8 months! 10 months! I don't know how long has it been since I used this Joomla interface to write anything here. For those not in the know, I am a working man. Is that what prevents me from writing? Yes and No. Long story short, while I am enjoying work (and the money after 2 years of neither), there are times I miss the carefree existence of those 2 years when I woke up with the light, built a fire for food, walked a few kilometers, setup my own camp, cooked food, slept like a baby, gazed at stars, spent hours trying to get a photograph and stole rajmah from fields. This post has been overdue for a long time now.
Sometime in October, one of the readers of this website, Debopriyo sent me a few photographs of Jango. I promised to upload them but have not managed to till now. Looking at these, I think these gentlemen went to Lam Dal and other lakes in the Dhauladhars. The lakes look stunning as ever and Jango happy as ever. I am glad to see that while so much of our lives change, the beauty of the mountains and the liveliness of Jango seem to be static. It is good to have something to hold on to in life.
Except Jango, I do not know who is who in these images except perhaps Vikas, who is friends with me on facebook. I wish I had a facebook style tagging facility here. If any of you in these photographs recognize yourselves, please comment and let everyone know.
One of the major issues with trekking in Himachal is the lack of quality maps. All those easily available in print are
Over the last couple of years, I have made some attempts at setting this right. So, OSM does have some half decent maps. The camp sites are marked correctly, the passes are marked, there are streams and the trail is there. However, lets be honest, this has been far from enough. The major issue with OSM maps has been the lack of contour lines. Recently though, a friend of mine brought to my attention the Open Cycle Map. Its an open source map, a sister project of OSM (so to say) which uses the database of the Open Street Map but renders it over contour lines and renders it in a way that makes it friendly for trekking maps. This, to a large extent solves the problem. It has contour lines for all of Himachal and therefore puts the trails and rivers I have mapped in perspective. If you can read contours, you can see ridges, mountain ranges, depressions and also get a fair idea of the gradient you will have to climb up or down. So, in short, this is a blessing. I am attaching below an image from Open Cycle Map for the Lam Dal and Kali Kund area. The blue streak heading North West from the two water bodies is the Baleni stream and the elegance with which you can see the contours congregating at the stream basin is beautiful. Now this is what a trekking map should look like.
The double awesome news is complemented with walking papers, it forms a complete hiking map tool. At walking papers, you can choose a particular frame at any zoom level on a map, choose a renderer (e.g. plain OSM maps or Open Cycle Map) and then convert these frames to printable PDFs in various sizes (A3, A4) and orientation (letter, landscape, portrait), with or without grid lines. Over and above that, if you need each portion to be detailed, you can have the PDFs in sheets of 2X2 or 4X4. Finally but not the most important, the pdf also has an autogenerated QR code on the right bottom. If you have a camera cell with GPRS and a QR code reading software installed, you can click a photograph of the QR code and your phone will automatically load you onto the relevant map and navigate for you. Anyway, this feature is mostly useless for hikes because cell network service does not reach most remote places.
I will soon be replacing all the map links on this site with Open Cycle Map links and also upload PDFs for sections of treks. For the first time in the last 2 years, I feel my effort in mapping these trails has been justified, thanks to Open Cycle Map and Walking Papers.
My trekking journey in September 2009 invariably started with going to Triund. Many many times, without getting tired of it, I kept going back. Sometimes as an excuse to start yet another trek (while there were other easier and shorter options to start available), sometimes just for the sake of going to Triund, once just to see Triund under snow and quite a few times also with Jodie Underhill of The Mountain Cleaners (TMC). On all these trips, most of all those with TMC, we stayed in an old Forest Guest House. Built in 1905 by the British, the original building was later converted into the caretaker quarters and new stone blocks constructed for the guest house.
A large part of the charm of going to Triund lay in seeing the wooden plank, sloped roof structure of the caretaker quarters. Situated in its own little corner of the ridge, it looked down protectively upon the rest of Triund. Its deep brown walls made of that awesome wood from Deodar, the akwardly and steeply sloping roof reminding of old days when it snowed enough to have roofs sloping at greater than 45 degrees was all so romantic. On my first trip to Triund after starting to trek, I spent about 30 minutes one morning clicking a few photographs. One of them captured the essence of the place.
A few days ago, lightning struck Triund and of all places, it decided to crash right on this thing. I do not have words to describe what I feel about this. I have not been to Triund since and I do not want to. For once, I want to live in denial. I dont think I can imagine Triund without this. It would be like waking up one morning and finding my face missing. This thing was Triund's identity. So they say, all good things must come to an end. Sometimes, however true this is, it sucks! And so it does now!
