I’ve known both of these treks to be incredibly dramatic. Both of them are high mountain passes. Both have extraordinary scenery changes over the course of the trek.
If you see the map below (pardon my Paint skills), you’ll see that they both start from a green side, and upon crossing the pass, end up in desert-like mountainous terrain. Geographically too, they are both just roughly 50 km apart as the crow flies.
So what is it that makes these treks different? I thought I’ll deep dive a bit, so that by the end of this post, you know which of these two treks to choose.
Story of the Hampta Pass Trek
Hampta Pass is one of the older Himalayan treks of our country. Yet, what was an obscure trek shot up in fame once Indiahikes brought it out to trekkers in 2010, placing it alongside bigwigs like Roopkund and Rupin Pass.
Our founders were astonished when they did the trek back in 2010. (They did a lot to bring out information on this trek, here’s one such throwback video from 2010.)
They had not seen such a dramatic pass-crossing. For three days they trekked through the lush greenery of Kullu, only to be invited by the stunning semi arid lands of Lahaul when they stood at the pass.
The jagged peaks of Lahaul were strikingly different from the soft green mountain sides they had just left behind.
The lush green valley of Shea Goru, surrounded by stark mountains was in total contrast with the Balu Ka Gera campsite, where they camped on velvety green surroundings just the day before.
Over time, the extraordinary scenery changes, the campsites and the dramatic crossover came to be celebrated by tens of thousands of trekkers.
Story of the Pin Bhaba Pass Trek
Pin Bhaba Pass, on the other hand, has always been a hidden gem. For a long time, it lay in the shadow of its sister trek, the famous Pin Parvati Pass.
But at Indiahikes, we always felt very uncomfortable about Pin Parvati Pass. We felt it was a trek with extreme risks, where even our pioneering safety practices wouldn’t be of much help if someone slipped into the raging Parvati river.
It was just not possible to put a safety net on some sections of the trek.
So in 2016, we explored and documented the Pin Bhaba Pass Trek. It turned out the trek had more variety than even the Pin Parvati Pass! It had mind-boggling scenery changes, minus the unmanageable dangers.
What stood out on the trek for us was the spectacular changes in scenery.
“One moment you’re trekking alongside large swathes of grasslands in the Bhaba valley and the next, you’re transported to a theatre of art, where you see mountainsides splashed with unimaginable hues of pink, purple and brown,” recalls Arjun Majumdar, the founder of Indiahikes.
It’s not just the changes in scenery. Trekkers love it for the sheer adventure and thrill of the trek. After all, the Pin Bhaba pass stands tall at over 16,000 feet.
Then the stunning campsites at Mulling, Khara and Phustirang and experiencing the remote culture of Spiti just makes it perfect.
Given that it’s not a trek that has boomed in popularity yet, it is still an isolated trail waiting to be stepped on.
How do these Treks Compare?
“To begin with,” says Arjun Majumdar, “it’s unfair to compare these two treks. They’re both on very different scales, in terms of altitudes, landscapes and the experience. What we can do is show the differences among the two, and not really compare the treks.”
I’ll run you through some major sections of the trek to do this.
| Kullu vs Bhaba Valley
The biggest difference in the first half of the treks is the variety in the valleys you walk through.
“Hampta Pass goes through a single valley. It’s like a tunnel walled by mountains. Once you enter the valley at Jobra, your only exit is the Hampta Pass at the end of it. There are no other valleys in between,” says Sandhya UC, the co-founder of Indiahikes.
“There is a small valley that you see tunneling its way out at Chika, but you don’t enter it, it is almost perpendicular to the Hampta valley,” adds Arjun.
“Even then, as you trek from Jobra to Jwara and to Balu Ka Gera, you see lovely scenery changes around you. Charming coniferous forests make way for lush grasslands.
“In August, these grasslands are a riot of flowers. They could even put the Valley of Flowers to shame,” claims Sandhya.
As you move further to Balu Ka Gera, you notice the landscape transforming into alpine terrain. Beyond Balu Ka Gera snow deposits and patches appear (well into August).
“In fact this is one big difference between the two treks. Hampta Pass has a lot more snow. Entering the valley beyond Balu Ka Gera is like entering a canyon. It is very thrilling,” Sandhya continues.
“The interesting part about these scenery changes is that everything happens quickly. Since you’re starting the trek at an already high altitude (9,400 ft), you’re out of the tree line within an hour.
“You walk in the grasslands for a day, and the very next day you get into the alpine terrain. The scenery changes are rapid,” shares Arjun.
Pin Bhaba Pass:
On the Pin Bhaba Pass trek, you trek through four completely different valleys before you get to the pass! “So the scale of Pin Bhaba is very different from Hampta Pass,” says Sandhya.
“There’s the Kafnu valley, Muling valley, Khara valley, Phutsirang valley,” Arjun ticks off on his fingers. “In each of these valleys, the scenery is totally different.
“There’s a big elevation change from one valley to another. So the landscape is constantly changing around you as you trek,” he says.
Unlike Hampta Pass, you start the Pin Bhaba Pass at a lower altitude of 7,800 ft at Kafnu. This allows you a whole day of trekking through some stunning forests towards Muling. Even after that, as you turn into different valleys, the landscape takes on different colours and different forms.
