Unexpected…unplanned…you’d always find the sweetest serendipity! Bhaba was one such bitter sweet accident! A tad bitter and a whole lot sweeter!
While I had already made 7 trips to Himachal in the past few months, the urge was to explore something new. The plan though still revolved around hiking around the mountains but centered around at my pseudo native place i.e The Kumaon Himalayas of Uttarakhand! And after a week long research of the whereabouts, booking homestays and almost doing my travel reservations, I put my wise head into checking the weather…and what did I find…Voila! Thunderstorms and incessant rains! The monsoons had marked their arrival!
Heartbroken, I cancelled my home stay booking and sat down all dejected in my reading room, staring at the Himachal Pradesh Map! My eyes hopelessly running over the map set on Muling. Where had I heard about it or seen it before? I then remembered watching IndianInMotion and his incredible documentary on Bhaba Valley. I owe this trip to Sarvana!
Like most of the trips by HRTC, this bus ride too kick started on a pretty amusing note. The guys at the HRTC counter weren’t ready to give the tickets before 6am, not even ten mins in advance. On finally going to the him for the third time, he told me the fare for two people would be 1100 something! I remember doing my homework very well and the ticket fare given online said 450 per head! When I tried to clear my doubt, the guy at the counter took it as an offense and wouldn’t clear out the confusion. I later sent my friend Tripti, to whom he finally gave the tickets after all the melodrama! Wonder what he was up to in an HRTC bus doing a conductor’s job! He could have easily bagged a role for a villain in our dramatic Bollywood flicks!
PS: The ticket fares were a tad more expensive for this was a deluxe HRTC, which we weren’t aware of before we boarded the bus!
It was a long ride till Wangtoo and then an hour’s drive further up to Kaafnu! The bus started late as we waited for some porters who were going up to Peo! Meanwhile the rains unleashed their wrath, all growling & menacing, at the very outset of our journey! It kind of deterred my spirits initially but as the bus moved further, the rain drops on my window glass and the drifting clouds that accompanied me,made it all okay! I and Tripti caught up on each other’s life stories and reminisced the beautiful days gone by that we spent in Bhutan together! We hoped that this hike would be as memorable as those we did back then!
The bus ride was a memory down the lane of sorts! Just last year, around the same time I and the husband were tripping on the same route, while biking to Spiti Valley from Chandigarh. My favorite town, Narkanda looked splendid with apple orchards looking green like never before, veiled in nets in order to be secure from rains. The calm was suddenly broken by this mad passenger yelling at the top of his voice…’Kya hai ye sab…ek toh bus late chali in aadmiyon ke vajah se aur ab ye sab gandh falah rahein hai..chal kya rahan hai yahaan..ye bus Rekong Peo ja rahi hai ya Karachi?!” ( ‘the bus got late because of these wretched porters and now theyre spilling all the dirt around. Is this bus going to Rekong Peo or Karachi’?)
Did we just hear that uncouth comment! The porters were carrying huge sacks of ration and some grains inadvertently spilled out! They did delay the bus by half an hour at least but this didn’t mean that the man could talk nonsensical crap! A little later when he tried to open his mouth again, both I and Tripti decided to give him a shut up call and this time two old ladies too spoke up. This so called educated retard was sitting in the wrong bus, using his fickle tongue passing racist comments. How would we everrr thrive as a nation with such communal hatred I wondered!
The bus halted at Kumarsain for a lunch break. We had the yummiest thaali ever on a roadside dhaaba and it cost us just 50 bucks! While most of the passengers were locals, there was a couple who was travelling all the way from Bangalore with a toddler! All three of them fought for the window occasionally while throwing up. Motion sickness can be really evil sometimes. The streets of Rampur were clogged with vehicles and human jam like the arteries of an obese heart patient . It isn’t a very attractive valley but has a huge bus stand and acts as a nodal point for buses plying towards Kinnaur, Spiti etc.
