Duhangan Valley of the Western Himalaya

Brigadier Ashok Abbey

10 km to the southeast of the sprawling Himalayan resort of Manali, in the Western Himalaya of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is a pristine valley of unparallel beauty. The serenading splendour of this valley is not only enchanting, but magical as if it was crafted by the Gods themselves. Accessible, inhabited in the lower reaches yet silent as if in communion with the gods, this is the Duhangan valley. Drained by the Duhangan nala, which is a perennial mountain stream originating from the south western slopes of Deo Tibba, it descends nearly 3500 m in 20 km to join the turbulent river Beas, in the main valley below. The stream, also known as Dhaumya ganga of yore, with its sparkling clear vibrant waters, flowing through a series of thaches1 and dense forests, gives life and shape to one of the most beautiful valleys of the Western Himalaya.

The Duhangan valley is located in the shadow of the Pir Panjal range, some 20 km southeast of Rohtang pass in the upper Kullu basin. At the head of the valley lies Deo Tibba (6001 m). The word Deo means ‘Devas’ or Gods and Tibba means ‘height’, thus implying the meeting place or the place of conglomeration of the Devas. To the northwest of Deo Tibba is Indrasan or Andrasau (6221 m). Together they form a ‘celestial’ cirque, encompassing the Malana glacier and dominate the climbing area east of the Beas river. Further to the east lies the Tos valley, with the Sara Umga la giving access to Lahaul. As one moves up the upper Malana glacier, Deo Tibba and Indrasan stand like two sentinels, towering above the valley. Both the mountains can be approached through a series of interconnected glaciers and valleys, with a maze of satellite peaks to the south and east. This then is an amphitheatre of mountains, which offers any mountaineer a wide choice for climbing.

While Indrasan lies on the true crest of the Pir Panjal range, Deo Tibba technically lies south and is actually an off shoot of the range. The mountain lies two kms southwest of Indrasan. The Duhangan valley itself, which is approximately 15 x 17 km, is completely dominated by the Deo Tibba massif. The valley is actually bounded by a series of broken mountain ridges both to the north and south, which peter off into the main valley floor below. On the south is the fertile Malana valley connected through the Gohru pass, while to the north are the broken heights of Jagatsukh, overlooking the Jabri nala. The valley is abounding with numerous thaches, which overlook the Duhangan or the Jagatsukh nala, both from the north and the south. The mystery lake of Shirgan Tungu supposedly inhabited by Joginis2, lies wedged between the Duhangan and the Malana valleys.

Duhangan valley and Jagatsukh nala. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Duhangan valley and Jagatsukh nala. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

From the climbers’ perspective, Deo Tibba in the region has always been a popular mountain. Major H M Banon, then the Honorary Local Secretary of the Himalayan Club in 1950’s and popularly known as ‘Chini Sahib’ recorded3.

‘In recent years, for climbers of proved experience, Deo Tibba, in this area, appears to be the favourite objective. With such a variety of unclimbed peaks between 15 and 19000 feet from which to make a selection, I do not exactly realise the attraction of this particular peak - or peaks. Several reasons may perhaps be adduced: approachability; the rumour that it has been climbed in a day from Manali (which I certainly cannot credit); or that it is, as its name implies, and as the Malana people earnestly believe, the habitation of their locally very important deota, Jamlu. Under the latter supposition it might not be out of place for future climbing parties to pay a preliminary and propitiatory visit to Malana to secure, at least, the goodwill of Jamlu’s main adherents!’

Deo Tibba (6001 m) seen from Tainta. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Deo Tibba (6001 m) seen from Tainta. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Camp 1 (5200 m) on the Watershed Ridge. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Camp 1 (5200 m) on the Watershed Ridge. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Gaddi camp near Dudu. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Gaddi camp near Dudu. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Duhangan valley and Jagatsukh nala. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Duhangan valley and Jagatsukh nala. (Brig. Ashok Abbey)

Lt Colonel C G Bruce4 was the first to explore this area in 1912 along with a Swiss Guide, Heinrich Furrer and some Gorkha soldiers of his Regiment. Apart from making the first ascent of Hanuman Tibba (5928m) which they christened the ‘Solang Weisshorn’, they carried out a detailed reconnaissance of Deo Tibba from the northwest, approaching it from the Hamta nala. 27 years later, Colonel JOM Roberts5 in 1939 was the next to attempt Deo Tibba. He was in all probabilities the first to approach the mountain from the Duhangan col coming up directly from the Duhangan valley along the Jagatsukh nala. They reached the upper snow fields of the Malana glacier crossing over from the Duhangan col, but were beaten back by the fluted transverse ridge en route to the summit.

