Chai with an Explorer - Why the Ghepan Lake was my most special exploration

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Chai with an Explorer - Why the Ghepan Lake was my most special exploration

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By Aayush Jakhete

2022-07-28

Last month, I was assigned to document a trek to a striking blue lake in the heart of Lahaul - The Ghepan Lake. 

At Indiahikes, we always wanted to trek in Lahaul. The barren mountains with snow-covered peaks, lush green valleys at the bottom with rivers snaking through them and glacial lakes that were inky blue – the scenery was always absolutely stunning.

But to our dismay, the Rohtang Pass would act as a boundary between Lahaul and Spiti, making it hard to access Lahaul.

With the opening of the Atal Tunnel, though, came the possibility of trekking in Lahaul, when Lahaul was at its absolute best!

So naturally, when we heard about this trek to Ghepan Lake, our team members excitedly set sail to experience this lake. They returned utterly awestruck.

I got to interview the person who explored this trek — Ravi Ranjan — Slope Manager at Indiahikes, who explored this trek in August 2021, along with Ayushi Arora, former Trek Leader at Indiahikes.  

 This post is an in-depth interview with Ravi, where he takes us through the sceneries and emotions he saw and felt on the trek.  

Before I get into the interview, Let me tell you about Ravi.

Ravi is one of the most experienced team members at Indiahikes. He has been at Indiahikes for 4 years, first as a Trek Leader and then as a Slope Manager. As a Trek Leader, Ravi has led about 27 treks and even explored 10 treks in the remotest areas of Kashmir, Himachal and Uttarakhand. 

He now leads the operations for all our Himachal treks. We famously call him the weatherman at Indiahikes since he does weather forecasting for our future treks. 

At the start of the interview, Ravi excitedly told me that out of all the treks he has led and the explorations he has done, Ghepan Lake has turned into his favourite trek. I could hardly believe it.

For someone who trekked and explored endless places in India; been to the most beautiful parts of our country — how and why was the Ghepan Lake his favourite trek?

Ravi then took me through his exploration story. It absolutely blew me away. I thought everyone should be able to read his experience. I'm sharing it with you today.

| Hello, Ravi Sir. So, the Ghepan Lake. When did you explore this trek? 

Ravi: Hello, Aayush. Yes. We explored the trek in August 2021.

| And how did that exploration come about?

Ravi: August 2021 only. It was the first time the Atal tunnel opened to the regular public. Back then, we were operating treks only from the Manali region. Just because the tunnel was opened, It gave us hope to explore treks in Lahaul and Spiti areas. In Lahaul, we came to know about the Miyar Valley trek. Once we explored the Miyar Valley Trek, it became a huge success. The explorers appreciated and liked the trek. It gave us an idea to explore more treks in Lahaul Valley. 

In the same region, Ghepan Lake was quite a doable trek in the vicinity of Manali. We were all aware of this location. We had heard several stories about Ghepan Lake. It was just who would go to explore and document the trek? 

I wanted to explore the trek, considering I had my personal liking for the Lahaul region. That's why I chose to go to explore this trek.

| What made you have that personal liking for the Lahaul region?

Ravi: Firstly, Lahaul is in the rain shadow area. It's an entirely different topography and physically separate from how the rest of Himachal is placed. It combines pretty high mountains, and the roads almost always travel above 10,000 feet. You always see the river on the other side as a deep gorge and those big mountains hanging around you. 

Then you have the greenery, which is the best part; the vegetation all across will always attract anybody who goes into this region. The first time I went to Lahaul was in 2011 on a motorbike trip while returning from Leh, Sarchu, Zingzingbar and all. 

When I entered the Lahaul area, I was blown away by the beauty. I always wondered whether someday I could return. 

On the other hand, access to Lahaul had challenges because of Rohtang Pass. We used to go directly from Rohtang pass towards Chhatru. Yari-Khoksar was a village near the point where the road from Rohtang Pass directly joined. So there was no need for people to go towards the Lahaul Valley. People, from that point, go to a village called Koksar. Koksar is like a boundary between the Spiti and Lahaul regions. That's why we were never able to go to Lahaul. 

