Text : Samyadeb Mahato……….Bhrigu Lake
Text : Shreya Banerjee
Shreya Banerjeeis currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Quantum Information at IISER Kolkata, though she is more enthusiastic towards the magnificent beauty that the outside world offers. She is a travel enthusiast who has interests in remote places as destinations as well as well known tourist spots.
Images : Samyadeb Mahato
It was early 2003 or 2004. I was casually going through the articles of the kid’s magazine I had a subscription of. I stumbled upon a piece on George Leigh Mallory, the efforts the renowned mountaineer had paid to conquer the Everest just “because it is there”! The romance related to the mountains, especially the Himalayas’ had engulfed me since.
Nearly fifteen years had passed to the date I found myself standing on the bank of river Beas listening to the loud roars of the stream. It was 23rd May 2018, a day prior to my first mountain trek, my first encounter with the mystic and the majestic Himalayas. In the morning, we, a group of ten people had reached Manali and were transferred to a hotel by our team leader from Wandervogel Adventures. The hotel, “Himalayan Camps and Resorts” was on the banks of Beas, away from the noise and dust of the busy town in its peak season but within the reach via a fifteen minutes drive. The day was kept for the basic acclimatization and rest we needed for refueling our energy after the long train and bus journey from the eastern part of the country. After lunch, we were taken to the Hadimba temple and Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Arts, two well-known tourist attractions in Manali. This four-kilometer walk, up and downhill, was supposed to be somewhat of a trailer to the thriller that would unravel the mystery awaiting us on the way to Bhrigu Lake.
Next day after breakfast, we were headed in two cars towards the 14th scissor bend on the road from Manali to Rohtang Pass, where the trail to Gulaba campsite is located. The trail is on the right side of the road past Gulaba check post towards Rohtang. The tiredness from this approximately 24 km journey washed off as soon as we arrived at the campsite; a green picturesque meadow surrounded by snow-capped mountains from the north, west, and south. In the east, right beside our kitchen tent, a gentle stream was flowing from north to south, across which there was a faint trail lost further east, steep uphill.
“That is the path we are going to climb tomorrow to reach the next camp,” said Aman, our local guide, pointing towards the trail.
Due to the usual traffic on the way to Rohtang, we had reached the campsite late. The Sun was already on top of the Hanuman-Tibba peak, far west. Photographers amongst us went ahead and sat to capture the setting Sun while the rest of us were busy enjoying the evening snacks with tea. Meanwhile, our team leader Abhishek da demonstrated how to set up tents to those who were enthusiastic about it. By the time we settled down with all seven tents up, it was twilight.
Evening in this part of India comes late. We were sitting here and there in small groups enjoying the changing colors of sky till it was dark. Down below, we could see the faint city lights, another delight to the photographers. Around eight, all of us were called in the dining tent for dinner. Food was healthy and delicious; a full course, starting with soup, ending with a sweet dish, the specialty of the day’s meal being mushroom curry. The whole group, which consisted of people mostly from Kerala and Bengal, was there during dinner time, exchanging culture and experiences while enjoying the brilliantly cooked food by Prakashji, our cook and probably the eldest of us all, who also made an appearance later.
That night before going into the tent and calling it a day, I glanced up at the night sky; clear and ever-expansive, glowing in the moonbeam, a few days prior to full moon, and thought about the journey ahead – two days before we reach our destination.
The next morning was haste; getting ready, packing our backpack, dismantling of tents, taking packed lunch, all within an hour or so! But even in that hurry, thanks to the organizing team from Wandervogel Adventures, everyone was served tea twice and breakfast with two or three varieties! By 9 o’clock, after cleaning the campsite, we were ready to leave Gulaba. Experts told us that it is a 4 hours walk till we reach the next campsite at Rola Kholi, the distance being near about 5 km and an altitude gain of approximately 700m (from 3160 m, Gulaba to 3870 m, Rola Kholi).
