclist would carry these cards for the jawaans and will hand them over to them on the highway.
Then Mr. S.S.Sandhu, the principal of DPS Manali. He launched the responsible traveler campaign. A campaign that would educate the locals and the tourists coming to these beautiful valleys about not to litter the place and respect the locals. The campaign also educates the locals to respect the place, as for the past many years it has been observed that the locals have also started to litter the places. After launching the campaign Mr. Sandhu also motivated the participants. He concluded his speech with great words from a mountaineer “To see the greatness of mountains, one must keep ones distance to understand its form one must move around it. To experience its mood one must seat at sunrise and sunset at noon and at midnight. In sun and in rain in snow and in storm in summer and in winter and all other seasons. He who can see the mountain like this comes near to the life of the mountain the life that is as intense and varied has that of a human being. Mountains grow and decay they breath and pulsate to life, they attract and collect invisible energies from their surroundings. The force of the air, of the water, the electricity and magnetism. They create winds, clouds, thunderstorms, rains waterfalls and rivers. They fill their surroundings with active life and give shelter and food to innumerable beings such is a greatness of a mountain. The mighty mountain “.
Dhruv and Shushant also motivated the young guns of DPS to protect the nature and be a responsible traveler, because parents learn from kids. Following which we along with the young guns of DPS headed to hand over the flyers to the travelers in Manali area. After handing over and educating everyone possible, we took the blessings at Hadimba Temple and headed for the acclimatization ride to Solang Valley. We rolled up the hills with all the energy we could cross the loops, bends and rough roads finally reached Solang. With hot food waiting for the cyclists I had time to explore something and I saw this beautiful rock that I could climb. All wet in the rains but still with a dedication to climb it and it was worth the effort, the beautiful view of Lady’s Leg, a section on the friendship peak climb was visible so crisp and clear. I did climb it but then the descent was tough and I did slip twice but that was fun. With the foods over it was time to head back to Manali. Sharp 12 minutes we were down to manali on the same road that took us 2 hours to reach, that’s the fun to cycling downhill everything goes Zip Zap Zoom.
With the cyclists in Manali, me and Sandeep left the main road and took the village road on the other side of the river. The road is bumpy but worth a ride. Crossing streams and waterfalls again in the same orchards that I had discovered on the cycle. Finally the day ended with a more beautiful day waiting for us.
Woke up at 6, today we had to climb till Marhi from Manali with Gulaba being our lunch point. I was the backup man for the participants being in the last car along with the mechanic and all the supply of spares, first aid, water and energy drinks. Once everyone left I took the car along with them slowly and slowly. It seemed that we were crawling like an insect. Finally at Palchan we met some of the cyclists waiting for their refills of water. A few bends above we stopped for everyone to go ahead. That’s where I decided to walk and the mechanic was with me. We walked through the loops making our way straight up the hills to avoid the road and cut the 12 KM run to Koti to just 4 KM. And we were at Koti waiting for the car. That’s when I realized that we are almost into the clouds with clear views of the villages down and misty weather at Rohthang. Suddenly a Mobile Truck stopped next to me followed by another one, from which 2 Spanish and 2 Austrian girls deboarded and I was surprised to see them. Goodbyes done and I headed to the lunch point.
Gulaba is also the starting point of the trek to Brighu Lake. A beautiful small village in the middle of nowhere. With lush green grasses which looked greener due to the drizzle that was going for the last 2 days. And suddenly a herd of horses catches my eye…..
This is where peace is and we are finding it in the cemented cities. One should come to such places once every two months. With everyone gone I take my lunch and head on at the tail. With Marhi just in the view we pass through many beautiful spots and streams. At Marhi we were allotted our tents and given our sleeping bags, mattresses the location was the open lawn of the PWD guest house.
Marhi is also the place where the trek to beas kund, the origination of Beas rive starts and also the climb to Rohtang La starts.( For the new ones to the region La in ladakhi and lahuali means pass whereas Tso means a lake and Thang means a plateau). The camp location was perfect I would give it a 10/10 with rohtang in front and the dhauladhar ranges on the east and Beas river just behind in a deep valley, nothing could have been better than this.
