P.S – (It’s a long blog and I request you to savour it like a fine wine, indulging in every image and word as you scroll down. If you want to get high immediately, this may not work. However, I can assure you will fall in love with the place if you read it with the love the trek deserves)
The month of June is synonymous with unbearable heat and deserted roads as everyone prefers to stay within the comforts of their home or offices, venturing outside only when it’s absolutely necessary.
I was one of the lucky ones though preparing myself for yet another trek in the laps of the mighty Himalayas. This one was special as it begins in Uttarakhand, my home state and ends in Himachal, the two states sharing the mighty Himalayas.
The ancient mountain pass connecting the two states is the trail we would follow during this pristine trek which will take us to an altitude of more than 15,200 feet.
The summers though also mean difficulty in getting a bus or a train for Dehradun, as almost everyone is headed up the hills and all modes of public transport are overbooked.
I somehow managed to take a private bus and that turned out to be a big mistake, as instead of the normal 8 hours, it took me more than 12 to reach Dehradun. I however, was relived to reach there by 8:00 A.M to meet other trekkers who would be with me on this trek.
There were three more, all from West Bengal and one of them was a veteran of trekking, having been to at least 50 treks both in India as well as abroad.
We all began to fondly call him Dada (Bangla for elder brother).
The drive from Dehradun to Dhaula was for about 8 hours as we drove along Yamuna and Tons rivers while passing through the beautiful hill station Mussoorie, Naugaon, Purola, Mori before finally reaching Dhaula.
We were traveling in Mahindra Maxx an off-road SUV, used as a common mode of transportation in this part of the country. As we begin to get closer to Dhaula, we witnessed a sudden change in temperature as we observed ourselves crossing our hands or putting them inside our pockets to keep warm.
The change of environment from noisy to serene brought us closer to nature as tall pine trees lined up the hill forests and we travelled through them, our eyes fixated on the beautiful imagery of the river and pebble ridden road even as we continued to get tossed around from our seats because of the uneven path we were treading on.
We stopped just 200 metres short of the village as the rest of the distance was to be covered on foot with no place for a vehicle to move around. Our trek had started.
It was a homestay and four of us slept in one room cocooned inside our sleeping bag as the temperatures outside reached close to a zero at night. We also met or Trek Leader Prakash and the one who would be feeding us for the rest of 5 days, Vijay Chauhan.
The family we stayed with had two kids and they were keeping themselves busy playing with the mother hen and her chicks.
The morning was chilly and although this was the only place, we could even think of taking a bath, everyone decided against it. I however plunged in, soaking myself in the ice-cold water. Pouring the first mug though scared the hell out of me as my body pleaded to save itself from this self-induced torture. It however later thanked me as well, as every cell of my body felt refreshed after I came out of that dingy bathroom.
One thing, I was really impressed with was the sumptuous food prepared by Vijay. The best I had ever eaten during the treks and if not on treks, I am sure he could have easily been a chef in any of five-star hotel of his choice. He however decided to remain in the hills.
All of us were ready by 8 to commence our journey.
It was a 2 km trek, but would take us up to an altitude of around 6000 feet, from Dhaula to Sewa. The trail was benign as the hilly trail meandered through the fields exposing a vast expanse of the mountainous beauty. The bloom of the Rhododendron was long gone as the long wait for yet another year begins to witness the bloom again.
We were walking amidst a very light drizzle and it not only made the trek easier but also more enjoyable. I was hiking a little faster and left the three of my fellow trekkers behind and was now in the company of Vijay and his colleague, helping him in the kitchen.
They were smoking bidi and walked lazily waiting for the rest of the trekkers to catch up. Prakash, the trek leader was walking with Dada while the other two trekkers walked between them and me.
The trail was well defined and Rupin river accompanied us for most of the trail as we soaked in the simplicity of the scenic view of hill steps visible for as far as you could see. The dark sky began opening up as we got closer to Sewa.
Sewa is also another sleepy hamlet as most people earn their living tending to homestays for the trekkers apart from limited agricultural activity. The first structure I noticed upon entering the village was a temple, carved out of wood adorned with the trophies the village team won in various cricket tournaments.
I reached there in 3 hours as Vijay began setting up the kitchen to prepare lunch while, I helped in preparing a ball of socks to play cricket after having our meal.