We reached Wangtoo at around 6:30pm. One could see the Kharcham Wangtoo Hydro Electric Power Station from the bridge where we waited for our guide to come pick us up. The road to Katgaon ( our base for tonight) was narrow & snaked across the gorges with our car precariously navigating its way avoiding cattle & sudden dashes across the roads by mongooses. Snowy peaks glistening in the moonlight and one could see the faint silhouette of the mountains now!
Katgaon is a small village with just two or three homestays and an Electricity Board Rest House. We choose the latter which though was situated at a scenic location, bang on the Bhaba Khud but wasn’t so pleasant from inside. There were about 8 rooms and we were the only occupants. As if it wasn’t any less eerie, the caretaker before leaving the premises warned us not to open the door if someone knocked. Though kinda jittery initially, the tiredness made it easy to fall asleep! We traveled almost 14 hrs and our bums were numb. But we knew that the following morning would take care of that. We were finally going to hike up to Kara!
The next morning was bright and sunny. Thank Heavens! We drove up to Homtey village (a little ahead of Kafnu) and started our hike from the bridge over the Bhaba Khud river. While walking along the brimming river on our left, I couldn’t help but notice the snow laden slopes that were struck by an avalanche in winters. Small little ice caves formed at their base and one could see humans and machines at the farther end of it! A tunnel was being constructed to generate hydroelectricity. I wasn’t surprised as the water flow in Bhaba Khud was immense already, even before the onset of monsoons! The Bhaba Hydro Project is India’s first underground Dam.
We walked on the dirt track meant for vehicles going to and fro for the construction work, that finally gave way to the narrow trail climbing up to the forest. The sun was harsh and a mini truck passing by tempted us to hitchhike till the trail..As always I hopped onto the open load compartment, trying not to fall while standing whilst watching a trolley transporting cement sacks and stones from the other side towards our end of the mountains.
A landslide trail marked the starting point of our hike. The river was still on our left with glacial mountains hanging over it. Dense trees hugged the slushy trails and the initial climb was steep. As we trotted along ahead, the river was on our right now and men working at the tunnel appeared like tiny specks on ice.
A rocky path lead us to a grassland where a stone wall adorned the space with one or two huts inside. Heavy wooden planks were strewn around. We climbed along the huts and the trail lead to an open grassland with boulders scattered everywhere. The sun even though scorching, now felt comforting for the air was a tad colder. 600 metres ahead, lofty Deodar trees greeted us making another short forest trail. Bhaba valley trek had this peculiar pattern of trails. You’d walk through forests opening up to huge open meadows, hike down to negotiate some glacial streams which would again lead you to forests! Also the trails are pretty well defined ( atleast till Kara) and from Mulling onwards I and my friend Tripti did the hike all by ourselves with our Sherpa Dog Blacky who turned out to be a million times more reliable than our guide! But a word of caution here, Bhaba Valley is infamous for its wild bears and animals and one should rather try avoiding solo hikes.
The river hummed in the background after a long break. As the forest trail lead to a vast open expanse of green carpeted grass with mighty boulders thrown around. Bhaba Khud was on our left now. The valley looked unreal with the green mountains changing its shades from light to dark in nanoseconds as the clouds reflected over them. This location is called Champoria.
I saw a stone wall nearby, A sign of a shepherds hut. While everyone laid around, i decided to go fill my sipper with some chilled spring water. A rather friendly ‘Hello’ echoed in the backdrop. A man, probably in his late 40s adorning a blue jacket, waved at me. ‘Kahaan ja rahe ho aap’? I yelled from a distance ‘KARA!’ He invited me for a cup of tea and I happily obliged. Birmachand was a shepherd from Kalpa, who was here with his wife and sheep. He was feeding his goats with salt for its high nutrients content. He would leave back for Kalpa in October. I asked him if all these sheep belonged to him. He had a certain pride in his tone when he said ‘Hum toh government employee hai’! I told him that my mom belonged to the Kumaon Himalayas and that she too shared the same surname ‘Chand’! A little puzzled he asks me, so papa Chandigarh se hai aur mom Pahaadi! I laughed and explained that it was my husband who’s posted presently at Chandi and that is why Chandi is home. A little more surprised he exclaimed dramatically with a volley of questions ‘Aap shaadi shuda ho?! Aapke husband ne aapko akele aane de diya? Par aapka mangal sutra ya angoothi kahaan hai?” I told him I didn’t like to wear one and how inconvenient it would be to hike around with a chain lashing around your neck! A few more startling conversations and a selfie later, I decided to fall back to join Tripti and the guides.