The mountain was then attempted by Capt. L. C. Lind6 of 50 Kumaonis in 1940, who left details of his attempt with Major Banon at Manali. In 1950, E. H. Peck and C. R. Patterson approached the mountain from the northwest via the Jabri nala, before being confronted by the dangerous precipices of the north western face. Peck returned with his wife in 1951 to climb Peak 5229 m, but failed to climb Deo Tibba. In 1951,
R. C. Evans, E. Ker and A. G. Trower along with three Sherpas, supported by Major Banon, approached the mountain from the Duhangan col and attempted the mountain from the southeast ridge and the south ridge, which they subsequently named as the Piton ridge and the Watershed ridge, respectively. On return they made a first ascent of Peak 4973 m overlooking the Duhangan valley. In 1952, the mountain was first climbed by J. de V. Graaff, his wife and K. E. Berrill7 from the Piton ridge in inclement weather conditions, thus putting an end to a speculative climbing streak of nearly 40 years.

On 7 June 1962, Sherpa Pa Norbu and Harnam Singh from the mountaineering institute at Manali, established a summit camp close to the watershed ridge and climbed Deo Tibba after a grueling ascent of nine and half hours. The mountain was climbed in pre monsoon 1965, by an expedition led by Manu Tandon8. In 1966 the mountain was again climbed by C. Pritchard and R. Hatch9 from the Duhangan valley. In August 1969, in a remarkable ascent, 24 climbers from Turin, under Giuseppe Tenti10 ascended Deo Tibba, marking a beginning of new style of climbing in the Himalaya.

In a first ski down, Capt. Henry Day11 as part of the British Army Mountaineering Expedition skied down from the mountain summit, down the de Graff couloir. In a remarkable solo journey an American, Fran T. Morris12 climbed the mountain from the Duhangan col. The Kullu Himalayan Indrasan west ridge expedition in 1971 led by Tony Johnson13 made the first ascent of the northwest ridge of Deo Tibba on 13 June and recorded the first traverse on 13 June. They also climbed Indrasan from the west ridge, recording the second ascent of the mountain. The mountain over the years has also received some ascents from the Mountaineering Institute at Manali and by the Indian Air Force, as part of their pre-Everest expedition. The mountain is frequently attempted, as it is one of the most accessible peaks of the Western Himalaya.

Indrasan (6221 m) along with Deo Tibba is an equally revered mountain by the locals of the area and lies further north east of Deo Tibba. Indra is the Lord of the Devas and asan means throne, thus virtually translating as the seat of the Lord Indra. This rock monolith was first attempted by Major G. Douglas and McArthur in 1958. The second attempt was made under Robert Pettigrew14 in 1961 as part of the British Derbyshire Expedition. While they failed on Indrasan, they climbed Deo Tibba from the northwest ridge. John Banon, nephew of Major Henry Banon, who later took over as the Honorary Local Secretary of the Himalayan Club in Manali made arrangements for this expedition. In 1962, approaching from the Malana glacier, a Kyoto University Alpine Club Expedition of Japan led by Professor Dr. K. Onodera15 made the first ascent of Indrasan from the south face and also climbed Deo Tibba, the same day. In 1989, a French army team under Major E. Esteve16 climbed the mountain from the northeast ridge, along with two Indian army climbers. An Indian team led by Basanta Singh Roy17 in 2004, climbed the mountain from the same ridge.

In the autumn of 2010, a small group of friends from Delhi and Mumbai decided to attempt Deo Tibba. Due to limited time and professional commitments, it was to be a quick trip for everyone. Although it was still monsoon in the Western Himalaya, we decided to go ahead with our climb, hoping to get a small break in the monsoon to make a quick ascent.

