The Complete Guide to Sar Pass Trek
Sar Pass is a perfect trek for beginners. It’s apt for those who want to experience all kinds of terrain. Forests, meadows, quaint villages, or snow-covered mountains, this trail offers a gamut of experiences to trekkers. Prashant Jha, a post-graduate from BITS Pilani shares details of this well-explored trek, which lies in the Parvati valley of Himachal Pradesh.
The trek starts from Kasol, which is a haven for backpackers from around the globe, and attracts large weekend crowds; many of which are the city youth, eager for a slice of the bohemian lifestyle. To cater to the tourists, the shops are well-stocked with both, necessities and luxuries.
There are plenty of stay options – both, pocket-friendly and high-end, and one can choose from Israeli, Continental, Indian, and Chinese cuisines.
➤ Short Itinerary
An ideal trek for beginners
- Trek through forests, meadows and quaint villages.
- Climb to the summit of Sar Pass at 13,799 feet for stunning views of snow-capped mountains.
- The trek starts from Kasol, which is a haven for backpackers from around the globe.
- This trail attracts large weekend crowds.
➤ Trail Information
Day 1: Kasol to Grahan village
- Altitude: 1,700 m to 2,350 m
- Distance: 10 km
- Time taken: 4-5 hours
The trail from Kasol to Grahan is a marked one through forests, following the Grahan nalah. It starts from the centre of Kasol and keeps to the true left of the nalah. The trail is easy to navigate and is frequently used by villagers. The gradient being gentle, one can effortlessly cover much distance in a matter of hours.
The trail crosses the nalah and continues, before abruptly becoming rocky and climbing uphill, away from the right bank of the river. One may be led to believe that this is not the right path, but one must not go astray.
Soon, the trees give way to grass and shrubs. One can see some fields as well and can spot bright coloured tarpaulins. These are makeshift stalls with the vendors selling refreshments like tea, omelettes and rhododendron syrup! Rhododendrons (locally known as buras) grow in forests that receive snowfall. Their bright red flowers bloom in spring and are collected to make syrup. Rhododendron petals can be eaten whole and the syrup can be mixed with water to make a refreshing drink (I discovered the benefits of rhododendron on my Har-ki-dun trip, where I happily chewed on a liberal amount of the tangy petals and felt energized immediately).
After a steep climb of about an hour, look out for the village of Grahan, situated on the top of a hill. Camp there for the night. Accommodation is available in guest houses and there is a camping ground after crossing the village. There is a satellite phone in the village, and one may also get network coverage on cell phones.
Day 2: Grahan to Min Thach
- Altitude: 2,350 m to 3,400 m
- Distance: 7 km
- Time taken: 4-5 hours
From the camping ground at Grahan, a trail goes north, climbing up gently. Villagers use this path often in the morning. This is the way to Min Thach.
After walking for a while, the view opens up and a guide can point to you Min Thach, Nagaru, and Sar Top on the mountain to the right. The trail also becomes steeper and leads into the woods.
After some time, you enter a dense forest; the thick canopy lets in very little sunlight. The slope becomes steeper still and the path is confusing in places.
After toiling for a few hours, the forest opens up to a grassy patch on a ridge. This is Min Thach (“Thach“ means meadow in the local language; much like ‘Kanda’ or ‘Bughyal;’ it is where the villagers bring their cattle to graze).
To the north-west, across the horizon, stretch Chanderkhani and other ranges. The ridge-line continues to the east and rises up to a cliff covered in snow, on which sits the camp site of Nagaru (a guide can point it out).
To the south-east of the ridge, lie forests. There is some cleared space to pitch a tent. A seasonal vendor’s hut may be found here; it sells tea, coffee and omelettes. Nearby is also a tap that supplies potable water. One can camp here for the night; the ridge will protect you from strong winds. A trench should be dug around the tents so as to allow the natural drainage of water in the event of rain, hail, or snow.
Keeping one day to cover the distance from Grahan to Min Thach. It allows time for the body to acclimatise and warm-up for the trek ahead. However, seasoned trekkers can also start early from Kasol, break for an early lunch at Grahan, and reach Min Thach post-noon.
