Listening to Jasleen Aulakh singing “Chamba” unplugged on one of my travel trips strung a few chords in my heart to actually visit Chamba some day! And what better way than to cross the passes of Dhauladhar to reach there..
Having done a beta trip last winter by spending a night around the frozen Kareri lake in December, it was time this year to finally cross the Minkiani pass ahead of the lake to reach the Chamba valley. The seven lakes between these mountains are considered holy and attract pilgrims from both sides of the valley every year. We planned to at least check out the biggest one - the Lam Dal.
Had planned to do this during the 2nd October long weekend but work stopped me from stepping out of the city so I had to do this in the middle of the week given Abhishek was already in Dharamshala waiting for me to join him for the trek. So what transpired was one of the shortest and fastest trip through the mountains covering around 30 km with almost equal amounts of uphill and downhill hiking
Night 0 / Day 1
Overnight bus from Delhi to Dharamshala. Bholenath Travels - neat bus and on time - the delay was perhaps just because of the jammed GT Road and the detour buses need to take these days. The weather had been harsh on the mountains this year with instances of cloud bursts and rivers overflowing which ended up dishevelling the road to Kareri and leaving a stretch of around 100 metres completely washed down with an avalanche. This required us to break the journey into two - the first cab from Dharamshala bus stand to Ghera where the road has ceased to exist - following a small trail on the right hand side to reach the other side of the voided road - another cab till kareri village and the trek starting point. There is an alternate longer but direct route via Shahpur but a mini adventure at the start of the trek didn’t hurt anyone. Mr Kamalesh, who was our host last time as well, was kind enough to arrange these two cabs for us and serve us breakfast at his village home.
Met Mr Mahender - our guide for the next three days across to Chamba, shuffled our rucksacks to balance out the weight and started walking from the starting point which is around 4km from the main Kareri village.
Kareri Village (2,000 mtr elevation) to Kareri Lake (2,950 mtr) via Ryoti - 7km - 3hrs 40 min - Continuously walking with a couple of breaks for tea and photos on a uniformly moderately steep route with the Kareri river on one of your sides at all times.
Camped at the lake, dipped inside the cold October evening water (shouldn’t have done in retrospect but the temptation!); got our food fixed from the only dhaba running at that point, spotted at least a thousand shooting stars on the stunning moon less night and then slept in to rest for the hard second day.
Kareri Lake (2,950 mtr) to Minkiani Pass (3,900 mtr) - 4km of steep uphill hike - 6 hours:
The plan to start walking at 5AM was an ambitious one and we could only start by 7AM. Walking up to the Minkiani pass with the sun hidden behind the mountain on your left is the most ideal way to get up there. A delay of two hours meant we had to bear the sun after hiking up for a few hours.
Some of the sections are a bit tricky as the man-laid trails have been washed out by the strong rains. The steep climb with a weighted rucksack made us take a break at multiple points. We had packed breakfast which we had in the middle of the hike and packed lunch which we devoured at the Minkiani Top with the Pir Panjal range of Kashmir finally visible on the other side. There are only a couple of sources of water on this way so be sure to carry enough for this long route.
Minkiani Top to Naggar Campsite - My watch lost battery at this point and I wasn’t carrying its charger - 2 hrs 30 min downhill walk through the boulders amidst fresh snow for which we had to take out our spikes. Naggar has multiple small lakes and is lush green with a wide flat ground to host a small music festival atleast. Drained to the last ounce of energy, Mr Mahender parked us at a cave where we slept outside in the open sun for a good hour before we were walking again. Fun fact - Mr Mahender, if he wasn’t making this up claims that the cave was discovered by his forefathers and hence it belongs to his family!
Lam Dal and back - The biggest and holiest of the seven lakes in the region - we had now taken off our rucksacks and the lake was a quick 1 hr 30 mins of easy and slightly uphill 4 km hike. It had fresh snow all around it and we only stopped to take a photo, prayed for a bit and then quickly headed back with our headlamps on another dark night. We made some rice, heated some of the readymade food we were carrying and slept inside the cozy cave.
Naggar campsite to Barei - 10 km, 7 hours - We took in as much sleep as we could to make up for the last two hectic days and started the hike down at our leisure. It was a completely downhill walk which we covered quite fast except when we spotted a really nice mini waterfall on the way, perfect for a quick bath. Gauging the depth of different spots to finally find our little pool for going in the chilled water may sound stupid but its everything you want to do at the point. Crossed multiple shepherds and then a couple of villages including Drakund to reach Barei from where we hired a cab to reach Chamba via Dunali. We considered for a while to stay a day at Chamba or Dalhousie but instead took another cab to Pathankot and bought a 220AM train ticket back to Delhi to be back at work in the morning.
Kareri lake and around
There are more than a couple of mountain passes in this western side of the Dhauladhar range and each one of them leads you from one or the other village in Dharamshala valley to a different village in the Chamba valley. The Minikiani starts from Kareri and ends in Barei. The Indrahar pass which is much higher than Minkiani leads you from Dharamkot to Kuwarsi and Lamu village. The Baleni pass and the Gaj pass are two of the lesser taken but equally beautiful routes in these mountains. Between these two valleys are the seven holy lakes, the biggest of them being the Lam Dal. The other 6 include the Kareri lake, Nag Dal, Chandrakoop, Kali Kund and a couple of other smaller ones. The range also boasts a couple of technical peaks like Moon Peak, The Matterhorn, Camel Peak. The Moon peak is due for next year!
General thoughts on self-sufficient trekking
We believe in keeping our treks minimal in how we execute them while keeping the adventure quotient maximum. We always hire a local guide and plan our trek according to how we would like to do it based on the information we receive from the locals/ guide instead of just following a company's route. We prefer carrying our rucksack with all our personal essentials like clothing, sleeping bag and mattress and depending on the situation and the people, carrying other common items like tents and food as well at times. We eat food as much as we can from fixed camps in the mountains given that they have already set shop after so much hassle so it's efficient to use their resources. For remote places, we carry minimal food and equipment to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Bus from Delhi to Dharamshala - Rs 1200 per head
Cab from Dharamshala Bus Stand to Trek Starting Point - Rs 1700
Guide charges - Rs 5000 (Rs 1500 per day + Rs 500 for his ticket back from Chamba)
Food/ Tea on the way - Rs 1200 for two
Cab from Barei to Pathankot - Rs 6500
Train from Pathankot to Delhi - Rs 1200 per head
Packing List in my Walker 55 Litre Rucksack
Apparel - Undergarments, Trekking Tshirt X 2, Trekking Pant, Lower and Upper Thermal for Night, Fleece jacket, -5 Degree Jacket, Cap and Buff, Waterproof gloves, Trekking socks X 2, Woolen socks for night, Shoes and Slippers, Towel and Toiletries, Rainwear
Accessories - Spikes, Foldable Bag, Headlamp, Trekking pole, Shades, Electronic cables and power bank, GPS watch
Medicines - Paracetamol, Allergy Meds, First-aid, Diamox, Stomach Meds
Camping - 2 Man Tent, Sleeping bag, Air mattress
Food - Gas can, Bowl, Minimal Cutlery, Rice, Readymade Dal, Masala Oats, Dry Fruits/ Energy bars, Scrub
Mr Kamlesh (Kareri) - 9736246820/ 7807367491
Open-sourcing travel for you - one adventure at a time.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.