We used to travel from Rohtang Pass directly to Chhatru. Koksar was the boundary between Lahaul and Spiti. Atal Tunnel changed all of that. You could directly enter Lahaul from Manali via Atal Tunnel. Image from Google maps.

Still, the moment I heard the stories of the Ghepan Lake trek and after seeing the pictures - I mean, I could not believe the lake. Its colour was blue in every picture I saw, no matter the time of day. I just had to see it with my own eyes. 

Most of the lakes people see — Pangong, Chanadratal and Songri are always blue in pictures, in colour. I had already seen Chandratal. I knew it was blue only when there was a clear blue sky. The colour was purely a reflection. Otherwise, the lake was based on the sky colour and changed frequently. 

Ghepan Lake was not like that. It is always blue. So that interested me; I wanted to know how this lake was always blue.

 

This intrigued me to explore this trek, but the lake was not my primary reason to go on the trek. It was mainly to explore the Lahaul region. I wanted to do a trek in the Lahaul region.

Serene Lahaul Valley. Full of big mountains and valleys with unique landscapes. Image by Jothiranjan

| So, coming to the Lahaul Region and Ghepan Lake, what are the highlights of this trek and the region itself? Why should someone do this trek? 

- The Road Journey & Sissu Village

Okay, so one of the biggest highlights is getting away from the hustle and bustle of that whole Manali region because that place is quite crowded. You get a less crowded area with fewer constructions at a distance of only 30 kilometres from Manali. 

The drive takes you to the basecamp, Sissu. It's bliss. Especially if you come in July, August, or September, people grow various things on their farmland like cauliflowers, lettuce and all those ornamental vegetables. They grow around Sissu. It looks gorgeous. You don't see this around Manali because their people usually grow commercial apples here. 

And then, Sissu itself is a beautiful place. There is a heart-shaped waterfall known as PlumDhara. There is Sissu lake. So many people visit Sissu, just to see this, and sometimes stay there. 

Atal tunnel has become a tourist attraction. Passing through this nine kilometre long tunnel and seeing such development at this scale makes you proud. The roads are lovely, and the air in the Lahaul region has some sort of serenity. It is clean. It's clear, and the mountains on both sides and the valley in between — you don't see such huge mountains, and you are right, right in between, on such beautiful roads. Like the road, the ride is terrific. So just going to Sissu Village is the first highlight.

Sissu Village. A secluded gem 30 km from Manali. You see lettuce and cauliflowers all around you. Image taken by Jothiranjan

- Culture on the Trek

The second highlight is the culture on the trek. Sissu is a small tourist place, but the actual village from where the trek starts is three kilometres before Sissu, called Yangling. From that location, the trek goes up.  

We stay in Sissu on Day 1 because homestays are available only there. Still, if tomorrow someone had a homestay in Yangling, we would rather have trekkers stay there. Because it'll add to the authenticity of the culture of this trek. 

You will see both temples and monasteries. Simultaneously at locations, people's names also combine Ladakhi and Himachal names. So you come across completely different cultures, which is a refreshing highlight.  

Yangling is the start point of the trek. Full of temples and monasteries. Picture by Jothiranjan

- Start of the Trek

The next highlight I will discuss is the trek's start. At about 11,500 ft, the trek's start is relatively high. The moment you enter the valley at the beginning, it's a narrow cum open valley. It’s very different from Miyar Valley in the same region.

In the Miyar valley trek, you are walking in a flat valley. Here, you are walking on the mountain ridge. You traverse along the ridge. You have massive mountains to your left, to your right, behind, forward, everywhere! You see mountains behind you like Shikarbe and Mukharbe. You see a couple of other mountains as well, which are always snow-laden, and glaciers tumbling down from there. 

