This was my first ever Himalayan trek / expedition and after selecting the various options I decided to go to SAR PASS organized by the Youth Hostels Association of India.
Harshad Lad, friend and trekker decided to join me for this trek. We confirmed our entries in March and were slotted in group SP10. Our reporting date at base camp – Kasol was on 10th May'04.
About Sar Pass
Sar Pass trek is one of the most popular Himalayan treks being regularly organised by YHAI through their 'National Himalayan Trekking Expedition programme'. It is also one of the most popular trekking trails in the Shivalik Range of Himachal Pradesh.
Sar Pass trek offers an opportunity to enjoy the exquisite beauty of Parvati valley with Kasol, Nagaru, Biskeri and Manikaran as its beauty spots. Kasol is famous for its coll and pleasant climate with tall pine trees. Nagaru thatch can be literally called the little 'Ice Land' where one experiences the challenge of nature in full fury during spine chilling cold nights. The splendid views of snowy peaks offer an endless feast to one eyes. Biskeri fascinates the trekkers with its lush green meadows, wild flowers and a variety of birds. Hot water springs at Manikaran are a bliss. A natural hot water bath at these springs relieves you of all tiredness and rejuvenates the body and mind with new energy.
The purpose of the Sar Pass Trek is to expose all participants to a greater adventure and to rough out the rigours of plodding through snow with a sense of love for nature and outdoor recreational activity aiming at promoting national integration.
How to Reach Kasol Base Camp : Kasol, base camp for Sar Pass, is linked by road to Kullu via Bhuntar. It is 5kms short of Manikaran. Regular bus service is available from Kullu and Bhuntar to reach Kasol. Direct buses are also available to Manikaran from Chandigarh and other parts of Punjab. Nearest railheads are Joginder Nagar, Pathankot and Chandigarh. Nearest airport is Bhuntar.
Click to find out more about the Sar Pass route and itenary.
We landed into Delhi on 9 th May,04 from Mumbai and fortunately got onto a Non-AC bus which departed at around 5pm and after a grueling 16hr journey reached Bhunter at around 9am. Bhunter is a major town in the Kullu region with buses connecting to various small & big towns/cities. Bhunter airport is the only airport in Himachal Pradesh and is serviced only by private airlines.
We then got onto a connecting bus Manali – Manikaran which passes thru our destination – KASOL (6,500ft). The ride took us 2 hrs / 38kms and we passed thru many small villages incl. Jari. We reach base camp around 10:30am. After reporting and completing the necessary formalities we are allotted tent # 1. As this is a day of reporting and resting, we decided to visit Kasol village and Manikaran which is about 7km away.
We walked upto Kasol village which is about 10mins from the camp. Kasol is extremely popular amongst Westerners namely, Israelis, Italians, Greeks etc. They come here for drugs, piercing etc. The locals and the Indian tourists do get their hard ons when they see so many scantily clad western women parading up & down in the village doing' nothing….
We then got onto a bus for Manikaran and reached there in about 20mins. Manikaran is famous for its hot springs and lies on the banks of the Parvati River . It is also famous for the Manikaran Gurudwara Sahib. We checked into Sharma Guest House and had a good hot water bath. We returned back to base camp by noon. By late evening all participants of SP10 had reported to base camp. In all we were 71.
After an early and sumptuous dinner ( 7:30pm ) we attended the campfire, hosted by SP9 and retired to our tents by around 9:30pm .
The day at base camp begins with morning tea at 5:15pm followed by morning exercise ( 6:15am ) at the nearby ground in Kasol village lasting for about an hour. Breakfast is served at 7:45am and by 8:45am we left for our acclimatization walk in the nearby woods. We gained about 1000ft altitude and this walk was extremely necessary for many of us to judge our trekking potentials. We returned back by noon and after lunch attended our trek orientation conducted by the field director, Mr. Somnath Pal.
That evening it was our turn to host the campfire and many of us came out with a variety of skits and songs which was extremely entertaining for example: fashion trek skit, Close-up jingle skit, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, English, Hindi songs, mind games etc etc.
After our morning exercises followed by breakfast, we proceeded for our rappelling session (falls on the route to Grahan). Post noon we attended the rock climbing camp. That evening we were deposited our luggage in the camp office (that we will not be carrying for the trek). We are also allotted YHAI rucksacks and liners for sleeping bags to be used for the trek.
Quite a hectic scene in the morning with everyone gearing up to leave for the trek. After the morning routine (no exercise today), we get packed lunch to have on the trek.
