As we moved on from Jiskun, the true essence of the Rupin Pass trek started unveiling itself. (Read Day 1- Day 3 here)
Day 4: Udaknal – Passing Through the Hanging Village of Jhaka
We walked through the narrow forest trail as we left Jiskun. The greenish-blue Rupin River seeping and dribbling as it merrily swerved through the tall mountains appeared much closer today. On any other day, my heart would have been dancing immersed in nature’s gorgeousness but not today. My right ankle was hurting with every step and I felt helpless wondering how I would go on. The dreaded steep climb towards Jhaka was here and I struggled with every step. Loosening my shoe lace, as suggested by our Trek Leader, turned out to be immensely helpful. Once again I was my sprightly self and found myself at the beginning of the team.
The village of Jhaka, situated on a steep slope of the mountain was extraordinarily beautiful. The villagers are staunch believers of the ways of Satsang and are strict vegetarians. Even the mention of animal food is blasphemous here. We spent some time at a home in the village before continuing our onward journey towards Udaknal.
This day wasn’t easy as it consisted of steep ascends and descends. However, the long stretch of the magnificent fir forest with towering pines and a forest floor strewn with pine cones and pine needles was tonic to the eyes and mind.
My forest happiness was short-lived as we soon encountered the steep slope consisting of loose soil that goes down to the Rupin River. My mind-block with such terrains made me jittery as I cautiously took steps fearing that I would slip and fall to my doom. Hell, I’m here to enjoy and not to go back with an injury! The burbling water of the dazzling river down below came closer with every step and that’s what kept me going one step at a time.
Soon we reached Udaknal at 10,100 ft. The yellow tents stood bright amidst the lush green surroundings as Rupin River hurried through the valley down below and the elegant mountains stood tall and watched us gracefully. The evenings started to get really cold.
Day 5: Dhanderas Thatch – Nature’s Grand Amphitheatre
I was told that Rupin Pass is a trek where each day only gets better and there are surprises at every turn. And, here I was witnessing that and soaking in the ever-changing landscape of Rupin Valley.
We left Udaknal and started climbing up through yet another forest trail, the irregular blocks of stones here made it different from the other forest trails we covered so far. A trekmate had a slower pace than the rest of us and almost always lagged behind. On this day, she was recommended to start half an hour before the group by our Trek Leader. I decided to tag along, fearing my ankle problem could slow me down. Slowly and steadily the three of us walked on.
Very soon dark clouds loomed in and it started raining. Almost simultaneously, we encountered snow for the very first time on the trek. By then the group had joined us and many in the group were overjoyed, experiencing snow for the first time. Snow fights (hitting each other with snow balls) ensued notwithstanding the rain that had just started. Our raincoats and ponchos were out, and the trail got a tad slippery slowing down our pace.
My ankle was in a very bad shape causing me to limp and that was a distraction, diverting my attention from the exceptionally brilliant surroundings – the earthy fragrance of wet mud, the rugged mountains, the green meadows interrupted by sporadic bursts of yellow flowers, the sudden calm and poised Rupin.
A little while later we crossed two snow bridges across the thundering Rupin one after the other. This was my first experience of a snow bridge, I didn’t even know such a thing existed! And crossing it was thrilling to say the least.
The rains had stopped and a wide green carpet adorned with blue and yellow flowers welcomed us at Dhanderas Thatch. The wide expansive valley of Dhanderas Thatch at 11,680 ft. was a perfect melody of snow-clad mountains, green meadows, several cascading waterfalls trickling down from all sides, and the ever present elegant Rupin River.
The main waterfall was a three layered one that distinctively stood out right at the center and it’s the first thing that you notice in the valley. And, we would be climbing up to the mouth of the waterfall, looks daunting and undoable today. The Dhauladar Range was clearly visible beyond the waterfall.
Day 6: Dhanderas Thatch – Lazing Around
We spent the next day at Dhanderas Thatch. It was our acclimatization day. An entire day at such heavenly abode – oh what bliss it was! I for one was so looking forward to this day – a day of thoughtless moments doing nothing but soaking in the depths of nature and admiring the divine Himalayas. My ankle got the much needed rest too.
We spent the day chit-chatting, playing games, practicing walking on snow, building cairns along the river while making secret wishes, sitting by Rupin quietly listening to its rapid gurgling sound, wandering aimlessly admiring the various waterfall, and watching the shepherds pass by with their sheep and sheep dogs. The rain and sun played hide and seek on this day forcing us in and out of our tents. Brief moments of hail happened too.
Day 7: Upper Waterfall – The Wonderland
We woke up to a bright sunny day. Once again a team of three of us started off early. This was going to be a short and difficult stretch. As we approached close to the waterfall, the boulder strewn tall mountain stared at us rather menacingly. The 2.5 Km. climb was steep and not easy by any means. We had to carefully maneuver our steps through small and large loose rocks. With slow and measured steps, we trudged over the snow patches and the snow bridges as we gingerly made our way to the top.
In between the adventurous moments, I paused and gaped at the thundering waterfall, which was our constant companion on this day. The valley below that we just left looked spectacular and the gushing Rupin now appeared like a branched out narrow canal meandering its way through the valley. A deep sense of admiration filled my heart with nature casting its spell and my soul bursting with happiness and joy.
