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Beyond Kulu - In Search of Shangri La…

Twenty years ago on a backpacking trip to India, I did a fair bit of walking in the hills above the hill-stations of Manali and McLeodganj and can r... Read more
Beyond Kulu - In Search of Shangri La…
Twenty years ago on a backpacking trip to India, I did a fair bit of walking in the hills above the hill-stations of Manali and McLeodganj and can remember looking longingly at the ranges of snow-capped peaks dividing these towns, 100 kilometres apart. Last year, joining one of our Beyond Kulu groups, I finally got the chance to take a closer look. Travelling to Manali by train and car across the north Indian plains, we then had a day to explore and to enjoy the town’s relaxed vibe. This was our last chance to buy any last minute equipment or provisions, as once we set off, we’d be passing just a single very remote village on our 2 week trek.

The following morning we met our trek crew and mule team that would become our friends over the next 2 weeks of walking. The first day’s walk took us steeply up through beautiful cedar forest onto the rim of the Kulu Valley – we had already left civilisation behind, as expansive mountain views opened up. Our first big challenge was the Kaliheni Pass (4835m) and we made our approach slowly, camping in beautiful high alpine meadows with several stunning days of trekking. The only people we met were Gaddi shepherds who take their flocks of sheep and goats to these pastures during the summer months.

On the day scheduled for the pass crossing, we awoke pre-dawn to a cloudless sky and were treated to a stunning sunrise as we made our ascent. The Kaliheni Pass has permanent snowfields, but we crossed these easily and without any technical equipment. Stopping at the pass for the obligatory handshakes, hugs and group photos, we had now left Kulu behind and entered the hidden world of the Kaliheni Valley - a land of green meadows, crystal clear streams, towering snow peaks and no mobile phone signals for the next week! After 3 more days of trekking we reached the Shangri La village of Bara Bhangal. The village is only inhabited during the summer months and only a few men folk stay over the winter to look after the village. It has the honour of being India’s remotest polling station in election time with the ballot box being helicoptered in and out. It also has a primary school and we quickly became the centre of attention, distracting the students from their lessons. In October, before the snow comes, these same children trek out for 3 days to the roadhead and go to a different school through the winter - it takes the school run to a whole new level!

After spending the night in Bara Bhangal, our trek continued via the same route the villagers and their children take over the Thamser Pass (4750m). Even acclimatised to the altitude, this was certainly no pushover. Again, the pass holds snow throughout the year, but there was a distinct trail through the snowfields on this occasion as we climbed to yet another spectacular viewpoint – looking south, we could even see beyond the Dhaula Dhar range to the Indian plains. We were all experiencing the mixed emotions of reaching the end of a special trek. Everybody was looking forward to the creature comforts of a shower, clean sheets and a celebratory beer, but we were also sad to be leaving the mountain paradise that we had spent the last 2 weeks trekking through.

In 25 years of travelling and trekking throughout the world, this ranks as one of the best and most memorable treks I have done!

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