Time: 2-5 days
Ideal Season: May to Jun, Sep to Oct
Location: Indrahar Pass lies across the Dhauladhar Range between Kangra and Chamba districts
If you’re holidaying in McLeodganj, and if you just have one night to camp out, or want to do a day hike, then go up to Triund. It’s a pretty three- to four-hour walk to the top. Of course, if you want to be more adventurous you can go over the Indrahar. This is the most frequented pass across the Dhauladhar, and is known by several names: Laka, Indrahar and Kwarsi. I crossed it on my way to Bharmour in November 2002. At 7.30 am, on a cold morning late in autumn, there was not a whiff of wind at the top. The Kangra Valley was spread out below like a green and brown checked carpet. Silver lines marked the streams, picked out by the rays of the morning sun as they sliced the checkerboard in crazy patterns.
We spent nearly two hours at the top, basking in the warmth of the sun, absorbing the surreal view of a serene and quiet world in the valley below. A Gaddi whom we met just below the pass guided us to Nag Dal. The nearly one-and-a-half-hour trek to the left of the pass lay over snow and boulders and we followed the footprints of a bear till the lake. A large number of Gaddi shepherds choose this pass for their seasonal migration. For those seeking the thrill of standing on top of a high pass, Indrahar presents the perfect option, and they can return the same way to Dharamsala. The track is well marked, there is no need for a guide and even a lone trekker can safely venture up and return in two days of hard walking.
DISTANCE 9 KM TIME 4 HOURS
Though you can drive the 2 km to Dharamkot from McLeod, it’s nicer to walk. A number of yoga and meditation centres have been established in the forest-clad serenity of the Dharamkot area. With a bit of luck, it is possible to spot leopard and pij (wild goat). In winter, even the monal has been known to descend to this belt. Galu Devi (2,130m) at Dharamkot has a small temple and a water point. From here the track ascends northeast through a mixed forest of oak and rhododendron.
Triund is famous for its views, and is a popular walk with visitors to Dharamsala and McLeodganj. The well-trodden route is, therefore, peppered with tea shops and dhabas from spring till the onset of winter. Wending one’s way through a ‘Magic View’, a ‘Scenic View’ and even a ‘Snowline Café’, the path ascends sharply in the last stretch to Triund (2,975m). Triund’s majestic views include the peaks of Mun (4,610m), Slab (4,570m), Rifle Horn and Arthur’s Seat up in the Dhauladhar, and the wide sweep of the valley below. Both birdwatchers and stargazers are also well rewarded in Triund’s environs.
There is one fly in the ointment: water can be scarce at Triund and the source is a kilometre below the Triund Ridge, down a steep and narrow path on the western side. This is the only source and the track to it is slippery and risky in the monsoons. Post-monsoon, the volume of water decreases considerably and, at times, it goes dry. In that case one has to go further down in the same direction to get water.
There is no permanent habitation at Triund but a Forest Rest House, located on a subsidiary ridge of the Dhauladhar, can be booked in Dharamsala. Nearby rock shelters (to the right) can be used in an emergency. For those carrying their own tents, there is ample space to camp out in the grassy meadows. During the trekking season, a couple of dhabas spring up to cater to traffic but their prices can appear rather exorbitant to humble pockets.
DISTANCE 6 KM TIME 3 HOURS
It is a moderate, northbound ascent starting behind the Forest Rest House for the first hour and a half, shaded by oak and fir. Somewhat steeper going thereafter brings up Laka Got (3,350m), a small, grassy camping ground marked by a trekking shelter in a ruined state. From here, the trail turns to the right (north-east), goes up a small ridge and then turns to the left (west) to climb up north to reach Lahesh Cave (3,500m), a natural rock shelter that can house 20 people. It takes less than an hour to reach the cave from Laka Got.
An added attraction near the cave is a small waterfall. There are a number of other huge boulders that can serve as emergency shelter for four to five people. But in this boulder strewn maze, it is easy to miss the cave without a guide. While crossing the pass in 2001, when we reached the Lahesh Cave, we saw two people waving at us from a distance. We signalled them to come over. They were from New Zealand and were on their way to Bharmour. They had tried locating the cave, and had found some place to spend the night under a rock mistaking it for Lahesh Cave!