Day 3: Min Thach to Nagaru
- Altitude: 3,400 m to 3,800 m
- Distance: 8 km
- Time taken: 4-6 hours
From Min Thach, as the crow flies, Nagaru seems not far, but the route doesn’t go straight up the ridge-line; instead, it veers up to the south (looking up at the cliffs, towards the right) and goes into the woods. Depending on the weather, one may find snow here. It is always advisable to start early, for the weather is generally favourable before noon and the snow becomes more slippery later into the day.
After walking for a while, one comes to another ridge-line – a rocky one overlooking a grassy meadow down in the distance. The ridge goes steeply up to the left (eastward), to the cliffs, atop which Nagaru sits. The path to Nagaru goes up this ridge and is well-marked for some hundred metres, after which the tree-line ends and gives way to patches of grass and shrubs.
If there is snow, then great caution has to be exercised, for this is the trickiest and riskiest part of the trek – the slope falls steeply to the valley below and may be slippery! The trail, even if marked, may not be visible in snow. Here, having a guide and a trekking pole is of paramount importance; waterproof gloves will also come in handy. An ice-axe may be used by the guide to chisel away snow for getting a foothold. The trekker would also need to employ proper technique – digging into the snow with his toes, and only once firm foothold is established, putting the other foot ahead in the same fashion.
After a couple of hours, you finally reach a welcoming patch of flatland on top of the hill – this is Nagaru camp site. It feels like a different world! Facing north, one can see magnificent mountains rising steeply across the Parvati valley – with the town of Manikaran also visible. In the di stance, to the north-west lie Chanderkhani and the ranges of the Beas valley. Down below, to the left, one can spot the campsite of Min Thach and the village of Grahan. To the south is a vast expanse of snow rolling up the hill. It is in this direction that one has to continue to reach Sar Pass. However, neither the pass nor the top of the mountain is visible yet.
Though erratic, network coverage is available in some spots. A water tap can be seen near the western edge of the cliff and it may or may not be running, which is why water has to be carried from Min Thach. Camp must be established soon as the winds are very strong and the temperature dips very quickly after sunset.
It gets very cold at night due to the wind chill factor and sometimes the winds are so strong that tents get blown away! It is advisable to retire early, to protect yourself from the cold. Besides, the next day involves an early start.
Day 4: Nagaru – Sar Pass – Biskeri Thach
- Altitude: 3,800 m – 4,200 m – 3,350 m
- Distance: 14 km
- Time taken: 6-8 hours
Wake up before dawn. The previous day’s trek would have acclimatised you for today’s long trek – the same techniques need to be employed. The climb to Sar Pass follows the ridge-line in a southward direction and is steep in some stretches. Feel free to keep up a slow but steady pace as you climb through snow at high altitude.
The snow is easier to walk on and the heavenly surroundings keep one’s spirits high. After climbing up the hill seen from Nagaru, a higher hill that has to be climbed comes into view. A third of the distance to Sar Pass has been covered. To one’s right falls the cliff steeply to the valley below, the ridge is sharper and the climb steeper; so one must be careful. If there has been good snow recently, the climb is similar to what mountaineers are shown doing using ice-axes and crampons!
After climbing for what seems like a long time, one reaches the top of the hill and a sigh of relief and joy escapes as one beholds the view ahead. From the image searches on the web, one would know that this is Sar Pass! Sar Pass derives its name from ‘Sar,’ which means ‘pond,’ but the ‘Sar’ is mostly frozen till late in summer. The pass is not the kind one would have in mind – there is no saddle in the mountain range to cross.
The view opens up eastward – the lofty peaks of the Tosh valley are now visible as well. To the south extends the white blanket of snow, flanked by snow-capped mountains – the highest of which seems to be within reach. However, it would take a couple of hours to summit and much distance has to be covered before the next camp.
The onward route moves away from high ground, to the south-east, following the contours of the hill. With deep valleys on the left, one has to walk carefully. After some time, the path climbs up to a ridge running across, and one can see a flag tied to a ‘Trishul’ at the top. The slope is very steep in the last stretch and buried in the snow, one may find a rope, which can be held on to while climbing. This is a pass in the truer sense.
As one reaches the top, the view is exhilarating. After a sharp drop of some hundred feet, unfolds a beautiful valley ahead (This was the highlight of my trek – I had braved snowfall and poor visibility, and my excitement reached a zenith when I reached the top and saw the surreal sight before me!). As one is soaking in the heavenly beauty of the place, a realisation suddenly hits – there is no way to get down the hundred feet drop but by sliding!