PS: Shephards in Kinnaur are called Baeraale!
We were now descending down from the valley, and walking along the Gyaare Khad ( the river). Yet another short forest trail followed up with greenest moss and vibrant yellow flowers thriving in the comforting shades of coniferous jungles. An open grassland ahead awaited us where all of us took a super short break with Tiger ( a handsome Black Husky looking dog) one of the guide’s pet chasing the birds around.Crossing some roaring streams, rocky trails and fairyland like meadows with breathtaking cascades at every bend and corner, Bhaba changed it’s landscapes with every new mile covered.
We reached Mulling, covering the last bit of distance in a heavy downpour. There was a tad bit of steep climb before Mulling, but once we landed on top (The Mulling Meadow also called The Jhandi Top) the trail eased down to a flat path, parallel to the Mulling stream.
The mountains were adorned in fresh snow and ferns as high as 5 feet. Our campsite was bang on the river. I won’t be exaggerating if I called this place a heaven incarnate!
The shed at Mulling made by the forest department was occupied by a group of boys from one of the IITs who were leaving for Kara in a bit. While fixing the tent with the guide, I saw a wagtail hovering around the boys, catching biscuits in the air when thrown at her. Meanwhile the clouds decided to put on a show for us, racing over the landscape in magical ways I’d never seen before. I and Tripti sat inside the tent for it started to pour and the winds got gusty. Blacky came and sat down with us, while Tiger ( the guide’s dog) quickly got inside their tent. We tried putting her inside the shed but she would come back running to our tent, sleeping the entire night outside barking intermittently every time she sensed some noise or smell! The rain got worse at night but even that didn’t budge her.
Next morning we unzipped the tent only to be greeted by sunshine and Blacky’s warm face & a wagging tail. While we got ready to leave for Kara, cleaning up and washing our faces at the nearby stream, Blacky would be busy chasing horses, cows and birds around. She ran around like a wild child on her land. This was her home! The rivers, the flower carpeted meadows, the daunting mountains, she knew them in and out!
That morning we left for Kara around 8am, telling our guides to follow us later for they were yet to get ready. We asked him about the route and figured the well defined trail that lead to Kara. Blacky didn’t let us do this on our own. She was our Sherpa of the day. The route to Kara was rather easy and gorgeous beyond words. I, Tripti and Blacky were the only ones hiking around which made it even more beautiful. Array of wildflowers of different colors bloomed throughout the way while just in the beginning we negotiated our way through frozen avalanche snow that almost felt like a glacier. The river had snow walls caved around them and the Mulling valley looked splendid in its emerald green blanket.
Just before crossing an icy bed over the river to get across on the other side of the valley, a rocky climb with a rather eerie surroundings kind of tested our brave spirits. The trail was laden with huge boulders and the mountain cliffs on our right looked mysterious with eagles gliding on top. Blacky would stop, tilt her neck and stare into the thin air as though she sensed something abnormal! While I and Tripti paused along wondering why the guides had not reached us yet for they walked way faster! But somehow having Blacky around comforted our nerves. One moment she would be quiet, staring at the valley while the very next second, she would see snow and roll herself playfully like a wildflower.
At this point, after crossing over to the other side of the mountain over a river that flowed under the ice ground ( this phenomenon is also called the SUBTERRANEAN river) we had lost the trail. There were huge rocks and we couldn’t figure out how to climb up. While I was hopping on to a rock, Blacky on the other end moved in an opposite direction, pausing, looking behind at me as though telling me to follow her. She led us to Kara from here on. It had been an hour and a half and our guides were nowhere to be seen! Blacky came to our rescue. As we climbed higher, the rampaging stream furiously flowed down below on our right. Green mountains with snowy peaks shone under the occasional rays of sunlight that peeped out of the heavy veil of clouds.
