Mohit Chauhan poured out his soul into this song. He probably saw Chamba the way I see it. The way it should be seen. With a poetic eye. And believe me Chamba brings a meditative calm in your life, it comes naturally to you.
Chamba has always fascinated artists, writers, and trekkers alike since times immemorial. It gives them all an opportunity to come closer to the Mother Nature and refine their respective arts.
As far as my choice of art is concerned, it’s the music of the mountains, the lively bareness of the rocky terrains, and the eternal harmony of the free flowing water. And what better place to experience all this than the trails surrounding the Chamba Kailas (5656 meters); the eternal center of our cosmic consciousness.
There are as many as five ‘major’ trails that lead to the Chamba Kailash and I have been fortunate enough to walk on three of them. In this post we will discuss about five different trails that lead to the Chamba Kailash.
The Hadsar Trail to Chamba Kailash: The easiest and the most convenient of the all. This trail is frequented by trekkers and pilgrims alike and unfortunately this happens to be the one severely abused of the lot. The trek starts from Hadsar Village (14km from Bharmaur) and the one way trip requires you to walk approximately 14 km over a series of ups and downs. There are plenty of stay options en-route during the pilgrimage season, which is during the monsoon months. Of late, trekkers have started visiting this area as early as April. Trekking in the month of April gives you a spectacular view of the valley and mountains but is meant only for seasoned trekkers.
The most convenient way is to walk until Dhancho (6km) on day one (after visiting the Bharmani Mata Temple) and start early next morning so that you can take a holy dip at the lake and get back to Bharmaur on the same day. During the pilgrimage season, the entire trail is lighted and many people prefer to walk all night. However, the lake is a bloody windy place (4080 meters), so it is advised not to gain much height on the first day to avoid AMS.
The Sukh Dali Pass: The pass stands at an altitude of 4620 meters (14780 meters). It literally translates to ‘dried-up-lake’. This is an ancient route connecting one the Baidyanath Dham (Baijnath) to the holy abode of the Kailaspati in Chamba. This road is mostly used by pilgrims of Kangra Valley coming from Baijnath and Palampur region over the Jalsu Pass. The trail starts near Holi and it is a difficult trail from the word go. The first few kilometres are tiring but there are enough trail marks en-route, so there is not much risk of losing the trail. The first pit-stop can be made at the Kalah Village after walking for 8-10 km approximately. If you are a seasoned trekker ‘and’ running short of time, you can reach the lake on the same day from Kalah. However, it is advisable to break your journey into two parts from Kalah Village. From Kalah to either Sukh Dali campsite (recommended) or at the Jail Khad campsite. Jail Khad campsite is at a distance of 8-10km from Kalah Village and the Sukh Dali site is another 3-4 km from Jail Khad.
However, from Jail Khad to Sukh Dali, the gradient rises sharply and you will often find yourself running out of breath. The advantage of camping at the Sukh Dali is that you have already negotiated the harder part of the trail. Camping at Jail Khad doesn’t give you that liberty. From Sukh Dali to the top of the pass, it is a back breaking walk. It’s better if you start early because a) you get to see the Manimahesh Kailash and Kuja Peak from the top of the pass and b) you avoid the risk of rains. Rains at 4620 meters above the MSL can be real bad. From the top, it’s another 3km walk to the lake. The entire trail is well marked but it is not advised to go without a guide.
Parikrama of the Manimahesh Kailash: The Jotnu Pass: This pass stands at a height of 4710 meters and is also known as Dham Godi Pass. It is a difficult trek and the last leg of this treks requires superhuman effort. Only recommended for seasoned trekkers. Parikrama means circumambulation of the Chamba Kailash peak. This route is mostly preferred by Lahauli’s coming over the Kugti Pass. Of late, trekkers too have started venturing out here. The trek starts from Kugti Village, which is 8-10 km from Hadsar. The local beliefs say that it is mandatory to visit the Kelang Wazir temple located 4km off the tack from the Kugti-Jotnu trail. And I recommend that you do visit the temple because you get to see the Kailash Peak in its absolute glory. The first pit-stop comes at the Hanuman Mandir, where another trail coming from Bada Bhangal merges.
You will find gaddis camping at Hanuman Mandir and they are always helpful lot. Make sure you unload your raw supplies with them so that they continue to serve trekkers staying with them. Now comes the difficult part of the trek, a steep climb from Hanuman Mandir to the huge boulder zone is extremely demanding and risky. And your problems do not end just there. Traversing the huge boulder zone is even more difficult. Huge boulders often slip and if you are not cautious enough, you might end up losing a tooth or two.
The last one kilometer or so is nothing less than climbing a small mountain. You have to make way up the precarious scree, which drags you back every time you lift your step to move forward. All this may take 45 minutes or two hours, depending upon your skill. The view atop the pass is awe-inspiring, worth every drop of your sweat. You get to see a vast field of snow guarded by the Kuja Peak. The peak is inclined towards the glacier and it appears as if a curious mother is watching her son play.
However, the troubles are not yet over. The descent from the top is tricky and if it has rained the night before, you will need a magnifying glass to locate the trail. Huge slippery boulders make the matters even worse. In case it is foggy, just cling to the feet of the Kailash Peak because that’s the safest way. After a long walk of a couple of kilometers you arrive at the Kamal Kund where from you can either go back to Dhancho or head towards the lake. There from you take a turn and move towards the Sukh Dali Pass.
Chobu Pass, the Lost Trail of Bada Bhangal: This pass stands at a colossal height of 4700 meters (15050 feet) and it is also known as the ‘Khidla Galu Pass’. In almost every map, you will find the Jotnu Pass wrongly mentioned as the Chobu Pass. I guess only Minakshi Chaudhary got it right (Exploring the Pangi Himalayas: Book Review) and even Harish Kapadia ji wrongly mentioned the other one as Chobu. This pass is actually to the South-East of the Jotnu Pass. Not even the gaddis cross this pass anymore. The trail starts from Nayagraan Village and after walking for approximately 10-12 km (4 hours) from Nayagraan, you arrive at the Gharonda Village. After that its all your luck and benevolance of the Mother Nature. The trail is completely lost and its very difficult to walk amidst the wild grass. Last year, my friends crossed this pass and finding a person to accompany them was more difficult than the trek itself. The Bada Bhangali’s once used this trail to visit their relatives in Chamba/Bharmaur. The younger generation doesn’t have much clue about this trail and those who have crossed this pass are too old to accompany anyone.
There is a Chaurasee (84) Mandir in Gharonda Village too. The goth beneath the pass is in tatters and when my friends stayed there, they had to spend an entire night under a leaking roof. If only that can be called a roof. If Jotnu Pass is difficult, this pass redefines the word difficulty. Scree, snow-patches, and absence of water are three major characteristic properties of this pass. Although its possible to camp just beneath the pass but for that you need to have your own supply of water.
The Nikora Pass: This is unarguably the most difficult pass leading to the Chamba Kailash. Bada Bhangali’s, who happen to be staunch devotees of Shiva, often cross this pass. This pass was once the only connecting route between the Kugti and Bhangal villages. This pass stands at a height of 4575 meters. The trail, if there is any left, starts from the Upper Bhangal village near the Kelang Wazir temple and meets the Jotnu (Parikrama Trail) near the hanuman mandir campsite.
I do not have much information about Nikora Pass. And I intend to learn more about this trail this year. I have been dreaming of the Nikora Glacier since long. The eternal silence of the Nikora Glacier is the music I hear in my dreams these days.