A mesmerizing experience of Sanket Potdar's first-ever Himalayan Trek
Hey guys this is me, Sanket Potdar, a sophomore pursuing electrical engineering at IIT Bombay, a trek enthusiast, and an amateur yet passionate photographer & here is the blog of how I, along with my fellow batchmates of IITB, pulled out our first ever Himalayan Trek - Bhrigu Lake Trek - the prettiest grassland trek right outside of Manali.
The hustle of planning the trek began a week before end sems. We were a group of 19 students, all from different parts of the country, set for the upcoming adventure. It was a new experience for all of us, hence Bhrigu Lake Trek seemed to be perfect for us. We chose to go with the India Hikes organization, certainly the most renowned and trusted trekking organization in the country and they proved it right.
Our endsems finished on 25th June evening. I finished my packing that night and was ready for the next big day. Here is the list of items I carried.
Day1 (June 26th, 2021)
I flew in from Mumbai to Delhi and arrived at 12:15 pm. We assembled at the Pacific Mall Delhi where many of us bought apparel and gears required for the trek. Around 5:30, we left for Majnu-Ka-Tilla from where we had an overnight Volvo bus to Manali leaving at 7:00 pm. We were a group of 10 people now. 2 more joined on the way to Manali at Chandigarh.
Day 2 (June 27th, 2021)
We woke up the next morning only to realize that we were surrounded by lush green mountains of the mighty Himalayas all covered in tall coniferous deodar cedar trees. It was the first light of dawn and we could watch the sun rising amidst the mountains. A charming sight, indeed! Most of our journey to Manali was through those mountains, crossing several white-water Himalayan rivers.
We finally reached Manali at around 1 pm. The weather was pleasant and we could feel the coldness of the mountains up there. There is a beautiful icy-cold river flowing just beside the Manali private bus stand and its sight cheered us all after a 17-hour long journey. After spending some time there, clicking pictures and enjoying the breath-taking view, it was time to check into the hotel. Three of us went by rickshaw to do a check-in to the hotel and others just walked as a preparation for the trek with heavy backpacks XD.
After lunch at Mall Road, in the evening, we found a beautiful area with gigantic tall coniferous trees. We enquired to find out that it was Manali Nature Park. It is a must-visit destination if you ever go to Manali.
A small walk in the Manali Nature Park will bring you a step closer to nature. Encircled by large groves of Deodar trees interrupted by rocky patches, the reserve forest is set on the bank of river Beas and you can get a scenic view of the river from the top if you go near the banks of the river deep inside the park. You can hear many birds chirping and may even be able to spot some of them, if lucky. Clusters of trees reach the sky and form a dark canopy. Sunrays pass through the giant trees and you can see snow-capped mountains at a distance. It is an oasis of greenery, an ideal place and a real treat for nature enthusiasts.
Day 3 (June 28th, 2021)
Manali (6,725 ft) to Jonker Thatch (10,370 ft)
The next morning, several of us shopped around Mall Road. Bargaining is the key there, and you can find some good quality jackets and other winter clothes if you visit there. 7 more joined us that morning making us a complete group of 19 students.
We had lunch at 1:00 pm and met our trek leader Akshay from India Hikes at Ram Bagh at the Mall Road Square. We took jeeps from there and started the drive to Gulaba which was a 24 km drive of around 1 hour through the curvy mountain roads. The route to Gulaba takes you on the Manali-Rohtang Pass Road, past Kolang, Palchan and Kothi.
On the way to Gulaba, we stopped at cloakroom in Palachhan. There, we left all the extra luggage which we do not need for the trek and also received our rental equipment. IndiaHikes provides a rental option in case you don’t have the equipment required.
