Thamsar and Marala Pass

Solving the Dhauladhar Dilemma


This jagged uprising looks like a dinosaur hunched over its feet waiting for its prey and because we have a Camel Peak in Dharmshala (to the west of Indrahar Pass) let’s name it that goes along with its gigantic size and outlandish shape.

I had this discussion with my friend Anshul Soni (who can spot/mark mountains even if he was onboard a submarine 300 feet below the mean sea level with one eye closed) and thus casually we ended up with this crazy name for this equally crazy mountain that I used to see every morning from my rooftop in Sunder Nagar.

After I came back from Dyna Sar Lake Yatra, I could catch a closer glimpse of this peak. The lake lies Southwards of Ghoda Lotnu Pass and a pass by the same name.

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.

Rijul Gill corroborated our findings and Rainbowsura turned out to be Ghoda Lotnu Peak. Apt name for such a jagged uprising.

Ghora Lotnu Peak and Dyna Sar Lake
Ghora Lotnu Peak and Dyna Sar Lake | The Rainbowsura

Cut to 2014, I clicked this image from Pong Dam and as evident from the photograph, you can see passes of Dhauladhar Range along its primary axis.

But what lies beyond Talang Pass? And where from one gets to see the remaining passes of Dhauladhar? This question always intrigued me.

Nine Passes of Dhauladhar Range
Nine Passes of Dhauladhar Range

The Dhauladhar Dilemma

The primary axis of Dhauladhar Range runs E-W, originating north of Dainkund near Chuwari Pass in Chamba. The mountain range forms a rocky divide between Kangra-Chamba along its primary axis. Moving further east, the range gets sub-divided and at every junction of a sub-range shooting off the primary axis, the gradient appears to be jagged. One such junction is that Rainbowsura junction where the primary axis gives way to Bada Bhangal sub range.

Though the range can be seen in its entirety from Jalori Pass and probably Shikari Devi Temple but to see them up–close, one has to find another vantage point. Anshul Soni did manage to click one such photograph from Jalori Pass and he broadly marked all these sub-ranges (Bada Bhangal Range and Kullu-Kangra divide) in one of his photographs. Click to see his amazing Flickr Photostream

Quoting his description of the Dhauladhar Range giving way to its offshoots:

Above Kangra, the range rises barely above 4500m, where it houses the crowns of the like of Mon (4600m), Toral (4680m) & Dromedry (4550m). The gradient of the range is more jagged where it gets closer to other sub-ranges, especially to its rendezvous with the Bara-Banghal Range on the border of Kangra & Kullu. That’s where some magnificent 5-thousanders begin to emerge, Lantern (5100m) on the Thamsar Pass being first among its companions eastwards. Not all the passes in this portion are known much among trekkers as they remain conceded to the Gaddi herdsmen.

The Bara Banghal range divides the expanse of Dhauladhars further, where it offshoots in both directions : Northwards to meet the Pir Panjals between Chamba-Kullu feeding the river Ravi & Southwards to feed river Beas. The Kullu valley is located on the base of southern ridge of Bara Banghal Range. Of all the crowns in its crest, the acme of Dhauladhars culminates above Tentu Jot in Kullu.

Now the real problem (for me) was finding an appropriate vantage point to see the expanse of Dhauladhar beyond Talang Pass. One can’t really see the Dhauladhar Range in its entirety from Dharmshala because it take a sharp turn/dip above Jia/Himani Chamunda and the rest of the range disappears. Same problem persists when you arrive at Billing and you can’t see anything beyond Talang Pass (towards Dharmshala). From Palampur, Jogindernagar or Barot you are either too close to have a wide field of view or the low lying hillocks obstruct your view.

From Naina Devi near Rewalsar (Mandi) this missing section that we just talked about is visible but not the entire range can be seen. Though one gets a spectacular view of the mountains of Parbati Glacier from Naina Devi. So far I have made five visits to this temple but I could only see clouds on the horizons.

But like the Beas mystery (Beas takes an abrupt turn in Mandi and then emerges outta nowhere near ‘Hamirpur’ in a similar fashion) this Dhauladhar mystery troubled me for so long. Thamsar Pass, Makori Pass, Ghora Lotnu Pass, Gairu/Gaira Pass, Kalihani Pass; where do these passes go? Where is the vantage that unfolds this mystery?

