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Trekking in Chandrakhani Pass

Day 6: By now I'm used to waking up at 5:15, though our bed tea is a bit late. Yesterday's clouds have cleared and we have a clear sky. Today we will be going to Manikaran, place of hot springs by bus. No need to carry our backpack, as we'll be coming back before noon and then starting towards Rashol I. To go to Manikaran we have to walk up to Kasol and catch a bus or hire a sumo from there. At Kasol I called home. There we get to know that Cronje has died in an air crash. After much haggling 11 of us hire a Sumo and reach Manikaran. The place is not kept clean, considering that it is a tourist and pilgrimage place.

  According to the mythology, when Siva and Parvati were roaming, A Magi from Parvati's earring falls into the river and "Shesh Nag" (king of snakes) in pathal lok (nether world) gets it. Despite of extensive search, it couldn't be found. Siva gets angry, and opens his third eye and out comes Naina Devi. Fearing Siva's wrath Shesh Nag sends the Mani but along with it many other Manis too. Siva curses all other jewels except Parvathi's Mani to become rocks. Thus the place came to be known as Manikaran.

  We haven't had bath since we left base camp and we do not want to miss the chance of having one! We go to a hotel that rented rooms to just have bath in the spring water. When we are all through we go to a gurudwara and have lunch. Before we know it is time to turn back. We catch 12 O'clock bus back to Kasol and reach Chalal camp.

  We are back to trekking. From now on most of the trek is uphill. We weigh our backpacks; mine is 11.5 kg!! Our next stop is Rashol I (supposedly at a height of 8500ft, but everyone have their doubts). Though it seems too much, trek isn't that bad. We are walking most of the time inside the forest and its quite enjoyable. About an hour from the camp we meet 3 women and a 10-year-old kid carrying groceries.

  I should mention here about an interesting incident. The kid's name is Chatur Singh and he asks mine. We talk as we walk along and I find him quite smart. So I remark in Hindi, "yaar thum bade Chatur ho!" ("You are quite intelligent", Chatur meaning intelligent in Hindi) and he instantly responds with -- "Thum bade Rakesh ho" (You are quite Rakesh!). I could only smile. On the way we take some rest. The lighting conditions being good we take pictures of the villagers. Here I need to mention another incident. As we are taking pictures, it starts to rain. We soon pack up and take out our rain sheets. One of the women (Chatur Singh's mother) finds the rain sheets interesting and asks for it. I give it to her and she refused to give it back. Showing maturity beyond his age, Chatur firmly tells his mother to give it back. I enjoy talking to this boy and soon we reach the camp. Chatur moves along to his village higher up. He promises to meet me, next morning before he leaves for school.

Himalayan Range in Parbati Valley   Rashol I camp is situated at a perfect spot, with the tents facing the open valley. As we sit inside the tent and take rest we see some beautiful birds including a rock thrush. My sinus and throat infection is getting more uncomfortable. I request the cook to get me some hot water early in the morning to gargle. We have our dinner early and sleep

Day 7: I get up early, gargle and take in Vicks steam. I get only a slight relief. Gautham tells me about the yellow wagtail very near the stream that he was trying to shoot. I finish my breakfast, pack up and go there to investigate. The bird seems to be quite unafraid of me and comes quite close by with some feed in its beak. Gautham soon joins me and we shoot quite a few frames.

  It's time to start. Today's destination is Rashol II about 6km. Camp leader informs us that we can take it quite easy today since there is not much distance to cover. As we were about to leave Chatur Singh turns up, on his way to school (he hadn't forgotten his promise!!). He invites us to come again next year and we say good-bye. We reach Rashol village pretty soon. We spend some time there talking to villagers. People here follow caste system quite rigidly. We are not supposed to go near their temple (a sign loudly informs wayfarers that if one touches even a nearby stone, he will be fined Rs.1000!). You can see signs of opium culture here. Men hardly work, most of it done by women and children.

  After lunch we start again. We reach the camp (8700ft) just as it started raining. Rashol II camp has one remarkable feature. The kitchen is inside a cave!! The cook makes a wonderful soup, feels great drinking it in cold and wet climate. We soon have dinner and I cannot wait to sleep. We get sleeping bags here and everyone, me including sleep like logs!

Day 8: It's a beautiful day, good for trekking. After breakfast we thank the genial camp leader, Nirmal and start, destination Malana. It's a good climb and I enjoy it. As we reach the top of this mountain (about 9500ft), our group leader gets cramps in his legs. We take rest here; enjoy the sight of the formidable peaks all around. Rest of today's trek, about 5hrs, is downhill. As is its wont weather changes dramatically and it begins to rain. Downhill trek seems easy, but in rain it's a challenge. We make a rather slow progress, slipping and sliding. After about 2 hours we reach lunch spot. Take some rest, have lunch and start again reach the Malana valley in about 1 hrs. Valley is very beautiful, lush green and I enjoy taking pictures. (I got some of the few good pictures of the whole trek here.) Opium is grown all over (that's what makes this valley green!). We reach the camp (8700ft) and its already 5. Campsite, keeping with YHAI's standards, is splendid, situated right beside river Parvati (narrower, but definitely no less rougher than what it was near Chalal). We wanted to visit the village and few of us get permission from the camp leader and set off with a guide (we have to sign a letter taking responsibility for whatever happens till we return).

