In the Land of a Blue Throated Magician| Nilkanth Mahadev Yatra, Lahaul

Steering tie rods help steer a vehicle in the right direction as the steering wheel is turned. It’s an important component of the steering system. After all you don’t want all your wheels moving independently in whichever direction they want.

Remember the ‘cerebral palsy‘ face of Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street? That’s how a vehicle behaves if the steering rod malfunctions.

And that’s exactly what happened with us when we started our journey from Tandi to Nilkanth Mahadev Lake. Our driver made a quick decision just in the nick of time that saved all of us.

Keylang Chokhang Naingahar Bus

Just In the Nick of Time

Our minor problem was over. The major problem was finding another vehicle that would take us to Naingahar: starting point of the trek. We usually prefer public transport and hiring a cab is mostly beyond our budget. Fortunately, another HRTC bus miraculously appeared out of nowhere and our problem was solved.

That’s what we thought. However, it turned out to be a multidimensional problem. Sheling-Baring-Yangthang being the next set of stumbling blocks we were about to face. 

In case you are wondering, these are name of villages with ‘black-top’ but tapered roads. Several hundred feet above River Chandra Bhaga reminding us of the furious Satluj in Kinnaur. The roads were just wide enough for a car and here we were, just the five of us including the driver and conductor in a big 37 seater bus, hoping our new driver would be as sharp as the one we had just met in the morning. I was shit scared and doubts had started to creep in mind regarding our my decision to not abandon the trip when the first bus broke down.

Hari Singh, our driver literally looked like Sri Hari Muraliwala to me when he safely negotiated the last U-turn on that godforsaken road. Driving  buses on those roads deserves all the accolades one has to offer.

Keylang CHokhang Baring Sheling Bus

Hari Singh Muraliwala’

Finally we were on the main road again. Naingahar wasn’t too far now. A long cherished dream was now being realized.

We had set foot in the land of blue throated Shiva. 

Naingahar

It is a small village comprising of maybe 15 houses and a single shop cum dhaba. We reached here in the evening and to our surprise the entire village was out on the road as if somebody told them about our arrival. That was not the case though, they had gathered because a huge procession from the village was to leave for the lake next day. Now we had a cozy bed, good company, and unlimited supply of food none of which was to be carried by us.

What more can one ask for in a remote land?

Naingahar is a clone of Jispa made in a hurried manner. Thirot Nallah runs wild and free across the village. Unlike Jispa the valley here is narrow as if ‘somebody’ wanted to replicate a narrower version of the quaint Lahaul village.

Naingahar Village Thirot Nallah Lahaul

Naingahar Village

Jaatar  – The Procession

The word procession is a loose translation for the word ‘jaatar’, which means an annual religious pilgrimage undertaken on auspicious day based on Hindu Calendar.  Those who participate in a jaatar are called jaatrus and now we too were a part of this great journey ahead.

Our jaatar comprised of old people, young kids, middle-aged paunchy men, random strangers, old friends meeting after years and a couple of bihari kids absolutely unacquainted to the terrain but hardened by time.

Fifty men, one mission.

We started at 0400 Hours, thirty minutes ahead of others so that we could match our pace with locals. In the far off distance, I could see the mountains above Kali Cho Pass illuminated by a full moon sky.

Nilkanth Mahadev Lake 4480 Meters Yatra Lahaul

The Game of Light and Dark

Thirot Nilkanth Naingahar

Thirot Nilkanth Naingahar

The Journey

Because local customs (sic) forbid women to take part in this journey, I had to drop my permanent partner and bring Saurabh on-board. Ours was a weird combination of two worn out men (I and Naveen) and a hardcore athlete (Saurabh).

This journey can be divided into two three parts: Alyas Campsite, River Crossing and The Lake.

Our first objective was to reach at the campsite, drop all our load there and come back for a night halt. However, it turned out that we walked as good as them locals and we reached at the Alyas Campsite just in time. This campsite is a huge grazing ground allotted to Bhatiyati Gaddis’ from Chuwari, Sinhuta, Samot etc. 