And if that was not enough, the fire also took with it a lot of stuff that Jodie and Mountain Cleaners had stored there. In 18 months that I spent in the mountains, everything seemed to be changing and never for the better. There were rivers damned to be dammed, roads causing landslides, the stupid tourist screwing around. The one bright spot was Jodie and her gang unselfishly cleaning up the mountains. Suddenly, 2 years of donations and Jodie's personal investment into slowly building an inventory for keeping Triund clean is gone. Vanished into thin air! Whoever said life is fair!
Once and for only once, I am making an appeal to everyone who reads this to contribute whatever you feel like and can to The Mountain Cleaners. It does not matter what the amount is, every little helps. You can also help by donating equipment like sleeping bags, blankets, pots and pans etc. It was small contributions which had helped build the inventory and its small ones again which will fill it up again. If what I say is not enough and you are a visual kind of a person, look at the photos below to see what is left of the guest house. Read my post on Triund here to find out what we have lost and where.
7. Kesar Yon Chap - the most pristine and beautiful of the 'watering holes', its a combination of 7 spring fed pools. Part of the Miyar Glacier Kang La trail and situated incredibly high at about 4000 metres in the middle of snow capped peaks, vast and beautiful campgrounds and an intimidating morraine on one side, the thing is not just a collection of water bodies, its heaven. If you do not believe me, read this. To trek to Kang La, click here.
8. Manimahesh Lake - perhaps the most popular 'watering hole', this lake hosts about 1 million pilgrims every year in a span of 15 jam packed days. At one time, it was a beautiful lake. Now, the traffic and traffic's plastic and litter is taking a heavy toll. As a result, its more of a puddle now. Nevertheless, that does not dampen the enthusiasm of the pilgrim who shouts 'Bam Bam Bhole' and dips naked into the freezing lake. If only we could care a little more Shiva's abode. To help with that, click here or the facebook profile of Mountain Cleaners. To trek there by an unconventional route, click here.
9. Chaurasi ka Dal - boasts of being talked about only on this site. I saw this first on a map and pretty much went about discovering this. Read more here. Situated in deep Pir Panjals in the Churah region of District Chamba, it is a moderate sized lake easily accessible from Churah. Fed by about 7 snow melts from all the peaks around, it is also a minor religious site and also a wonderful place for wild life sighting. Amongst the animals sighted here, the brown and black bears are the most terrifying and Ibex the most majestic. For trekking to here over Mumbardhar, click here.
10. Shingo La Lake - situated on the very popular Darcha Lamayuru route on the Himachal side of Shingo La pass, this is a beautiful emerald green coloured water body. There are snow covered peaks as far as the eye can see and colourful Budhhist prayer flags at the pass. As you cross the pass from Darcha into Zanskar and get tired of jumping over boulders and rocks, this is the perfect welcome to the serene territory that is Zanskar. To trek to this lake, click here.
4. Lam Dal - across the Dhauladhars from Kangra, the lake lives upto its name. Lam Dal means a long lake in local language. At about 1.5 km in length and 400 metres in width at its widest, this is largest lakes in the Dhauladhars and one of the largest in Himachal. Situated at around 4000 metres above MSL, it is frozen till late May. When the summer proper arrives, its blue waters are a sight to behold with the snow laden Dhauladhars around. Click here for details of trekking to Lam Dal.
5. Nigar Lake - the lake just downstream from Lam Dal, it is fed by Lam Dal and is one amongst a series of 5 continuous snow melt fed lakes. Right beside is a huge campground used often by the Gaddi shepherds and the rare pilgrim to Lam Dal. Because of its lower elevation, the ice thaws much earlier. In early season, the from Lam Dal crosses Nigar Lake over a layer of snow and can be treachrous with quite a few crevasses. This lake can be reached by crossing Minkaini Pass. Click here for the trek details.
6. Kaliheni Lake - pretty much the same story as Thamsar Lake from the last post. Situated just below Kaliheni Pass, it is just too high to melt for longer than a couple of months. Surrounded and fed by snow all year round, it is the source of the Kaliheni river, which is a major tributary of the river Ravi, one of the five rivers of the Punjab river system. More than pretty, it is intimidating to look at and I would not imagine what camping beside it would be like. For trekking details to Kaliheni Lake, click here.