This was my first trip to India – definitely an unforgettable experience from the places ventured, people met and food tasted. And the great contrast between northern state of Himachal Pradesh and central cities of New Dehli, Agra and Jaipur (collectively known as the Golden Triangle).
First portion of the journey took us to Himachal Pradesh dotted with villages & hill resorts amongst the mountainous region. Highlight was the 5 days hike with camping over Bhapa Pass (locally known as Bhawa Pass).
Second leg threw us into the other extreme of India when we visited the Golden Triangle. Weather was extremely hot, places were dusty and crowded with the locals and plenty of unscrupulous people abound.
Himachal Pradesh – Cool & Serene mountainscape
Manali was our first destination in the state of Himachal Pradesh (HP). Getting there was an adventure itself. Took the morning train from New Dehli to Chandigarh. After that, it was a torturous 8hrs car ride through narrow winding mountain roads. It was made more heart-stopping because the drivers were cutting in and out to overtake slow-moving trucks and other cars at every opportunity available. When we reached the hotel in Manali, I was totally weak & feeble from puking my guts out due to the car-sickness.
Luckily a good night’s sleep rejuvenated my body as we spent the next day exploring both new & old Manali. Even had time to shop around and check out the few outdoor gear shops. Enjoyed a wonderful trout dinner with nice ambience at Johnson’s Café.
Second day took us to Solang Valley famed for para-gliding. Most of the group members participated in the activity, with a choice of a short flight or longer version which required a gondola ride to get to the top. It was the perfect day for paragliding, since it was clear and hot. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking 4 hours from Solang back towards Manali – passing by orchards, farms and small villages. It was enjoyable seeing the locals at work – harvesting snow peas, thrashing barley, playing volleyball etc
We departed Manali the next day towards Rohtang Pass and beyond. Unfortunately for us, the winter this year was long and hard. So there were still sections of the highway that are closed because the glaciers have yet to be cleared away. As such, the visit to Chandertal Lake had to be axed as we spent a full day walking the 15km of road that was closed off, to meet our new set of drivers coming from Kaza side.
The so-called “forced march” was not too bad as we spent 2 nights camping in wonderful surroundings. Besides that, it was also a good introduction for walking on glaciers, which is a definite at the Bhapa Pass trekking section.
The two next sleeping stops were Kaza and Tabo. These became our base as we explored the villages and Tibetan monasteries around the area. Places visited were Ki village (2nd highest village in the world), Ki Monastery, La Lung Monastery, Dhankar Monastery and Tabo Monastery famed for its ancient murals.
Our Bhapa Pass trekking adventure began after our 4 jeeps dropped us at Mud (population 250pax). We didn’t walk too far on the 1st day since we began only in the afternoon as we waited for our horses to arrive in Mud after we left them after our earlier walking sections before Kaza. These wonderful animals will be our heroes during the next 5 days as they carry all our heavy camping & kitchen equipment, food and personal baggages through adverse terrains that include thick groundsnow and icy river waters.
The 2nd trekking day was more challenging due to the distance and also cold encountered as it drizzled for most of the afternoon. Besides that, we had to cross a wide river where the icy waters came closed to our waist. The guides and crew were remarkable as they cross the river many times to guide the participants safely across. We were shivering and numbed just crossing it once!
Relief came when we reached the campsite slightly after 4pm. This was our basecamp for the attack over Bhapa Pass the next day. Our moods were also uplifted after a wet afternoon with the delights of hot instant noodles served at our individual tents – maggi always taste the best during moments like these.
Didn’t really have much sleep the night before our Bhapa Pass crossover. Mixture of the cold and apprehension on what walking conditions awaited us kept my sleep light. Added to the tension was the need to arise by 2.30am so that we could start our trek at 3am.
Eventually the big day started off with a 4am push off instead. Straight away, we scrambled up a steep difficult portion of moraine for about 1hr. The hard push up was illuminated by the full moon, which made the experience all the more surreal.
With the crack of dawn, we came onto more level ground for walking. The portion was totally covered with glacier, so had to step forward carefully to avoid any slippery falls. Apparently these portions were cleared and littered only with patches of snow during the previous Yongo trips.
The challenge soon presented itself when we stared at the Bhapa Pass ahead, and the steep climb up. After reaching a short level patch midway, most of the group members were exhausted from walking on fresh soft snow and the altitude. Surprised myself that it was much easier than I had anticipated – kept a walking rhythm with a short rest after 15-20 steps.
