After spending 18 hours in a bus getting to Manali from Ladakh, I was in no hurry to leave. Manali is the main travellers’ hub in northern Himachal Pradesh, the kind of place where the restaurants try and cover all bases, from Indian to Tibetan, and Israeli to Italian. And you can also feast on apple pie. But after two days I was ready to move on. Just not by bus. So, I joined a group who were trekking across the Hampta Pass north to Spiti. It proved to be one of the best treks I’ve done.
I started in the village of Prini, close to Manali, and spent the first morning on a steep ascent to the dam, where I was due to meet the rest of the group, a mixture of locals and a party from Singapore. After lunch we continued to our first camp site at Chikha on a rather muddy patch of meadow.
This part of the Himalayas receives monsoon rains in the summer, unlike Ladakh, but consequently the landscape is lush and verdant. For the following two days’ ascent up the valley, the river flowed rapidly, fed by numerous high waterfalls coming from the glaciers. We camped the second night at Balu Ka Ghera, an idyllic spot by the river, surrounded by mountains.
The next day proved the toughest and longest, as we walked for about seven hours over the Hampta Pass at an altitude of 4270m and into Lahaul, where the monsoons don’t reach. It’s similar to Ladakh, the stark, arid and brown mountains offset by the brilliant blue sky. I sat and had lunch at the top of the pass and watched the clouds scurry in from the south and disperse as they hit the high mountains of Lahaul and Spiti.
Finally though, it was time to descend to camp for the third night at Siliguri. Some clouds had come in to obscure the view, but the next crisp cold morning, they had cleared to reveal jagged peaks with snow on top. The final day’s walk began with a bit of a shock, fording the icy river.
It was an easy but scenic descent to Chatru, where we were to spend the final night, but first we had a long and bumpy jeep ride to Chandratal Lake, quite similar to Pangong and Tso Moriri in Ladakh. I’m not sure, however, whether it was worth the seven hour round trip, but it did give me a taste of the Spiti road, one of the worst roads I’ve ever experienced. And it was where I was heading next…