After transferring our luggage to rented rucksacks, we reached Gulaba after a further drive of about 30 minutes. The check post was the starting point of our trek. Gulaba is a quiet hamlet, which occasionally buzzes with tourists en route Rohtang Pass. The trek leader gave us some basic instructions about the use of trekking poles to distribute your body weight, efficient way to tie trekking shoes, and ways to carry our luggage in an effective way. He also introduced us to the Green Initiative by India Hikes, where each one of you is provided with an eco-bag in which you dump any plastic or other waste you find on the way. The objective is to leave the mountains in a better condition than you found them in.
After basic instructions, we began the 4-day long trek. Our first destination was Jonker Thatch, where our first camp was situated at 10,370 ft while Manali is at 6725 ft from where we started.
The start of the trek was rough terrain was a bit steep, but we all were geared up. Gradually, our body got used to it. We could feel the gradual rise in altitude with our rapid breathing. Nevertheless, the view was getting better and better. The first day was a short trek of around 1.5 km which took us around 2 hours. We climbed slow and steadily experiencing the pleasant cold climate and taking pictures.
We finally reached Jonker Thatch where tents were set up. The area is surrounded by grasslands all around with horses grazing at a distance and from these grassy knolls, you will see the snow-covered mountains of Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar dominating the skyline.
There was a tent for every 2 of us and a few washroom tents along with 2 large kitchen and dining tents. We stretched a little bit, had snacks and a hot cup of tea as it got chilly with the sun going down. We checked in for oxygen levels and enjoyed the astounding view.
Soon, it was pitch dark everywhere and it was dinner time. The temperature was dropping and biting cold dawned on us. The best part of dinner is always the desert and we were blessed with crispy sweet jalebis.
After a long talking session of intros and sharing thoughts, we came out of the dining tent only to find ourselves beneath a sky full of stars. We all just laid on the ground watching the sparkling sky twinkle like seen never before and vibing with soft music on. The majority of us coming from city areas, it is almost impossible to get to see such starlit sky due to the light pollution. Far at a distance, we could see a cluster of citylights that looked beautiful from up top.
After an hour, we all finally went to our tents to doze off. Sleep is very important during treks as apart from rest, it is the most crucial time when your body acclimatizes (accustoms itself in Layman’s language) to the high altitude.
Unfortunately, my sleep got disturbed several times due to others talking in their tents. Well, in that pin drop silence, you can even hear the slightest of the voices.
Day 4 (June 29th, 2021)
Jonker Thatch (10,370 ft) to Rola Kholi (12,566 ft)
The next day started with an astonishing view of mountains reflecting golden rays from the sun.
We had our morning bliss tea and healthy breakfast after which, we all unpitched our tents on our own which was a fun activity. The trek for the day was a moderate one with around 5 km which took us around 4 hours.
The start of the day was a steep ascent. We were accompanied by a herd of sheep on the way. High altitude meadows are rare to find and the Bhrigu Lake trek is all about meadows. At the start, we could experience the thin air up there in the form of heavy breathing, but soon we got set to motion.
A dog guarding the herd of sheep accompanied us for a long distance which we later named after one of our colleagues XD. It was quite tiring to hike with those heavy backpacks but trust me, don’t offload your weights as, though you will have fun but you will miss the challenging part of the trek and the very experience of that tiredness. After all, it’s all worth it. The view gets better and better step after step.
The whole ascent was through the meadows stretched far and wide. One hill after the other, meadows after meadows. Wild horses grazing all around you in an open meadow, it's beautiful with snow peaks all around you.
We had a 2.5-3 hours long ascent journey followed by an hour-long undulating walk. We crossed several small streams of icy-cold freshwater coming right from the glacier. Those were a relief when our bottles got finished after a long ascent. The taste of that water was quite different with all the minerals in it and drinking it gave us the energy to climb further. The view is what kept us going.
After walking on relatively flat paths for around an hour we witnessed one of the most alluring locations I have ever seen. Trust me, I am not exaggerating when I call it heaven on Earth. It was our second campsite - Rola Kholi. It is the Bhrigu Base Camp, with tents situated amidst huge snow-capped mountains with a glacial river flowing by its side and a wide expanse of grasslands on the other side, huge grazing grounds on one side with grazing mules and horses, and a deep ravine on the other side made by the flowing river. After a long day of trekking, I suddenly wasn’t tired anymore.
