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Trekking in Chandrakhani Pass

Day 3: Today we are spared from the morning jog and exercises, but still have to get up at 5:15 and have our breakfast by 6:30. We also get pack lunch (puri and sabji). At around 8 we gather with our backpacks. Ranade informs us that a bus will take us to a village called Sansari from where we will be climbing up to "Bijli Mahadev", have our lunch there and continue to our first camp Ghnakala. When the bus arrived near the camp, we young Turks pile on to the top (reminds me of similar trip on the way back from Mullayanagiri trek). It is a jolly good ride. I enjoy the beauty of Kullu valley with Beas (pronounced Vyas by localites) flowing below as the bus climbs on up to Sansari. We take couple of photos. I should mention here about the dexterity of the driver. On a road that is hardly wide enough to allow one bus to move and with a 1000 ft valley on one side, our man takes a u-turn, that too with a busload of people!! . My heart comes to my mouth as I watch from the top, the rear wheel coming tantalizingly close to the edge of the road. After this ordeal we get down and start our first day of actual trekking.

  Way to Bijli Mahadev from Sansari is of cemented steps (about 1200 of them). The initial climb is quite steep and I thanked silently for initial day exercises. As we near the top I find observe an interesting phenomenon. I see, what I thought was a crow, shooting down like a missile and suddenly picking up the current and gliding up (Later we find from Ghnakala camp leader Mr. Anurag Srivastava that they are Ravens). Jonathan Livingston Seagull comes to my mind. A view over Chandrakhani Pass

Taking in the nature's beauty we reach Bijli Mahadev, where our guide up to the Ghnakala camp, Jayadev meets us.

  Bijli Mahadev is a Siva temple, situated at 7874 ft and is revered by the local people. Legend has it that Siva came here to protect mankind by absorbing the current from the lightning strike. It is said that every year within a 3-month period lightning shatters the Siva lingam into pieces. After that, pujaris and temple workers bring the pieces together and allow it to heal itself within closed doors. We visit the temple and Jayadev takes us to a viewpoint, from where we see the calm and clean Beas joined by turbulent River Parvathi. There is a beautiful airstrip right inside the valley beside Beas-Parvathi visible from this viewpoint. Jayadev tells us that it is Bunthar airport. I saw a chartered plane taking off and I envy the pilot! .

  We have our pack lunch together and set out to Ghnakala. This part of the trek is mostly downhill and we pass through apple orchards full of raw apples. As we reach Ghnakala Gautham observes the yellow-billed magpie quite close to a field being tilled by a farmer. As we wait there watching magpie eating worms that come out of the tilled earth (quite a symbiotic relationship), Nagesh asks the farmer why the bird is not afraid of him. His answer was simple. He said the bird knows he won't harm it. Alas, if all of us understand this simple truth. Gautham, meanwhile walks behind the farmer and gets a good record shot. We move on to the camp, when it started drizzling. Camp at Ghnakala is actually a local house temporarily taken over by YHAI. Campsite is beautiful, facing the valley with Hanuman Tibba and Deo Tibba right in front of us. After the briefing by camp leader Anurag Srivastava, we get into the room (9 of the young brigade in one room!!). It starts to rain heavily and we think our day is over with nothing else to do. As we start playing cards, from outside someone shouts something about rainbow. Not one but two huge rainbows in the middle of a bright valley, such as I have ever seen, greets our sight as we come out. We take out our cameras, tripods and start shooting madly. It is amazing to see how the climatic conditions change so rapidly and drastically. But I find the nature works in clockwork here in Himachal. Morning its sunny, afternoon at around 1 O'clock it begins to rain and evening it's bright once again. After the shooting spree, people in our group start asking questions about various things in photography and Nagesh, typical of him, takes up the role of a mentor explaining various aspects of photography.

  One interesting aspect of these mountain people is the way they carry small babies. They wrap pattu (hand woven shawl) around the kids and tie it around their back. Ghnakala apart from having extremely friendly villagers is very good for birding too. I find as I talk to Srivastava, that he too is a bird enthusiast and we shared each other's passions for birds, nature and photography.

  In the evening, we were informed that local people would like to perform "pahadi nrithy"(folk dance). Already bored with our singing during campfire, this comes as a relief and we eagerly have our dinner. They start with a folk song, which venka says is vaguely familiar but enchanting never the less. Jayadev, our guide from Bijli Mahadev and also brother of a local jamindar, leads a group of villagers in dancing to the tune of the folk song. They amaze me with their simplicity. Having started with slow and rhythmic steps going around in circles, they slowly gather pace and finally end in "Khaith", really fast paced dance maneuvers. After the first dance, Srivastava urges us to join in, telling us we will never get a chance like this. I hesitate a bit, not wishing to disturb them, who were dancing so beautifully. But afterwards when others join, I couldn't resist. It took a few minutes to pick the rhythm and from then on I thoroughly enjoy. Whenever Jaydev changes the steps everyone follows. This goes on for sometime and before we realize its 10. Jagjith Singh informs us that we cannot stay any longer as we have a long day of trek tomorrow. Everyone go back to their rooms. The villagers meanwhile continue singing.

