By Saksham Agrawal, edited by Anupa Vinny (WDFC CTP-14)
The Hampta Pass is the gateway to reach the Spiti Valley. The best thing about this trek? It teaches you how to! Starting from the grassy open lands just above Manali to the narrow passages on the edge of mountains, the icy cold brooks and the whitest white ice, the grueling climbs in the day and the equally rewarding skies in the night. You get to experience it all…
My best mate from college and I had decided to take on this adventure before he left to the US to join some fancy Ivy League college. We ourselves, had limited experience with trekking, BUT determined we were, and Google was our savior. We found a tour organizer called Renok Adventures who organized group tours, and we picked up our shining armor (read – trekking gear from Decathlon) and rode our (figurative) horses, off to Manali to conquer the Hampta.
At Manali, we met our fellow group members and traveled to the base camp. Here we were introduced to our guides, who were experienced trekkers with years of mountaineering experience. Eager and excited we set off on our journey. There were 5 guides and 8 mules for our group of 35. The mules carried our tents and camping equipment and rucksacks (if we opted), while the guides were in charge of us humans. I’m not sure which had the easier job! 😉
Day 1: Manali to Chika (10,100 ft)
The first day of our trek began in the afternoon as a stroll, in the low lying grasslands of the foothills of Kullu valley. Ninety minutes of leisurely walk and numerous photographs later, we found ourselves at our first camping site – Chika.
Our guides set up 12 tents for us. We took in the spectacular view and relaxed while we enjoyed the camping experience, sipped warm tea and slipped into our jackets as we could feel the light chill. I had mentally prepared myself to survive on boiled potatoes and eggs for the rest of my journey, however our organizers had overcome my expectations and had arranged a full Indian platter with paneer and fried rice.
We were briefed on our trek for the next day, and retired for the night. We were left with a mild warning against a herd of wild cows who had camped right next to us! That didn’t help us sleep very soundly, especially with the knowledge that ours was the last tent in the camp. Let’s just say, if the cows did end up discovering their wild side, we would be the first to know. But hey, we wanted adventure, and this was all part of the package!
Day 2: Chika to Balu ka Gera (11,900 ft)
After a nervous, but thankfully uneventful night, we woke up the next morning and treated ourselves to a dip in the stream nearby. It was one of the best experiences of the trip. Also, it was the perfect time to jump in the stream. The sun was shining just enough and though the water was cold, it was still bearable, which was a contrast to the water in higher altitudes which we were going to be subject to for the next two days.
We were cautioned to quicken our pace, since we had to cross a river and it was best to do it when the water levels were low, which was early in the day. The river crossing itself, was an exciting experience. We were instructed to ties our shoes to our rucksacks, and form a chain by holding hands. The water was almost upto our thighs and the rocks were slippery. A few of the people did lose their balance despite safety measures, but we all got across safe and sound, with a bit of an adrenaline rush 😀
The rest of the trek for the day was quite relaxed with everybody going at a comfortable pace. We trekked for a total of around 5 hours that day and reached our camp site at Balu ka Gera, where we could catch our first sight of snow. We spent the rest of the day playing in the snow and we even got to practice some techniques of walking/ climbing in the snow. The guides taught us how to climb up and back down in the snow and even about some techniques with interesting names like duckwalk, zigzag and side-stepping. This was going to be helpful for the next day, which was the most challenging day of our trek.
Day 3: Balu ka Gera to Hampta Pass (14,100 ft) and down to Shia Goru (12,900ft)
The ascent to Hampta Pass was the reason this beginner trek was named as “Moderate”. In order to check fitness, we had to get a test to make sure our oxygen levels were optimum. Any members of the group who failed the test had to return to base camp and were not allowed to continue. Fortunately, that did not happen to anybody in our group. But we could see why it was required, the path was quite steep with quite a few snowy patches. Maneuvering the path could be done by learning basic techniques (which we did the previous day), however, the change in altitude did make our bodies more tired more easily.
That being said, I must say that this was also the most rewarding stretch, since it was after this stretch when we first laid eyes on Hampta Pass. Reaching here was a feeling of achievement! Like we had pushed ourselves and had successfully completed what we came to do!!
While we were reveling in our “success”, the guides reminded us that we still had more to go. Our final destination was Spiti Valey (Shia Goru). The path downhill was steep and we were met with a hailstorm while on our descent. This made this stretch tricky, but with help from our guides, we were able to cross the path with only little discomfort.
The campsite for the last night of our trip was the peaceful Shia Goru and what a sight it was! We were all filled with a feeling of achievement, and a strange feeling of that inner peace that Master Shifu always spoke of 😀
The next morning, we packed our things for Manali and went by road back to the base camp. Our bodies were tired, skin was tanned, but our minds were full of the beautiful sights we had seen, and our hearts were content with the adventure we had set out to seek.