The day’s walk started through the meadow, with a bunch of trees, mainly cedar and birch jostling here and there. The trail went steeply upwards through beds of yellow, pink, blue flowers waving their heads in the light morning bridge. We crossed a bunch of mountain goats on our way; some of them were friendly enough to let us pat their head. We were walking in three groups. Abhishek da was with Vijay, who was suffering from a headache due to high altitude related problems and five others at the tail of the team. Aman was at first leading the group, but then he slowed his pace to catch up with the three participants in the middle. I was walking after Prakashji at the front, though, Prakashji, being a local, went far ahead of me. I kept my pace slow but steady, as instructed by Abhishek da the night before and enjoyed my solo walk along the trail. The trail was easy, though it had multiple turns and at every turn there was a twist in the scenery that never failed to surprise me. At a rest point, I saw seven waterfalls, some of them still frozen, coming down from the mountain and on the very next turn, they vanished and the Pir Panjal range at the north smiled at me at full blaze, beaming under the morning Sun on a clear day!
As per instructions, I was using my packed water carefully but even then at a point, I got worried since there was no water source for almost the first three quarters of the hike and I was about to run out of water supply. But right then, I saw the first stream. Overjoyed, I sat there for a while to catch my breath, finished my bottled water to the last drop and refilled it with the chilled water from the stream. Then I resumed walking, lost in thoughts and amazed by the beauty of the nature surrounding me. I crossed a few streams after this and came across a group of local people coming downhill with horses. I asked them how far I was from the campsite, to which they assured me that I was on the right track. On the next turn, I saw my teammates, the three people in the middle with Aman. I waved at them and went ahead.
At some rest point previously, Aman had told me pointing at the snow-covered mountains far east, that we were supposed to reach to the base of that snow today. We started hiking east first, then traversed towards north a bit, and then after the first stream, the trail took me towards the south and finally east to reveal a smiling Prakashji waving at me with the kitchen tent already up. I had reached camp Rola Kholi successfully! It was 35 minutes past noon.
No more than 25 minutes had passed when others joined us in the wide green grassland that was to be our home for the next two days. I saw Vijay coming, all cheerful and charged up, with no signs of a headache and greeted him. He told me he was feeling awesome and it was because of the instructions and help from our team-leader that he made it to the campsite.
Aman and others were busy pitching tents, which was a difficult job as there was wind blowing continuously at a high speed from every possible direction. We were roaming around and enjoying the view in small groups. There was Hanuman Tibba, Friendship and Talsu peaks to our west, a foggy cloud always hovering above them. In the North, there was the rest of the Pir Panjal range in which Bhrigu lake itself is situated, but the view was blocked by a large single piece of barren rock. The southern and eastern horizon was full of snow covered mountain ranges, one after another, to the limit where it faded into the mist and fog. The ranges were Pir Panjal to the east and Dhaula Dhar to the south, to be precise. Our campsite was located on the upside slope of the valley, which ended in a fairly wide spring that had jumped into the valley and had bifurcated into several parts. There were little yellow flowers, bunches of them on the west bank of the stream, making the valley look like a perfect stage for a fairy tale. On the eastern side of the stream, there was steep inclination covered with snow towards our destination. The path we would be following the very next day.
I had spent most part of that afternoon just staring at the mountains, with their never ending white cover and the clouds accumulating on their top, contemplating if I was at the gateway to heaven! And it was then when I felt something tickling my left foot. Startled, I looked down to find a furry red dog gently rubbing its head against my feet. I patted his fluffy head and he sat there with me, till the sun went behind the high mountains in the west.
Evening came late as well, and with it came the exotic dinner; soup, rice and/or roti as per personal choice, daal, a mixed vegetable curry, and meat. Lamb is referred to as mutton or meat here, I had previously gathered this information from Prakashji. Food was as usual great, tasty yet healthy. This course was followed by sweet dish and tea just like the previous day. I went outside the dining tent sipping the hot liquid and found the campsite washed over by a heavenly moonlight. No adjective seems fit to explain the beauty of the quiet valley, the only sound being that of the spring water running down. There are places in this world where illusions seem more realistic than the reality itself. Places where nature opens up to you, in the surrealistic forms, whispering little secrets beyond the reach of complexities of modern civilization. All you need to do is to listen carefully!
