Winter backpacking has always been fun. Winters in Himalayas are always unpredictable and gives a sense of adventure. This time around we planned to hike along the Lug Valley near Kullu. This stretch is not so well known and is of low altitude. This was chosen to avoid snow trek during this season.
Pre Trek: Our group of 5 arrived at Manali after a long and bumpy bus ride. We checked into a hotel got ready for pre trek shopping. Manali is well know for its woolens and we wanted to stuff a few more clothing into our already over sized bags. Striking a hard bargain with these vendors is a skill. Luckily we had girls in the group who were good at it. We met Kaushal at Manali who was organizing this trek for us. He had sent us the plan before hand and he informed us that he had arranged a taxi to take us to starting of the trek point.
Day 1 (Trek To Dak Bunglow): We reached the base camp around 9:00 AM. The base camp was a place called Telang, 12kms from Kullu. We were greeted by the team that would be accompanying us. The team had 3 horse men, who would load up all the camping equipments and food material on their donkeys and trek with us. We had a cook and a helper. Kaushal, our organizer, also accompanied us for the trek. He also brought along his two dogs Bicky and Maggie.
Our first stop was Dak Bungalow. Trek to Dak Bungalow was relatively easy. Since most of us had trekked before, it was a walk in the park. Contrary to the name of our destination, we found no Bunglow at all. The destination was on a mountain slope, an odd place to camp. We spent the night in slopes of a mountain with stream flowing gently beside us.
Day 2 (Trek To Jhingbhan): The day started early for us as we were to cover long distance. We were told that only possibility of encountering snow would be on this trail. This trail was mostly uphill climb. The climb was relatively steep and tiring. Once we reached the top of the mountain the view was spectacular. The vision of such view is what motivates trekkers to climb steep slopes. We spent some time on top taking photographs. We saw a few herdsmen with their flock of goats and sheep roaming around leisurely. They were quite surprised to see backpackers in these part of the mountains.
The downward journey to Jhingbhan was not so tough but it was steep and we had to take care of our footing. I lost balance and sprained my ankle. Walking with sprained ankle is a irritating and i resorted to a stick to provide the support for rest of the trek. The girls in our group were smarter in brining along their walking sticks which give the additional support needed. We reached the camp around 3:00 PM and pitched the tent. Most of us were quite tired that we retired for the day quite early and did not venture out for photography. This camp was on flat land and made it easier for move around the camp.
Day 3 (Trek To Dentbhial): This stretch turned out to be hardest. The climb was quite steep and in places we had to take rest quite often. The mules had already passed us and we were supposed to follow their trail. It got a bit confusing to follow the trail based on foot prints of mules as it looked like each mule took a different route. We relied on skills of Rinku, our cook to find our way to the top. It turned out that we lost the path somewhere and ended up climbing 70 deg slope. It was quite tiresome. In the end we reached the mountain top and the for the first time we were amidst the clouds. It was a wonderful feeling. Within a minute i could hear the camera shutters opening and closing at regular intervals.
I wish i had captured the moment when everyone at the same time pulled out the camera to shoot and forgot about their tired calf muscle. We had our lunch their and was hoping Kaushal would let us camp at the mountain top. But, practical difficulties like availability of water etc forced us to climb down the mountain to camp. After 2 hour walk downhill we found the prefect spot to camp. The location was spectacular and turned out to be best camp site we had in this trip. I urged few of my friends to come along to a location which seem reachable at first glance to take photos of the valley. We started off with lot of enthusiasm but was marred by thorns forcing us to retreat and rest in camp.
At the camp fire the girls got all enthusiastic and started singing while the men refused to jump on the wagon even after lot of persuasion. I had some beautiful folk music playing for the occasion and stars to keep me company. It was a magical night. Later that night when everyone retired to their tents, we squeezed into a single tent and started discussing experiences and random pet peeves. We made enough noise that night and kept everyone awake.
Day 4 (Trek To Mulling): Some of us were happy to hear that the trail to Mulling would be on road and there would be no need of any climb. Since the whole trail was on road it gave us time to rest and take the day casually. The distance to cover was around 17kms by foot but it was a pleasant walk along a water stream. Rinku mentioned that the camp would have strong water stream and one can take bath in it. We were more than happy to jump into the stream. As soon as we arrived at the camp, we ran to take bath. To our shock, the water was ice cold even though the temperature outside was quite hot. I just took a dip and decided to stay out, while Arun spent solid 15mins in ice cold water giving him cramps. We reached quite early and had a lot of time to explore around. This was the first time there was civilization close by to the camp and so we decided to talk to local folks. We had a good photographic session at the village and spoke to kids and village elders.