As the day ended I walked up till a temple nearby and just sat there, there really is some magic in the temples of the valley, I actually was lost somewhere but it was a peaceful meditation. As I headed back the food was ready and we were sitting in the dining tent discussing the day’s ride and also the plan for tomorrow. It was then I realized that clouds from the valleys that were rising after the sunset had covered us and we actually were having dinner inside the clouds. We hardly say anything but thanks to the headlamps that made us see our food. So it was decided that we will climb uphill Rohtang La top where the cycles would be waiting for us and from there will cycle till Koksar our lunch point.
We started the day with distributing the cards to the Jawaans posted here and climbed on the hills following the trails that had been created by the horses that ply on these routes. This was when Sandeep met a local horseman who also was the guide on the trek to Bada Bagal Glacier, where Neha Dara, editor of National Geographic Magazine had married. That’s when I realized that adventure comes in all shapes and sizes. Finally we reached Rani Nallah. Rani Nallah has its own stories amongst the locals. Even my driver told me one.
The actual name of this is “Ruhani Nallah”, Ruhani means spirit in the local language of the valley, it’s said to be a haunted place as a couple died and the spirit still can be seen. We still climbed and finally reached Rohtang La, Rohtang means adobe of the dead and its true, rohtang takes its toll every year. You can hear of someone or the other dying on rohtang every year. Rohtang also has a long history behind it but still it remains the most dangerous pass even after being at a relatively lesser height than the other passes on the Leh Manali Highway. Finally on the top and we took the wishes of the goddess at the temple and headed forward to Koksar.
This is the point where you see the changes in the terrain, as koksar is on the lahaul valley side of himachal and hence a lot of cultural changes can be seen. The lunch point at Koksar was even more mesmerizing than the last one. With open dining table set up for us along a small stream of water in the middle of nowhere. The rocks felt like a bed to me and I took a nap here under the open sky and the gleaming sun. After lunch it was time to head to the next camp site to Sissu.
And we entered the lahaul valley after koksar, and the landscapes have changed drastically from lush green to brown with small traces of vegetation. Lahaul has been emerging as a massive supplier of peas and apples in the recent years. Now we were driving along the Bhaga River and reached Sissu. The camps were just on the banks of Bhaga River along side of the helipad. This was majestic, luxury tents; a bed to sleep, nothing more can be expected here. The camp owner had placed two soft mattresses, a table and some chairs out in the open. The view was something that cannot be described in words. That’s when I realized that the best camera is our eyes, not the ones Nikon and Canon make. There is a glacial waterfall just in front of us across the river, two glacial lakes on the top of the cliff on the left hand this is known as the Siolsar Lake and to the right the valley takes a bend with the sun setting there, nothing was more beautiful than this when suddenly to add to this a rainbow pops up and then one more to add to it. I was lost just sitting on the banks the noise was sounding like music. After the food was done I was soaked in the clear sky with the gleaming stars and don’t even remember when I went to sleep in my tent.
The sun broke up and I was late today, woke au at 7:30 AM when everyone was ready and set to go. I rushed through the chores and was there almost on time. Today I was in the gypsy along with Sandeep and the camp owner as we will be bidding goodbye to the participants and will head on a different route now. We escorted the group till Tandi and then took the road that goes uphill.
Tandi is the confluence of The Bhaga and The Chandra River. Everything in the hills has a story so did this place. It’s of a prime importance to the locals and also to the rivers as they merge and form Chandrbhaga River which would be called Chenab later.
It’s said that both Chandra and Bhaga rivers originate from the same source but both being lovers were cursed that they won’t flow together hence both of them flow in different directions. The Chandra River flows straight downhill while the Bhaga River flows on the other slope and across the hill. Both of them have a very strong flow until they meet. It’s said that both the rivers are in a hurry to meet. They meet and Tandi and from where it’s called the Chandrabhaga or Chenab. The flow has reduced and the river has become silent now.