We reached the site at around 1 pm, chose our tents, and just sat there for half an hour admiring its beauty and experiencing the chill weather. Within seconds, the clear weather vanished with white clouds flowing in and covering the entire sight. Then, we had our tea and lunch with a hot bowl of kadhi.
After that, we had a little rest. Again, it is important to acclimatize your body. At such an altitude, one may experience symptoms of slight AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) such as headache, a bit of nausea, and dizziness. Almost half of us experienced headache as it was the first time for many of us at such a high altitude.
In the evening, we played some fun team games and next, the best part, Potato chilly :) for snacks.
We wrapped up early that night after dinner. I had been experiencing a headache since evening so I took half a Diamox and paracetamol and slept.
After dusk, the temperature would drop suddenly and one couldn’t keep up without wearing gloves, a jacket, and a woolen cap. We would shiver while washing their tiffins. Our campsites utilized minimum water. Even washing tiffins and cups was done in a 3 step manner where you would wash your utensils in 3 tubs of water with soap in the first one and clean water in the other two. Till the third tub, utensils would get cleaned. The water in them was thrown only after all of them washed their utensils, thus utilizing minimum water. The toilets also, are waterfree and use sawdust powder to avoid foul odor.
Day 5 (June 30th, 2021)
Rola Kholi (12,566 ft) to Bhrigu Lake (14,009 ft) and back to Rola Kholi
The next day we woke up early as it was the summit day where we would get to see the phenomenal Bhrigu Lake. We had to cover a distance of 10 km in total from Rola Kholi to Bhrigu Lake and then back to the campsite.
After breakfast and packing our lunches, we were given microspikes and gaters to be worn later when the trek through snow starts. We took only essential items with us on summit day in a small sack including jacket, tiffin, bottles, sunscreen, gloves, and some other eatables, and left the rucksack at camp.
We started around 8 am. First, we crossed the glacial river near our camp from over small rocks. The start of the trail was quite a steep ascent on rocky terrain and breathtaking (literally and physically). We could constantly see our camp getting farther and farther. Meadows below you, snow peaks all around you, floating clouds below you, far in distance u see valleys. After around 1.5 hours, the snow patch started where we were taught the correct way to wear gaters and microspikes.
The lush green landscapes turned into a never-ending white layer of snow with patches of brown rocks. We walked on those slippery slopes of ice.
We struggled for some time as hiking in snow is a completely different experience. It’s different than walking on normal terrain. We would slip and fall, or our legs would drench deep in soft snow. The trekking pole would also go deep in the snow with every step. Soon, we got used to it and we could walk without falling constantly. All you can see around is dazzling white snow. We played around a bit with snow.
The next part of the trek was a 15 minutes descent through numerous small streams made from melting snow flowing through rocky parts. Soon the descent ended and right there in from of us were huge mountains covered entirely with snow. We had to walk through the edge of those mountains on the slope. It was one of the most tricky parts of the trek. The trail was very thin thus we had to walk carefully. Also, you need to be careful about any falling rock from the slope above which might catch high speed quickly.
The tricky part was followed by a 1.5-hour steep climb along the slope towards the top of the mountain. There was no sight of the lake, until just the end. The steep snow climb was followed by a 15-minute long walk on flat land leading to the majestic glacial Lake - The Bhrigu Lake. It just popped out of nowhere and we were stunned by the beauty hidden so well between the ridges. It is known as the place where the famous saint Maharishi Bhrigu sat in deep meditation and thus the name.
We were finally here at The Bhrigu Lake at 14k ft altitude - with the lake situated amidst the cold desert, half-frozen with concentric rings of sparkling ice and water and no man, animal, bird, or plant in sight. Just the frozen lake, open sky, blank white mountains, and us. The wind was breezy and our bodies began cooling down after a tiring trek. We were lucky to find it in a frozen state as it looks beautiful than ever. The lake keeps changing with seasons and would probably be surrounded by grasslands till August. After savoring the moment of accomplishment and capturing the mesmerizing view in our eyes for about 40 minutes, we had to head back.
