Kheerganga Trek – Of evergreen forests, gushing waterfalls and emerald waters

I first came to know about the Kheerganga trek from a fellow traveler, whom I met on a trip to Rishikesh. He said if you love nature and hiking, then this is a must do if you are around Kasol. In October 2016, I went for a backpacking trip around Himachal Pradesh. I made a couple of friends at Zostel Manali and together we went for the Kheerganga Trek.

To reach this bountiful expanse of green, you have to trek around 14 kms from Barshaini, a village near Kasol. You can reach Barshaini by bus or cab from Kasol. We took the cab as it was almost 11.00 am when we left the hostel. We were dropped right at the beginning of the trail.

Kheerganga Trek
View from the bridge at the start of the trail

Note: You can also trek from Barshaini village, but the walk is just on muddy roads. So if you are in a group, its best to take a cab till the starting point of the trail. And it’s best to start early so that you get to spend more time at Kheerganga.

Once you cross the bridge over the Parvati River at the start, there are two routes you can take.

Route 1: Take a left from the bridge and ask anyone the way to Kheerganga. This is supposed to be easiest route and the trail is also easy to follow. You don’t even need a guide. We took this route.

Route 2: Take a right and hike to Kalga village and from there you cut through the forest to reach the top. It’s possible that you might lose your way here, so its best avoided unless you have a guide with you.

Kheerganga Trek
Your constant companion on the trek

The trail starts with a gradual climb and leads to a narrow cliff side path with views of mountains on all sides. The slopes on the other side of the valley are dotted with trees bursting in their bright yellows and fiery reds.

The Parvati River remains your constant companion on one side and the roar of its tempestuous waters can be heard even while camping at the top. The massive rock faces that tower over the forest under a clear blue sky look straight out of a wallpaper.

There are a few small villages that keep cropping up along the way where you can stop for Maggi and tea. After a continuous walk for about 5 kms on gradual ascents and descents, we took a break at one such village. After gulping down a bottle of lemon water, we started off on the trail again.

Kheerganga Trek
Waterfalls galore on this route

The cliff side path ended at Rudranag waterfall, one of the many waterfalls we encountered on the trail. We stopped for rest just before the forest trail started.

Sitting on the edge of a gorge, we watched the emerald green waters of the river below. I have always believed that it’s important to find moment’s like these, where you just pause and absorb nature’s beauty.

Kheerganga Trek
You need to see this in person. Its just gorgeous!!

A bridge connects you to the forest trail from where the steep portion of the trek starts. This bridge is a point where the beauty of the trek reaches a crescendo.

There are gushing waterfalls over massive rocks, a green lagoon is formed underneath the bridge, the foaming river is swelled up the most and the forest with its myriad colors just leaves you spellbound. Neither could my camera capture the beauty of this place nor can my words do justice to it. It needs to be experienced.

Kheerganga Trek
The frothing waters of Parvati river

The forest trail takes around 2 hours. The trail from here is steep, but not as difficult as what most locals will tell you. Once this portion starts, it’s an uphill climb initially, but it quickly reduces to a trail of alternating mild ascents and descents.

We got a furry friend as a guide at a pit stop we took on the uphill section. Of course, there are no free lunches in this world. A packet of biscuits was offered as a token of appreciation.

The forested section gives you respite from the sun and the ambience is calm and peaceful with the rumbling noise of Parvati River blending in seamlessly with the tranquility of the place. There are massive trees bordering the trail and occasional waterfalls enroute, making it a visual feast.

Kheerganga Trek

Following the forest trail till the very top, we reached Kheerganga.  It took us a total of 4 and half hours, including breaks.

There was only one place on the forested section where there was a slight confusion about the route, and where we relied on the better judgment of our four legged friend. Otherwise the trail was fairly intuitive.

The first thing we did after reaching the top was rush to the natural hot water springs. Bathing in those warm waters just washed away the fatigue from the trek. And you could not have asked for a better location.

The spring faces the rocky mountains and as you get refreshed watching the last rays of the sun leave their surface, your heart just swells up in jubilation.

Kheerganga Trek

Where to stay: There are tents and basic wooden houses. They start from INR 200 per day. And yes, they don’t come with attached toilets.
Best time to visit: The best time to trek to Kheerganga is from March to October. In the peak of winters (December onwards) the trail may get blocked by snow and accommodation options won’t be available

One Tree Hill Night Trek – Alone and Exposed

It started with a clichéd “What’s the plan for today” on a lazy Saturday afternoon. With the advent of monsoons, grand plans were being made every weekend and none materialized whatsoever. So when my friend Ajinkya casually suggested the idea of doing a night trek, I jumped in eagerly. I immediately packed my bags, fearing the enthusiasm would fade away with every passing idle moment. We quickly read up a few blogs and zeroed in on One Tree Hill Point.