The river keeps changing too. Different shapes of mountains surround you. So within the first half of the trek, there’s a lot of variety, so much so that it feels like you have done four different treks even before getting on the pass!
| Lahaul vs Spiti
Once you cross the Hampta Pass, you enter Lahaul. And when you cross the Pin Bhaba Pass, you enter Spiti. To most, Lahaul and Spiti are spoken like one word, synonymous with each other.
But what you see on the two treks are surprisingly different!
“When you reach Shea Goru, the penultimate campsite on the Hampta Pass trek, the scenery is very distinct. Lahaul is not a desert like in Spiti.
“It is semi-green. It is not completely brown. Jagged incisor-like mountains surround you. You see razorsharp mountain faces, lots of moraines and glacial terrain,” says Arjun.
“In contrast to the rugged mountains, the Shea River sweeps through the valley, gentle and mellifluous, on a green carpet. It’s a very beautiful river to camp next to,” chimes in Sandhya.
Pin Bhaba Pass:
On the other hand, when you cross the Pin Bhaba Pass and trek towards Mudh, it’s all about the colours. “The colours of Spiti astound you,” says Arjun.
“There were several moments when I had to pause while trekking to simply take in the flabbergasting colours around,” he adds.
“There’s no vegetation at all. It is barren and stark. Yet, you’re looking at innumerable hues of pink, purple, brown, orange and red.”
“The fascinating part is that these colours don’t merge with each other. They come in belts. There’s a purple belt, a pink belt and there’s an orange belt. They’re very distinct from one another,” says Sandhya.
| Travel Before and After the Treks
Both treks involve travelling in the heart of Himachal. Especially during the monsoon season, when the famous apple orchards of Himachal are abundant with produce. The drive makes for a very beautiful one!
Hampta Pass onward journey:
During the onward journey, Hampta Pass takes the cake. “Even though it’s a short journey, the section from Manali to Jobra is hard to beat.
“You drive through apple orchards, coniferous forests, oak trees over very quick hairpin bends. It’s a sharp climb from around 5,500 ft to 9,000 ft. You finish it in an hour or so. The topography changes rapidly,” says Arjun.
On another note, you start the Hampta Pass trek from Manali. Even though Manali has become very touristy, there are several parts of Manail with an old world charm.
These are experiences that trekkers really love (Read about 8 offbeat things to do around Manali).
Pin Bhaba Pass onward journey:
The base camp of Pin Bhaba Pass is Kafnu, a quaint village overlooking the Bhaba river. As you drive from Shimla, the journey to Kafnu becomes nice after you cross Wangtu.
This is the last hour or so before you reach Kafnu. It’s where the landscape opens up to nice views of the Kinnaur ranges.
Hampta Pass return journey:
This is something trekkers look forward to. Unless the roads are blocked we visit Chandratal on our return journey. The journey to Chandratal over the rocky, bone churning mountain roads of Lahaul is a drive to remember.
Chandratal is so stunning in beauty that trekkers are short of words.The drive continues to be interesting when we return via either the Rohtang Pass or the new Atal Tunnel (if it is open) back to Manali.
Pin Bhaba Pass return journey:
In this case, the drive from Pin Bhaba Pass would be a clear winner. It’s hard to beat the mountain scenery as you drive through the heart of Spiti.
You drive from Mudh to Kaza, and have the option of visiting all the rare spectacles around Spiti (Read 11 places to visit after your Pin Bhaba Pass trek.)
The desert landscape of Spiti is something we do not see everyday. Further the road climbs the exciting Kunzum Pass at almost 15,000 feet, getting down to the same highway that connects Chandratal to Manali.
It’s a much longer journey, on very bumpy roads, but the scenery makes up for everything.
| A Moderate Trek vs a Difficult Trek
Needless to say, Hampta Pass and Pin Bhaba Pass differ in their difficulties.
This trek climbs up to a maximum altitude of 14,065 ft, covering an average of around 6 km a day. It gets slightly challenging in snow, but it’s nothing you cannot manage with the kind of equipment and safety you have with Indiahikes.
Pin Bhaba Pass:
The Pin Bhaba Pass is what we classify a “difficult” trek. It climbs up to a maximum altitude of 16,105 ft, with long trekking days. The terrain is a lot more demanding, emergency exits are very difficult.
| The Verdict: A trek for Beginners vs Trek for the Experienced
“All said and done, frankly speaking, the Pin Bhaba Pass and Hampta Pass treks don’t compare. The grandeur of the Pin Bhaba Pass is much bigger than the Hampta Pass,” says Arjun.
You have more forests, more grasslands, more valleys, more rivers and streams and a lot more desert-land to trek through on the Pin Bhaba Pass.
“Yet, Hampta Pass is a shorter, quicker trek with terrific scenery changes. It is just one great scene after another in a very quick time! It also gives you an experience of climbing to high altitudes, with a terrific pass crossing,” says Sandhya.
In conclusion, Pin Bhaba is meant for a more serious, very fit trekker, who has been on high altitude treks before. It is a bigger trek, a grander trek, and a longer trek, taking 6 days.
“If you’ve done Hampta Pass, you must bucket list the Pin Bhaba Pass trek. Your trek experience is incomplete if you haven’t done it,” concludes Arjun.