I had not heard of Chandrakani Pass until I read it in a broucher sent to me by the Youth Hostel of India (YHAI) announcing the International Himalayan Trekking Programme to Chandrakani Pass in May-June 1986. A quick glance through the YHAI trek schedule revealed that the Chandrakani Pass was a round trek starting from the base camp at Raison, 16 kms from Kullu on Manali road and ending at Naggar covering both the Kullu and Parvati valleys. I saw this invitation as an opportunity for me to get one more exposure to the himalayan trekking with side trips to Manali as an added bonus. Jambukeswaran and Vasant, my office collegues, joined me for this trek.
On May 23rd, we left Mumbai by AC Deluxe Express (now called Paschim Express) and reached Ambala the next day afternoon on scheduled time. We boarded a bus to Chandigarh where we stayed in our friend's house. Next day, we did a sight-seeing tour of Chandigarh. The following morning, we boarded a Himachal Roadways bus for Manali which dropped us a Raison Campsite late evening.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Our trekking schedule was as under :
Day-1 : Reporting at Raison Base Camp.
Day-2 : Orientation, Rock climbing, Repelling, River crossing.
Day-3 : Raison to Jana (2286m)- 9 kms, trek.
Day-4 : Jana to Matikochar (2590m) - 10 kms, trek.
Day-5 : Matokochar to Jari (1525m) - 18 kms, trek.
Day-6 : Jari to Kasol (1585m) - 10 kms, trek.
Day-7 : Rest Day at Kasol. Trekked Manikaran and back - 8 kms.
Day-8 : Kasol to Rashol (2590m) - 9 kms, trek.
Day-9 : Rashol to Malana (2650m) - 19 kms, trek.
Day-10 : Malana to Kiksa Tatch (3050m) - 16 kms, trek.
Day-11 : Kiksa Tatch to Malana - 16 kms, trek.
[Note : Due to bad weather at Chandrakani Pass, the earlier batches were held up in Nagrauni and Kiksatatch camps. Since tents were fully occupied, our batch was asked to go back to Malana camp]
Day-12: Malana -Chandrakani Pass (3660m)-Rumsu (2180m) - 17 kms, trek.
Day-13: Rumsu to Patlikuhl - 9 kms, trek.
Patlikuhl to Raison Base Camp - by bus.
After morning chore, our batch consisting of 36 trekkers participated in the physical exercise followed by one km of jogging. After breakfast, we were taken on rock climbing and repelling training which lasted for more than 3 hours. In the afternoon, we were given the river crossing training over Beas river.
Me Doing repelling and rock climbing (below) on a hill near Raison, Kullu.
One of our trekkers crossing Beas river through a rope
Next day, after breakfast, we assembled on the road side for the last minute instructions from the Camp Leader. It was a marvelous feeling when we saw trekkers from the 'next in line' batch standing on both sides of the road and clapping for our success as we walked in the middle of the road to commence our first day of the trek.
Our group leaving the base camp
Jana campsite as seen from the ridge
The next day's Matikochar-Jari trek of 17 kms was the tiring one as the day was very warm and we had to climb Bringta top (2650m). As we started descending, we could see a bus on the dirt road to Jari. Later I came to know that there was a bus service to Jari from Kullu via Bhuntar. After crossing a bridge on the Parvati river, we walked through the forest to reach Jari camp at 5.00 p.m.
A girl resting on a culled tree
One of the girls from our batch had a high fever when she reached the camp. Since the fever persisted in the next day morning and she was feeling very weak, the Camp Leader decided to send her back to Raison base camp with a porter who carried on his back accompanied by one of her friend, for mediacl attention.
The Jari-Kasol 10 km trek was an easy one as it was, more or less, a level walk on the dirt road. After crossing Parvati river, we reached Kasol village. Our campsite was about one km further from the village.
Freshen with the bath, we left for Manikaran, a 4 km trek from our campsite. We visited a temple and had a lunch there. We had once more bath in one of the two hot springs, the other one being exclusively used by the locals for cooking rice, lentins and vegetables. After finishing the bath, we went to Gurudwara and we had to take food once again in the lunger as the Gurudwara personnel would not allow us the leave. We came back to our campsite in the afternoon.
Cooking vegetables in hot spring at Manikaran
In the evening, there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me. As soon as I entered the tent, all my tent mates wished me a happy birth day. They celeberated my birth day by unfolding the cake which they had bought from a shop in Kasol. They lighted the candle which was already there in tent and sang in chorus birth day song. It was a great feeling that my birthday was organised by those who were not my acquitances until I met them in the base camp.
After a day of rest, we were back to trek routine. The trek to Rashol was a 10 km climb initially through the forest. At around 1.30 p.m., we took a halt under the shade of a big tree for lunch break. After taking rest of about one hour, we resumed the trek and reached Rashol in the evening. Our campsite was a bit away from the Rashol village. There was a big rock shelter near the campsite which was used as a kitchen.
