After the trek to Saurkundi Pass, I was pretty excited to go to Sar Pass. Some of the folks in Saurkundi Pass had trekked Sar Pass during the previous years and they had told me its all the more adventurous than the one we had been to. So I made my way to the little town of Kasol, 40 kms away from Kullu by road which is at least a 2 hour bus journey owing to the narrow and bumpy roads.
The first three days are the same as with the previous trek – Acclimatization walk, rock climbing and rappeling sessions and general orientation about the days to come ahead. But on the fourth days as one walks out of the campsite with the participants from the batches of the days ahead forming a guard of honor and cheering on, you are all set for a week of living an adventure in wilderness. A rickety state transport bus will drop you off at a village called Barshaini, close to more than an hours drive from the base camp and it is here that walk begins. The trail is a motorable road, though vehicles driving there would be almost absent. The hike though does not involve any ascent, and is short one and before one realizes there in front lies the first campsite – Kangchani Thatch. It is the only campsite with okayish views as compared to the campsites from the days to come but the stream that flows by the campsite more than makes up for it. Sitting along the banks of the stream with fellow trekkers and chatting is the best way to spend the evening.
The next morning though, one has to again hike back a mile or two on the same motorable road that had been tread the previous day and then take a detour into the mountain. For most part of the day, the trail goes through dense forests and one ascends to a height of 9000+ feet to reach the next campsite – Khrodu Thatch. A campsite set in a walnut orchard. It is from this camp onward that you start gaining height. The forest cover goes declining as one heads towards the next camp at Zirmi. Zirmi is located pretty close to Khordu and the hike that day though demanding is not a long one.
Zirmi as a camp offers fantastic views on all sides and it is here that one first gets a view of a tiny part of Sar Pass. A campsite with lots of open space, unlike the previous two, offers you chance to stretch and run around the meadows. However it would be a good idea to rest and conserve energy as the next day will be all ascent day.
As one leaves Zirmi at 10500 ft ASL and moves to the next campsite of Tilalotni stituated at an altitude of of 12500 feet, one definitely feels short of breath. The landscapes get incredibly beautiful. The Parvati valley shows up itself in all its glory once the vegetative cover is gone. And in fact from a certain point,if you are lucky, you may get to see the preceding batch crossing Sar Pass.
Some time after lunch you get a first feel of what it is to walk on snow. It is definitely on challenge, treading carefully on the the hard snow or ice on a mountain slope and the group definitely slows down from its regular pace. As soon as you make it to Tilalotni, you would want nothing more than to get into your tent and curl up in the sleeping bag except if a hot soup or tea is being served. Standing outside the tent you can see the almost the entire route, until Sar Pass top, that you will be traversing the next day which is one of the most challenging day of this week long affair.
The biggest challenge of that day, of course will be to wake up at 3 in the morning and get ready to leave by 4.30 or so. The first couple of hours will as one leaves Tilalotni will involve steep climbs that leaves the trekker breathless. The walk is fairly slow and long one to get to height of more than 13500 ft ASL. Once you have gained the height initially there is a slight decent but before the long and cold walk on snow begins until the food point where some of the guides will have put up a temporary canteen in snow serving hot maggi, tea or omelette. With temperature hovering a few degrees above zero this break is welcomed by one and all to gulp down any of those piping hot dishes.
After all the food, with some fire in the belly one resumes on another two hour walk to the Sar Pass top. However this two hour walk is filled with people slipping every few minutes in the snow. One has to tread slowly and cautiously until one reaches the final climb to Sar Pass top.
Once on the top , its a direct descent of a few hundred feet, by way of a sliding in the snow. This is the fun part that every one look forward to since the time they wake up in the morning. But after a couple of slides like this that numb your butt, no longer does anybody want to do it any more. However what is more exciting is the location of the next campsite at Biskeri Thatch. The first glimpse of which you get from a thousand feet or so above which gives you a boost to get there asap and discuss the slide expereinces. But no longer do you have dinner, you get into your tent and fall into a peaceful sleep. Woke up at 3 in the morning right?
The next days hike takes you through forests, plains, meadows, streams before leading you to the last campsite – Bandak Thatch. The route is very beautiful at the same time very tiring on the legs owing to the steep descent for most of the day. Crossing streams becomes an adventure as well when you try to balance yourself on narrow and wobly logs of wood that become makeshift bridges.
And finally after a long day of descent, when you think you have reached the campsite, a surprise awaits you. You have to climb up again and the climb is an exhausting one. What makes it all the more tiring is the fact that you know that the next morning you will have to descend down the same trail again. But the last campsite is the most beautiful of all. And that takes your mind off the challenge next morning for the time being.
But as the sun goes down, people realize that the adventure and beauty are almost over as by the next day afternoon, most of them would be back to base camp in Kasol and many of them may head back home as soon as they reach the base camp. For me as well, 3 weeks of peace and tranquility of the mountains was over. I needed to get back home and to the hustle and bustle of a large city like Mumbai. But there was silver lining to the cloud. It would be monsoon soon enough and if there has to be a best time to enjoy and trek the western ghats, it has to be in the monsoon.