I reached Manali (2050 m) on a wet morning of 05 September, to be warmly greeted by Rajeev Sharma, my old Guru and dear friend. Later I also met Mahavir Thakur, another friend and Guru, presently the Honorary Local Secretary of the Himalayan Club in Manali. As we drove to the mountaineering institute, I was aghast to I see choked roads with traffic jams and the massive concrete construction, in this once beautiful sleepy township. Mounds of human generated garbage being openly dumped into the Beas river, was a deeply distressing and depressing sight. I wonder what the inhabitants of Manali in 1950’s especially Major Henry Banon, would actually have to say on the present state of affairs. This is what he wrote in 195218:-

‘Even during my lifetime Kulu has not changed to any appreciable extent. Away from the one and only motor road life is carried on with the same placid regularity as it was when, as a boy, I roamed the hillside and valleys and visited many of the highland villages. The older villages are mostly at an altitude of over 7000 feet. This is in harmony with the persisting legend that the upper Kulu valley was, at some distant period, a series of lakes at different levels; that these villages were just above the then water level; and that the alluvial soil of the Manali basin is a legacy of this period of submergence.’

I was in the Western Himalaya for climbing after a long gap of almost 29 years, my last major expedition in the area being to Mukar Beh (6069 m) in 1981. For the climb of Deo Tibba, I was joining my friends Vijay Jaini, a keen adventure enthusiast from Delhi, Rohit Kapur from the corporate world of Mumbai and Capt AK Ganpathy or (AKG) an ex Indian Army Officer, from Singapore. Rahul Ogra another adventure enthusiast joined us from Manali. His immense knowledge of the area left us enriched in every sense of the word. The team had already reached Chhika on 05 September. After reaching Manali by an overnight bus from Delhi, I decided to move up to Chhika the same day to join my friends.

Duhangan Valley

Duhangan Valley

The entry into the Duhangan valley is made from the ancient village of Jagatsukh, which is located six km southeast of Manali. A fairly large village by Himalayan standards, it is located in the upper Kullu valley. Inhabited by hardy, cheerful people, Jagatsukh was earlier known as Banara. It was also known as Anast, meaning granary of the valley. Named after Raja Jagat Singh of Kullu, the name of the village was changed in 18th century. The village also boasts of the only Gayatri temple in North India, with a woman priest.

The Duhangan valley has a fascinating history. Legend has it that the Pandava brothers roamed this region during their Agyatvas (exile of fourteen years). The five brothers were tutored by the Rishi (Great Sage) Dhaumya who was their ‘Kul Guru’ or the patron saint of their clan. Distressed by the calamitous battle of Mahabharata and being a witness to the Kulhatya or murder of one’s own kin, the great Rishi sought refuge in the Himalaya. Here he selected a spot near a stream for his hermitage to meditate and perform sacred oblations to his ascendant deity or Isht Deva, who was Lord Shiva. His severe penances to atone for the sins of the Pandava on account of Kulhatya, were amply rewarded when Lord Shiva blessed him by revealing himself in the form of a ‘Swayambhu’ (self born) - Shiva Lingam. After the great war and after a long persistent search, the Pandavas located their ‘Kul Guru’ meditating on the banks of the Dhaumya ganga. After deep persuasion by the insistent Pandavas, the Rishi finally agreed to abandon his chosen spot, but not before invoking the ‘Thakshak Nag’ the protector serpent deity (or Kshetrapal) to make this his abode and forever to protect this holy spot, called ‘Chhika’. Today this spot is a landmark in the valley. The imprint of the serpent deity till date is clearly seen etched on a nearby prominent boulder. Worshipped by the locals of the area, for the visitor it is a fascinating sight!