Traversing along the ridge. You see snow laden mountains full of glaciers all around you. Picture by Ravi Ranjan

When you start from Sissu, you see the heart-shaped waterfall- PlumDhara. And as you trek ahead, you see the same waterfall below you on the other side. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you'll see the waterfall coming from a glacier, and you can see the entire glacier! So the starting point is quite a beautiful treat to your eyes. People can even walk to the heart-shaped waterfall. 

Heart Shaped Waterfall popularly known as Plum Dhara in Sissu. You can even walk to the waterfall! Notice the cauliflower field on your right. Picture by Jothiranjan

- The trek to Ghepan Lake

The next highlight I would like to talk about is the trek to Ghepan Lake. The valley is narrower than any other in Lahaul. Unlike Miyar, where there are massive clearings every 500 metres, the clearings on this trek are few. The trail is mainly bouldery, and you traverse along the slopes with a small stream crossing.

Boulder section, River crossing - All along the trek! Picture by Jothiranjan

You'll see red bistorts all along the trek. In August, this place comes alive full of red bistorts. Oh my god, they are too much! The flowers are also the highlight of this trek. It makes the trail extremely enjoyable.  

Himalayan Red Bistorts. You’ll find these flowers laid out all around not only on the trek but also Lahaul Valley! Picture by Ravi Ranjan

Aayush: Wow!

- The Ghepan Lake

Now, The best part, which is also the biggest highlight of this trek – the Lake. Until 500 metres before the Lake, you don't even have an idea that there is such a vast big lake ahead. On any other treks, you get a glimpse of something from a distance or know you are getting somewhere. You start to see it. 

But no, it's not like that on the Ghepan Lake trek. It just, you walk, walk, walk, and suddenly you see a blue coloured tail. When I first saw this lake for the first time, I just saw that last snout of the lake. And initially I felt that I had to reconfirm if it was the Ghepan Lake or a blue tarpaulin sheet on top. I looked at it and thought — okay, let me just go a little ahead because I felt it should be a lake. But in my mind, I didn't know. It just couldn't be that blue. 

The last 500 metres! You see a blue coloured tail looking like a blue tarpool sheet. Look how blue that lake is! Picture by Ravi Ranjan

Then I started moving forward. Then I began to say, oh my God! It's like mind-blowing blue. There are different kinds of blue — Navy blue, light blue, this blue, that blue. But the Ghepan Lake blue was mind-blowing blue.

I could have followed the ridge and gone straight to the lake, but I traversed along the mountain to get a panoramic view because I wondered how big this lake was. 

And after reaching there, I just gasped. It was like a long, big lake — a lake longer than anything I had ever seen. It was not bigger than Chandratal, but it was long. It was much longer than Chandratal. There was a small island in the lake. And the island had beautiful plants on top of it, which were visible from a distance. It was surreal.

The mind blowingly blue ghepan lake with an island in the middle. Longer than anything Ravi had ever seen. Picture by Jothiranjan

And then there were icebergs floating on the Lake.

Aayush: Icebergs??!

Ravi: Yes, Icebergs. So there is a glacier. This is a glacial lake. Glacial lakes are also known as "tarns". So this glacier is melting. The water is coming into the lake, but the glacier is not melting like how the Gaumukh glacier melts. The water's coming down and from the top, and ice slabs are falling on the water. 

Water depositing into the lake surrounded by icebergs. Just breathtaking. Image by Jothiranjan

Sometimes you'll hear a deafening thudding sound in the middle of the night. And that is actually the ice breaking off. There are many ice blue ice boulders floating around. That just adds to the beauty of this Lake. 

Aayush: Can you camp there?

No, no, you can't camp there. It's a holy lake where people pray. The lake is named after the king of Lahaul — King Ghepan — making it a revered location. When I went to the village, people said not to touch the water or camp there.  

This lake is also surrounded by tall, massive mountains, fully closed from all sides. There is only one entrance, and nobody can enter from any other side. So the entire setting is like an open cave. Only one opening. It is closed off from the whole of the world.

The Ghepan lake is surrounded by big mountains with glacial pockets between them.  Image by Jothiranjan

Aayush: An open cave?