The following day's trek up to Rashol Jot (3180m) was very tough with not much of the sceneries to compensate the hardships. It was only after crossing the Rashol Jot we started descending into the valley. We came across, for the first time in this trek, dust covered snow patch of about 100 meters long on our trekking path. We slided over the snow to come down more as a fun than the necessity. Just 2 kms before the Malana village, we were in front of the Malana valley with green fields.
Sliding on a dust covered snow was a fun
As we approached the Malana village, we saw from a distance a man sitting on stony steps leading to the village. At first sight, we thought he was one of the foreigners who have been frequent visitors to Malana mainly for its high quality charas which is widely grown here. The man turned out to be our Camp Leader who had been waiting to take us safely to our campsite located 1 kms further just outside the village boundry. By the time we settled in our tents, it was already dark and in any case the Camp Leader had warned us not venture into the village without his permission.
The next day after breakfast, our Camp Leader ( I forgot his name. He was a native of Pune) gave some briefings about the Malana village. The people of Malana claimed greek ancestory who came with the army of Alexendra the Great. After the war, some of them settled in Malana. [ Looking at the features of some of the villagers - such as fair complexion, high chick bones, pointed nose, blue/grey eyes etc, I think the story about the Greek ancestory seems to fit well ]. The village has the democratic set up with two houses to guide the villagers - the Kanishtha (Lower House) and Jeyshtha ( Upper House). The villagers believed that outsiders were impure and therefore they were required to walk in the village on a prescribed path without touching walls, temples, houses and the local people. Failure to adhere to the rules could result in a fine equivalent of the price of one goat.
A typical Malana house
The Camp Leader then took us for a village tour. It did not take us much time to notice that our Camp Leader was well respected person in the village. He has been coming to Malana every year as a Camp Leader since YHAI started this trek. In fact, the villagers were treating him as one of them and he could visit any place in the village. Beacuse of this, he could take us to a round of the important places in the village which included the houses of the Chiefs of Kanishtha and Jeyshtha. The houses were made up of wood with rich carvings of animals and flowers. There was a Dharamshala in the village which was meant for pilgrims who came here during the Jamlu Devta festivals. We saw most of the men folks wandering and lazing around their houses.
A man lazing around his house
After taking permission from the village chief, we were taken to Jamlu Rishi (Jamadagni) temple. When we were just outside the temple. the priest with white head gear came out of the temple and closed the door. In any case, we were not supposed to touch the temple walls leave alone going inside the temple. There was a large skull and and a number of buffalo horns hanging on the entrance wall of the temple. Later on we came to know that only the priest was allowed to wear white head gear.
Despite all those restrictions on the outsiders, the villagers were a friendly lot and helpful. But what surprised us the most was that the village was not as clean as one would expect from those who claimed themselves to be a superior to all others.
One of the extensively wood-carved houses in Malana
Group photo at Malana before start up to Kiksa Tatch
Next day, we set for a 16 km trek of a gradual climb to Kiksa Tatch. On the way, we came across many uprooted tress probably dragged by the melting glaciers. When we had covered about 10 kms of trek, a local person who was coming from Kiksa Tatch gave us a message from our Kiksa Camp Leader that we should go back to Malana as there was no space in the tents for us to stay overnight. It was a surprising development for us as this message should have reached the Malana Camp Leader well before we started the trek. After discussing this development among ourselves, we unanimously decided to go head with the trek to Kiksa Tatch.
We reached Kiksa at around 6.00 p.m.in a cold but sunny evening. As expected, the Camp Leader was very furious on us for not returning to Malana as per his order. He said he was helpless as the previous two batches of 36 persons each were still in Kiksa and Nagrauni ( next camp) as they could not proceed to Chandrakani due to bad weather for the last two days. Finally with lots of persuation and discussion with the earlier batches, he agreed to accommodate us within the existing tents for that night. He tole us very clearly that we must return to Malana the next day.
As the sun was setting, the weather turned colder. We finished our dinner quite early. The usual camp fire after dinner was cancelled as the Camp Leader was already under tremendous stress to make arrangements for our night stay with extra blankets etc. He instructed us to secure the flaps of the tents tightly as the area was infested with bears.
At around midnight, I woke to a soft noise coming from the direction of the tent's entrance. First I thought that it could be some one from the tent going out for pea. As I was turning on my side to go to sleep again, I felt some thing had touched my hand. I switched on my already weak pencil torch only to notice that bear-like animal was sleeping next to me. In the background of the warning given by the Camp Leader himalayan bears roaming around in this area, for a moment, I was dumbstuck until I realised that it was a ferrocious looking bhutia dog - the one which had given us company from Malana. In an already over-crowded tent, the space was at a premium and this bhutia dog had already capture some space of mine. But the flip side was that with dog on my side, no bear will dare to come near our tent.