We caught the 6.00 p.m. Khopoli train and reached Karjat by 7.30 p.m. We had dinner at a local dhaba. While we were having dinner, a local dissuaded us from doing the trek at night citing dangerous paths and dense jungles. I must say it did make me a bit anxious, but we decided to go ahead anyway.

By the time we had dinner it was 8.30 p.m. and at that hour no auto driver was willing to take us to the base village Ambewadi. After trying for half an hour, we had almost made up our mind to turn back when one guy agreed to take us. We reached Ambewadi at around 9.45 p.m.

One Tree Hill Trek
The mist covered valley next morning

The locals there also warned us from venturing at night since we were not familiar with the place. Realizing that we were stubborn about doing the trek anyhow, they voluntarily decided to send two of their men to guide us throughout the trek.

Armed with flashlights, we set out for the night.

The trail was clear, courtesy the moonlight and steep right from the start, which was contradictory to what we had read on various blogs. We reached a point where we saw the trail diverging into 2 different paths, a flat one and an uphill one. The locals took the uphill one and that’s when we got inkling that they were possibly taking a short cut.

Pretty soon, we reached the mountain ridge with a drop on both sides. The view of the lake below, from the ridge under the moonlit sky was bewitching. We could only imagine how beautiful it would have been in the morning, especially in the monsoons.

After a small break, we started back up the ridge following the clearly visible trail and as we walked on the trail, the creatures of the night (read frogs) darted away from our paths. We were surprised to see huge crabs on the way up.

While we were flashing our torches from left to right, I noticed a snake hung on a tree to my right side. It was a tiny green colored snake, a non-venomous species according to the locals. It remained motionless, unperturbed by the 4 torches which were aimed at it. After several failed attempts at getting a good shot, we decided to leave the poor snake alone.

One Tree Hill Trek

The ridge got narrower as we kept climbing and at its narrowest point was around 15 feet. At the end of the ridge, we had to climb a rock wall of about 10 feet and that finally got us to a flat patch. The flat land gave us the much needed respite after almost 45 minutes of uphill climbing. The locals however gave no hint of fatigue.

A few minutes into the plateau, we entered a dense jungle. It seemed like we had left the moonlit night somewhere behind. We came across a well in the midst of the jungle. We took a right from the well and the path started getting steep again. My calves started burning now. We decided to stop for a break.

We switched off our torches to conserve batteries and sat on the rocks. The moment we sat down in silence, it felt like the jungle had suddenly come alive. I could hear leaves rustling all around me. Sitting on the ground suddenly made me feel vulnerable. There could be snakes lurking about. And not all of them are as innocuous as the one we met before.

Brushing these thought’s aside, I got up for the final leg of the trek.

One Tree Hill Trek
One Tree Hill

The jungle suddenly gave way to a maze of boulders and from then on there was no trail. It was a steep climb over boulders till the very top. We had to slowly climb these rocks, as some of them were wet and slippery. I had become terribly frustrated with the slow pace at which we were forced to go and constantly kept pestering the locals on the time it would take to reach the top.

But my frustration vanished when I saw the last few 100 feet which we had to climb. It was nothing short of walking into the clouds. We were completely engulfed by fog, with visibility restricted to a mere 10 feet. We made our way to one tree hill point at around 11.45 p.m.

We had not reached our final destination though. The idea was to find a hillock which had only one tree on it and we had even made plans of sleeping in the open sky under that tree and stargazing. But we decided to explore it in the morning, given the exhaustion and the poor visibility.

I was surprised when the locals told us they were going back the same way we came. I mean it would take adamantium balls to go back in the dead of the night.

But they had a home to get to, unlike us.

We paid them some money for guiding us this far. It was the least we could do for this unexpected act of kindness. Had it not been for them, we would have certainly lost our way in the forest.

One Tree Hill Trek

After they left, we walked to a small bench which was overlooking the valley and had dinner. Although the cloud cover made it impossible to get a view of the valley below, the place which was surrounded by trees, enveloped by clouds and bombarded by heavy winds had a surrealistic feel to it.

It was one of those perfect natural settings that lent itself to ramblings about the bigger questions in life, and ramble we did through the night, for the monsoon winds had other plans for us.

