Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all
~ Helen Keller
My name is Prasath. My friends call me LSP, by my initials. I am a passionate traveler with love for adventure and photography. I am addicted to Nature. I only find excuses to leave to pack up and leave to the mountains. I have been to the Himalayas numerous times, done various beautiful treks and always came back home with beautiful memories every single time. But then there is this one trip which was a lifetime experience beyond being just a great memory. It always holds a special place in my list of adventurous experiences!
One rainy Ramzan season six years ago, I set out on an adventurous mission with few of my friends to climb Rupin Pass, a high altitude Himalayan pass in the Dhauladhar range of Himachal at 15,500ft. The first leg of our journey from Delhi to Shimla was very beautiful. The heritage toy train winding its way through the mountains and numerous old bridges is an experience to rejoice.
Toy train winding its way through the mountains
The next leg of our journey was to drive from Shimla to the last motorable village of Himachal, 'Dodra'. The journey began peacefully with the drive through misty mountains, small villages perched on those mountains and many, many apple orchards. Though it was not raining, it was heavily clouded with no signs of the sun.
Shimla, covered by a blanket of fog below and a thick layer of stormy clouds above
Our luck did not last long. Soon it started pouring and the roads became treacherous! We crossed many hairpin bends, mud roads, layers and layers of mountains. Beyond a certain point, there were no roads and the tires were constantly skidding and getting stuck in slush.
Riding in the pouring rains through hilly roads filled with slush
Being a determined lot we did not give up. We drove relentlessly and managed to reach Dodra after an exhausting 36hrs drive in the mountains. Dodra cheerfully welcomed us with a beautiful rainbow stretching wide from one mountain peak to another!
A beautiful view from one of the high points during the drive. The rain had stopped for a bit and the true grandeur of Himalayas was revealed!
As If the drive wasn't any adventurous, our next leg of the journey had, even more, adventure in store for us! Keep reading ...
The dawn was beautiful and the weather clearly looked promising. We had a good head start taking advantage of the conditions. While good weather stayed till the noon, rain was always on the cards. Thankfully we had climbed up to the next village before the rains started in full swing. With village kids giving us a warm welcome with 'Namaste', we sought refuge in their village.
Trail crisscrossing the mountains filled with cascading waterfalls
Later that evening the weather cleared and a gorgeous rainbow appeared out of nowhere. It stayed until the twilight sank the mountains in a deeper shade of blue. Eventually, the darkness took over the night. It was a definite moment of joy when we spotted our galaxy ‘Milky Way’ stretching across a dark canvas of clear star-studded sky!
A gorgeous rainbow stretching across the mountains!
Determined to cover at least half the distance to the high-camp, we had a quick head start very early in the morning. It was heavily clouded, but at least it was not raining. As we marched steadily, the snowy peaks slowly appeared at a distance. Even the sun appeared to give us a moral boost by putting up a tough fight against the clouds. Soon a beautiful Himachali village appeared after a treacherous climb through loose gravels.
‘Jhaka’, surrounded by beautiful apple trees high up in the mountains, at about 9000 ft it appeared as if hanging from those mountains. Needless to say, the village people were amazingly hospitable. Can’t forget those delicious Aloo Parathas we had in one of the village house for breakfast!
A villager from Jhaka making parathas for our breakfast
After a brief breakfast break, we left the village quickly to cover the distance before the weather deteriorates. The trail ahead was filled with Himalayan blue poppies and other beautiful flowers. A small descent got our trail closer to the ice cold Rupin River below. An old, rickety bridge was the only way to cross over to the other side of the valley. Soon the drizzle started and we were walking amidst a landscape strewn with gorgeous white flowers all around, almost like a dream. Steep climb into the forest, followed by a glacial river crossing (that left our foot numb for quite some time) we finally reached the plains of Saruwas thatch at 10,000 ft. The distinct 'U-shaped' Rupin valley and the upper waterfalls looked beautiful from the campsite. We pitched our tents and retired for the day. It poured cats and dogs in the night.
View of Rupin valley from Saruwas Thatch campsite
It may be life is only worthwhile at moments.
Perhaps that is all we ought to expect.
The dawn was gorgeous. We picked up wood to light the fire and gathered around it to fight the cold. Soon our support staff prepared piping hot Chai and Parathas. It was consumed in no time. As a rule of thumb in the mountains, we started early with upper camp set as our target for the day. Little did we know about the major hurdle ahead!
