Hampta Pass Trek
The Hindi movie, Queen, was a remarkable movie for me. In this movie, due to certain circumstances, Kangana Ranaut, the actor who plays the main character, goes on an international holiday all alone. The movie is all about her different experiences, how she makes new friends, and how the experiences change her for life. After watching the movie, I wanted to try something similar – go to an unknown place, alone, and come back with a new set of experiences. It was now on my Bucket List.
I chose the 5-day Hampta Pass trek in the Himalayas. Hampta Pass is in Himachal Pradesh and the nearest bus station is at Manali. I was to be a part of a 23-people group that would begin the trek from Manali as organized by a trek organizer. Hema from Bangalore was also in the trek.
The trek organizer (Trek The Himalayas) had sent me all the details by mail. They appeared to be well organized. They were available for any questions. The key was to travel light but with the expected cold weather and rains, I carried my jacket, a sweater, gloves and cap. Apart from the essentials, I bought some synthetic trousers and tops that could dry quickly.
I travelled to Delhi by air and then took an overnight bus to Manali. I reached Manali one day ahead. I had booked my stay at Manali at the Zostel, affiliated to the international chain, The Hostelworld. The Zostel at Manali is very popular with trekkers.
The next day, I met the group at the appointed place in the morning. Out of the 23 people, I was the oldest. Hema was a few years younger to me. Each one seemed to have come to the trek for a reason. There was a group of 5 girls from Chennai who were celebrating their graduation from college. Another group of girls from Chennai had wanted to spend time together. Two other girls were travelling solo. Then there were two couples.
Along with the crew, the group left Manali at noon in Scorpios to the trek origin point, Jobra. After our luggage was loaded on the mules, we began the trek. The weather was pleasant and not too cold. We walked across a wooden bridge over a swirling river to reach undulating green meadows. We reached Chika at 6 PM and had hot tea and pakodas. We were instructed to trek to a waterfall. Once the group reached there, we had our first formal briefing about the trek and all the do’s and dont’s. At the end of the briefing, we came up with our group slogan, ‘Hoo, hoo, haa!!’. This was a group chant that all of us shouted thrice every day in the morning. We came up with our group name – ‘Himalayan Griffins’. We returned to our tents pitched by the crew and left our gear there. For dinner, we had hot rotis, subjis and dal. We crawled into our tents and went off to sleep inside our sleeping bags.
Every day, two team leaders were nominated by rotation. As we trekked, one would lead the group and the other would follow us. The task of the team leaders was to also wake all of us in time.
On the second day of the trek, we left Chika at 8 AM for Balu Ka Ghera. Balu Ka Ghera means ‘heap of sand’. We reached Balu Ka Ghera at 4 PM. This was a difficult stretch. It was raining incessantly making the tracks slippery. Our gear was completely drenched. We had a gradual ascent to a mountain and crossed the river barefoot through ankle-deep water. We were extremely tired and decided to go off to sleep. However, the crew woke us up and insisted we have dinner. We gathered that having food at the regular intervals is imperative to have the energy. We were also instructed to drink lot of water every day. For the first two nights, our oxygen levels were checked to ensure we were in good health.
We began the trek to Hampta Pass at 7 AM. The sun had come out. Since we were not sure if it would rain, we had to carry all the gear with us in our backpack making it heavier. This was a major day for us. It seemed that we were walking for ever. We ascended and descended several times, crossing three glaciers. By this time, a part of the group had gone ahead and we were lagging behind. We were trained to cross the glaciers with care. The crew demonstrated the exact steps. This was a tough part. It was raining on and off. The clouds would suddenly envelop us leaving us with zero visibility and suddenly the clouds would clear. In all of this, the crew kept us motivated by narrating stories from their experience.
We reached Hampta Pass at 4 PM. As per tradition, the crew performed a brief pooja, thanking the Almighty for the safe arrival of the group. We took some photographs and we began the descent. The idea was to reach Shea Goru before dark. The descent was very tough as it was very steep and the rains had made the tracks slippery. However, the entire crew including the mule owners were with us helping and supporting us. It was getting dark. We had to cross two glaciers with crevasses, which are deep fissures in a glacier.
At one of the glaciers, there was a pathway through which one could slide down but I opted to climb down while some others took the pathway and descended quickly. I took a long time to descend but the crew was very supportive.
When I reached Shea Goru, I was going through mixed emotions – fear, relief, happiness, tears, loneliness, melancholy, sense of accomplishment, victory, euphoria. I just cannot explain. To me, this stretch from Balu Ka Ghera to Hampta Pass and back to Shea Goru was very scary. I went through a lot in this stretch. At some points, I feared for my life.
At Shea Goru, those who reached early had gone off to sleep. The crew pulled everyone out for dinner. This was a dinner when everyone ate in silence, in deep contemplation. Something had happened to each one of us. It is hard to explain but something had shifted in me. That night I could not sleep. I lay in my sleeping bag, thinking of what all I had experienced. I went through a lot of images from my past and present.
The next day after about 4 hours of trek, we reached the Base Camp. Some members of the group went to Chandrataal, a crescent-shaped lake but I did not have the energy for it. We spent time with the crew at the Base Camp. We helped them with some cooking and stayed close to the fire – it was such a pleasure.
Kamalbhai, the cook, had baked a cake to celebrate the successful completion of the trek. I went back to the tent and slept.
The next day after breakfast, we assembled as a group and shared our experiences. The youngsters around me considered me to be a role model – having undertaken this at the age of 48, they wanted to send their parents to the trek. We were handed over our certificates.
I waved my certificate to the world and cried. I was a Queen.
The trek changed something in me. There was a surge of confidence in me. From a protected city life, I had stepped into the unknown with many associated risks and I had emerged from it, stronger. I realized that there are so many ways to live our life. One need not necessarily conform to the stereotypical image.
At Manali, as I was getting ready to pack my stuff for my return, I bumped into Snehal, a 27-year old girl from Nagpur. She was in Manali after completing a solo ride on a two-wheeler to Khardungla Pass.
I have realized that Life is available to all of us. We could exist, go through the motions and do our duties or live Life like an adventure.