There was a tea stall and its roof was going to be our shelter for the night. We laid down plastic sheets under the roof and using our bags as pillows tried to sleep. It was 2.00 a.m. I drifted off to sleep quickly, or so i believe.

One Tree Hill Trek
Our joke of a shelter for the night

As the night passed, it became colder. The tea stall which had protected us from the wind earlier was of no use when the wind started blowing in our direction. I woke up to see Ajinkya already awake and shivering.

Although we had our windcheaters on us, it was useless in the bone chilling cold of the night. Ajinkya suggested we sit instead of lying down (something he had learnt from his multiple viewings of Man versus Wild).

We pulled a couple of chairs which were lying nearby and tried to sleep in a sitting position. The cold had not subsided, but it was surprisingly easier to bear it in a sitting position. We passed the next couple of hours trying to sleep, but to no avail.

One Tree Hill
The vertical climb to One Tree Hill

Bird calls indicated morning had arrived and even though we were sleep deprived, one could not help but admire the beauty of the place. It was foggy, but when the cloud cover lifted for a fleeting moment, you could see the lush green valley below.

It was 6.30 a.m. After a refreshing cup of tea, we descended from one tree hill point and followed a trail which led us to the edge of the cliff .The one-tree hillock was separated from where we were standing by a very thin path of around 4 feet. The narrow path was not only exposed to the valley on both sides, but the climb up the hillock was vertical, making it extremely risky, unless of course, you are a gecko.

We had to be content with photographs of the place. We retraced our steps back to one tree hill point and from there walked back to Matheran main market.

Now that I reminisce about it, I realize what a crazy adventure it was. It was spontaneous and we were unprepared. But I guess that is what made this memory stick with me.

The thrilling climb in the dark, encounters of the wild, sleeping in the open on a chilly night, exploring the mountains on a misty morning, exactly the kind of weekend i was looking for.

Bum La Pass – The Indo China Border in the skies

It was as desolate as a place could be. But it was also breathtaking in its beauty. A man in uniform asked me to peer into the binoculars. He said if i looked to the left, i would see the Chinese radar system and sure enough, there was a white colored dome shaped building there.

When i focused on what lay ahead, i could see the nearest army outpost and through the binoculars i followed the road that led into the Chinese territory. I was at Bum La pass, the Indo-China border located 15200 feet above sea level in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

When I was done watching, the army man pointed to a nearby mountain and said there was an observatory point at the top and every day, one of them has to climb and check for enemy movements. I could only imagine how hard it would be to trek at such altitudes.

Bum La Pass
Pt Tso Lake – Enroute Bum La Pass

It was January, a time when winters were at their harshest in this part of the world. My friends had visited Tawang a year earlier in summer and they couldn’t go to Bum La pass as the roads had been closed due to heavy snowfall. And here I was, trying my luck in winter.

Lady luck had a soft corner for me though. The first thing we did after setting foot in Tawang was make arrangements for our trip to the border. I was overjoyed when our hotel guy said the roads were open and we could go.

A travel operator made the permit arrangement for us. It was hassle-free. All we had to do was submit our ID and the ILP ( Inner Line Permit). He charged us INR 4000 for the day trip.

It was one of those big jeeps with a lot of space, so if you are going in a group, it will turn out to be quite economical. And more than anything, this trip is worth every penny you spend.

Note: There are two permits needed for this region. One is the ILP (Inner Line Permit) to enter Tawang. The second one is the special permit to travel from Tawang to Bum La pass and Sangetsar Lake.

Tawang

Bum la pass is around 38 kms from Tawang and despite the short distance, it took a good 2 hours to reach (including breaks). We din’t mind it as the entire route was scenic beyond belief. I had never seen so much snow in my life and everything from roads to rocks to mountains were draped in snow.

The skies were a clear blue and massive clouds loomed in the distance. In a span of an hour, the landscape had changed dramatically. We passed many lakes including the popular PT Tso Lake and all of them were frozen.

Bum La Pass
Frozen Lakes on the way to Bum La Pass

When we were about to reach an army check post, our vehicle started skidding on snow. On roads like these, it can be perilous to drive without a snow chain attached. Our driver stopped the car on a turning and when he applied the brakes, the car swung on its own. Luckily there was no exposure to the valley on the other side.

While the driver got down to work, we soaked in the amazing beauty around us, did a short jog on an uphill road and got the wind knocked out of us. At 14000 feet, even a short burst can be tough.

Slowly and steadily we reached the Y junction, where one road takes you to Bum La pass and the other one to Sangetsar Lake.

