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Photo Courtesy : Parth Joshi

Tirath Trek (source of Tirthan River)

  • Trek to the source of the Tirthan river through the Great Himalayan National Park which possess some of the most pristine and unique ecosystems in the world.
  • The national park is home to rare birds, the elusive snow leopard, bears and blue sheep.
  • At lower altitudes, the trail takes you past remote villages with traditional architecture and customs.
DIFFICULTY:

Moderate-Difficult

TRAIL TYPE:

Rocky trail through forests, meadows and along river gorges

DURATION:

7 days

ROAD HEAD:

Gushaini

BASE CAMP:

Gushaini

BEST SEASON:

Summer

For anyone interested in treading off the beaten path, the Great Himalayan National Park offers many interesting trails. GHNP, as the park is commonly referred to, is a relatively small expanse of ~750 sq kms of enchanting mountain scenery when compared to its other Himalayan siblings, but possesses some of the most pristine and unique ecosystems in the world.

Nestled in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh in north India, the park acts as an ecological bridge, its contiguousness to Pin Valley National Park and Rupi Bhabha Wildlife Sanctuary offering extended wildlife corridors, in addition to the buffer areas of Sainj and Tirthan wildlife sanctuaries that extend the expanse of the GHNP Conservation Area (GHNPCA) to ~1100 sq kms.

Home to rare avifauna like the Western Tragopan, of which the park boasts the highest number (GHNP is home to five pheasants, viz. Western Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Cheer, Kokla and Khaleej Pheasant, a rare occurrence to have all of these in one geographical confine), bears and elusive cats like the Snow Leopard, the park has always enjoyed patronage from renowned nature and wildlife enthusiasts for many few decades. The traditional Western Himalayan architecture and customs have always maintained a distinct identity from colonial influence.

This trek follows the Tirthan River from Gushaini till its source at Tirath, where water from an underground spring called Hanskund flows down to meet other glacial streams. The gorge carved out by the river is narrow almost throughout, and takes one through some of the densest patches of undisturbed high altitude vegetation.

Highlights of the trek include verdant meadows with flowers in full bloom (including the Bramh Kamal), views of the higher snow clad ranges and glaciers feeding the Tirthan valley, chance to spot Himalayan Blue Sheep, Ibex, Himalayan Black Bear, many birds including the Himalayan Griffon, Rock Bunting, Himalayan Snow cock and Snow Partridge.

Trek Details

Day 1: Reach Gushaini

  • Altitude: 4,921 ft

Gushaini is approximately 550 km from Delhi. The easiest way to reach is to take a Volvo bus from Delhi upto Aut on the Delhi-Manali Highway. From here, Gushaini is approximately a 1-1.5-hour drive away. There are small buses plying on this route, else one can hire a taxi for around INR 1,500. There are quite a few accommodation options at Gushaini but it is advised that one books in advance

Permit needs to be obtained from the GHNP park office at Sairopa, located 5-6 kms before the Gushaini. Though the usual itinerary of the trek starts and ends at Gushaini, another route that starts from Mashyar around 20 km ahead of Gushaini is recommended since one gets to explore a larger area and also avoid the monotony of climbing and descending the same route.

A word of caution though, this route is much more technical and craggy, and is not recommended for novices. Though one can start climbing today, it is recommended to stay in Gushaini to acclimatize and also make any last purchases.

The nearest ATM is at Banjar, 10 km before Gushaini but it is recommended one carries enough cash from Delhi itself.

Day 2: Gushaini to Asurbag campsite via Mashyar, Kamera, Bedi Thach and Asurbag top

  • Altitude: 4,921 ft to 12,467 ft
  • Time taken: 9-10 hours, 15 km
  • Trek gradient: Difficult
  • Water sources: There are no water sources beyond Bedi Thach, which is an hour’s trek from Mashyar. Make sure you carry at least 2-3 litres of water.

From Gushaini, a proper road leads up to Bathad, from where it turns into a dirt road for another 7-8 km. The road ends at Mashyar (6,562 ft). Regular taxis do not run on this route, but a jeep can be hired from Gushaini for around INR 600-800.

From Mashyar, cross a stream and begin climbing a good wide trail (which is actually a road under construction). This goes all the way to Kamera village (6,890 ft). It will take you about half an hour to reach here.