A stone house resembling an igloo. Hundreds of sheep running hither and thither oblivious to the passage of time. The gaddi lost in the vast meadow running after a newborn lamb. And hovering above all, the rocky pinnacle of Mount Gangstang watching all and smiling nonchalantly.

Until now the journey was easy, a level walk more or less. Now came the difficult part: Boulder Hopping. And River Crossing.

We were now marching towards the headwaters of the Thirot Nallah. The massive glaciers that lay above us were probably too happy to see us and released all their happiness into the stream that we were about to cross. It was too cold to be true. A 20 meter wide stretch crossed in 30 minutes: 20 minutes for figuring out the shortest route and 10 minutes to make my our feet bhiwork again.

Gangstang, which appeared to be a rocky pinnacle from Alyas, now stood right in front of us as a sentinel piercing the sky. Another rocky pinnacle was now visible at it’s bottom: the Nilkanth Mahadev Peak. 

Nilkanth RIver Crossing Lahaul

River Crossing

Gangstang and Nilkanth Peak are at the southern tip of the extended arms of the Great Himalayan Range. Once we were done boulder hopping, we landed at a flat ground that once used to be a huge moraine dammed lake. Glacial receding opened the floodgates and a swampy ground was left behind. Morning: you can play football here. Afternoon: it becomes a swimming pool because of melting glaciers pouring water into it from all sides.

Lake Nilkanth: The Dancing Shiva

Left Gangstang (6162 m), NIlkanth Right

Left Gangstang (6162 m), NIikanth Right

Nilkanth Mahadev, 4480 Meters

Nilkanth Mahadev, 4480 Meters

The first glimpse of the lake reminded me of the dancing Shiva. Arms outstretched, absolute surrender to the sounds of damru, eerily swaying body, and locks unbound.

A blue colored lake, a vertical rocky pinnacle right above it, and white nothingness outstretched in every direction.

Shiva’s locks unbound!

A magical show enacted by the blue throated musician. 

Naingahar party started preparing for their pooja while little kids jumped in the cold water. That sent a cold shiver down my spine and I silently escaped the lake shores before my partners could pull me in.

There was an inclined peak to the right and a snow wall further ahead that blocked our vision. Down below, Naingahar party was singing aloud and sounds of Jai Mahadeva were emanating from blue waters of the lake.

Those sounds, I believe are still reverberating up there. Those sounds have been reverberating in the mountains since eternity.

Ad Infinitum! 

Trivia

  • It’s a beautiful trekking destination. Don’t make a hurried plan. Plan atleast for two days. Camp at Alyas with gaddis’
  • Start as early as possible from Naingahar. 0300 Hours if possible, the trail is marked. ‘That Stream’ must be crossed before the sun is too high.
  • Don’t pitch your tent at the ‘high ground/old lake’. Although that’s a beautiful camping site but it’s waterlogged by noon, submerged by evening.
  • Naingahar – Alyas- Old Lake – Nilkanth Lake:: 0-8-5-2 KM. Total distance 15 KM. Maximum Altitude 4490 m.
  • Bus Timings: Keylang – Naingahar – 1:30 P.M || Keylang-Chokhang – 2:00 P.M. || Naingahar – Keylang – 7:00 A.M || Chokhang – Keylang – 6:30 A.M.
  • One can hire a cab from Chokhang to Naingahar. Or simply walk those 8 KM.
  • Don’t look for easy river crossing or try to avoid it. There’s none. We wasted three hours just to avoid crossing the river. Ended up in knee deep water.
  • If possible, please bring medicines for gaddis’. Paracetamol, Disprin, Azithromycin, ENO, ORS, Muscle Relxants…..
Naingahar to Nilkanth Lake- Trek Profile

Naingahar to Nilkanth Lake- Trek Profile

3 Comments
  1. Beautiful write up. The best part was the last line of trivia, (medicine for gaddis).

    All set to visit this june and will follow your advice, Thankyou!

    P.S- is it doeable solo?

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