Need for tea was rising desperately. Luckily there was an army canteen nearby where we got piping hot cups of it. And all for free!

Bum La Pass

An hour’s drive from the Y junction and we were at Bum la pass. It looked like the army had set up camp in a land of snow. All i could see around were snow-clad peaks. Although Bum La pass was just a few hours from Tawang, you could sense the isolation of the place. Life here did look pretty harsh.

As we got down from our vehicle, an army jawan approached us. We introduced ourselves and when he came to know my friend was from the armed forces, he immediately took him to meet his superior. More tea was in the offing.

Bum La Pass

When my friend joined us, we were led to the Indo – China border zone. Near the border was a rock symbolizing peace between India and China. There was a point where you could actually stand on the Chinese end.

Note: Photography is not permitted inside the sensitive area, for obvious reasons. All the photographs in this post are from the route.

As I was poring through the binoculars, scanning the other side, more uniformed men joined us. One of them was the captain, the man in charge of the entire camp. A tall man with a composed demeanor, he very much looked like a material of the elite NDA that he had passed out of. He invited us to what looked like an army guesthouse.

Refreshments were offered. Over tea, potato wraps and a sweet dish, he told us how lucky we were to make it to Bum La pass this time of the year. As usually the roads are buried in snow.

In season time when tourists thronged the place, someone or the other faced issues due to lack of oxygen. Riding from Tawang, around 8000 odd feet, to the pass at 15000 feet means a rapid gain in just 2 hours.

Bum La Pass
This is what happens to me when i see snow!!

The army apparently undergoes a proper acclimatization process before being stationed here.  Luckily we hadn’t really felt the effects of thinning air despite being there for a good hour and a half.

As we were saying our goodbyes, he told us how much he was looking forward to meeting his family. His leave was due soon.

It is in moments like these when you feel a deep sense of gratitude towards the men who guard our borders. Not only are they battling the elements in such a remote place, but also separation from family and friends. Despite their daily struggles, they received us warmly and showed such hospitality.

I thought to myself, isn’t that the hallmark of great men?

Sangetsar Lake – The Frozen Beauty at 12000 feet

In my years of traveling, I have seen my fair share of high altitude lakes, but none as unique as Sangetsar. Perched high atop the Himalayas, at 12000 feet, it is a lake wedged between two mountains. What makes it unique though is that there are trees jutting out from the water. And in winter, when the lake is frozen, it acquires a beauty of its own.

The locals call it Shonga-tser Lake, while the tourism world has bestowed it the name “Madhuri Lake”. Why? Because the lake shares screen space with Madhuri Dixit in a song from the Bollywood movie Koyla.

Sangetsar Lake

Sangetsar is around 40 kms from Tawang and takes a good 2 hours to reach. You need a special permit to enter this region, which of course any travel operator in Tawang can arrange for you. And only Indian nationals are allowed here.

Note: There are two permits needed for this region. One is the ILP (Inner Line Permit) to enter Tawang. The second one is the special permit to travel from Tawang to Sangetsar Lake and Bum La pass (The Indo – China border).

The road to Sangetsar is a visual treat in itself. You are driving around snow-capped peaks and fluffy clouds are within touching distance. And everything around you is covered in snow. You will spot many frozen lakes enroute, including the famed PT Tso Lake.  The journey I would say, is every bit as beautiful as the destination.

Tawang

When viewed from the top, Sangetsar looks like a sheet of white pockmarked by needles. The descent towards the lake is a bit bumpy, and why wouldn’t it be, it’s a narrow gravel road, with 52 hairpin turns, as per dangerous roads.

The lake was apparently formed by an earthquake which swept away the entire landscape. The resulting tectonic shift moved this piece of land to a pine forest nearby and the entire forest got submerged except the tops of tree trunks which are visible even today. The brutality of its formation is perhaps only redeemed by its magnificence.

Sangetsar Lake

There is a well paved walkway created around the lake and if you have acclimatized well to the high altitude, you should definitely take a walk on it. It gives you a 360 degree tour of the lake. I wasn’t aware of this when I went there, so I missed it, but hopefully, you won’t.

The army runs a café by the lakeside. It has a huge window with stunning views of the lake. You can just sit here and stare at the lake for hours.  Of course while munching on maggi, some delicious momos and steaming cups of tea.

Sangetsar Lake

So if you are one of those people who loves traveling to remote places in search of heavenly views, then Sangetsar lake should definitely be on your bucket list.

Best time to visit: The best times to visit are October- November and March to May. This is the time when the cold subsides a bit. You still have to wear several layers, but it’s still manageable.