Suresh Uncle was appointed as our Trek Leader (he is the senior most in our group and has been to Sar Pass in 2003) & Mr. Jha appointed as the Environmental Leader (though I could never understand his role in the entire trek). Priya and Aditi were posted as Deputy leaders. A identity card-cum-passport was issued to all the participants which was to be stamped at all the camps thus proving that the particpant had truly completed his trek. It was the group leader's responsibility to keep all the passports carefully with him throughout the trek and handover the same back to the basecamp office upon completion of the trek.
Identity Card - cum - Passport
Finally our batch was flagged of at around 8:30am. We marched out of the camp heading towards GRAHAN (7700ft / 9km), our 1st camp. Taking a right just before the bridge in Kasol, we headed towards the hills and after passing many rivulets and strenuous climbs we reached GRAHAN Village at around 3pm . The camp is set on the outskirts of the village.
GRAHAN is an extremely beautiful village and is a self contained village notably with electricity and water. Though poverty is quite evident, the people here are quite happy. We are welcomed by the camp leaders and are treated to a welcome drink (squash). In the evening, tea is served at around 5:30pm followed by distribution of blankets, sleeping bags. Dinner is served at 7:30pm followed by campfire. At GRAHAN, we were treated with good entertainment - folk songs and dances organized by the villagers. Finally just before bedtime, Milo was served.
Note: All camps have the same set of itenary.
After breakfast and packed lunch, we departed for PADRI (9300ft / 9kms) at around 10am. Hanifa, Sunil and myself we left in the end and eventually took the wrong route and strayed towards the riverbed instead of traversing the village. Finally realizing that we are lost, we retraced our steps back to near the village and after taking the correct path proceeded hurriedly to catch up with the rest of the team. We crossed a wooden bridge and started climbing. In about an hours time we caught up with our team members and reached Padri at around 3pm. Padri camp is set in open ground surrounded by mountains and is extremely beautiful. Next to the camp, a volleyball court has been setup for participants to play and refresh their energies. From Padri one can spot Nagaru Camp high up on the rugged mountain dotted with a few tents. Camp routine followed.
The walk from PADRI to RATAPANI (11,200ft / 10kms) was quite strenuous. We departed for RATAPANI at around 9am. RATAPANI is the last tree line area on the trek. We reached camp at around 2pm but waited outside as entry to all camps is usually after 330pm. Camp routine followed.
We departed from RATAPANI at around 9:15am and proceeded to NAGARU (12,500ft / 8kms). This stretch was not at all tough and quite nice to trail. From Ratapani we descended steeply to reach a rivulet. Then on a short steep climb brought us to ‘Mingtatch', an open grassy area. After about an hour's rest, we climbed further and reached a slope kind of open area called ‘Joktatch' (means cluster of rocks in an open area). The tree line ends here. We then climbed further thru zigzag steep routes and finally reach NAGARU camp at around 4pm. Camp itenary is a bit different here. Camp fire is usually held before dinner and bedtime is at 8pm as we had to depart at 4am the next day. The Nagaru camp is set on the edge of the mountain. The view from here is extremely beautiful. One can spot various peaks in the Manali region, far-off Dhauladar region, etc. The camp area is quite small and it is not advisable to venture away from the camp limits as one can easily fall off from the mountain.
Wakeup call is at 3am and we departed at around 4am. This is the D-day. We were going to cross SAR PASS, the aim and purpose of this entire expedition. On this route we are assisted by 3 guides who guided us thru the snow stretch and help us cross SAR PASS. The entire route is about 14kms and took us about 9hrs to complete as the walk on the snow itself is about 2-3hrs. Packed lunch for this route consists of chikkis, sweets & biscuits.
From Nagaru we climbed on slowly in darkness and in about 1.5 hrs reach TILOTAN TOP (13,800 ft) the highest point on our entire expedition. We took rest for about ½ hr. However, for me and the rest of the Imodium gang, it was SNOWTIME. We rumble ourselves throwing snowballs, pulling and pushing each other and had good fun. We were then briefed by our guides on the various mountain peaks and ranges that could be seen from here. They are as follows :
Kholi Pass (YHAI had a trek to this region, which is now stopped due to landslides), Dharatatch Range (15,000ft) (which we have to traverse), Girbakoti, Indra Kila, Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh, Indrasan, Illa Pass, Dupu Glacier, Nag Tibba, Rodal Pass.
