The most difficult aspect of this journey is reaching Chamba. Whichever approach you take from the planes of Kangra/Pathankot, it takes a minimum of 5 hours to reach Chamba. 5 hours to cover 110 Kilometers and to top it all buses usually hibernate at the Pathankot bus stand for 2-3 hours, depending on the driver’s mood, which makes this journey to Chamba even more painful.
The trek starts from a village called Tyari, two kilometers before the popular Holi Village. The first bus to Holi starts at 6 am from Chamba, which is ideal for those who have enough time at their disposal. For lesser mortals like me, who have to trek aggressively because of time constraints, the only option was catching the 10 am bus. These buses go painfully slow. Sometimes I felt like getting down and walking all the way. But statistics reveal that getting down from a bus to Holi, that too when you have managed to ‘secure’ a seat is a suicidal mistake. Once you have given up your seat without any indication, you have no right to claim it as yours afterwards.
The bus takes not more than 4 hours to reach Tyari bridge. If you are one the 10 am bus you will be there by 2 pm. Now that means walking in scorching heat which is not the best way to start the trek. So I again advise taking the first bus available to Holi from Chamba, which starts at 6 am.
From Tyari bridge, you can do two things. Either start walking from the word go or take a cab which will take you till the ‘Uparli Tyari’, which will save you an hour or so. There are cabs waiting near the bridge and you can bargain a little to save some money. After negotiating a series of reverse and awkward curves, you find yourself at the Tyari Bhagwati Temple. That’s where the real trek starts. In case you have not got a cab, you’ll have to negotiate the same curves anyway.
When I reached Kalah village from Tyari bridge I was greeted by the concerned villagers:
“Aap akele hi aaye ho? (Have you come all alone?),” asked my host widening his eyes and looking around for my lost companions.
“Haan ji, yahan tak to akela hi hun. Aage dekho koi mile to (Yes, I have come on my own until here. Let’s see if I find someone to accompany me tomorrow.), “said I.
He shook his head in disbelief and asked me to follow him inside his house.
Within five minutes I was served hot tea and rotis.
They all kept looking at me and shaking their heads occasionally.
We shall accompany you tomorrow. You stay here tonight, no moving out at this time.
It was just 4.30 in the evening. But you don’t say no to someone who asks you this nicely”.
Now you have to bypass the village and follow the path to your right. Although you’ll find many people walking up and down on this trek, even if you are alone don’t worry- just follow the pipeline.
There is no dearth of water on this trek. The IPH Department has laid a solid pipeline network for the Kalah, Upper Tyari, Lower Tyari, and other surrounding villages directly from the river Ravi. The beautiful Holi Vilage and its helipad recede away as you gain height. Several trails (more than 10) coming from the mighty Dhauladhars that converge at Holi Village come out of the nothingness to surprise you.
“Keep Following the Pipeline”
There are enough resting points en-route. The first one is a shed where from you get a decent view of the Holi Village. The next one is far better and gives you a beautiful glimpse of the Ravi Valley.
“Do not forget the pipeline”
After an hour or so, you shall see a pile of wood stacked atop a green hill. That’s not the Kalah Village. That’s not even the temple you thought it was. It’s just a pile of wood. Why they stacked it up there, you might ask. We shall come to it later.
Soon the Kalah Village will appear. If you boarded the 10 am bus your best bet is to stay hereitself. If you start at 2 pm from Tyari bridge, and then take a cab till Upper Tyari, it will take you at least 2.5 hours to reach Kalah, which means it’s already 5 pm.
“The Pipeline ends here. Good Riddance!”
Unlike other villages I have stayed at, Kalah was free of bedbugs. There is a magnificent Kartik Swami’s temple at Kalah. It is believed that this temple has an ‘Ashtmukhi (Eight Faced) Idol’ of Kartik Swami. There are plums, apricots, and apples all around Kalah. There is a primary school as well. I think there is no health center at Kalah.
Now, from here on you can divide your journey according to your walking capacity. If you can walk 14-15 kilometers a day, you can reach the lake on the same day and halt there, in the company of the Manimahesh Kailash. There are enough camping grounds en-route.
However, I decided to go back to Chamba on the same day. That meant I had to walk more than 25 kilometers that day. A decent sleep at night, nicely cooked home food served with local beer meant I could achieve my goal. However, August is a rainy season. It rained furiously the whole night. Just a week ago, I had survived a flash flood en-route the Darati Pass (4700 Meters) in Chamba. I prayed to the Mother Nature to let it pass silently. Somehow, the night passed and I was still determined to reach Chamba.
This trek is just like the Hadsar trail -perfectly marked and lively. However, unlike the Hadsar trail, this one is free from any human trash and plastic. There are enough resting points at frequent intervals. The first habitation comes at Drammad after three hours where you’ll find a couple of gaddis’ (shepherds) and IPH guys trying to extend the pipeline that you thought you had left at Kalah.
Every year a babaji organizes a langar seva here for the pilgrims coming from Kangra and Holi. So in case you plan to visit during the Manimahesh Season, you don’t have to carry your food or tents. They are even constructing a new road on the right bank of the Kalah/Manimahesh Nallah, which is far better but longer than the old route on the left bank.
Because I wanted to save time, I took the old route, which was not maintained anymore because the new road was under construction. Surprisingly, there were monkeys and they were making it difficult to walk on loose boulders. On the new road, I could see people waving at me and asking me to join them. They were IPH workers carrying pipes. Soon those guys disappeared and I was alone in that jungle.