As night fell, we had our sumptuous dinner and retired to a tent and started playing some guessing games till we got tired and went to bed. That night, there was terrible accident at the place we had camped. A car had fallen off the cliff killing the driver. We came to know about the accident only next morning even though we heard the loud crash that night.
Day 5 (Trek To Jamthel Vihar): Trekking in Himachal was always fun. I got to learn a lot from each trek done in this region. One such learning is, when a trail come close to civilization, very rarely will it go back to complete wilderness. One can expect to see small settlements along the way.
This was true in this trail. The moment we hit our first village settlement i knew we would not go too much away from human settlements. As we trekked to Jamthel Vihar we kept encountering small villages along the way. I had nothing much to complain about the semi-wilderness trail. It was very beautiful.
The trail turned out to be rather easy and we were able to reach the destination on time. The camp site was just outside a village which gave us access to the market close by. The rest of day was rather uneventful and we went to bed early.
Day 6 (Trek To Rajgunda): In my opinion this trail was by far the best we did during this trek. We crossed valleys and passes along the way to Rajgunda. We could see Rajgunda from a distance but to reach that place was a whole different story.
The mules had already crossed us and the terrain was so rugged that we were not able to find any footprints. Luckily we were helped by an old man who showed us the path by trekking with us. The climb was steep and we were getting quite tired. I started to take more breaks than usual but decided to push ahead till we reach the destination. On the way we reached a mountain with a stunning view of the surroundings. A 360 deg panorama would be ideal. I was kicking myself for not carrying the tripod with me. At that point i made up my mind to come to this location early next morning and shoot to my satisfaction.
We had to get down the mountain to reach the camp site. The long hard trek got one of the girls grumpy. The place was extremely cold and the camp fire didnt last long. I decided not to stay up very late as i had to get up early and climb back to shoot from the top of the mountain.
Day 7 (Trek To Billing): I woke up very early and took my tripod and started climbing the mountain to catch the early sunrise. I was warned to be careful with the climb as the rocks along the way would be slippery due to dew. I had a tough time climbing but i was determined to reach that spot. It took me 40mins to climb to that spot. It was worth all the effort.
The trail to Billing was along a dusty path. This was our last day of the trek and we were told it would be relatively easy as it was flat surface. The walk along the ridges was not challenging but the view all along was spectacular. We could see Billing from a distance and my friend guessed it would take 30mins to reach the destination. As usual he was wrong, it took us 2 hours to reach the destination. One can never guess the distance by just looking. Billing is world famous site for Paragliding, and we wanted to try it out.
We reached Billing around 2PM and waited for mules to come with our luggage. Kaushal said good bye and left for Manali while we jumped off the cliffs, of course with a pilot and a parachute. The trekking adventure had come to an end. I hope we could do something similar next year.
Trek To Thathi: After our major trek we had 2 days to spare. We did not want to go home early. So we decided to spend a day in a remote village near Billing. We asked around to find out about remote villages not accessible by any means of transport. We got lots of suggestions and narrowed in on Thathi. This is extremely small village which can reached from a bigger village named Madaed. We took a taxi to Madaed and wanted to trek to Thathi. In the village of Madaed there was a wedding taking place and we became the wedding crashers. The girls family was kind enough to let us witness the ceremony. When they learnt of our plans they also offered to let us stay in their village. We promised them we will come back for the night after we visit Thathi.
The trek to Thathi was quite easy. We were able to spot people from that village who showed us the path. After an hour climb we reached the village. I must admit the village was really beautiful. I fell in love with the small school and a view from the play ground. We went around socializing with villagers who were quite friendly.
We thought of asking for a place to stay for the night. Seeing the condition of the people, we decided to ditch the plan. Little girls from the village sang and danced for us before we said goodbye. After reaching Madaed, we remembered that we promised to stay at that wedding house.
We were all tired and wanted to take rest in the hotel. We knew that wedding celebrations will go on throughout the night and we would not be able to sleep. We ditched that plan and headed back to Bir. The next day we took a taxi to Dharamshala and then a bus back to Delhi.