Ravi: Yeah. And in between these mountains, there are pockets. In each of these pockets, there are small glaciers. 

From these glaciers, waterfalls come down. Around the lake, you will see a lot of waterfalls. So you witness waterfalls from all these glaciers coming down on the lake. 

The lake is blue even in the evening. As blue as you see. Even without the blue sky. 

Blue. Even without the reflection of the blue sky. It’s the silt deposit that makes it blue. Image by Jothiranjan

| Wow. How is it this blue even now? Usually, the sky's reflection makes it blue. Right? 

Ravi: Yeah. I studied about it, and there are a few theories that this water consists of a kind of a silt. Silt is sediment. And that sediment absorbs all the light and only reflects blue colour. So this is the natural capacity of this lake and not the reflection of the sky. It's a rare phenomenon.

- The Glacier

And now, last and as parallel as this lake itself is the glacier. So it's a massive glacier. I don't know any treks that take you to a place where you see a whole glacier from starting till the end, right in front of you. You see this glacier hanging from every angle you see. The whole glacier is moving around and ends at the lake.

Full view of the glacier. This is the only place where you’ll see a glacier right from its start to its end! Unlike any other. Image by Jothiranjan

Close up view of the same glacier. Image by Jothiranjan

Aayush: Woah!

Ravi: So if you go to gaumukh. You see, only the end part of gaumukh. And Gaumukh is a long glacier. But on Ghepan Lake, you see the whole glacier.

For a 5 day trek, if you get this kind of view from the top, I will say it is mind-blowing. That's why whoever asked me — for me, this final experience is one of the best experiences, probably the best. And I'm telling you, this is not comparable.

After reaching that glacier and the lake, Ayushi started crying. She sat down, and for 10 minutes, she cried nonstop. She kept telling me that she couldn't imagine and believe something like this existed. She couldn't believe what she was witnessing in front of her eyes.

| And How were you feeling? I was going to come to the question, like, how did you feel when you were reached there? You trekked. You couldn't see the lake and the glacier. Then suddenly you see it. How was that feeling?

Ravi: I couldn't imagine. I didn't know what to do. I just couldn't think. I didn't know what I was feeling. But when you reach a summit, what happens?

Either you burst out of tears, or you start jumping outta joy. When I reached there, I was speechless, just speechless, and the moment it was getting bigger and bigger — I was like, Oh my God. Oh my God. Every step you take and then, oh my God, like it's just, just coming out naturally. 

And you are just wondering how much, I mean, how big, how beautiful it can be, how more beautiful can it really be? This just couldn't be real. As you take each step, you see it becoming more and more beautiful.

I have been to many locations and have done so many treks myself. I would say I've also had different experiences — good experiences, great experiences. But this is something I can't ever forget. 

It's something like somebody comes in front of you like a random person, and he hands you a card. And then it suddenly turns into a rose, like magic. So it's like that. I was expecting this to be a pretty lake, like Chandratal. But then it ultimately turned into one of my favourite lakes in a flick of a second. I just couldn't imagine that only after a 9 km trek I'll get to witness this lake. 

On top of that, this place is still untouched, and somewhere deep in my heart, I feel that it should be like that, it should remain unchanged.  

That's how it was. That was my feeling — it was magic. Just left me speechless. It was a magical location. It didn't feel like we were camping on earth. It felt like we were in paradise. 

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Aayush Jakhete

Trek Page Manager

About the author

Aayush manages the trek pages at Indiahikes. Born & brought in Mumbai, trekking in the Sahayadris has been a huge part of his life. Aayush holds a bachelors degree in computer science & a master's degree in finance. Aayush deeply resonates with the vision of "everyone must trek" and wishes to impact peoples lives through trekking. He believes that trekking has an intangible way of transforming people from all ages and walks of life. This stemmed from his own experience at the Gaumukh Tapovan trek. Apart from work, Aayush likes trekking, reading, football and investing. You can get in touch with him at aayush@indiahikes.com