As we take the road uphill that will lead us to Triloknath and Udaipur, both having their importance in Hindu and Buddhist worship. The road was in the worst of conditions and was barely a road. Still the lord had called us and we moved slowly and steadily. Crossing a numerous villages that are a beauty in themselves. We reached Triloknath temple, it has its own importance in the Pattan Valley. Triloknath Temple is a medieval shrine, situated 4km from Udaipur Village, on the left bank of the Chenab River in Lahul and Spiti district, Himachal Pradesh. The temple enshrines a 12th century, six-armed, white marble idol of Lord Shiva.
This unusual temple is a handsome intermingling of Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, considered hallowed both for the Hindus and Buddhists. Triloknath Temple is noted for its delicate carvings, gracing the inner walls and doors. Tibetan prayer flags, built in pagoda style of architecture, deck the entrance of the temple. The tower of Triloknath temple is chiseled from stone. The temple courtyard houses a tiny stone Nandi (the divine bull) and a granite shivling (phallus, symbolic representation of Lord Shiva). There are two brilliantly carved stone pillars on each side of the door, known as the pillars of `dharma` and `paap` (virtue and sin). Triloknath temple also houses prayer wheels, archetypal to Buddhist gompas.
The locals have their own story about the temple, it’s said that the temple was used as a protection from avalanches in the area. The massive basement of the temple was used as a shelter by the people from nearby villages. All stories soaked and blessings taken both from the monk and the priest and we headed back to Udaipur to another pay our respect at the Markula Devi temple in Udaipur.
Markula Devi Temple is a 15th century shrine; the temple is consecrated to Markula Devi, another manifestation of Goddess Durga. It is understood that the Pandavas, who were putting up in the place during their exile period, had erected the shrine overnight, from a lone block of wood. The temple, constructed in timber-bonded stone, is a perfect example of Himachal Pradesh architecture. The walls of the temple are ornamented with scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. In the front porch of Markula Devi temple, images of Goddess Ganga, Yamuna, the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu and Surya can be witnessed, standing tall and gracious.
The stories from the priest are still soaked in my soul and this is where I say and believed in superpowers. These lies a big stone and it’s said that Bheema brought this stone and no one can lift the stone alone but if 5 people come together and use their small finger the stone can be lifted. I did not believed it until I saw it. Finally the blessings were taken followed by lunch and headed back to Sissu, the halt for the night.
On the way we went to a local’s house, where I realized that the location was perfect for anyone suffering from the city chaos. The house was built up on the hill and there was a glacier right in front of it flowing into the Bhaga River and on the right was a snow clad peak just with cold winds blowing right into our faces. So finally the day came to an end as we reached Sissu at our camps by the night. As we were heading towards the Camp the Ghepan peak caught our eyes and we just stood there watching the sunset on the peak. After dinner we lit a campfire and almost spent half of the night gazing the starts. I must say Lahaul is a really a land of many hidden treasures, all cut of from cell phones, internet and other such facilities. It’s just a calm and serene environment here.
The morning sun broke and I was already awake and waiting for it. Had our breakfast real Lahauli style with Churpi soup (Churpi is hard dried butter made from Yak Milk) and bread. We headed to Labrang Gompa dedicated to Palden Lhamo. Palden Lhamo is a protecting Dharmapala of the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. She is also called Remati. She is the wrathful deity considered to be the principal Protectress of Tibet.
Palden Lhamo is the consort of Mahakala and has been described as “the tutelary deity of Tibet and its government”, and as “celebrated all over Tibet and Mongolia, and the potent protector of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas and Lhasa.” All the blessings taken and we headed back to Manali to catch our bus to Delhi. It was like a heart break for me. Leaving behind the serene and raw beauty and heading back to the cemented life.
I did leave my heart and soul in Lahaul, and that showed in my work for the next one month. I certainly will head back on a longer exploration of the land once again and will definitely learn more about the culture and lifestyle of the Lahauli people.
See you soon highway. Till then Godspeed