“Once you have reached Marhi, nothing can stop you from taking a dip in the holy lake”, said a grinning Pandit Ji who was cajoling me to join him on his second attempt to Dan Sar in July 2012.
“No. I will wait for ‘bhadon bees’ (20th of the month of Bhadon) and I suggest you too wait with me”, was my response.
Notwithstanding that the valley was snow laden in July when he tried his luck. He had to abort a few hundred meters short of ‘Marhi’ because 2012 was unbearably cold. Moreover, he couldn’t find anyone to accompany him in those conditions. Even locals refused.
In 2013, I and Kamal Preet (then girlfriend, now wife) tried to do what Pandit Ji couldn’t do. Unlike him, we couldn’t even cross the first barrier (a forest so dense that even sun refuses to enter it) and had to seek refuge under a bridge. A swirl of freezing sleet hammered us while we waited under the bridge for two long hours. This time, Pandit Ji had a good laugh at my expense.
We then came to an agreement of visiting the lake together.
Dan Sar or Dyna Sar is a crystal bowl located at the border of Kullu and Kangra. The glacial slopes of Ghora Lotnu peak feed this crystal bowl and it remains frozen until late July. Arguably, it is a part of the Bada Bhangal Range, an extension of the primary axis of Dhauladhar Himalaya.
Every year on ‘Bhadon Bees’ (20th of the month of Bhadon according to Hindu Calendar) pilgrims from Kullu, Kangra, and Mandi make arduous journeys to take a dip in this lake. It is believed that the monsoon starts receding by 20th of Bhadon and the medicinal effects of herbs is maximum in the glacial waters. A holy dip helps cure skin diseases.
And when I talk of arduous journeys, you will be amazed to see them climbing near vertical slopes or descending a greasy mountain at Boltesque speeds.
Day 1: 0300 Hours | Dogs
As it usually happens before every trek, I was sleep deprived and my body was literally begging me to hide under a rock and sleep forever. My journey from Chandigarh to Mandi was spent in a state of ‘torpor’. By the time I reached Mandi, the bus conductor had to drag me out of the bus and only then I realized the gravity of situation I had accidentally placed myself in.
For a cynophobe like me, it was impossible to walk all the way from bus stand to home without being caught in the ongoing gang-war of pariah dogs of Mandi. For the next two hours, I
slept tried to sleep on visitor benches drawing curious looks from drunkards and patrolling party.
At 0500 Hours, I reached home, slept for a couple of hours, and told my wife that she too was going with me to Dan Sar. Now that we are married for two years, unsurprisingly she packed her bag in a jiffy. Soon we were joined by Dr. Sameer from Kullu (our partner during Skeern Yatra) and we were headed towards Barot, cruising along the Dhauladhars’.
Day 1: 0500 Hours | A Walk in the Dark
We got our food packed for the next two days at Barot and drove to Lohardi.
Lohardi is the last village of Chota Bhangal connected to road. A few years ago they started constructing a road to Poling, the biggest panchayat of Chota Bhangal. Even today status of that road is still the same. A hydro project is being constructed near Lohardi and that seems to be the only hope for this road to be completed in near future.
The nearest campsite from Lohardi is at Marahad Temple, where we had camped last time (when we were ducked under the bridge). We reached Marahad within an hour and because we still had sun on our side, we decided to continue walking, which was opposed vehemently by my wife.
But if you always listen to your wife then you’ll never move an inch. So we decided to continue walking until we reached the bridge that had once served as our safe shelter.
Fortunately, there were other people following and leading us that gave us an approximate idea of the trail. By the time we reached at our first campsite, our shoes were loaded with fine slurry made of cow-dung and mud in equal proportions. Some of it had stuck on my face and forehead, courtesy of my slithering movement.
Day 2: In the Pines where the Sun don’t ever shine!
A forest so dense that even sun refuses to enter it. Even if it tries, the gradient is so steep that it can’t manage to climb past the half way mark and eventually abandons the futile chase mid-way. In the summers of 2013, we were stuck here at 1400 Hours with nobody to guide us, without sleeping bags or tent and it was a miracle that we mutually decided to abandon our wild goose chase.
This time around we had company. A large number of kindhearted people willing to help at every step.
“What lies beyond the forest?”, this question had haunted both of us and now we were almost there. The first barrier was conquered, the safe was cracked open and we were welcomed by a heartwarming view of the Dhauladhars’. A narrow passage that lead to a world unseen.
Far off in the distance, I could see movement atop rocky mountains but that was too unreal to believe. In reality, those were people from Kullu Valley racing towards the lake either via Thaltukod or Sari Pass.
The way ahead was an easy walk till we reached Marhi. Passing through a high ground, the valley down below was covered with fog and the moment it started to become monotonous, a random party would appear on the adjacent mountain capturing attention of the entire group on our side.
Dr. Sameer was walking at brisk pace while we lagged behind. We slept at Marhi for a considerable time when a kind man offered to carry Kamal Preet’s bag.
Marhi is a temporary gaddi settlement usually made of stone. At low altitudes, you might as well find a wooden Marhi. Here at Dan Sar Marhi, you will find an igloo like arrangement made purely of stone.
From Marhi onwards, it was a state of trance for both of us. While I was overwhelmed with the load that pushed my shoulders in the direction where we came from, Dr. Sameer was still nowhere to be seen. As it started to drizzle, I could see Dr. Sameer shouting at us and pointing towards a flat ground.
We were now just another 100 meters below the lake. That night we camped at 4180 meters. On a wide open ground surrounded by tiny little rivulets oozing out of the permeable borders of Dan Sar lake. There were colorful tents pitched all across the ground while the locals relied on the traditional methods of either sleeping under a rock overhang or simply pitching a tarpaulin tent by tying it’s two ends to stones. Some were camped even higher at the mountains that surrounded us on three sides.
Some daredevils went straight up to the lake and slept on it’s shores. From 2000 meters to 4280 meters. The aftereffects were clearly visible the next morning in the form of undigested kidney beans and yellow rice.
Day 3: Of Tears and Joy!
The lake was just another twenty minutes from our campsite. We started early in the morning. As usual Dr. Sameer was nowhere to be seen and for a change I was happy not to find him around. Preet followed me and after crossing the last boulder gulley, I could see it.
Finally, we had done it. After years of prolonged agony, our moment was here.
Although there were at-least 500 people bathing in the lake, I just couldn’t notice their presence. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I didn’t even try to hide them from my wife.
Even if Pandit Ji wasn’t present there in body, his spirit was with us. Smiling as usual humming his favorite Meera bhajan,”bina rangaye main ghar nahin jaaungi”
- The lake is situated at an altitude of 4280 meters and that’s the highest point of the trek. Project to Lake approximate distance is 14 km.
- You can park your vehicle at the project site or if you have a high clearance vehicle, you can take it to the Poling Village
- The trail is muddy and slippery. You’ll not find any water body between the bridge and Marhi.
- The forest part lasts for 2 km and involves an altitude gain of 500 m. Tricky patch, start early from the bridge campsite.
- Porters or guide, if needed, can either be hired either from Barot or Lohardi. Contact Harry: 9817635212
- On the eve of 20th of Bhadon, langar (free food camp) is organized at the lake, and boy oh boy, was it delicious!
- I lost one leg of my trek pants on the trek, if you find it please bring it back and courier it to me. I will pay the courier charges.
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