I met Lara in a trekking-agency in old Manali. We both wanted to do a challenging trek through a couple of days, but the operators kept on telling us that we had to hire a guide, tents and all the necessary to camp out. I already noticed that in Himachal Pradesh there is a different culture about hiking compared to Nepal, with a lack of guesthouses along the paths and a widespread tendency to let tourists join only fully-organized experiences. This, though, doesn’t belong neither to me, nor to Lara. So we agreed to make our own way to the Chandrakhani Pass, 3660mt altitude, with light packs and a lot of faith.
The morning after we had breakfast and took a bus to Naggar, and started walking uphill to Rumsu, where, we were told, there was the last chance to find a guesthouse. The walk was beautiful and the sun still shining, so we headed to the further village, Pulag (also known as Pulga); a local guy showed us a stunning shortcut through apple fields. Arrived at Pulag, about 2500mt altitude, we realized instantly that we weren’t going to find any guesthouse.
This little village seems stuck in another era. The people live on farming and livestock, building their own houses with a characteristic technique involving wood and flat stones. We started asking the villagers if anyone could host us for the night, even letting us to sleep on the floor with our sleeping bags. Joginder, who lives with his father, elder brother and respective families, picked up our call. He gave us a room, mattresses, a carpet, chai, food and chakti, a local rice wine. We have been eating and drinking all together, watching cricket and enjoying other famous local products. There was a bit of shyness at the beginning, but once we broke the ice, these people showed us how kind and funny they are. A great party.
The guys told us we would have been able to cross the pass and reach Malana, in the Parvati Valley, in about 10 hours. We woke up at dawn, and started walking through a dense, amazing forest, just following the shepherds’ paths. Around noon we reached a camp in a meadow, but apparently nobody had a spare tent for us.
We were told, then, of a “tea house” just across the snow line, and that they might have had a way to host us. So we kept on, walking on a candid ground covered by the first patches of snow. We met only organized groups on the way, and everybody seemed to be quite surprised that we were on the way to the pass without any guide, tent or food. When we arrived at the “tea house”, we understood why. It basically consisted of a shelter made of stones and covered with a tarp.
It was 2pm, and we were strongly suggested to not attempt the pass by that time. So we asked if there was any chance of sleeping over there, without the risk of freezing. The only one to spend the night there turned out to be the keeper of the shelter, Nerendar. He reassured us that wasn’t going to be so cold, and offered us to hire his own tent; he would have been sleeping in the shelter (no roof, no door). I was honestly skeptical, but Lara, with the optimism she brought with her all along the trek, convinced me that we were going to be fine. She was right, and we had the chance of enjoying a stunning sunset on these ancient mountains.
We enjoyed a simple but tasty “thali” (rice and lentils), and shared a chat with Nerendar. He told us that he spends 6 months a year alone in there, bringing all the supplies by himself. He was from Pulag as well, where he’s got is own family and fields. With the usual kindness which distinguish these people, he suggested us to sleep, since, the morning after, we could have moved soon; it was still too risky to send us by ourself, he said, so he would have guided us at the top of the pass. The night, even if still not a cruise along the tropics, actually turned out to be not freezing as I thought. After a quick breakfast with chai and omelette, we made our move towards the snowy ridge.
As first trekkers of the day, opening the way through the snow, we honestly couldn’t have done it by ourself. Nerendar, who usually wanders around the teahouse barefoot, seemed to be totally comfortable on the icy morning snow. The weather turned bad, but in about an hour we reached the pass, and after the ritual picture, was time to say goodbye.
We thought the worst was gone, since the way was now only downhill. We didn’t know how. The descent to Malana basically consisted in a barely visible path, all the way down a steep crevice. The village was also hidden by the rocks all the time, not giving us any clue about direction and time.
Slipping on the mud and wet stones, under a restless rain, we took almost 5 hours to reach our destination, the capital of farmers producing charas. The roofs popping out of the fields of early marijuana plants were a relieving sight.
Though, we had left all our stuff in Manali, and we didn’t want to spend another night out. After a brief tea-break, we made our way back to the Kullu valley. We were just dreaming of an hot shower, but it unexpectedly took us one hour by taxi and three by bus to come back. During the drive, the Parvati Valley, plunged in low clouds and fog, appeared in all its wildness, unfolding between sharp peaks, narrow gorges and the tumultuous Parvati river.
One of those remote atmosphere which I really like to get lost in.
Photo: Matteo Fabi