From Kamera, the trail becomes narrow but climbs slowly for half an hour to Bedi Thach (7,874 ft). The trail mostly goes through fields. You have a dark green coniferous canopy overlooking the other side of the valley. You might get a view of Bashleo Pass from Mashyar if the weather is clear.

The trail climbs steeply after Bedi Thach for the next 3-4 hours. The ground here is uneven. Thick bushes line the trail. This eventually opens into a small forest patch.

You stare at cold, vertical rock faces that form the narrow gorge, however there is the joy of breaking trail through tough but lush green and mostly virgin meadows. There are very few water points (mostly rain fed streams that may be dry) after Bedi Thach. So, it is best to carry around two litres of water from there on.

The last villages become visible as you reach the top of the first ridge. The trail becomes a bit easier as there are no bushes, and there are no major diversions. However, you need to figure out the trail in a couple of patches, so it is advisable to keep a general sense of direction through a map.

Above the treeline now, you traverse hills covered in a green carpet. There are heartening views of undisturbed forests and meadows. Asurbag top can be identified from here. It is located by a large stone cairn, which can be easily spotted from a distance with or without binoculars. From Asurbag top, the thath can be easily located and is a half an hour’s descent.

There is a stone hut at Asurbag and fuelwood is available nearby (though one should always carry alternate fuel lest it rains). Around 3-4 people can easily sleep inside the hut, though we prefer tents for the fear of creepy crawlies. Water is easily available near the hut.

Day 3:  Asurbag to Khukhri via Jatholi and Bagoda Dhunga

  • Altitude: 12,467 ft
  • Time taken: 8-9 hours, 12 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate-difficult. While there is no net altitude gain, the trail ascends and descends steeply.
  • Water sources: You can refill your water bottles at the streams that you cross today.

You start descending from Asurbag and more or less maintain altitude for the next couple of hours. The bushes here are very dense with quite a few thorns. Keep shouting or talking loudly at regular intervals as a precautionary measure from bears (who only attack if caught by surprise at a close range. They mostly remain reclusive and seldom come near or harm humans). The shrubbery is heavily laden with moisture. You can quickly get drenched from head to foot so a waterproof shell is advised. September is the time for the flower season to draw to a close, and you can see multi colored meadows slowly turning into green this time of the year.

The trail is unrelenting throughout the day with steep inclines and descents. However, it goes through some of the lushest meadows which hold a variety of valuable herbs and medicines, including Bankakri (Podophyllum hexadrum), Dhoop (Jurinea macrocephala), Patish (Acontium heterophyllum), and flowers such as Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis aculeate) and Bramh Kamal (Saussurea obvallata). There are around half a dozen stream crossings, not very technical but can be tricky during the latter half of the day. On the positive side, you do not have to worry about water sources through the entire day.

The trail today can be slippery at several place. With thick bushes, it is sometimes difficult to figure out the ground underneath. Walk slowly whenever in doubt, and always keep your weight towards the hill to counter any mis-step.

The campsite at Khukhri is not very big, unlike Asurbag. There is a small stone hut and space for just one tent. Water sources are easily accessible though fuelwood might not be easily available.

Day 4: Khukhri to Tirath

  • Altitude: 12,139 ft
  • Time taken: 2-3 hours, 5 km
  • Trek gradient: Easy-moderate. Initial, short ascent followed by a level trail throughout.
  • Water sources: Carry 2 litres of water from Khukhri.

Today is a relatively easy day. There is only one ascent immediately after Khukhri. After this, the trail keeps more or less level. There are quite a few patches of boulders one has to skip across. It takes around 3 hours from Khukhri to reach the base at TIrath.

There are 2-3 stone huts on one side of the river. It is recommended that you cross the river (a combination of 3-4 streams) to a cave on the other side (known as Bhim Dwar). This has flatter grounds for pitching tents. This is also the starting point for climbing to Saketi as well as descending towards Gushaini.

Rest here for the day to soak in the views at the end of the valley. A congregation of around half a dozen snow clad peaks adorns the vista. Prominent ones include Hanskund (15,748 ft), Yashe (~15,748 ft) and Chakri (~16,732 ft). Though people might not find is as scenic as some other high altitude meadows, this is a beautiful example of a river cutting a narrow gorge through steep, rocky mountains. Fuelwood can be found only if left behind by previous visitors.

