Himalayas an epitome of natural beauty and umpteen scenic treks can just blow your mind with its splendor. They are so tempting and addictive; you cannot just stop at one and after starting my trekking journey, which began in 2014, I could not look backwards.
Although every trek is an amazing experience both in terms of its novelty and the experience it offers, the constant learning and diversity of people you meet on the way makes it even more tempting to repeat.
Hampta pass was my second trek after Valley of flowers and out of some of the incredible experiences, I was able to accumulate, witnessing snow in the month of September was not only my first but also one of its kind.
The trek begins from Jobra about an hour drive from Manali, one of the major hill towns of Himachal Pradesh and the first meeting point for most of the treks in Himachal. Jobra to chika is an unchallenging hike for about 2 km. The camping place at chika was a serene spot, amidst lush forest and the clear skies. The pleasing and clear night alluringly created hops of an amazing weather the next day.
We woke up to a stunning sunny morning as the sun after hiding behind the mountains finally made its way up the sky carpeting the entire place with its light and warmth. The morning was chilly but the splendid sun made it not only bearable but also magnificent to experience. Hoping the weather is going to remain more or less the same, we started the next day’s trek with the excitement and energy of a teenager.
One thing predictable about the weather in hills is that it is heavily unpredictable. The fact soon turned into reality as by the time we reached Balu Ka Ghera, the next camping site, the sky poured like an unlidded container and won’t stop until late at night. The support staff had to work overtime to pitch the tents and then prepare some awesomely delicious evening snacks. Pakoras and Maggie, not only contented our stomach, but also soothed our senses. The rains continued and soon turned into a hail storm.
As we slept at night, one repeated instruction from our trek leader was to keep wiggling our tents or else it would crash under the weight of the hail (later replaced by snow shaped granules). The three of us in the tent would keep shaking it whenever we got up.
Everyone woke up to the whitest of morning ever seen during that time of the year. Still in the middle of September and winters, still a month away we were blessed to witness a startling tapestry of whiteness all around. The hills, which just a few hours back were green with vegetation turned white, and the temperature dropped close to zero. The unexpected snowfall was heavier in the higher altitude and after a very long deliberation, it was decided to go to Hampta pass and return from there, as mules could not negotiate such slippery terrain.
Everyone though was disappointed with this decision as the thought of reaching Chandratal (crescent moon shaped lake) and spending the night in the tents pitched on its corners was a desire they will not able to fulfill.
We started a bit late due to the inclement weather and by the time we reached Hampta pass it was already past 1p.m. We were supposed to leave the place before 2 as the place gets dark very quickly and trekking in the night can be hugely risky especially when the terrain is unknown.
Three guides accompanied us and since I was trekking a little faster was able to resume the descent before others. Slightly overconfident of reaching the base camp before everyone else, I began walking hurriedly. Just a few minutes into my solitary walk and my group was left way behind me. Initially I could hear the loud noise they were making as they clicked photographs and talked to each other, soon, the environment became noiseless and tranquil for me.
I was following the footmarks made in the snow initially as I began descending however, since it was the first snowfall and was a very thin layer, it soon melted off. I was soon left to my own wits to find out my way back.
I assumed I must be taking the right path and would occasionally look behind to verify my own hunch. However, after about 45 minutes, I realized I must be lost. The only redemption was the river, which I suddenly spotted the same one I had seen while ascending as well. One thing I learned after watching Man Vs Wild is to take the path along the river if one gets lost in the mountains or forests and decided to put to use that knowledge.
I was growing a little restless because even though it was hardly 3 in the afternoon, the skies were getting darker and I expected it to rain again. Since, I was carrying a smaller bag, it was manageable, but I knew my raincoat won’t be able to sustain the heavy downpour I was expecting now. Although, I love rains, its timing today was perfectly imperfect.
And suddenly my mental anxiety turned into reality as it began raining. The terrain was very open and there was no place to hide. I found a rock, which was slightly tilted and took refuge under it. Although, it could not provide the necessary protection, the fact that I could rest my body on the ground against a rock with my back and head still dry gave me a lot of hope and courage.
I was praying for rains to stop, but such a prayer in hills does not always work. I waited there for 30 minutes and expected the rest of the group to descend by that time as I kept looking for them from the rock, which was my only hope now. I was feeling anxious, fearful and stupid all at the same time. I even mentally decided to never ever leave my group or guide while on a trek from that day onwards. (the fact that I forgot it later is a different story).
My prayers were finally answered partially as rains subsided, replaced by a light drizzle which allowed me to resume. I thought, I have missed everyone after losing sight of the trail. I began walking even faster after resuming the trek.
The soil around the river had become very soft which was making it difficult to walk. My shoes would thrust deep into it occasionally and it was slowing me down. However, my mind was now focused on walking as fast as possible and I somehow didn’t even thought about the delay this was causing, a blessing in disguise.
A few moments later, I felt like shouting from the core of my heart as I saw a group of trekkers walking downhill. It was a moment of extreme delight one could feel upon seeing another human. They were also coming back from the Hampta pass. I cried for their attention but it wasn’t loud enough for them to look back. I decided to follow them and that’s when I realized I was walking on a very different level compared to them. The river was in a sort of valley while they were walking on top of it. The narrow ravine created by the river was much deeper than the trail, about 10 feet up.
The first thing I did after noticing it was to climb up that distance which though a little tiring, I accomplished in a few minutes and was jubilant to notice the trail again.
It was another joyful moment for me for having found my way back again. My tired feet sprang back to life. I quickly caught up with those trekkers I had spotted from a distance and asked how far the base camp is from where we were. I could not believe what they said as I got to know, that we were within half an hour distance. In hills, the distance is measured in hours and not kilometers.
Very soon, I was back in the camp, where hot tea and snacks were waiting for us. I was the first one to return and they asked where the others were. It was a long and arduous trek for me not because of its difficulty but because of my stupidity and I told them how I left them behind trying to reach before time. They were partly surprised and partly amused with my story.
The next two days of the trek were not only sunny but also effortless as there was nothing difficult to negotiate, snow was gone and so were rains. The last night we spent in a jungle camp and had a great time singing and eating around the bonfire.
I still vividly remember this trek for one reason. How I got so very anxious upon encountering an unexpected situation and getting fearful for not knowing a perfect solution to it.
However, what I learnt was that there are no perfect solutions; a solution becomes perfect when we keep trying multiple permutations and combinations and the experience thus gained aids us in identifying the one, which applies perfectly to our problem.
P.c – Google/adventure nation