Having plenty of time at hand, as the other trekkers were still on their way, I decided to explore the village while also catching up on my reading. It was a surreal experience as I lied down on the huge rock just in front of the house, the sun warmed my cold skin while my body felt the freshness of air in every breathe, I took in. The sound of the birds and the soft rustling of the leaves as the cold wind blew through them was providing the perfect background score as I munched through every word in the book.
The experience remains etched in my conscious even now.
The evening was spent playing cricket with the ball of socks I made in the afternoon after which we had an early dinner and everyone decided to hit the bed by 8. I was thinking of watching the stars, but it was overcast again, preventing any glimpse of the twinkling beauties.
The next day we were supposed to cross over to Himachal after lunging through the river on to the other side of a different state. I tagged along with Vijay after having forged a bond on shared connection of being from the hills.
We walked amongst the trees and had a glimpse of the mighty Dhauladhar range, visible at a far distance. The trail was very well defined as we negotiated some sharp ascents and descents before suddenly seeing ourselves against the fluttering Rupin river again, as its pristine blue waters encouraged us to take a dip.
The weather though didn’t allow such an adventure as the probability of catching pneumonia is very high in such cases. The musical sound of the river as its water bounced of the big boulders while making its way down the hill was magnetic and I couldn’t resist removing the shoes to feel it before moving on.
The water was icy cold and it sent an electrical wave across my body as my feet felt the river water, it reflexively tried to retreat but I consciously forced it inside and stood there for a while as others too got encouraged to try it out.
The crowd was getting thicker as other groups also caught up with us by then and me and Vijay decided to resume our trek. We crossed the timber bridge as it purred with every step of ours as if asking us to get away from it.
We walked for a few more minutes before reaching the asphalt road lined up with vehicles ready to transport the trekkers keen to avoid the road trek and closer to Jakha. The road was lined with hills on one side and the river on the other.
There was a scary moment too after a while as we began crossing the area prone to landslides and seeing rubble on the road, mentally prayed for a safe passage through it.
After we were done with the pucca road, we resumed walking on the trail as it took us inside the dense forests where a thin trail awaited us. Running on the edge of the hills as we crisscrossed our way to different hillocks.
I was walking alone on this ravishing trail and decided to retrieve my ear phones to enjoy the walk with my favorite songs. It had rained in the woods as the winds were sprinkling water collected on the tree leaves as people crossed the path below.
Half the group was ahead of me while the other half followed with both separated by a large distance. I continued stopping intermittently to immerse myself in the exquisiteness of the place, an incomparable beauty of nature as the only sounds I could hear was of leaves rustling and birds chirping occasionally, while sitting in the comfortable safety of the hugely tall trees.
I caught up with one group of support staff on the way, resting to shake off the tiredness of the steep ascent while joking and laughing with each other and contentedly sitting on the edge of the cliff, with their backs rested against the hill.
I waited to click their picture before walking forward and found a tea shop on the top as we were on the verge of entering the hanging village- Jakha. This was the first village after we crossed into Himachal and we had a home stay here as well.
The Tea Shop
The owner also stayed in the same house, an old man, who mostly remained quiet but willing to give a pose as we asked for a photograph. The wooden house was a cozy place to spend the night in as we played cards to kill time after having reached there by 4:00 P.M.
This was the last home stay as from now onwards we could enjoy the night outs in our tents pitched in the open as we get more vulnerable to nature’s fury or gifts.
This was one of the exciting days for me as the trek would begin to get a little tougher with the trail changing its hues after short distances. We began walking on the benign trail of flat fields again decked with beautiful flowers on both the sides.
I was mesmerized with the blue of the sky as I don’t remember witnessing such a beautiful hue up there till now. The trail was gaining ascent as we begin crossing over from one hill to the next.
The clear skies also sent the temperature soaring forcing me to get rid of the rain coat which was accentuating the heat in my body, bathing it in my own sweat by the time, I reached the riverbed.
It was vast expanse of the river floor, with huge boulders, rocks and stones lining the entire place. I walked carefully trying to balance myself on every stone, I would step onto, as my backpack tried dis-balancing my body alignment.
I however, got a hang of it after practicing it for a few minutes and could soon hop over to meet Vijay who was already waiting for us. A flock of sheep has also gathered around as their bleat attracted everyone’s attention.
