Remember Naveen Boktapa? My friend from Lahaul! Yeah, the guy who walked across the Rohtang Pass, from Manali to Tandi when most of us were still in the school. He was the one who inspired me to walk across the frozen Rohtang to witness the wonderful winters of the Lahaul Valley.
We met again after five years and guess what did we do?
We walked across the Rangcha Gali Pass (4410 m) in Lahaul and performed the circumambulation of the holy Drilbu Ri (bell) Mountain. Naveen had come back from Bombay and he wanted to perform the kora, Lahauli word for circumambulation, of the holy mountain. We planned a heavy-duty expedition of performing the kora in eight hours.
Within 36 hours, I had performed the kora and I was back in Sundernagar. 490 kilometers by bus and 19 kilometer on foot in 36 hours.
I first read about the Rangcha Gali Pass in MS Gill’s Himalayan Wonderland. And if my memory serves me right, even he did not mention a thing about the Drilbu Ri mountain. During my visit to Keylang last month, Naveen’s father shared with me the story of Drilbu Ri and enlightened masters of the Lahaul Valley who meditated in caves surrounding the Drilbu mountain. And that motivated me to perform the kora. Having performed the parikrama of Manimahesh Kailash, I knew that it was going to be another soul-stirring experience.
Lahaul is the land of enlightened masters who carried the light of Buddhism from the heart of Shakyamuni Buddha to the remote land of Tibet. Entire Lahaul Valley pulsates with the energy of these masters even till date. The Drilbu Ri Mountain, Mrikula Mandir, and Triloknath Mandir are Lahaul’s three primary sites of sacredness.
This is how Buddhists across the world describe these three historical sites;
Drilbu Ri – the Mountain of Spontaneous Union, the abode of Shiva – Shakti,
Markula, the great underground site of the underground Dakinis,
Trilokinath – Phakpa, the unequalled abode of Compassion.
The revered Guru Ghantapa (Drlibupa) meditated here some 1200 years ago and that’s where from name of the mountain comes. Traditionally it is believed that Drilbu Ri is the palace of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightened body and Guru Ghantapa meditated for years just by looking at the holy mountain. The mountain is also associated with Chakrasamwara which represents the great male-female union akin to the Hindu concept of Shiva-Shakti union.
Even Drilbu Ri mountain range has a twin peak, visible from Tandi, that looks like a heavenly couple guarding the waters of Chandra and Bhaga.
Across the River Bhaga – Keylang to Kardang Gompa – 6km
Our journey started from Kardang Gompa, which is located across the Bhaga River, a 6 km uphill hike from Keylong. The gompa stands at an altitude of 3400 meters and gives you a head start for the arduous journey ahead. We were waiting for our friend Shiv Kumar, a wildlife photographer from Lahaul, and that delayed our journey. We hiked our way up to the gompa at night, starting at 1930 Hours and it took us almost two hours to reach at the gompa.
Now we needed shelter and food also. Fortunately, there was enough lodging space available at the gompa and we were assured of a comfy night. The Drilbu Ri Mountain stands tall above the gompa and its jagged uprisings keep a constant vigil as you walk towards the top.
Ascent to the Top – Kardang to Rangcha Gali Pass – 8km
As we started our journey from the gompa , Keylang was still sleeping. A creamy layer of mist was spread across the town and foggy winds were rising up from the gurgling waters of River Bhaga. The golden rays of sun were forcing the fog away from the colossal mountains giving us a glimpse of the divinity as we inched closer to the top of the pass. As we gained height, entire landscape had undergone a mysterious makeover.
The mountain tops were shining bright while the rest of the rock mass was still wrapped in fog. The sun, unable to fight its way out of the misty winds, dispersed its golden blessings in the air. And unsurprisingly, those golden rays were silently absorbed by two of the oldest seats of Buddhism in Lahaul; Shashur & Tayul Gompa.
The sun deprived us of its blessings and we climbed all the way up in thick fog. We met another group, assumed it a gaddi party, and shouted all sorts of names to catch their attention. As fog subsided, we got to know that it was the local MLA and his group that were performing the kora of the holy mountain.
The last leg of the hike was steep as we were at an altitude of 4000+ meters. The mere sight of the cairns atop the pass energized the entire group, even the 50-year-old MLA was now running like a wild horse to see the divinity unfolding atop the pass.
The Last Leg – Rangcha Gali to Gondhla – 5km
The Rangcha Gali Pass is unlike other passes I have seen.
The top is wide open and you can actually call it an open field, relatively speaking. The Shiker Beh and CB ranges on the banks of River Chandra rise piercingly above the horizon. The King Mountain of Lahaul, Ghepan Goh, rises from South while the Drilbu Ri peak watches you from the North. Surrounded by these colossal towers of white and brown, the Rangcha Gali pass offers a unique spectacle.
Unfortunately, we could not see these mountains in their full glory but could only catch glimpses, as it was foggy all around.
The 14th Dalai Lama performed the kora of the Drilbu Mountain in 1970s. Recently, in 2007 and 2009 the Chief of the Drukpa Sect performed his ritual kora along with several hundred disciples. And that was a sight to behold; hundreds of monks walking in snow, and the hymns of Om Mani Pe Me Hum reverberating in the air. Imagine!
While we climbed our way up from the banks of River Bhaga, we got down touching the banks of River Chandra. The confluence at Tandi is right beneath the divine mountain of DrilbuRi, and it is a breathtaking sight to watch these three wonders becoming one.
The Sila Caves, where Guru Ghantapa (Drilbupa) meditated, are visible from Gondhla Village.
And as we completed our kora, the King Mountain of Lahaul, Ghepan Peak fought its way out of the clouds just to greet us. And that made it a journey worth every drop of our sweat.
The L&S Admin website mentions Rangcha Gali Pass at 14536 ft. (4542 m) while MS Gill puts it at 14600 ft. I don’t have any altimeter but my DS Altimeter Mobile App displayed 4410 m atop the pass.
Any generous Altimeter donors out there?
Start Point – Keylang > Kardang > Rangcha Gali > Teling >Gondhla> 19km | Moderate Trek | Gradient Hard
One can reach at Kardang by road also. The road to Kardang branches off near Tandi Petrol Pump via Tupchiling Monastery.