A lonely trek. Some horses. Loads of Buffaloes. 4 blissful days.
There are so many beautiful treks hidden away in the Himalayas that we know nothing about.
Most of you are aware of the Hampta Pass Trek, you’ll see huge groups heading there every summer, but tucked away in the beautiful hills of Manali is also the Hamta Circle trek. It is almost impossible to find useful information about it online. No one knows about it except locals and a few buffaloes who have made the meadows in Hamta Circle their royal home.
So, we packed our bags, grabbed some food to cook along the way and went out there to check it out and here is what we found.
It’s easy to moderate trek (easy when it's sunny and moderate when it's raining), that can be done in the summer and would be a beautiful trek in winters too. It’s suitable for beginners and for kids aged 10-14 years too, so you can go on this trek alone, with friends or with your family. And the most important thing is that you will see forests, meadows, waterfalls, beautiful flowers and epic views in just 4 days that you’ll spend on this trail. So, it’s a perfect mini getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
This is what your four days on the trail would look like.
Day 1: Beautiful local villages, pine forests and loads and loads of stairs.
Route: Jagatsukh to Baggi (1850 m – 2591 m)
Time required: 2-3 hours
You’ll start the trek from a small village called Jagatsukh, 6-7 kms away from Manali. It’s a charming little village along the Beas river and is famous for its apple orchards and ancient Shiv temples. You’ll find loads of apple trees the minute you get off the main road here.
You have a few hours of an uphill walk ahead of you today. We started climbing the stairs right from Jagatsukh, hoping it would get easier, but it just never did. It was not the uphill walk that killed us, it was the stairs that drained us out. The first village you come across after Jagatsukh is Bhanara village, which took us about 25 minutes to reach. I could see apple filled baskets being carried by the villagers downhill from Bhanara village, probably to be sold in the main market. We took a break in the village and got a chance to interact with the locals there and it seemed like they were all busy preparing for winter. It snows a lot in Manali, and there is sometimes 5 feet of snow everywhere, so the villagers collect grass and dry apples in the sun months in advance, so they have nutritious food for their cows and buffaloes during the winter season.
We had our breakfast there and then headed out after half an hour. That’s the thing about small treks, if you know it’s going to be a short day, you get enough time to engage with your surroundings. There is no rush, no fear of the weather turning against you, and you know you’ll easily make it to the next campsite without much hassle.
As you leave the village, you’ll gradually enter a partially dense pine forest, which reminded me of Christmas. The forest must look like a winter wonderland when the snow falls on those trees.
You’ll soon come across a small isolated Shiv temple called the Takshak Nag Temple. Be extremely respectful in this area, even if you don’t have the same beliefs as the people living in this region. This temple is meant to protect the people of Bhanara village.
We rested awhile here and plucked two apples from the trees next to the temple, and had them right there and then. From here you’ll walk further uphill into the forest until you finally reach a meadow. That’s your campsite for the day. I kept thinking that if I had brought a hammock here, then I could have hung it between the trees and enjoyed reading a book.
Day 2: The story of the Scorpion plant, an army of buffaloes and Oh-My-God the view.
Route: Baggi to Saraha Baggi (2591 m- 3347m)
Time required: 3-4 hours
Before I tell you about the trail, I want to talk about the scorpion plant. So, first things first, these forests and meadows are full of scorpion plant, which look like innocent little mint leaves, with thorns sticking out of them. And they sting. A lot. But apparently, their roots have healing powers. We met a few villagers here, who collect these roots and sell them to warehouses, so they can make Ayurvedic herbal medicines out of the extracts.
I was in complete awe when I found out about this. We are so used to off-the-counter medicines from pharmacies, that I had forgotten how medicine was made in the olden times. And Ayurvedic medicines are still made that way even today. The mountains can heal you in many ways.
Also, do you remember the story where Hanuman lifted an entire mountain and carried it somewhere, in order to find the 'Sanjeevani Booti' to save Lakshman? The hills you are walking on today, is said to be that piece of land that Hanuman carried with him. This is what the locals believe, and co-incidentally, this place is filled with Ayurvedic herbs and roots. So, for it was quite fascinating to hear these tales from the people who live here.
Back to the trail. You’ll walk in and out of the forest, still heading uphill, and come across huge boulders spread across the meadows there. You’ll get great views of Hanuman Tibba and you’ll come across a few Gujjar make-shift tents along the way. The Gujjars, also known as ‘The Himalayan Gypsies’ live up in the mountains during summers to find feeding grounds for their sheep, goats, horses or buffaloes. They gradually descend as it gets colder and goes back to their village during winters.
You’ll walk in the vast meadows, gradually ascending and right before you reach your campsite you’ll see loads of small bushes and beautiful yellow flower beds beside your feet. Your campsite is located at a point which I’d like to call ‘the best seat in Manali’ because you get a beautiful view of the entire city from here. If you are a photographer, this is a great place to take time-lapse videos, as the clouds from this vantage point seem quite playful and full of life. We had loads of curious buffaloes next to our tent, just lazily munching grass, observing us and pooping all over the place. It was a grand sight, as they are as curious about us being there, as we were about them being there.
Day 3: …and all of a sudden, the mountains make a dramatic appearance and blow our minds kind of a day.
Route: Saraha Baggi to Sarotu (3347m-3380m)
Time required: 3-4 hours
You have a beautiful surprise waiting for you today; aka your next campsite. For me, Sarotu made this trek so worth all the uphill walk.
You’ll start your ascend today through rocky grassy meadows, with a carpet of yellow flowers all around you. It is the perfect playground for bees, that almost camouflage amongst the yellow flowers. After approximately an hour and a half, you’ll come across a waterfall, and right after that, you’ll start your ascend into the forest. Depending on the weather, you might need to be extra careful today, as the path you’ll be walking on is quite narrow and muddy. You’ll ascend for about 400 meters and then come across a meadow that looks like a replica of Tilgan, the site right before Saraha Baggi. You’ll walk in and out of the forest today, and come across wide plains and meadows and Gujjars and eventually camp at one of the most romantic, beautiful, peaceful and dreamy campsites ever. Sarotu is almost like a dream, you’ll see beautiful hills all around you, with almost 500-600 sheep grazing the grounds, and some buffaloes and horses too. And the mountains and clouds in the background, make the site seem so damn beautiful.
Day 4: Wide open space, larger than life trees and descend all the way.
Route: Trek from Sarotu to Jobra (3380m -3100m) and reach Manali via car
Time required: 2-3 hours
You will traverse through the hills today, and gradually descend and reach Jobra, which is the starting point of Hampta Pass trek. So, your finish line is someone else’s starting point. Today is all about walking downhill, so be prepared for that. You’ll start your trek from Sarotu, and walk downhill amongst huge chestnut and oak trees, and vast plains and just beauty all around you. It’s a walk you are bound to remember because the mountains, the lazy clouds, and the lush green vegetation all around you would have a hold on you and you’d not want to leave. It’s an invisible pull that makes your heart heavy. But the walk is easy, just descend carefully, and as soon as you see the Jobra dam, know that you are almost there. You’ll see prayer flags at the end of the trail, and that’s where you park your bottom and enjoy a hot cup of tea at the small cafes there. A car will pick you up and within an hour you’ll be in Manali where you can freshen up.
Heading out on a new trail is an adventure of a different kind. If you are not a big fan of crowds up in the mountains, Hamta Circle could your little secret to escape the world.
Come and see for yourself. Explore Hamta Circle.