And just like that, while following Blacky we reached Kara in no time. The vistas were so spellbinding that one never felt tired. We met this really old shepherd in his 60s coming back from Phutsirang with his convoy of mules. He did this for a living and I couldn’t help but admire his grace and stamina as he walked swiftly with a stick without a slouch!
As we descended down and walked a kilometer ahead, we saw a shimmering body of water reflecting the blue heavens above! A red flag was tied on a pole around it marking the venue..Kara Lake. we were finally there and so were our guides.
Blacky gulped down a million sips of water and we finally took our shoes off and laid on the green grass around the lake. The sun was scorching but it never felt so good. This place screamed happiness. Our guide showed us the mountains on the left that led to Futsirang and eventually to Bhaba Pass. I remember watching it on a IndiaInMotion documentary and it looked surreal. He asked me” Chalna hai kya? You can easily hike up to Mudh ( a village in Spiti and the last point of the hike) If only it were that easy!
The weather in valleys is like a woman on her periods! Nasty and forever dealing with mood swings :P. Just now the sun reflected the clouds and mountains on the lake and the very next second, the winds carried along the mist with them. We shifted to a cave where the guys cooked a delicious kinnauri meal. Out of our ten bites every 6 went to Blacky for she filled our hearts with immense gratitude. We decided to head back to Mulling today and camp there for the evening and eventually fall back to Kaafnu the following morning.
While wearing my socks I noticed a dark tan line around my ankle. The colours across it were as stark as the landscapes we saw in one day today!
And while I write this story almost two months later..the tan line is pretty much intact..deeply and strongly etched..just like Bhaba and Blacky in my jar of Kinnaur Memories!
TRAVEL AND STAY INFO ON BHABA VALLEY
- Bhaba is a pristine valley, situated in the east of Sutlej river in Kinnaur district. Bhaba Khud that flows along the hike is a tributary of Sutlej. While Kinnaur is about 306Kms from Chandigarh. A small hamlet called Chshora is the gateway to Kinnaur.
- For Bhaba one needs to catch any bus going towards Rekong Peo. Incase you are not able to get a direct bus, then get down at Rampur and you would surely get a bus to Waangtu.
- Waangtu falls enroute Rekong PEO and is close to Kharcham. The bus will drop you nextto a bridge which has an overview of the Wangtoo Kharcham Hydro Power Plant. ( Chandigarh ISBT Sec43→ Waangtu→Katgaon→Kaafnu)
- From here, it would take you another 45mins or so to reach Katgaon and then eventually to Kaafnu. You should preferably stay at Kaafnu for it’ll save you time the following day when you leave for the hike. Kaafnu has a small hotel and some homestays.
- We stayed at the electricity rest house in Katgaon and paid 500Rs for a night halt ( no meals)
- Bhaba valley is a gateway to Pin Valley in Spiti (east) and leads to Parvati Valley, Kullu (west). The hike is called Pin Bhaba trek for it starts from Kaafnu village in Bhaba and finishes at Mudh Village in Spiti.
- The landscapes are phenomenal and ever changing. The campsites on the hikes would be like this
- Kafnu(2400amsl)→Mulling(3242amsl)→Kara(3552amsl)→Phutsirang(4107amsl)→ Bhaba Pass(4900amsl)and then to Mangrungse(4168amsl)→Mudh(3744amsl)
- The route is given in the story and can help you plan your hike. There’s a well defined trail almost through the entire way. But try avoiding solo hikes for Bhaba is infamous for its wild bears and animals. Its okay to go in a group without a guide.
- We paid 3k per day per person but if there’s a bigger group, you could be charged lesser. If you’re into hiking and camping, then you don’t really need a guide here. Take a dog instead ;)PS : we did the hike up to Kara lake only.
- Here are some of the guides contacts i found out…Rajdeep Negi 7018572399 Dev Negi 08580410469 Billu Negi 7018799950 Out of all of them Billu Negi is well known amongst the trekkers.
- The ideal time to do this hike would be July to September.
- Bhaba Valley is a must do and shouldn’t be missed. Please feel free to ping me here or on Instagram if you have any queries regarding the hike.