Next morning after breakfast, we were about the start our return trek to Malana as instructed by the Camp Leader when he announced that the 3 girls and 2 man (above 50+ age) of our batch could go along with previous batch for the trek to Nagrauni - the next destination. It was the good news for the 5 of our batch as they could avoid the tyranny of return trek to Malana. But there was a question mark as to what would happen to us as soon as we reached Malana. There were logistic problems for the Malana Camp Leader to accommodate us as well as the next batch which would come from Rashol. In that event, there was every possibility that our trek to Chandrakani Pass would be aborted and we would be asked to go back to Kasol where there were sufficient tents for accommodation for more than two batches.
As soon as we reached Malana, we requested the Malana Camp Leader to do something to salvage our trek. He said he was helpless as the trek schedules had been disorganised due to bad weather at Chandrakani Pass and to bring the schedule to order, some batches will have to be sent back to base camp.
After our persistent pleas, the Camp Leader finally gave us an option of trekking directly to Rumsu via Chandrakani Pass through a short cut that was generally used by the shepherds. But he made it very clear to all of us that Malana-Chandrakani trek was a trackless one with very steep climb and we may have to hire a local guide to take us to the pass. Since it was not a YHAI approved route, we were required to give an undertaking in writing to our Malana Camp Leader that we would take this route at our own risk and if anything went wrong, YHAI would not be responsible for it. We all readily agreed to give such an undertaking.
The Camp Leader arranged a local guide to take us to Chandrakani Pass the next day. The guide happened to the one whom we had seen with the priest when we visited the Jamlu temple two days back. We were told to be ready to leave the camp by 5.00 a.m. subject to good weather condition. We all were quite happy at the end of the day that the uncertainty of our trek to Chandrakani Pass had ended. We now only prayed to the weather god to be good to us the next morning.
We commenced our trek to Chandrakani Pass at 5.30 a.m. in a fine weather condition. The trek involved climbing a mountain with a steep gradient. There were no well marked path and at many places we were required to clamber with both our hand support. With a 15 kg haversack on our back, most of us were finding it difficult to keep ourselves in balance. Because of the steep gradient, it was difficult to take rest as and when we felt so. After about two hours of struggle, we reached at the top of the narrow ridge.
Note the steep gradients on both sides of the ridge.
After a short descent, we were now walking on more or less table top. As we moved further, we saw a another group of trekkers coming from the Nagrauni side. They belonged to earlier batches who were holed up in Nagrauni camp for two days due to bad weather. When we met them, they were surprised to know that we directly trekked from Malana.
As we all moved further, we were now walking on the vast expanse of snow patches over the pass. The time was 10.30 a.m. when we crossed the pass. We spent some time on the pass under an excellent weather condition to view snow peaks as well as snow slopes all round.
There were two options to come down from the pass. The normal route was to walk further one km north on the ridge and then take a steep descent to reach a meadow. The other option was to take a short cut on a steep snow slope immediately after the pass by sliding down to the meadow. We decided to take the latter option out of fun. Luckily, the batch which had joined us from Nagrauni was accompanied by a trainer who was to train them on snow sliding. The slope looked like having a gradient of slightly more than 45 degrees with a length of around 150 meters.
In queue for sliding the snow slope
The trainer asked us to watch him as he did the first slide smoothly. He sat on the snow ridge keeping his back straight and his legs stretched, pushed himself on the snow slopes keeping his both hand high over the head. Just before the end of the slope, he slowed down by a slight dig into the snow with his shoe heels. Thereafter all of us did the snow slides in turn as directed by the trainer. To most of us, the bhutia dog who had accompanied us since Malana, ran along with our slides as if he is overseeing our slides. There were some anxious moments when one of our batch mate lost balance while sliding and tumbled down on the snow slopes. In this process, his SLR camera with zoom lense fell down from his neck. He was, however, picked up by others who had already reached down. Fortunately, everything was fine with him when we picked him up.
Sliding on the snow while a bhutia dog watches
By the time, all had finished slides, it was 1.00 p.m. We had to descent about one km on the snow which had now become slippery, until we reached the grassy patch. After taking a long lunch break, we walked, more or less, on the level path over the meadow and reached Rumsu campsite around 6.00 p.m.
Next day, we left Rumsu early morning for the last lap of our easy trek to Raison Camp via Naggar. We spent some time in the Naggar castle. Since we could not get the share jeep, we had to walk further 5 kms from Naggar to reach Patlikuhl on the Kullu -Manali road. An half an hour bus journey brought us to our base camp at Raison thus ending our trekking programme. We returned to Mumbai after doing some two days sight-seeing around Kullu and Manali areas.
All photos by the author except those where the author is seen which were taken by some one from the batch.