Finally I think, I’ve solved this mystery. The answer lies in Hamirpur, in the foothills of Shivalik Himalaya. I found a vantage that opens up the whole damn range from left to right: from Baleni Pass(rise of Dhauladhar) to the Parbati Glacier (South Parbati Peak)

Although this ‘missing section’ can be seen from Jalori Pass but that’s just a bird eye view and one really can’t feel the expanse the way it is felt when the mountains are visibly close from Dharmshala.

However, from the Nerchowk-Jahu-Una State Highway one gets to see snow clad mountains running parallel to the highway. I must have traveled on that road a thousand times and I always assumed them to be Dhauladhars’ rising above Dhamrshala.

But that turned out to be the vantage point I had been looking for all these years. The road is a wide, well-built, pothole free road, thanks to the Dhumal Raj of yesteryears (and I say that with a joyous feeling :D)

Because being pothole free is quite uncharacteristic of roads in Himachal, I would often drive past this road at a lightening speed. And thus I missed out on solving this dilemma that was always in front of my eyes.

A post shared by Tarun Goel (@pahadibanda) on

I’ve marked Kundli Pass(Saraliye Da Fer aka Serpentine Coil), Toral Pass, Toral Peak, Dharmshala Matterhorn (Gauri Junda) and Talang Pass. Now these are the usual ones. One can spot them even with closed eyes. I see them even in my dreams

At a small town named ‘Town Bharari’, 20km from Hamirpur, in the heart of Shivalik Himalaya, the vast expanse of Dhauladhars’ is seen running parallel to the road. The Baleni Pass is seen in the far left (west) devoid of any snow in December where as the ‘jagged junction’ of Thamsar -Bada Bhangal right in the front. To my surprise, I could see the majestic duo of Deo Tibba and Indrasan in far East. And if it wasn’t for a foggy day, I am sure I could’ve seen South Parbati and Dharmsura – Papsura too. Glimpses of South Parbati were seen but to capture that with a 300mm lens wasn’t possible.

A post shared by Tarun Goel (@pahadibanda) on

The photograph has been shot from Town Bharari(near Bhota/Ladrour in Hamirpur district) and the prominent peak that you see here is (probably) Lantern Peak.

There’s an adjacent pass eastwards of Thamsar Pass by the name of ‘Marala Pass’. The trail leading to the base of Thamsar is the diversion point for Marala Pass which is frequented by a very few shepherds these days. Back in the time, it was a popular trail among shepherds and traders scouring the valleys for magical herbs.

Thamsar and Marala Pass
Thamsar and Marala Pass | Trail leading to Marala Pass is marked in black

Edited On 02/01/2018: After I published this blog, experts pitched in and a wonderful photograph clicked by Anshul Soni ensured our belief that the junction of Dhauladhar with Bada Bhangal isn’t as simple as it looks. What we’ve marked above as Lantern Peak is infact Thamsar Peak. Thamsar Pass is right where we have marked it but Lantern Peak isn’t visible in the frame clicked from Hamirpur.

Here’s what Anshul posted, which I am putting here verbatim.

Dhauladhar from Hamirpur
Dhauladhar from Hamirpur

Dhauladhar from Hamirpur
Dhauladhar from Hamirpur

Deo-Tibba and Indrasan from same spot | Pir Panjal from Hamirpur
Deo-Tibba and Indrasan from same spot | Pir Panjal from Hamirpur

The remaining passes, Waru Pass, Jalsu Pass, Satnalo Pass, Kalihaini Pass, Marala Pass too were visible from this spot but I was hyper-excited and forgot to click even a single photograph of these passes. However eastwards of Thamsar Pass is visible from my home and it’s just a matter of bright sunny day that I’ll be able to mark them too.

Town Bharari is the best vantage point in Himachal Pradesh.

There I said it!

 This post yet to be concluded as we are yet to find out which peak is the actual Lantern Peak though Thamsar Peak has been ascertained for sure. What we’ve mentioned as Lantern above is actually Thamsar Peak.

2 thoughts on “Solving the Dhauladhar Dilemma

  1. This is Awesome!!
    I am sure I will have to re-read it again and again along with some scrolling on Google Earth. You just compiled everything at one place. I think going to this place just after a rainy day would serve the purpose to spot Dharamsura as the weather is much clearer that time.

  2. Dharmsura, Papsura can be seen even from Shikari Devi, Rohanda, Naina Devi (near Rewalsar) , Parashar, and Tunga Bhagwati Temple. This particular section mentioned in this post should be visited if only you want to see the confluence of Bada Bhangal with Dhauladhar.

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