Finally reached the top of Bhapa Pass just shy of 12noon – after walking close to 8 hours. We didn’t have much time to eat our lunch, just enough to plant our Tibetan prayer flag at the top, and pose for group pictures before starting on our descent on the other end. Apparently it’s a local custom to leave the summit before noon for good luck.
Most people enjoyed the descent walk, probably because we finally overcame the biggest hurdle of our trip by crossing the Pass at 4,890m. Most enjoyed some fun when they slid down a safe snow portion – brought out the child inside everyone.
After walking for 3.5 hours over steep loose rocks, we finally reached our next campsite at Fauti. Luckily for us, the trekking crew who went ahead had set up our tents for us. So most were relieved to go straight to camp and rest for the rest of the evening. We managed to have a little treat for dinner after our trekking leader convinced a local shepherd to sell a sheep to us.
The next walking day was easier since it was descending most of the way till we reached the rivers. Everybody’s mood was uplifted by the sight of greenery on the ground and trees around us. Only little adventure for the day was crossing several small rivers – less torturing after the encounter with the wide icy river on Day2.
The campsite at Mooling was probably the best so far – next to a river with mountains on both side with pine trees around. Had a little workout during the afternoon after reaching camp when we went hunting for firewood for our campfire that night. Our horsemen were kind enough to pitch in and helped carry back to camp loads of small & big logs – we had so much firewood that there was still a small fire burning the next morning.
Our last camping dinner was unforgettable – we had some cocktail concoction made from mango juice with vodka+gin. Plus spent some time sharing amongst us on the whole trekking experience – most members were happy to have accomplished the feat despite the harsher snow/glacier conditions and grateful for all the assistance extended by our trekking crew. The night ended at the huge campfire where more local barley wine was drank, BBQ lamb pieces eaten and singing exchanged between the Malaysian travelers and our local team.
Our last trekking day was the perfect end to our 5days Bhapa Pass adventure. The walk took us through pine forests where we met plenty of shepherds at work herding their sheeps or horsemen transporting goods with their horses. It was enchanting walking amongst the tall trees, getting high from the fresh smell of pine and seeing nature in so many colours after days of walking through barren ground devoid of much vegetation due to the cold & attitude.
At the sight of civilization at Kafnu, we knew our trekking was coming to an end. After expressing our deep gratitude and farewells to our kitchen staff and horsemen, we took off for our long drive to Shimla with our new set of drivers.
We awoke to a wonderful morning in Shimla after resting fully on a proper bed and hot showers to clean off 5days of dirt & sweat. Enjoyed the breakfast on the rooftop where we took in the views of the famous hill resort amidst the cool setting and wonderful puri & toasts.
Spent the rest of the day walking around Shimla Lower Bazaar and The Mall, which was filled with shops selling nearly everything that one needs. It was the capital for HP, thus filled with plenty of government offices and higher learning centres. Plus a popular place for Indian honeymooners and family holidays as an escape from the hot lowlands.
Had a nice lunch with my trekking leader & chief horsemen at a local Dhaba – delicious lamb curry with white rice & chapatti. We even enjoyed some momos takeaway from a Chinese restaurant nearby. Managed to savour some local coffee at a popular café along The Mall – think the Indians make better chai than coffee.
Our HP journey ended with our late afternoon train ride on the famous Shivalik Express down to Kalka with dinner served onboard. The train slowly snaked its way down the hilly slopes, so managed to soak up as much of the final natural hill beauty and local people basking in the sunset colours before reaching the hot & humid lowlands.
Golden Triangle (New Dehli, Agra & Jaipur)
Personally didn’t really enjoy the last portion of the trip where we visited the tourist haunts around the 3 cities. Blame it on the combination of the extreme heat & humidity, crowds of people & vehicles everywhere or just my preference for the quieter open & natural outdoors.
There were still some good things found during these short section:-
(a) Wonderful food – classical North Indian cuisine with plenty of naan, briyanis, tandoori chicken, butter chicken, lamb curry, paneers etc. Think the gorging of all these sinful food has replaced all the weight lost during the Bhapa Pass trekking.
Even tried Indian Mcdonald’s for lunch one day at Agra – chose the Maharajah burger that is unique to this country. Nothing spectacular for a chicken patty seasoned with garam masala flavour
(b) Grand buildings built by the past empires. Blown away by the intricate beauty and grandeur of these palaces and memorials e.g. Taj Mahal built at the times of no modern machineries
(c) Comfortable budget hotels with plush beds, proper showers and cable TV. Amazing how days of roughing it out in smaller towns and camping makes one yearn for the modern comforts of life. And chance to peak into the local lifestyle through TV commercials and local MTVs
More pics at
Bhapa Pass trekking –
Himachal Pradesh –