Remember Naveen Boktapa? Yeah, the guy who walked all the way from Manali to Sissu across the treacherous Rohtang. He hails from Sumnam Village, arguably the driest villages of Lahaul. He is the one who ‘discovered‘ this lake in 2005.
The valley of Lahaul was under extreme drought between 2003 to 2007. The ill effects of global warming, probably! People used to embark on long journeys to far-off hilltops, in search of
newhidden sources of water. And none of them succeeded in finding a water source that could feed the demands of an entire village.
Naveen waswe were in second year of our college. The year was 2005. And Google Earth was our favorite pastime. That was when Naveen stumbled upon this hitherto unexplored and unheard of lake. Although this exploration didn’t provide any solution to water problems at Sumnam, it surely gave us an opportunity to witness the magic of Mother Nature.
It took us ten long years to land at the shores of this pristine yet potentially dangerous lake. Dangerous because this is not your yet another lake. This is a lake which could lead to Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).
However, that doesn’t take away the charm attached to this lake, an attribute common to all things hidden. It is a beautiful gem tucked away in the remote recesses of Himalayas. The massive expanse of turquoise waters of the lake are bewitching and awe inspiring at the same time. The monotony of the still waters is broken by countless specs of ice every now and then.
A huge wall comprising of rock and ice appears to be the end of this lake, which originates from a gigantic glacier flowing from the foot of a rocky satellite that seems to be touching the infinite.
The lake has been marked as Gepang Gath in Google Maps. I don’t know what Gath means, neither does Naveen, so we decided to call it Ghepan Ghat. Although the
feedingreceding glacier of this lake doesn’t come from the main Ghepan Peak.
The trek starts from Labrang Gompa, a two kilometer detour from Sissu Nursery on the main Manali – Leh Highway near Sissu. The trail is well marked, provided you know which trail to follow. We went along Sissu Nala that originates from the lake itself. However, the easiest way is to follow the ridge that starts from the end point of Labrang Gompa road.
Trek is of moderate difficulty and barring few patches here and there, it’s all smooth sailing of 14.1 km from Labrang Gompa.
The trail meanders along the Sissu Nala. We decided to avoid the scree and chose the middle path that walks through slopy fields. A ridge and a water channel runs all along the trail until base-camp, but we somehow ended up in the middle ground. Ideally, if you follow the water channel and walk at a decent speed, you can find the lake on the very first day.
The left bank of the Sissu Nalla is occupied by gaddis’ from Mandi and Kullu where as the right bank belongs to Kangra and Chamba gaddis’. And all along the trail, even at the lake and probably beyond it, you’ll find little gaddi hutments constructed in traditional style. An impeccable work of pahadi craftsmanship.
Because we chose the middle ground we ended up 3.62 miles short of the lake, so we named that camp as Base Camp 3.62. We four, Naveen-Rijul-Dr. Kamal Preet and I, managed to walk only 9 kilometers on first day.
We camped at a slopy meadow that overlooked the main Pir Panjal massif in the distance. The sky was overcast and remained that way for the rest of our stay in Lahaul.
Base Camp 3.62 stands at an altitude of 3870 meters. Ideally, one shouldn’t stay here because a few hundred meters from this site, you find a massive grazing ground most suitable for a leisurely camping.
A thick moraine wall forms the boundary of this lake which gives way to a huge ground on the other side. Twice as big as Chamba’s Chaougan. And that’s no exaggeration.
I came across a Geological Survey Report (Gepang Gath Glacio Study) which solves the GLOF mystery for us. Here are some of the key findings.
It is one of the fast retreating glaciers in Himachal Pradesh, on an average the glacier has receded 44.98 m/year during 2003-2012.
The area of this lake has increased from 0.26 sq. km. in 1965 to 0.78 sq. km. in 2012.
Most importantly, the lake has been determined theoretically stable and the earlier fears of imminent catastrophe were plain exaggeration.
Local hindi newspapers are experts in fanning fears. Recently I came across a news report that said Sissu Village wouldn’t survive the year 2015 because this lake was just at the verge of exploding. Such nonsensical reports appear frequently in hindi dailies.
The lake has a smooth outlet and the valley downstream is deep, 14.1 kilometers to be precise. Surprisingly, not many locals we spoke to were aware of the existence of this lake. At the same time, none of the gaddis’ denied existence of this lake. Some of them have been coming here since late 1970s. One of them has pitched his tent just across the lake, at 4030 meters.
That’s some courage!
The Kingdom of Ghepan
This lake is named has many variants of its name. Some call it Ghepan Ghat, GSI people call it Gepang Gath, gaddis’ call it Ghepan Ka Alyas. So who is Ghepan?
Ghepan is the most revered deity of Lahaul Valley. So much so that he is called Raja Ghepan, the King. A peak by the same name rises above the Sissu village that stands tall like an Emperor. A solitary tower keeping a constant vigil. A massive rock face guarding the valley of Lahaul.
A glimpse of this peak from Sissu and you know why is it the undisputed King. The bluish Chandra gives way to the greener pastures, which in turn give way to black rock. The black rock then mysteriously changes its color to icy white. And then the icy white submerges with the infinite.
The jewel of Lahaul. The King Mountain. Jai Raja Ghepan!