View of a village   Nagesh and I decide to be with them for some more time; Guru and Venka also join us. Sitting there in the night watching them, dance and sing merrily totally oblivious to the outside world, was heavenly. It is to their credit that they make you, total strangers just a couple of hours ago, feel totally at home. In fact when we finally try to go back to our rooms, they wouldn't let us. Telling us that as long as we stayed they would also stay and sing and dance.But alas, we have to get some rest because tomorrow we have a long and tiring trek.

After such an eventful day, reminiscing on the hospitality of the villagers I go to sleep.

Day 4:
Get up quite early hoping to catch golden light on Hanuman Tibba. Though morning was quite beautiful, we didn't get the golden light. We get ready for the day's trek, have our breakfast, get packed lunch and clean the campus. Take a few portraits of an old lady (I and Gautham alternately holding a plate as a reflector!!) and a small girl, Sapna. At 8 O'clock we bid adieu to Srivastava and the villagers and start towards our next camp Pinni. After about an hour of trek we stop at a Vishnu Temple. It is a typical Himachali temple, made of wood. We spend some time there and proceed. Today's trek is quite long, about 16 kms to Pinni and for the most part, the terrain is dry and rocky. Halfway to the lunch point we spot a vulture sitting on a rock. Gautham gets a good picture of the bird in flight. Around 12 PM we reach Dhanali. We have our lunch. Many of us are tired and some take a short nap. We start again, young brigade in front, at 1 PM. With rain playing hide and seek we walk faster. Afternoon trek is seemingly endless. It starts to rain with more intensity and then we see some building. Villagers tell us the camp is just about 5 minutes from here. A piece of advice here, never ask local people how far any place is. They would say 5 minutes and it will turn out to be half an hour! This is precisely what happened. We walk and walk in the rain but the campsite is nowhere in sight. Finally just as I was getting exasperated we reach the camp.

  Pinni campsite is beside a small stream, surrounded by mountains, situated at a height of 7500ft. It's quite a good site, but I have a terrible time here. As soon as I entered the tent, I had allergic reaction and started coughing terribly. I missed welcome drink and tea. I have after effects of this for quite sometime and I'm beginning to wish that we got out of this place as soon as possible! We have our dinner and I just go back to the tent and crash.

Day 5: I get up still feeling a bit stiff. We all pack up and at 8:15 we start for the next camp i.e. Chalal. Today we climb down to 5500ft. Leaving the elders to go ahead, we start at the end of the pack. The route is again dry and rocky. Many a places we walk on a narrow ridge, with nothing but deep valley on one side. Throughout we walk along the river, at a height. We reach a small stream and thinking that we are almost near the lunch point, take rest there for about an hour. This was a mistake. We should have completed a major portion of the trek before the sun rose to its peak. As it turns out, the lunch point is nowhere in sight and we end up walking quite a distance in hot sun without any shade for protection. I am so tired that I thought I couldn't go ahead any more.

  We reach lunch point, Amar Tea Stall at 1 PM (almost an hour late!). We have our lunch. After taking a nap, we start around 2:45. The maratha gang had already started an hour early. Afternoon trek is quite a contrast to the morning one. Climate had suddenly turned quite cool. We walk inside the jungle listening to the sound of crickets on one side and gushing water of Parvati on the other. Rest of the day passes off uneventfully and we reach Chalal village around 4:30. There we are meet camp leader Akhilesh Guha. Camp site

The actual camp is still a kilometer away. It was a nice gesture on his part to meet us well in advance..

  Campsite at Chalal is breathtaking, situated right on the bank of river Parvati and surrounded all around by mountains. This is complete bliss. Soon we are called for tea wherein we are served with pakodas too. My throat infection has worsened and the small wound on my right toe is troubling me a lot. We are sitting on the bank of the river talking about previous days' experiences, when we see Mr. Tiwari coming towards the camp. He's beginning his Sar Pass trek, its base camp Kasol being just about 15 minutes walk from here. We go over to him and say hello. After talking for about 10 minutes he leaves. After dinner much to our chagrin we have campfire. The only bright side of this campfire was Sharma singing 'Aaya re Khilone wala' song from Bachpan. He has a good solid voice and we enjoy it. We soon retire to our tents. Tomorrow we begin our trek into the mountains.

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