LAHESH CAVE-CHHATA PARAO VIA INDRAHAR PASS
DISTANCE 7 KM TIME 6-8 HOURS
Steady climbing can bring up the pass in 3-4 hrs. The track lies up a steep rock face ascending north over steps both natural and man-made. The narrow width is rendered somewhat hazardous in the rains as numerous streams course down the face. Post-monsoon, most of these go dry and present no difficulty. In general, it is inadvisable to cross the pass after midday as the weather on this pass is unpredictable and visibility can reduce drastically in a very short time. It’s best to wait out such periods because it is easy to lose one’s way in such conditions. A small rock temple embedded with trishuls marks the Indrahar Pass.
Local travellers and Gaddis usually stop to pray for a safe crossing. In clear weather, both the Pir Panjal and the Great Himalayan ranges are visible from the top. The view of the Manimahesh Kailash is particularly rewarding after the stiff climb. The descent to Chhata Parao, a small camping spot with a rock shelter (3,700m), is taxing because it’s along a trail obscured by thick grass. From the top the trail goes down left (west) in easy steep steps through the rocks, for about a hundred feet. It then takes a further turn to the left, goes down a bit before taking a right turn and dropping steeply north to Chatta Parao. The trail lies on the left side of the gully, formed by the glaciers and avalanche cones below the pass.
After going down for nearly 2 hrs, a vertical rock face on the right side of a side stream is to be negotiated. Mercifully, the Gaddi shepherds have cut steps in the rock face making it a little easier for even the faint-hearted. After crossing the stream over boulders, the trail enters the pasture. A huge rock overhang marks the Chhata Parao campsite and there’s sufficient space nearby to pitch tents. On the left of Indrahar Pass are a few glacial lakes and bears can occasionally be spotted here in autumn. The larger Nag Dal is located further on the left of the pass. Tucked away in a niche on the barren slopes, it is not visible from the track and the services of a guide are required to visit it. The lake remains frozen till mid-July.
DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 4-6 HOURS
The path down follows the Chhata Nallah, staying on its left side for a few kilometres, then descending steeply to cross Chhata Nallah over a wooden bridge. This is an easier crossing than the small streams encountered earlier. The trail climbs to the left and crosses a landslip area before descending gradually to a side stream crossed on a trangari (wooden log bridge). From here, the track turns left and a steep ascent through conifer forest leads to a ridge offering the first view of Kwarsi Village. The path descends for nearly half an hour to reach the Trekker’s Hut and then turns right to enter the village.
The route after Chhata is well marked but has its hazards. In May, the hard snow in the hollows can be treacherous and in the rains, slush and the thick vegetation can be irksome. Though, the riot of wild flowers on the slopes is compensation enough. Kwarsi (2,730m) is set amidst fine groves of deodar and blue pine. It has a few shops and a nag temple, which is worth a visit. Kwarsi rooftops are a pleasing sight in autumn with corn cobs, tomatoes and grass spread out to dry for the winter months. Kwarsi boasts of a Trekker’s Hut and a Forest Rest House. The rest house, located beyond the village, has not been in use for many years but is an ideal place to camp.
KWARSI-HILLING AND CHOLI
DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 4-6 HOURS
From Kwarsi, the mule path to Hilling Village has a few tricky sections. After the village, the bridle path crosses the fields and then drops down left through a thick deodar forest. After about 30 mins, a 100- metre stretch cut into the rock-face can present problems for the fainthearted: the one-foot wide path hangs over a precipitous drop! The descent is steep till Hikkim Nallah is crossed over a permanent wooden footbridge. Thereafter the track is gradual (mostly on the road), passing through Hilling and Lamu villages to Choli. Hilling has been connected by a jeep road to Choli. However, not many vehicles ply on this section.
By Deepak Sanan and Minakshi Chaudhry
About the authors: Deepak Sanan is an IAS officer, Himachal Pradesh cadre, who has trekked extensively in the state. His writings include a book on exploring Kinnaur and Spiti, as well as numerous articles about Himachal in magazines and books.
Minakshi Chaudhry has trekked throughout Himachal over the last decade and authored two books: Exploring Pangi Himalaya: A World Beyonf Civillisation and A Guide to Trekking in Himachal. Her interest in studying nature and people’s lifestyle grew in Nigeria, West Africa, where sge spent her formative years. This was nurtured on her return to Himachal Pradesh where she travelled extensively as a correspondent of The Indian Express.