10/27/2010 to 10/29/2010 | Himachal Pradesh , India

Manimahesh: Another Kailash

I had come to the Chamba Valley with the intention of trekking to Manimahesh Lake, a lake holy to Hindus set in the high Himalayas at 4,080 m (13,390 ft), and dominated by Manimahesh Kailash.  I was hoping to add this Kailash to my Kailash collection, which now included the grand daddy of Kailashes, Mt. Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet, and Kinnaur Kailash in eastern Himachal Pradesh.  Several locals had assured me it was not possible to hike to Manimahesh at the moment, because there was too much snow.  An anthem I had heard before when I trekked the around Kinnaur Kailash after a large storm in September the previous year.  I had ignored the advice then and I ignored it now.  Certainly snow adds difficulty to a trek but with proper shoes and clothing it’s not the show stopper many Indians seem to believe.  I was a bit more concerned how my recently fractured toe would hold up to the hike, as it was still sore and swollen.

During the season and especially during the pilgrimage yatra the hike to Manimahesh is little more than a two day teahouse trek.  However, it was now well into October, the pilgrims and the merchants along with their makeshift lodges and tea tents that once lined the trail were now gone.  I prepared for the trek not expecting to have any external support, packing enough food for 3-4 days despite figuring that the trek should take about 2 to 3 days max.

The snow added significant challenges to the trek.  The trail to Manimahesh is a hodgepodge of intersecting new and old trails, with every trail covered in untouched snow it was difficult to tell which tail was currently in use, forcing me to backtrack on a couple occasions when I “chose poorly.”  I was not helped by the Xeroxed copy of the out of date edition of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Indian Himalayas which if anything steered me towards the older unused trails.  By about 3:00 pm I was fairly exhausted after one LP induced side trip that sent me on a 45 minute climb before I realized there was a far better trail on the other side of the valley.  Not being particularly well acclimated, having come from Delhi only a few days prior to the trek, I made the decision to camp when I found a flat area with less snow.  I decision I would be thankful for as I hiked the remainder of the trail to the lake the following morning.

The snow until that the last ridge before the lake had been quite manageable, slippery at times but no more than ankle deep on the trail, despite larger drifts to the sides.  Climbing up the final ridge to the holy Lake was where the real battle with the snow began.  Hear the snow was thigh deep on my 6 foot 3 inch frame, each step was a struggle, not helped by my heavy pack, and oxygen starved un-acclimatized lungs.  The previous night’s sleep had helped, but I was still not nearly in the condition that was accustom to, when hiking in the Himalayas.  At around 11:00 in the morning I finally reach the lake, which of course given the season was grey frozen ice rather than crisp blue water, a transformation that was made up for by the spectacular snow covered setting.  While unsurprised at the frozen lake I was surprised to see a Sadhu and his assistant still living in a crude aluminum sided shelter amidst the snow covered surroundings.  It would not be for much longer, I would learn.  He was in the process of packing up his belongings and would heading down to a warmer climate for the winter, within the next couple of days.  I was fortunate to get unexpected lodging and a hot meal, from the gracious Sadhu who shared his small quarters with me, his last guest of the season.  His limited English and my limited Hindi prevented any deep philosophical discussions but warmth (literally and figuratively) transcends language and culture.

While the journey up was a test of my un-acclimatized lungs the journey down was a test of the throbbing pain I could endure from my broken toe.  Unfortunately the numbing cold of the snow ended half way down.  Nevertheless I made it down to the main road at Hadsar before noon.  Having completed the trek I was not particularly enthused to walk on the road back to Bharmour.  After waiting in vain for 45 minutes I decided to start walking an try to flag down any vehicle I could that would pass me on the road. Past experience had told me that it’s often easier to get a ride waving down vehicles outside of towns than in them.  After about an hour of walking I finally got a ride, happily reaching Bharmour to rest and recuperate for the rest of the day.

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