At the top, we were greeted by an amazingly serene and picturesque campsite. The melting glaciers from the heaven-touching mountains flowed down gracefully and quietly moved towards the waterfall. Much of the tall mountains flanking either side were draped in snow. The vast blue sky was in perfect harmony with the surroundings. The soft grass on the banks of the river was moist displaying the first signs of green, an indication of just melted snow. The warm sun beckoned us and everyone was lazing around on the soft grass. Peace and tranquility reigned here, and I loitered around feeling like Alice in Wonderland.
Day 8: Rupin Pass – The Grand Finale
This was the day we were all waiting for – the day we climb up the ‘gully’ to Rupin Pass. ‘Gully’ is a 250 m. stretch of 70 degrees inclination that leads to the Pass. A team of two technical guides armed with their ice axes joined us on this day. They were qualified mountaineers who we met the day before and who had briefed us on the do’s and don’ts of the big day.
Just as the past few days, a team of four of us started off earlier than the rest. While the group started at 5.30 AM, we had started off at 3.30 AM. Our aim was to reach the Pass by 8.00 AM so that we can climb the ‘gully’ before the sun finds its way through. Once the snow starts melting, it gets difficult.
It was still dark when we started walking with anticipation and excitement building up at every step. The initial climb was a grueling one through the rugged mountain where we had to be cautious not to step onto the thin film of ice that made its appearance every now and then. There was a precarious frozen section of a thin layer of flowing water that we had to cross where the technical guide made good use of his ice axe.
Soon the vast rolling snow fields took over and we walked endlessly and silently in one straight line. All I could hear was click clack of microspikes that provided the much needed grip on snow. It was dawn by now and the larger group had caught up with us as we were engulfed in a sea of white with our clothes being the only specs of colour.
After walking for a while, we paused to take a break. The air was thinner and we were rapidly gaining altitude. At this point, we spotted the ‘gully’ and excited chit-chatter filled in the air.
Once we approached the base of the ‘gully’, the technical guides arranged us in one straight line with the ladies at the beginning. I turned out to be the first one following the technical guide, who was making steps for us through the snow.
The arduous ‘gully’ climb and the most exciting part of the trek begun. The 250 m. distance felt like a lifetime as we climbed up with focus and concentration one step at a time. I could see the sun shining bright at the top of the ‘gully’ and couldn’t wait to get there. It must have taken us 20-25 minutes to reach the top but I can’t say for sure as I had no track of time.
Once on top, I squealed in joy. I couldn’t believe that I had done it. It was an exhilarating experience at 15,380 ft. The breathtaking panoramic landscape left me spellbound. I felt like being immersed in a huge bowl of vanilla icecream with a few chocolate chips inserted here and there. The mountains blessed us and the weather was perfect. The deep blue skies seemed to be rejoicing with us as the morning sun smiled at us warmly. There was no sign of the expected gusty winds. The razor sharp Kinnaur Kailash was distinctly visible in the horizon.
I silently bowed to the mighty Himalayas and expressed my gratitude for enabling me to experience such splendor. While we were still immersed in the intoxicated surroundings along came the herd of sheep with their sheep dogs and shepherds. Could we have asked for more? It was PERFECT!
Day 8: RontiGad – Time for Celebrations
It was time to start descending. We slid through the snow in two stretches and it was the craziest thing we had ever done. No amusement park in the world can match up to the Adrenalin rush we had here. We screeched and hooted and laughed and cheered as each one of us went down one by one.
After walking on snow for some more time we arrived at a sharp descent that goes down to meet a stream below. As always, my descending demons were back making me extremely slow and cautious. Not surprising, I was the last one to reach the stream.
This was a very long day and the walk seemed unending. My knees were hurting and I couldn’t wait to reach the campsite. At every turn I expected to see the bright yellow tents but it was only after walking for 6-7 hours, we arrived at Ronti Gad and had descended to 13,100 ft.
At the campsite, it was a relaxing day for everyone. We basked under the sun laying over the green meadows just outside our tents. In the evening, we celebrated, shared experiences, and received certificates. Before long, night descended and we retired into our tents with a sense of accomplishment.
Day 9: Sangla – Time to Bid Goodbye
This was a day of mixed feelings. We were on our way back. As much as I looked forward to going back home, a big part of me was also saddened about all of this coming to an end.
It was a gradual descend towards Sangla, situated at 8,600 ft. We walked leisurely and were in no particular hurry. Deliberately, I chose to trail behind the group to savour the last bit as much as I could. It was a beautiful walk through vast green meadows where yaks and cows lazily grazed. There was no snow in the path, only very little at the mountain tops. Slowly we approached civilization as we passed through tiny lanes of small hamlets dotted with apple and apricot trees. Stony pathways with pine forests on either side formed connecting links between these hamlets.
After walking for about 6-7 hours, we arrived at Sangla. Here we bid goodbye to each other with promises to keep in touch and traveled to Shimla in smaller groups based on our respective travel itineraries.
Another fascinating rendezvous with the enchanting Himalayas comes to an end with cherishing memories for a lifetime. They say the Himalayas are addictive and I tend to agree. I know I will go there again. I feel fortunate and blessed to have experienced their mysticism yet another time. It’s the mountains who decide who steps on them and experiences their grandeur from close quarters. I am immensely grateful and bow with sincere reverence.
For some more stories on Rupin Pass, click here.
Here are links to my past experiences with the majestic Himalayas.