The slide is the most fun and completely harmless as long as some precautions are taken – loose belongings (phones, goggles) should be kept inside the bag and the legs should be kept tight together and not be dug in the snow if one wishes to slow down speed; for this, elbows kept firmly by the side of the trunk can be pushed back into the snow.
The slide takes one as far as a kilometre (depending on the snow conditions) to a gentler slope of the valley. After walking for some time, you come across another slope in the valley (not as steep as the first one) and depending upon the snow conditions, you can choose to slide again, for longer than a kilometre, till you reach a level ground. The third change in slope (steeper than the second) comes not long after, and can be covered by sliding again (if there is snow).
The slide will take you past snow covered trees, through a valley that has now narrowed, and bring into view to the left, a lovely meadow. This is the camp site of Biskeri Thach, which is reached after crossing a few streams.
Biskeri presents a sublime view of the pine forests, the majestic mountains and lovely grasslands. The villages of Tosh, Pulga-Tulga, Bursheni, and Nakthan can be seen in the valley below. The grassland of Bun-Buni lies atop a ridge to the north-east. Nearby is a waterfall that comes down from the mountains that form a backdrop behind Biskeri. There is no dearth of water as a stream runs beside the camp site and there also is a water tap. Network coverage is also available.
Day 5: Biskeri Thach to Bursheni
- Altitude: 3,350 m to 2,400 m
- Distance: 10 km
- Time taken: 4-5 hours
From Biskeri, a steep path goes down, keeping to the left of the stream. After some time, cross the stream and walk across a plot of land with fencing. The trail ends here, so one has to go through the plot (search for a breach in the fence) to find the trail again, which leads into the dense forest.
There are many trails here and only a guide can tell the right one, which keeps to the north-east. After descending in the dense forest for a good time, spot a crossing on a stream, with a camp site across. However, to get to the crossing is tricky! You have to rappel down twenty feet of rock with the help of a rope. After crossing the stream on wooden planks, climb up to the camp site that has a few vendor tents. The path to the village of Pulga goes to the left of the camp site.
Soon after, one comes to grassland fringed by trees, which is one of the most beautiful places in the entire trek. The path continues through a dry channel into the woods, the descent becoming steep again. In some time, one reaches a clearing in the forest where trees have been felled. The path continues to go down past a fenced property, and reaches a lumber yard belonging to the forest department. The track goes past, following a water pipeline that takes you to the village of Pulga.
The twin villages of Pulga and Tulga are separated by a stream. From Tulga, one crosses a bridge on the river Parvati, which has been dammed ahead for a hydroelectric power project, to reach the village of Bursheni. Bursheni is the last village in the Parvati valley connected by road (a bumpy one) and is used as the road head for treks to Kheerganga, Mantalai Lake, Pin Parvati Pass and for treks in the Tosh valley. You can get buses or taxis to Kasol, Bhuntar and other places from here.
Thus comes to end a trek, the memories of which would be cherished for long.
➤ What to Take on Your Trek
Watch this instructional video about what to take and what not to take on a high altitude trek.
- Backpack (40-60 litres): Backpack with sturdy straps and supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.
- Daypack (20 litres): It is mandatory to carry a daypack if you choose to offload your backpack. If you decide to carry your backpack, day pack is not required.
- Trekking shoes: No sports shoes. The shoes need to have soles with good grip and ankle support. Do not wear a new shoe to a trek. It might cause blisters. Before bringing them to trek, wear it for a week to make it softer. We recommend FORCLAZ 100, 500, and 600.
- Socks (3 pairs): 2 cotton pairs, 2 woolen pairs (mostly to be used on campsites and while sleeping. Keep them dry.)
CLOTHES – REGULAR
- Trek pants (3 pairs including the one you are wearing): We highly endorse synthetic quick-dry pants as they are light. Plus, when it’s cold you can wear one over the other. While trekking a pair is what you would carry apart from the worn. You could keep the third pair for your return journey. Alternative : Cotton pant with many pockets / Track pants are comfortable too. Please do not get Denim jeans, shorts or 3 quarters to trek.
- Collared t-shirts (3 pairs including the one you are wearing):Preferably light, full sleeve t-shirts. The collar and the sleeves prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Avoid loud colors that would distract birds and animals.
- Full sleeve woolens (2 pairs including the one you are wearing):We endorse fleece over wool as it is light weight, compact and warm.
