Kugti Pass is not a common trail. Yet it is one of those high altitude trails that delight the heart of a true trekker.
There are very few trails in our country that climbs up to 16,600 feet as the Kugti Pass trek does. The Kugti Pass trek is a challenging trail – with its long pass day, high altitude and walks over snow, moraine, glacier and bottomless landslides – and it delights you in every way. Here are my 3 reasons to do the trek.
The thrill of climbing to the Kugti Pass and descending from it is extremely high.
From the Alyas campsite at 14,000 feet, the Kugti pass looks like a tiny gap in the mountain so high that even getting there looks daunting. The trail from Alyas snakes through a thrilling climb over snow, moraines and glacier to reach a platform of snow at 15,000 feet. From the snow platform you launch the final assault to the Kugti pass.
Climbing to the top of Kugti Pass
The one hour of pure adrenaline rush over snow and boulders to the pass at 16,600 feet will leave you gushing. It is almost a vertical climb.
I have done many pass crossings in the Himalayas but the Kugti Pass crossing is one of the best that I have ever done.
When you descend from the pass, it is a straight drop of over 1,500 feet. In June you are likely to descend entirely on snow – and the only way to get down is to slide! Those who have done the Rupin Pass trek will recall the long sliding descent from the pass on snow – well the Kugti Pass slide is the longest and the steepest slide on snow that you will ever do. The thrill is incredible.
On the Kugti Pass trek, Day 2 of the trail has views that are iconic.
Though, Day 2 starts from the Kugti Village – I would include the trail that is half hour before Kugti village as part of my Day 2 special. The trail gets into a thick pine forest – I must admit, extremely beautiful. Around a bend in the trail, through the pines Kugti village suddenly jumps into view, perched on top of a cliff rising 1,000 feet over the Budhil river. Smoke curl into the air from sloping roofs of the village homes. The double storied wooden houses complete a most picturesque setting.
A little outside Kugti the trail weaves in and out of apple orchards and other fields of the Kugti villagers. The slopes are a riot of red, yellow and green, so contrasting that it is unlike any other hill farms that you have seen.
But the two best things about the day’s trek are yet ahead.
The first of these is the trail to the Kelang temple. The temple comes into view from a fair distance, perched high in the mountain glued to the green meadows surrounding it – so pretty is the sight that your legs get a fresh energy just to get to it.
Nearing the Kelang* temple I was startled to see another structure shaped like a hut perched 2,000 feet higher at the very edge of a precipice on the opposite cliff. I couldn’t fathom how something got built there in the first place. I found out the locals call it the Mata Marala temple. I tried looking for a trail heading up to the temple. I couldn’t find any. None of the locals knew too. Yet, there it was, a temple hanging out on the edge of the cliff clearly outlined in the sky.
* The Kelang temple with its dedication to Lord Karthik (a South Indian God actually – and that itself is a peculiarity) has a strange ritual of pilgrims leaving behind a Trishul, Sangal and Sothu behind as an offering. Hundreds of these metal rods and chains line the walls of the temple – the heavier and bigger, the more significant the offering – this is bound to get the curiosity of any trekker.
The trail out of the temple climbs over a bump in the meadow and plunges into a dense coniferous forest with junipers lining its undergrowth. The forest ends quickly and the trail opens out to a view of the T-shaped Duggi valley. This is the second best thing about the days trek.
The valley is unique. Two rivers flow down from high in the hills (with their own valley) to converge at a very large flat green meadow forming a ‘T’. The splendor of the rivers meeting and the lushness of the greenery make this the best thing about the days trek. What takes the cake is the opportunity to camp in the meadow between the two rivers. This is the Duggi valley campsite!
The Alyas campsites on either side of the Kugti Pass
Both the campsites on either side of the Kugti Pass are on meadows. Both are called Alyas — Alyas is generic names for the meadow campsites before and after a pass crossing. And both meadows are spectacular.
The Alyas before the crossing is a vast green table top that meets you suddenly when you climb into it. Looking behind snow peaks and clouds are below you. And forming a U-shaped wall around the meadow are the towering peaks of Chamba. Millions of flowers bloom in this greenery. Camping in this setting with the snowy flanks of the Kugti Pass right in front is enough reason to spend an extra day at Alyas.
Descending from the long pass crossing, the Alyas on the other side is another splendor. Unlike a flat meadow, the Kodlu Alyas is a series of long green undulating shelves on the mountainside – each shelf connected to each other. At the bottom of the last shelf, where the valley widens and bottoms out, runs the Kodlu nala.
The campsite is a lushness of green that begs to be camped on – surrounded by lofty desert like mountains of Lahaul. Behind are the giant moraines from the bowels of which you descended the previous day.
So here are they: Do the Kugti Pass trek for the thrill and the challenge of the pass crossing, do it for the magnificent trail on Day 2 and do it for the amazing campsites on the entire trek.