The most common and severely abused, if I may add, route to Manimahesh Kailash is the Hadsar-Dhancho route. However, there are many alternate routes to reach the Kailash and each one of them offers exquisite views of peaks, valleys, and the gorgeous meadows. After the Hadsar-Dhancho Route came into existence, these alternate passes gradually disappeared from the public memory. And there are many passes in the Manimahesh Ranges that were once used by the pilgrims.
The most popular route is the Hadsar-Dhancho route and this trail is the easiest too. Horses ply on this route to carry pilgrims to and fro.Recently even a helipad has come up at Gauri Kund making it less of a pilgrimage and more like a family outing program.
One such forgotten route is the Kalah or Sukh Dali Pass which was frequented by the locals in the ancient times. Named after the Kalah Village, it is also called Sukh Dali Pass. With the coming up of roads and easy trail via Hadsar, these passes are no longer used. Only an odd pilgrim or hardcore trekker prefers using this route.This trail is a welcome change from the much abused trail via Hadsar. The views en-route this pass are spectacular.This pass offers one of the best unobstructed views of the Dhauldhars and Manimahesh Range. The Holy Kailash and sacred Kuja peaks are at a touching distance from this pass.
The trail to this pass is well marked.Pilgrims from Holi and Kangra side still prefer using this route because it is shorter than other trails. Locals often make a to and fro journey to the lake in a single day from Holi. The trail for this trek begins from Holi village near a bridge across Ravi river. A road is also coming up to Kalah village but it will take many years before this road is constructed.The trek to Kalah and up to Manimahesh Kailash starts from here.
Start of a Beautiful Journey – Day 1
The trek began with a very steep climb and we were soon gasping for breath. After climbing for about half an hour we reached a ridge top where there is a small hut with a small water spring where one can rest. The trail from here on eased out a bit and it was a series of ups and downs. Kalah village rests low in the backdrop of the mountains and it remained hidden until we reached a vantage point close to the village. The view backwards towards Holi side and Dhauladhar was stunning.
After starting our journey from Holi we reached Kalah village in 2 hours. We were welcomed into a shepherd’s home whom we met on our way and he offered a stay at his place. We gladly accepted his offer. Since it was time for the annual Manimahesh fair we met many pilgrims who were on their way to the lake. As usual our hosts were very generous and they offered us the best meals and a comfortable stay.
A Delayed Start – Day 2
A delayed start was inevitable because it rained the whole night. The next destination was Sukh Dali (Dali/Dal means a lake in the Himalayas) which is just below the pass. A brisk walking effort is required from Kalah because the ascent is steep and you have to maneuver your way along huge rocky walls. The route is carved out by cutting the rocky walls and whosoever has done this job, he deserves a godly status.
And that’s the reason these shepherds worship the local deities and revere them highly. It is believed, and I have no reason to doubt it, that these deities opened up these routes long ago.
It was a jig-jag walk and soon it started to drizzle. Himalayan rains are the worst companion of a trekker. Walking in the Himalayas, which otherwise is a blissful experience, becomes an office job in the rains. You just want to escape it. The sooner the better. Surprisingly, we spotted a langar camp near the Sukh Dali camping point. You don’t see langars on this trail but it was a pleasant surprise for us. Such langars make the Dhancho route an easy one but we never expected a langar on this trail. The logistics dynamics on this route are difficult and we couldn’t find enough words to praise the brave efforts of the organizers.
We were told that even a bigger langar was set up ahead at the Jail Khad camp. Himalayas always surprise you!
The trek initially descends to Jail Khad which comes from the pass itself. After crossing a trangri (makeshift wooden bridge) across the Jail Khad, the trail meanders along the khad. It is a gentle climb from here to the camp ground up ahead. Gaddi shepherds set camp here in the summers and we were lucky to find one group camping there. It is a grazing ground of considerable size and we could spot the big langar camp we were told about previously.
This langar meant we were saved from the efforts of preparing our lunch. After resting there for an hour we set out for Sukh Dali. The barren rocky ridges with huge waterfall look treacherous but if you can also spot a well carved out trail alongside. The climb is steep which flattens out suddenly at a ridge top which was our destination for the day Sukh Dali campground.
It took us nearly 2 hours to reach this campsite from Jail Khad. We were looking for a good place to pitch our tent when all of a sudden we saw a gaddi dera (shepherd hut) nearby. The good shepherd came to our rescue again and offered a stay at his place. This campsite was very windy because it was very close to the pass. But then you have to face hardships to earn the best reward. We were rewarded by the spectacular view of the Himalayas. We could spot the prayer flags atop a ridge which marked the opening of the pass. We could well make out that pass was not very far from Sukh Dali and it would not take us more than 45 minutes to reach the pass.We spent the night in the dera. It rained incessantly the whole night and continued on the next day also. We waited for the weather to clear up but that didn’t happen.
The Reward of Patience – Day 3
The reason behind camping close to the pass is to get better views. An early hike to the pass means a spectacular Himalayan view from the top. And in this case, we were to see the Holy abode of Shiva! But it turned out to be a futile wait because the weather wouldn’t clear up at all.
At 4 P.M. we finally started our hike to the top. It was not a hike but a sprint to the top. We had rested the whole day and we weren’t left with much time because crossing the pass at odd hours is suicidal. Its direct interference with the laws of the nature. But we had no other choice. We were literally sprinting to the top. We made it to the top in 25 minutes flat. While Manimahesh Kailash played the game of hide – n – seek with me, my friend in the meantime located the sacred Ghuggi flower, which is considered a form of Mata Parbati. He climbed further along the ridge to get hold of the sacred flower.
After a long wait, I finally spotted the Kailash Shiva. It appeared so close that I could jump and touch it. My hands were numb and fierce winds were blowing on my face. The physical form of mine was tired and shaken but the belief in the Himalayas was not. One sight of the Kailasa and I was all game to walk miles into the unknown.
The fog soon cleared a bit and the ridge leading down to the Manimahesh Lake could now be seen. We kept descending at a very fast pace and were at the lake in 20 minutes flat.
Now we were witnessing the miracle of the Universe in its full glory. The Manimahesh Kailash was shining bright in front of us and its reflection in the holy waters silently asked us to take a dip, as if inviting us to dive deep and touch it. While the weather at the top was furious, the lake was silent because like us, it too had found Shiva!