Coming back was the most fun of the trek. The steep slopes which seemed impossible to climb became the most fun experience while descending. We all slid down the steep slopes like water slides. At first, it seemed easier, but when I did it, I realized how hard it is to balance and many of us would topple while coming down, but it was fun. We would drop our trekking poles, gloves, caps, or bottle while coming down and the person behind would collect them while coming down. One person was always at the bottom to catch us and make sure we don't slide down any further. It took us less than half of the time, it took us to climb.
Next, we ate our packed lunches and continued to slide down further. At one point we slid down a long path for almost 100 meters straight. We found a shredded yack horn on the way which one of us took home.
While returning, we experienced foggy weather with light drizzles at times. The snow at the bottom was already melting leading to small streams. On the way, we found numerous grazing horses in grasslands.
Finally, we were almost at the campsite and the last thing we had to do is to cross the glacial river. We removed our socks and shoes and stepped in the piercing cold water coming straight from ice. My legs stopped feeling for a bit but I kept walking through the chill water and crossed the river. It’s a unique experience and surely an unforgettable one. It took nearly 10 minutes for my legs to get back to normal. We finally did it, we reached the campsite after a short walk through marshy soil at around 4:00 pm.
It was chai time and we were rewarded with pasta for snacks. The following evening, we had a briefing session where the trek leader took us throughout our journey till that day in brief and we also shared our experiences. We had mouth-watering Gulab Jamuns at 12k ft! Well, that’s a thing to boast about. After dinner, we played mafia for a bit. We were too tired to do anything and dozed off early that night.
Day 6 (July 1st, 2021)
Rola Kholi(12,566 ft) to Gulaba(10,370 ft). Drive back to Manali.
It was the last day of our trek. After breakfast, we packed our rucksacks, unpitched our tents, rolled our sleeping bags, filled up our bottles, and started our descent at around 9:00 am. We took minimum breaks while coming down as it is less tiring and kept on descending, enjoying the vast expanse of meadows. All that route over again and it took us very little time to descend. Intermediate breaks refreshed us to keep going further.
Finally, we reached Gulaba at 2:00 pm from where we took jeeps to Manali. It was my turn to sit in open gypsy. It was amazing to drive through it between the curvy roads and huge mountains aside from deep ravines. We picked up our luggage from cloakroom on the way and reached Manali at about 4:00 pm.
It dawned to us that it was finally over and we were going back from green jungles to concrete jungles and regular lifestyle. But, we made some unforgettable memories and gained several new experiences.
Next, it was finally a time for a bath after 3 days, though it didn't feel messy in that cold climate. We had snacks on mall road and a mandatory softy. For dinner, we had pizza in our rooms. We all stayed up till late at night playing games, jamming on songs, all 19 of us bonding and spending time for the last time before separating ways.
Day 7 (July 2nd, 2021)
Manali to Delhi
We checked out, had lunch at mall road, and took our Volvo from Manali Pvt. Bus stand to Delhi.
Day 8 (July 3rd, 2021)
Delhi to Mumbai
We reached Delhi at 7:30 am and then went to a friend’s house. From there, we went to Connaught Place, New Delhi which is quite a famous hub in the city. Traveling around the city by metro is of great convenience.
After having lunch, we all parted ways with loads of experience and memories to cherish upon in the coming days. We checked in at the airport and reached Mumbai at 5:30 pm.
The trek was not just about the destination, but the whole journey. This four-day trek gives you a good idea of what Himalayan treks offer – meadows, glacial lake, mountain views. Even though it is a short trek, it climbs to the daunting altitude of 14,000 ft. so you experience the thrill of a climb as well. With its easy access from Manali, it is a great trek to do for beginners or families looking to explore the wilderness.