Day 5: Tirath to Saketi and return. Trek to Shankha Thach

  • Altitude: 14,107 ft (Saketi); 11,483 ft (Shankha Thach)
  • Time taken: 9-10 hours, 18 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate-difficult. Steep climb to Saketi. Tricky descent to Shankha on a narrow trail right above the river.
  • Water sources: You can refill your water bottles at the streams that you cross today.

Start early to climb towards Saketi, a last flat patch of meadow before the high peaks take over. It is a steep 2.5 – 3 hours climb from Tirath. The terrain is rocky and interspersed with many small streams flowing into Tirthan. The ground can seem flat under the grass but it is not so. Be careful to avoid tripping over.

Keep a lookout for Himalayan blue sheep and Ibex which can be seen in decent numbers here, grazing near the top of the slopes. Saketi is the only place in this entire trek which offers an open panorama as the rest of the trek mostly clings on to middle or lower parts of mountain slopes. Numerous streams flow along the floor bed and the ground is mostly moist. You should plan to start your descent from here no later than 10.30 – 11.00 am since the weather can turn quickly at the top.

The descent takes around an hour. After breaking camp at Tirath, you can start winding the way down. The trail from Tirath is again full of bushes, and is a notch trickier than the trail on the other side of the mountain. You descend down the river bank wherever possible for an easy walk, but since the gorge is narrow and the river cuts in fast and deep, there are not many such patches. There are more stream crossings this side. You negotiate around a dozen of these on the way to Shankha, where you hit the tree line.

From Tirath, it is a tough 5-6 hour hike to Shankha, which has a large rock cave in the middle of the forest. You need to remain very focused on the trail today. It is very narrow and runs dangerously close to the river at times.

Fuelwood can be easily found at Shankha. The danger of bears is also very apparent, so a campfire is highly recommended.

Day 6: Shankha Thach to Gushaini via Chalocha and Holla Thach

  • Altitude: 12,467 ft to 4,921 ft
  • Time taken: 8-9 hours, 20 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate. Narrow, steep trail that alternately descends and ascends for 4-5 hours. This is followed by an easy walk.
  • Water sources: You can refill your water bottles at the streams that you cross today.

The first half of the trek today is again very tricky. The trail is narrow and steep. It goes up and down the mountain, very close to the river for most part.

It takes 4-5 hours to cover this forest patch, and there are couple of small rock traverses where one has to be very careful. There is an alternate route that climbs up to Nada Thach. Groups usually prefer that trail, but if you can carefully negotiate 1-2 difficult parts, this is a much shorter route and avoids a lot of climbing,

After Chalocha (7,546 ft), the trail is properly kept by the park authorities. Compared to the rest of the trek, this is a cakewalk. It is much wider, with wooden bridges to ride over the tough parts. You will meet many overnight hikers coming from Gushaini to camp at Rolla Thatch (6,890 ft).

Form Chalocha, you can easily make it to the park entry gate in a little over an hour. Here, the forest guard checks the permit and makes an entry (it is quite fascinating, going over the entries and finding out where all other hikers have ventured). It takes around 1.5 – 2 hours from the park gate to Gushaini, crossing many villages enroute.

If you reach Gushaini by 4.00 pm, you can plan to reach Aut the same day. Else, it is always wiser to spend the night at Gushaini to clean up and rest before descending into the throes of civilization.

Note: This is an indicative itinerary for an experienced trekker. Those with less experience are advised to break this down to around 8-9 days as there are many convenient camping spots and thachs. During our trek, we lost a day due to rain at Asurbag, and finished the trek in 7 days.

Make sure you buy rations for the trek before reaching Gushaini.

This trek has been researched and documented by Parth Joshi.

Steep climb from Bedi Thach through thick bushes. PC: Parth Joshi

 

Sunset from Asurbag top. PC: Parth Joshi

 

The campsite at Asurbag. PC: Parth Joshi

 

Climbing from Asurbag towards Bagoda Dhunga. PC: Parth Joshi

 

The views start to open up as one hikes from Khukhri towards Tirath. PC: Parth Joshi

 

Bramh Kamal on the way to Tirath. PC: Parth Joshi

 

The campsite at Tirath. PC: Parth Joshi