- Thick jacket: Carry 1 hollow full sleeve windproof jacket/down jacket
- Thermal inners: 1 pair of lightweight, upper and lower (optional)
- Raincoat/poncho: A lightweight poncho is preferred as it covers your rucksack as well from top. Raincoat can also be used as wind proof when required. Enquire Indiahikes for availability of ponchos at the base camp.
- Balaclava: The cap must cover your ears and neck. You may also use scarves.
- Synthetic handgloves: Ensure that the gloves are waterproof.
- Suncap: 1 pair of nice warm gloves required, fleece or woolen. 1 pair of water proof/resistant, wind proof gloves. You get very thin inner gloves nowadays. You may get one of those to use layering.
- Sunglasses: Curved ones will cover your eyes well. No blue coloured sunglass — they don’t block UV. Blacks, greens, browns are fine. Avoid multi tone sunglasses. Sunglasses prevent snow blindness. Sunglasses are mandatory for this trek.People who wear spectacles, choose one of these – contact lenses, photo chromatic glasses, or if either of the above is not possible, wear your spectacles and carry a big sunglass that can be worn over your spectacles.
- Toiletries (Sunscreen – SPF 40+, moisturiser, light towel, lipbalm/chap stick, small soap, toilet paper, wet tissue)
- Repair kit (needle & thread)
- Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
- Camera: Carry all accessories – spare batteries, charger, etc.
- Cutlery: Carry a plate, spoon, coffee mug & a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons. To save weight, you may use your lunch box to have food in it and also carry it.
- Water bottles: 2 bottles, 1 Litre each. Packaged drinking water bottles like Aquafina, Bisleri and others are not allowed.
- Trekking pole: Trekking pole is mandatory.
- Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalize things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT – Mandatory
- Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
- Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
- Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
- Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
- Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
- Disprin – 6 tablets (headache)
- Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
- Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
- Omez/ Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
- Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
- Gauze – 1 small roll
- Band aid – 10 strips
- Cotton – 1 small roll
- ORS – 10 packets
- Betadine or any antiseptic cream
- Moov spray (aches, & sprains)
Carry original and photocopy of government photo identity cards with you (driving license, voters ID, etc.)
Tips & Advice
- Avoid sports shoes. They are ill suited for trekking. We recommened FORCLAZ 100, 500, and 600. Wear the shoes for a week prior to the trek to avoid shoe bites/blisters on slope.
- We highly endorse synthetic quick-dry pants. They are light and can be worn in layers when it gets cold. Cotton pants/track pants are an alternative.
- Jeans,shorts and 3/4 pants are not suitable for trekking.
- Light full sleeve collared t-shirts are the best option. Avoid round neck t-shirts which exposes the neck during cold weather and may cause sun burns during the day.
- We endorse fleece jackets over wool as it is light weight, compact and warm. It is better to layer your clothing with multiple light sweaters than to carry one thick heavy jacket.
- Thermal inners are optional for those who are more sensitive to the cold.
- You may use scarves as an alternative to balaclavas.
- People who wear spectacles, choose one of these – contact lenses, photo chromatic glasses, or if either of the above is not possible, wear your spectacles and carry a big sunglass that can be worn over your spectacles.
- We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons.
- While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalize things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
➤ How to Get Fit for your Trek
Past experience in trekking:
Useful but not essential.
How to get fit for the Sar Pass Trek:
You need to be in good physical condition before the start of the winter camp. You should be able to jog 4 kms in 30 minutes before commencement of the trekking expedition.
Your physical fitness is important for a successful completion of the trek. Training yourself to get to a jogging distance of 4 km under 30 minutes makes your lungs strong and gives it ability to process less air for more work.
Here’s a simple and highly effective fitness plan that will help you be better prepared.
Flexibility is the ability of the muscles and tendons to relax and stretch easily. It determines the amount of movement your bones can make in any direction around joints such as shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. Stretching improves your posture and helps to prevent low back pain. Stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors and low back muscles regularly, promotes relaxation in the tissues reducing the strain on your back. On your trek, it is important that you arrive on the slopes with your muscles relaxed. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek.
Warm-up stretching exercises loosen tendons, increase blood circulation, and help prevent injuries during your workouts or any activity. Cool-down stretching helps relieve muscle soreness and tightness.
Author: Prashant Jha