There was no pipeline to be followed. There were monkeys following me. And then I saw a black bear. The moment I saw the bear, I believe I ran faster than Milkha Singh Ji and Usain Bolt combined. I was approaching Jail Khadd and because I was told that a gaddi sits there, I was hopeful to find some solace in his company. Unfortunately, he too had shifted somewhere up in the mountains this time. Jail Khadd was deserted and now I had the uphill task of climbing the slippery boulders to reach the Sukh Dali Lake.
The signboard read Manimahesh Lake 6 Kilometers. My mobile showed 10.20 am. Exactly 4 hours since I left Kalah Village. There was a long way to go and at least 1200 meters to climb.
From Jail Khad to Sukh Dali it is a tiring walk. There are massive waterfalls around and the noise is deafening.The fragrance of incense sticks flows in the air here. Devdarshan Dhoop, anyone?
In the Himalayas, it is advised not to spend much time at the top of the pass and in the Manimahesh and Pir Panjal Ranges, it is advised not to overdo these fragrances much. It works like cannabis and often leads you to a nauseated stage where all you want to do is to lay down and breathe in as much as your lungs and nose can absorb.
I tried smelling these herbs because. Nausea followed and then I had to immerse my head in a cool shower. And that was the coldest shower I had ever taken.
And then there was another bear up in the mountains. This time I ran for my life. Although the bear was far-far away from me but I did not want to take chances with a bear? All I could think of was running hard and fast without slipping or falling. After a three hour struggle from Jail Khadd, I saw a stone welcoming me to the Sukh Dali.
Unexpectedly, the small lake (and hence the name Dali) was all dried up. There was supposed to be a gaddi here but he hadn’t come yet. These shepherds follow the Indic calendar system and because the Manimahesh Festival starts at 28th and commences sometimes in September, he was to come in the first week of August. My hopes of a hot cup of a tea were shattered. Now the only thing I could do was to walk more.
With a shout out to ‘Mahadev’, I started to finish it once and for all. The top of the pass is hardly 1km from the Sukh Dali but the boulders are loose and when it rains, it becomes slippery. On top of that, foggy weather was a disappointment.
The view from the top of every pass is mesmerizing but Kalah Pass is special because it lets you see the Kailash in its full glory. The Kailash appears so close that you can actually throw a stone at it. Or maybe jump and touch it. The pass flags and ‘trishuls’ appear from a distance. To your right is the sacred Kuja Peak and in front of you is the Holy abode of Lord Shiva. The fog hadn’t cleared a bit and it started raining. I decided to wait for my first interaction with Kailash. The clock showed 3.30 pm.
I kept looking in the direction of Kailash for long. Soon all disappeared, it was all foggy but the fog had cleared. The Kailash was nowhere to be seen but I knew I had seen something beautiful. The Himalayas make you philosophical.
It was already 4.30 and I was feeling nauseous due to smelling herbs. I started to walk down and soon the Manimahesh Lake was in sight.Kailash had decided to play the game of hide –n- seek. And without saying hello to my beloved Kailash, I wasn’t going to leave for Chamba. I could but I did not.
I decided to spend the night at the lake itself. With tents set up and sleeping arrangements available, you don’t even have to carry your sleeping bag. But if the plan is to do this trek in 4 days (recommended) then carry your sleeping bag with you. During the pilgrimage season, you need not carry your tent as there are enough sleeping arrangements on the way.
From Sukh Dali to the Lake, you’ll find no water on this otherwise water-rich trail. And remember you have to start from 4200 meters (Sukh Dali) to the top (4618 meters), to the lake (400 meters). And without water this elevation roller coaster is dangerous. In the anticipation of meeting Kailash, I forgot to drink water. Six hours passed without water and I slept disappointed. That night my head rang like a tin can. The night passed by somehow.
I guess I was the first one to get up on the next day. I wanted to see the Kailash before sunrise. Alas! That didn’t happen. It was still raining and Kailash was hidden behind thick layers of bluish fog. I kept waiting in the dark for two hours. My headache was gone or probably I was too busy to notice any pain.
At 5.45 am I saw what I had wanted to see for long. The mighty Chamba Kailash peak came out of the foggy whites to say hello to me. It was a lifetime achievement of sorts for me. I clicked 56 pictures of Kailash in the next one hour. Not that I managed to click something extraordinary but I feared its disappearance behind the foggy sheet.
With my bags packed and head spinning again, I bade goodbye to Kailash and embarked on a return journey with a promise to return.
The return route was via the Hadsar trail. I must add that we Indians believe in God but we do not care about the living conditions of our Gods. Plastic littered all around the place makes one feel sick. I wonder when our definition of humanity will will include loving Mother Nature and considering it our own.
From Manimahesh Lake, the nearest settlement, Hadsar, on Bharmaur side, is 12 kilometers. Bharmaur is another 13 kilometers from Hadsar. You get frequent buses from Bharmaur to Chamba. For Hadsar to Bharmaur you can always hire a cab for Rs.250-350 or get a shared cab.
If you intend to go round the Manimahesh Kailash, to catch a glimpse of every face, head towards the Kugti Village, some 10 kilometers from Hadsar. This sets you on another beautiful journey- the Manimahesh Kailash Parikrama.
P.S. Never trek alone in the Himalayas. There is a thin line between adventure and stupidity. Never cross that line.