Crossing Dhanderas thatch, a high altitude meadow at 11,500 ft; we were headed straight towards the upper waterfall when we met a group of trekkers returning after abandoning their trek. Due to incessant rains in the last few days, the waterfall was flowing in full spate making the river crossing almost impossible! Since one has to cross the river in order to reach the upper camp, the group patiently waited for a couple of days before calling it off. Though it was a very discouraging moment for all of us, we prepared ourselves mentally not to give up!
A steep climb up a glacier and getting close to the waterfalls revealed the actual force of the stream. The water current was too high. Without some sort of special arrangement, it wouldn't be possible for anyone to cross the stream, especially with heavy backpacks and supplies. A moment of silence prevailed in the camp. It was time to face the reality and take an important call.
Water gushing down from upper waterfalls
While we were quietly discussing the possibilities, one of our daredevil support staff decided not to quit! He spotted a rock in the middle of the stream and decided to take a leap. With weather conditions still favoring us, he did not waste any time in jumping to that rock and further to the other side. Within split seconds he was on the other side, waving back at us in excitement! It was unbelievable. A sense of relief and joy came back to the camp, as crossing the stream now sounded like a possibility!
Our daredevil staff taking a leap across the gushing stream
Without further ado, we tied a rope across the stream and transported all our backpacks and supplies. Later we did an adventurous stream crossing using the rope, with freezing cold water raging right below us. It was one tremendous experience that each one of us would remember for a long time to come. It took an exhausting hour-long exercise to transport all our goods and people across the stream. As luck might have it, it started pouring as we started climbing up the waterfalls.
An hour of strenuous climb in the pouring rain and freezing cold got us to the upper camp at 13,000 ft. We quickly pitched our tents and settled to the warmth of our sleeping bags. In no time, a hailstorm struck our campsite and the entire landscape transformed into a winter wonderland!!
High camp after being struck by an evening hailstorm
As decided over the previous dinner, we woke up really early and started our trek towards the pass. The trail rapidly ascended from the campsite and eventually led to a high-altitude boulder zone. With snowfall picking up heavily at that time, we had to jump and crisscross the boulders quickly. It was an exhausting exercise at that altitude but definitely exhilarating at the same time! We crossed the boulder zone and a partially frozen stream before reaching the base of the pass. Thankfully snowfall had subsided by then.
From the base of the pass, Rupin was a good 30 minutes climb at a steady inclination of 60-70 degrees. Slippery snow and rolling boulders added to the adventure! We slowly ascended at a steady pace and finally reached the pass after 30 minutes of arduous climb. At 15,500 ft; the view was simply incredible! No words can perfectly describe the beauty of the place. We were totally ecstatic. We felt so proud of our achievement. The effort and perseverance were well worth it. We felt our accomplishment! We thanked Mother Nature wholeheartedly for providing a suitable window to accomplish our mission.
Slowly ascending our way through the rolling boulder zone of Rupin Pass
Extraordinary view of the frozen Himalayan landscape from the top of Rupin Pass, at 15,500 ft.
As it was freezing at the top, we did not stay there for long. We made a quick descend to the other side of the pass and headed straight down towards Ronti Gad campsite at 13,000 ft. Soon we crossed the snow line and entered the meadow again. We pitched our camp, danced to our heart’s content and retired early (having walked miles and miles) with a great sense of accomplishment!
Next morning we woke up to a big shock! In the middle of the night, a strong hailstorm had struck our campsite and the whole landscape transformed pale yet again. Snow line had expanded to the horizon and the winter wonderland was back. This time we were not worried about the weather anymore! We were glad we could successfully cross the pass in a narrow window. We played in the snow for some time, packed our bags casually and slowly descended towards the final village, ‘Sangla’.
Ronti Gad campsite after an overnight hailstorm
It drizzled all along, but it did not curb our enthusiasm in any way. We sang, we danced and happily descended our way down, thoroughly enjoying the rain this time. Entering the civilization back in Sangla felt good. We checked into our hotel, took a nice warm shower and sat down on the balcony overlooking the mountains to enjoy a hot cup of tea. It was then we noticed another thunderstorm looming over the mountains! We couldn't thank Mother Nature enough for providing a perfect window to complement our efforts. We felt very happy and proud to have accomplished our mission in spite of all the challenges and hardships that were thrown at us!
An intense storm looming over Rupin Pass, as seen from Sangla
This trip undoubtedly is an unforgettable experience in the mountains that I will remember for a long, long time to come! After all, we all travel to feel the journey and gain new experience. This one experience sure went beyond being just an adventurous experience and taught me some valuable lessons for life!
In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back.
~ Charlie Brown