They were all gathered on top of a huge rock as people tried capturing them with their cameras, I also was successful in getting in the same frame as them with Vijay’s help who gracefully accepted my request to click me with those noisy but delightful creatures.
From thereon, it was a steep ascent, however as people stopped intermittently to gather their breath before moving on, I somehow liked the struggle of the sharp ascent and quickly ran pass it to enter inside the Rhododendron forest.
An old concrete structure used by the forest guards was turned into a makeshift kitchen as other two tents were pitched for us, on a gentle slope which ended in a huge gorging river. With at least 4 hours before it turns dark, we decided to venture down to have a closer look at the river which was flowing ferociously as the water would wet us even at a distance of 10 feet.
This was Surwas thatch, the last of the place with a tree line and within viewing distance of the first waterfall, one of the first few landmarks announcing the imminent arrival of Rupin pass.
The cold winter night was becoming unbearable as bonfire is banned in the jungle, so I decided to sit in the warmth of the kitchen while enjoying an evening of songs and gossip with Vijay and his team.
I was offered bidi by him which all of them were smoking generously now after having completed half of the trek, but I refused. Prakash who too was a non-smoker couldn’t stop his smile as he saw me doing that.
A chilly morning awaited us as everyone lazily forced themselves out of the sleeping bag to start the new day. Today was the day to witness the first waterfall. Although, nippy, the enchanting morning and the filtered rays of the sun pushing through the thick foliage as we peeped out of the tents transported us to a different world.
The icy breeze interspersed with the warmth of the sun and combined with the river sounds created a magical moment anyone would like to savor for their entire life.
We witnessed the first glacial snow dirtied by the black cover of soil and footsteps of trekkers who went before us just after walking for a few minutes. The sight of snow though lifted the enthusiasm of the tired faces as everyone geared up to reach the camping site of the day.
We trekked for sometime along the river before witnessing a sight to behold. The first meadow we encountered was an epitome of natural beauty stretching across the horizon as Rupin flew in the middle, forming a valley and a sight that will remain forever captured in our minds.
The mild ascents we negotiated to reach there were soon forgotten as we indulged in shameless photography trying to capture every moment as we stood there. It was a picture-perfect place for a picnic and we decided to reenergize with the nutritious lunch washed down with some fresh water from the stream.
The soul contending lunch in the middle of a valley surrounded by gorgeous meadow and blanketed by picturesque blue sky propelled us to carry on further.
From thereon we crossed some steep ascents, tough enough to make us sweat in less than 5 degrees as we began to see glimpses of snow on the hills within a touching distance. I reached the campsite by 12 Noon, 4 hours after starting from Suruwas.
I decided to read till others also reach and we have our snacks together, this was when I witnessed an interesting blob of cloud hovering just above my head as if trying to converse with me when I was about to dig my eyes on the book I had been trying to finish since 4 days before the trek began.
I continued to admire the beauty of the cloud for some time before my attention wandered back to the book as the cool breeze patted me with freshness of a wild flower and the blue sky provided the colorful shade in which to enjoy the charming words I could rummage through my eyes on.
After having snacks, we played cricket again with that same socks ball ending the match only after we lost the ball to the river flowing adjacent to us.
The night was extremely chilly as we pitched our tent on the riverbank, it was so close we could hear the rustling sound of the water making its way through the stones and meditative enough to calm us down.
The view in the morning was spectacular as our tents pitched on the riverbank, were bang opposite to the huge hill and as the day progressed, the sun made its slow and magnificent entry showing itself magically as it emerged out gradually up from the hill.
The enchanted moment was captured by many in their cameras.
From where we stood, we could also see the numerous waterfalls, dropping on each other with every small ascent.
The trek from here to Rupin pass was steep and strewn with rocky patches which made it even more difficult to climb. The first few metres sucked the entire energy out of me as I tried to move fast.
However, I soon realized the importance of walking steady and gradually acclimatized myself with the changed terrain. This stretch was unusually steep with thick snow covering most of the place and stopping even for a few seconds would immediately cool down the body making it difficult to resume with the same energy.
I was now walking with Vijay who was also carrying some of the kitchen stuff along with him, I offered to help, but he refused. We carried along as the views around us underwent a complete transformation with white snow occupying every inch of earth now.