After the briefing, we proceeded towards Dharatatch. Though we were not climbing this mountain, we would have to traverse it to reach BISKERI TOP (Rs.11,500ft). The entire mountain is full of snow and so, we had to walk carefully thru the path marked by the guides. After the initial 20min walk we reached a point from where we had to slide down about ½ km. This was superb. Each one did a solo slide, many tumbled, and some landed in proper shape. We then slowly traversed the entire route carefully and finally reached BISKERI TOP by 10:30am . BISKERI TOP is a narrow ridge with our Indian flag hoisted on a high point . This is where our SAR PASS traverse ended. The guides then departed back to NAGARU and 2 new guides joined us to take us to BISKERI.
The walk down BISKERI TOP is a bit difficult as the path is too narrow and has to be carefully undertaken. After about an hour's walk we got another slide, & this time, Harshad Lad, myself and Jigar, we did a triple slide.This was great fun and we slided with great precision. We then walked past huge boulders. There was yet another slide, a small one, though only a few attempted it. We then took rest at the local tea shop, had lunch, as usual Maggi, omlettes etc. From here on the terrain is quite beautiful. The small plateaus are covered with green grass and tiny flowers have started growing. From this point one can spot BISKERI CAMP. We descended for about an hour to reach BISKERI and reached there by about 4pm .
BISKERI CAMP (11,000ft) is surrounded by huge mountains ie.the Saronga Pass, a glacier etc & therefore the climate here is quite extreme. Though lower in altitude than Nagaru, this place is still the coldest as compared to all the other camps. At the time of serving dinner at around 730pm we were all shivering and trembling. We retired to our tents, cuddling into our thick sleeping bags by around 830pm after a tiring day.
After the initial morning camp routine, we departed by around 9am, by descending from the meadow, behind the camp area. After about 1.5 hrs we reached a rocky edge where we all had to get down with the help of a rope (about 30ft) and then cross a river. Two precarious wooden logs are laid for this purpose. After which we had to climb and descend at various points and finally reach BHANDAKTATCH.
BHANDAK TATCH CAMP (8,000ft / 12 kms) is set in one of the most beautiful locales and is surely the most scenic place on the entire trek. Green meadows with Deodar trees, Horses grazing and in the backdrop a huge glacier. As soon as we reached, some of us went on to practice rock climbing on a huge boulder near the campsite. One can also play cricket here within the camp limits and most of our participants did make their day worthwhile. Especially, Srikumar, the Ranji cricketer who came to trek. After seeing a bat-n-ball after so many days, his joy new no bounds and he wept just like a baby rejoices after seeing his parents. Camp routine followed.
The final day had arrived. Each one of us wanted to reach the base camp at the earliest. We departed BHANDAKTATCH by 9am. We descended for about 1.5/2 hrs and reached BARSHANI where the Dam work / Thermal Power Plant work is on. We passed thru the plant and reach BARSHANI town. Six of us reached there first and took the 1030am bus to MANIKARAN. After reaching MANIKARAN, we all had a good bath (after 8 days) at one of the hotels (hot springs) and returned to MANIKARAN bus stand and waited for the rest of the team. Meanwhile we also had our lunch. After our team arrived we all departed for KASOL by bus. We then waited for our entire team to assemble and finally marched into the base camp in a victorious manner. We are welcomed by the camp volunteers and participants from other batches. That evening, again some of us, including me got an opportunity to serve during dinner time. During campfire, where we are awarded our Trek Completion Certificates. We spend the night at base camp.
This was one gloomy day. Our entire group was going to breakup. People were going to go their own way. In the past ten days, the entire group had become one huge family. Trekking together, knowing each other, helping one other during sickness, physically and emotionally, cracking Jokes – good, bad, worse & ugly ones and last but not the least falling in love with fellow trekkers (only some were lucky though). Some members of our group including me, decided to stay in touch and have formed a separate identity called the IMODIUMS. The Imodium's have decided to stay in regular touch. In the end all of us exchange notes, addresses, email ids, phone nos and what not…
Some took off to Bhunter for river rafting, while others to Manali. Harshad Lad, Apte, Kiran & myself, we decide to return to Delhi the same day and the next day, ie. 21/5/04 we return to our respective homes.
I am yet to recover from the hangover of the trek and do reminisce each and every moment of the entire trek. Special thanks to the following fellow participants who have been a great company during the trek and made it a memorable one ….
Aspreet, Yusuf, Sujay, Harshad Lad, Harshad Apte, Kiran Raju, Jigar, Mayank, Shrenik, Hem, Parth, Siby, Jomy, Nishant, Srikumar, Ravi, Priya, Aditi, Reena, Sunil bhai, Suresh Uncle and the rest of the SP10 members whose names I somehow have forgotten.
We all hope to keep in touch and trek together in the years to come.
Please check out the photos section to catch on all the photos of SAR PASS - 2004