  Malana village is unique, for though situated inside India, none of the Indian laws apply here (They are supposed to have 2 trees representing Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha!). Jamadagni (Parashuram's father) is their god and they consider him the strongest and sacred of all gods!, Guide explains as we climb up to the village. This means none of the outsiders are allowed to go even near the temple. What's worse, they consider some of the stones lying around as sacred, so if you touch it by mistake you are fined Rs 1000 flat. By the way he says they use this money to buy a goat a sacrifice it. Yuck! The village itself, as it turns out, is very dirty and nothing significant, except for a few wooden houses that are beautiful. It's also sad to see people wasting their lives for ganja. We are informed lots of foreigners camp here for months, though we hardly found any (may be because of war fears!) A hut in Himachal

Some of us return a bit early, not wanting to be later than promised time of 7:30. For all the trouble, we get an earful from the camp leader for leaving behind others. So much for being punctual! Being warned at the lower camps we are prepared to find camp leaders at higher altitude to be a bit jittery. Anyway nothing more to do for the day just eat and sleep.

Day 9: Today we go to the highest camp of the trek, Nagruni (10500ft). I have a 4-5 ft fall as I come out of the tent, but luckily didn't sprain or hurt myself. Would have been horrible to miss the best part of the trek due to some stupid fall. Water is damn cold. Have to brush in the same water. Amazing how fast we finish our morning activities in cold conditions J.

  We start at 8. No more villages ahead till Phullang, just mountains and us! We skirt Malana village, taking a narrow and steep path. At places, have to hold onto some bushes for support. After about 3 hours of trekking we break for lunch. Don't feel like eating, but still go through the motions. Stream water tastes wonderful, freezing as if just taken out from a refrigerator. Nagruni is another 4 hours. Begin to feel the height now. Need to take more frequent breaks to catch breath. No trees around just grass, find a few sheep dogs there. After about 2 hours we reach end of the grassland and forest begins. Guide seems to be lost at this moment, or as we later presumed was a plot to make us walk faster!! Rather a wise move, because we don't want to get caught in the rain, for then it will become slippery and would be risky climbing. The trek through the forest seems to be forever. As it is we have lost track of the time and so when we finally reach Nagruni camp we are totally surprised that it is just 2:30!

  The camp leader here is Mr. Shanmugam from Pondicherry, a very nice person. Not a trace of the fact that he hadn't met a soul the last 2 days. As I had mentioned earlier, the campsite gets better with height and Nagruni was no different. With snow capped peaks and lush green mountains around it was one step to heaven J. We see few vultures landing on a plateau, some 100ft from the camp. Thinking that they might be feeding on something, Gautham and I decide to venture out. Unfortunately they were through with whatever they were lunching on and have flown off, by the time we reach there. Disappointed we come back and have tea. Its cold and tea feels great.

  It's around 6:30 and we have just finished an early dinner, suddenly there is hailstorm. We waste no time in getting into the tent, and thinking that the day is over, we cozily get into sleeping bags, thoughtfully provided early by Mr. Shanmugam. Nature here doesn't stop surprising and soon we hear murmur of excitement from outside. Curious, we come out and to our amazement the sky is totally transformed. It is as if some one has splashed paints of different hues all over the sky. Such is the effect of the setting sun on the peaks and overhanging clouds, I stand transfixed not knowing whether to take pictures or just watch the drama unfolding all around me. It is surreal. The show is over as suddenly as it began.

  Tomorrow we climb to the highest point of our trek and cross the Chandrakhani pass. Groups that had come in early May had to get up at 2:30 so as to cross the pass at daybreak! We don't have to be so early, as there is hardly any snowfall, but still we have to get up by 4 and start at least by 5 towards Chandrakhani.

Day 10: Today is "the day". A day we had been all looking forward to. Not that the past few days haven't been exciting, but probably it is human nature that makes us partial towards reaching the top. We have our bed tea at around 4 and get ready for the climb.

  It may be the end of winter, but it is still quite cold. I put on my fleece jacket and we start climbing at 5:30 AM. A young kid, Rajinder, gives us good company on the way. I see some solid looking dogs, which he tells me are all sheep dogs and could be quite ferocious. Interestingly one of the dogs keeps us company throughout today's trek herding us along, as if we were his pack of sheep J. After about 4 hours and 1500ft of climb we finally reach Chandrakhani Pass. Chandrakhani Pass joins Malana valley to Kullu valley and I can only imagine how it would be if there were snow. We play in the little snow that is there. A couple of hundred yards from the actual pass we reach Trainer point. It is named so after a trainer who died in 80's trying to help someone cross the snow. We have reached the highest point of the trek. There are a few golden eagles flying in the sky that seems just out of the reach of our hands. I cant but think of the song "I believe I can fly". From now it is just downhill. We start climbing down at around 2:30 in the afternoon. We are climbing down but our minds are still at the top. After about 3 hours of climb down and some sore ankles we reach our final camp Phullung. This camp is right in the middle of the village. Tomorrow we will be reaching the base camp. Everyone in the group exchange address and promise to keep in touch. I don't know we will keep in touch or not but it is for sure that we will have the experience of Chandrakhani to treasure.

Day 11: Today we will walk to Nagar, from where catch a bus to Seobag, the base camp. Trek to Nagar is uneventful. It is 10 when we reach there and the next bus to Seobag, as we find out, is at 11. Venka, Nagesh and I decide to visit Roerich museum. Roerich with his wife Devika Rani lived right here and it is now converted into a Museum. As probably any Roerich art lover would agree Himalayas and the life here very much influenced his paintings. After enjoying the paintings and an adjacent museum on Himachali folk art we meet others at Nagar bus stop.

  It looks like the bus is delayed and we all huddle behind a truck, the space just enough for all of us to stand! Thus we reach the base camp each one ruminating on his tryst with the part of nature. Tagore had said of Roerich's paintings -- if an art can be comprehended in a language other than its own, then that art has failed. Himalaya is an art by nature probably nobody can truly comprehend, but surely no one can stop enjoying it.