Water was spilling out of some of the big cervices in the rocks and as the snow melted, it created a thin watery trail, cute but dangerously slippery.
The difficulty was getting accentuated with the sharp rise in altitude and trail. We huffed and puffed our way till we came across a small plateau close to the cliff and pitched our tents there.
We were just a few metres away from Rupin pass and decided to spend the night there.
We had just pitched the kitchen tent, when it began raining hail preventing us from putting other tents as everyone quickly took refuge in the kitchen tent.
We waited for an hour for weather to improve and then began putting the other tents, the surface on which it was pitched though was highly uneven, something we realized when we got ready to sleep at night and couldn’t sleep properly as our bodies continued to get spiked by the sharp rocks underneath.
We also made a snowman there as the weather change led to a short span of sunlight giving us an opportunity to admire the beauty of the gigantic mass of snowfield, we were staying in. The Kinner Kailash was on the other side of Rupin pass as we acclimatized ourselves by running around and capturing the beauty of the snowclad region.
The next day we began early as we had to reach Rontigad after crossing Rupin pass. Rupin Pass visible from where we were staying was not as easy as it looked.
Me and Vijay were leading the group as he showed confidence in my abilities to cross the pass with relative ease. I was floored by his confidence in me, but still had to prove him right.
The walk till the base of Rupin pass was quick as we ran through the snow-covered trail to witness an almost vertical rock, strewn with a heavy cover of snow challenging us to face it.
Vijay trekked ahead, making a trail for me, as both of us began the final ascent. The trail afterwards would be a downward descent good enough to slide as well. However, the challenge was to cross this pass first.
We began slowly, taking a pause and finding support as we were not wearing crampons and didn’t wanted to slip down because of a stupid misstep.
We must have reached half way when I looked down and admired myself for what we achieved till now.
As I moved ahead after being prompted by Vijay, I put my foot on a small rock, not realizing it was a stray rock and will push down. However, the step was taken and as I began losing my balance, seeing my body bend backwards, ready to fall, my left hand somehow latched onto the protruding rock from the hilly wall on my wrong side.
Vijay must have had his heart in his mouth for a moment seeing me almost fall down, I though realized its magnitude only after regaining my balance. The last 100 metres proved strenuous not only physically but mentally as well, as my eyes remain fixated at the top and I strived to reach their quickly.
However, it took me 20 more minutes of slow and gradual ascent as we finally made it to the top. I exulted not by punching my fists but by lying on the bed of snow as I threw my backpack aside.
Vijay and me high fived each other and he performed a small prayer to the mountain god, seeking his blessing as well thanking him for the safe arrival till here.
The place was an ethereal beauty as we could witness the might Dhauladhar range with Mount Kinner Kailash visible in front of us. Our altitude ensure we feel as if we are at the same level as the other peaks visible from there.
I decided to absorb the view as I continued looking at the mighty mountains for a few minutes till Vijay decided to click some pictures.
We slid down most of the trail then as the strong snow bed provided us with a perfect platform to slip down quickly instead of walking and expending our energy. Gravity was making our job easier as we covered half the distance slipping down and the rest of it by walking.
We reached the open grasslands soon as the tree line also got within our viewing distance. By 1P.M we were at our camping site at Rontigad.
There we met one of the local shepherds who offered to sell his sheep, but we decided to retain our vegetarianism at least till we reach back Sangla.
Next day was the trek on a flat route from Rontigad to Sangla as we crossed small hutments with people tending to their fields and livestock, some looking closely to recognize while other ignoring us to continue with their normal routine.
Sangla valley surrounded by the mountains on all sides looked stunning from a distance as we could have a bird’s eye view of the town from the altitude we were at. Colorful houses dotted the entire place, pleasing the eye and comforting the senses.
We reached Sangla by 11 a.m and immediately took a taxi for Shimla as we bid goodbye to Vijay, Prakash and other staff members.
I had been on many treks, but the diversity of terrain that I witnessed on this one was incomparable to any other as I experienced the trail winding through village fields, to forests, before moving amidst the rivers and snow and culminating in the fields again.
A trek to remember and worth every penny to repeat!
So, how did you find the Rupin Pass Trek, would love to hear and read your comments!