At some point between twilight and our dinner time, we had experienced a light snowfall, after which the sky got absolutely clear and a thousand stars were there, twinkling high up. I recognized a few known constellations like the Big Dipper, Libra, Virgo, which was an added bonus to me, a star-watching enthusiast!
Next day, we left most of our belongings at the campsite, packing our sacks only with water, food and other essential items for an eight-hour hike. High altitude had taken its toll on three of our companions the previous night, including Vijay, so they stayed back as per our leader’s decision. So seven of us set feet towards the holy lake at an elevation of approx 4,300 meters along with Abhishek da, Aman and Sumit (another local guide) after breakfast. The climb through the snow was tiresome, and not very easy, most of us being first-timers, but we were thoroughly guided through it. We learned the basics of walking in snow and were helped whenever required. It took us near about 5 hours to reach to the lake, an oval-shaped formation amidst snow and in the all-white backdrop, it had a faint violet elliptic ring along the perimeter. According to the lore, it never completely freezes and changes shape and color every other day. The lake is sacred and also named after sage Bhrigu, due to which, many people were seen to pay respects to the sage by going bare feet near the lake.
We started climbing down after a rest of 15 to 20 minutes. On our way down, I saw a dead butterfly, still intact and frozen in the snow in all its glory and beauty. The environment here is also like that, at least during the time of our visit, frozen, shining brightly in full glory and unrealistic.
The next three hours were hard for me in particular as I am afraid of climbing down in any terrain. I saw others enjoying it a lot. I too enjoyed the ice-slides very much. There were three times during the journey that we covered a distance just by sliding down the ice. It was fun and easy as I could let go of all worries and let gravity do the job for me! When we had to traverse an ice field from sides or climb down a steep incline, our team leader came to my rescue. Actually, throughout the day, he was busy looking after the whole team helping anybody who seemed to have a problem, stopping us time to time to ensure we are properly rested as well as keeping the team together since these paths become tricky once there is any kind of degradation of weather. I remember, there was a time when we heard the sound of water flowing right underneath the snow path we were walking on. We realized that we were standing above a waterfall with a layer of ice on the top. But Abhishek da led us to safety before fear got the better of us. We also experienced snowfall twice during these three hours.
It was almost 4 o’clock when we caught a sight of our campsite. In another half an hour, we were home, tired yet energetic, with a feeling of blissful completeness in the heart. Vijay and others, now recovered from any health troubles, greeted us and asked about our journey, and we were served tea and snacks, hot and steaming, just what we needed at that moment. There was still time till evening, I decided to spend the time listening to the sounds of the nature that was so real at that moment and was to be lost again the next day as soon as we left the campsite. I went out to find my furry friend from the previous day at the same place. I sat beside him as he put his head on my lap and stayed there with me till sunset, both of us quiet and enjoying the solitude.
That night, we had Chinese food for dinner made by Prakash ji.
The next morning started late for most of us. We packed our bags and cleaned the campsite and had our breakfast in no hurry at all. We left the campsite and started towards Gulaba at 11 o’clock. This downhill journey seemed surprisingly easy to me as I enjoyed it and kept matching pace with the others for most of the part. The familiar trail took us through the vast alpine meadow to the Gulaba campsite in about 2.5 hours, and then in no time, we reached the 14th scissor bend where two cars were waiting for us. We were transported to hotel Nishitha, 2 km from Manali, at village Aleo, to spend the day and get some rest before the journey back home.
It has been a few days since I have returned from the trek. My memory has already started betraying me of the rigorous details, and those beautiful days have already started to seem so unreal. Sometimes it makes me wonder whether it really did happen or was it just a dream! But there is something that I have achieved from this experience. There are times when life seems too heavy to carry on. During those moments I take a deep breath and close my eyes, and magic happens. I find myself standing in the moonlit valley, looking at the starry sky listening to the whispering wind. Suddenly I feel confident and strong enough to fight back because even in this real world such places exist where I can feel complete and whole. “Because it is there.”
Just one more sentence left to add. A heartfelt thanks to Wandervogel Adventures for this wonderful experience!