The lower Duhangan valley is now accessed by a new road alignment, which cuts through the valley to Khanol. Fortunately for us, the road was blocked due to a massive landslide from road bend no 24 onwards. Thus we walked through the dense Khanol forest, which I must confess was invigorating in every sense of the word. The forest chill and the constant humming of Boer and Cicada rent the forest, making it one of the most delightful walks that I have undertaken in the mountains. However at Shagradugh, I was aghast to see a monstrous construction of the 195 megawatt Allain – Duhangan Hydro Electric Project, prop up in the middle of this beautiful valley. This hydro electric project not only stands out as a sore thumb, but has threatened its very existence. Through this project, the sacred waters of the Duhangan nala are being emptied into Allain nala, in the Hampta valley through a long bored tunnel. The implication of this on the fragile environment of the valley is already visible. The roaring Duhangan nala has been reduced to a mere trickle at the village of Jagatsukh, with irrigation waters fast vanishing for the villagers. Many species of the endemic wildlife have already retreated deeper and higher into the valley, well away from the project site. It is yet another classic case, where man has sacrificed environment and nature, at the altar of development. I finally married up with my friends at Chhika (3160 m), the Tapobhoomi of Dhaumya Rishi, a beautiful flat meadow next to the gushing waters of the Duhangan nala on the evening of 05 September. Early next morning, we paid our obeisance to Lord Shiva and to the Great Rishi at the Swayambhu Lingam!

A beautiful, gradual long walk from Chhika along the northern bank of the Duhangan nala through thick rhododendron forests, flowering meadows, islands of flowers and some amazing rock roof gardens brought us to Seri. From Chhika we moved through the Garyadi Kol forest, Yolla, Ochar thach, Dudu and Chhurgan thach to reach Seri located at an altitude of 3620 m. We crossed some Gaddis19, who were grazing their sheep in the high valleys as part of their annual migratory ritual. Short of Seri, the tree line finishes to give way to a spectacular view of a well rounded glaciated valley flanked by Tainta to the north, Peak 4892 m or the Jagatsukh peak to the west and the Gohru nala, which gives access to the Gohru pass and the Malana valley to the south. Silence of the serene upper Duhangan valley at Seri, is only broken by the gushing roar of the Duhangan nala.

Interestingly at Seri, we met a group of locals from Kulla Mahal. Although not hailing from Jagatsukh per se, these cheerful, hardy middle aged men and women were in this remote upper valley collecting Jaris and Buttis20, which are subsequently sold at a premium in the lower reaches. As they did not hail from the village which traditionally has access rights to this valley, Jagatsukh in this case, they had paid a royalty to the village council in order to be granted plucking rights for the season. Poaching by villagers across neighbouring valleys, over the high ridge lines is not an uncommon phenomenon in these high Himalayan valleys, where otherwise simplicity is the norm.

From Seri, we crossed the Duhangan nala under a cascading 45 m high waterfall from Tainta at 4070 m. On 8 September, we finally crossed Tainta to establish base camp amidst a beautiful meadow of open streams, under the majestic south face of Deo Tibba at 4075 m.

Monsoon is normally active in the Western Himalaya in the month of July - August. With the weather axis changing, our team was well aware of the fact that 2010 was going to witness a late monsoon in the area, which would be spilling into September. All we were hoping was for a few clear days above BC. Making rapid progress, Camp 1 was established on 10 September 2011 at an altitude of 5200 m. Above base camp, the massive headwall of Deo Tibba spans the entire north, north west, east and south of the mountain with a ring of satellite peaks forming a cwm. This serrated ridge line to the north, separates the Malana glacier from the Duhangan valley. On 12 September, we negotiated the Duhangan couloir to reach Duhangan col on this ridge, also known as the Watershed Ridge, and set foot on the upper Malana glacier. Spectacular views of Chandra tal and the upper Duhangan valley to the south, as also to the northeast, towards the Tos valley, Sara Umga pass, Bara Shigri glacier and Ali Ratni Tibba (5490 m) to the southwest were seen. The hues of the monsoon laden sky, were simply fascinating. At Camp 1, Vijay and I discussed the possibility of making a direct attempt from Camp 1 (Camp 2 was to be established at 5400 m) itself from the southwest ridge, as the change in the weather conditions and the dense build up of monsoon clouds looked threatening. Our worst fears were to be confirmed the same night!

From midnight of 12 September onwards, the mountain experienced heavy snowfall and lightening. Visibility was barely three m as a heavy Western disturbance set in, engulfing the entire Deo Tibba – Indrasan massif and the adjoining areas. We were caught! The mountain had announced its verdict, although a bit prematurely for us. It had left us with little option but to descend – a decision which we took in our stride, knowing that it was fate accompli! In hindsight it was a good decision, for the weather had completely packed up and no move on the upper reaches of the mountain was possible for the next seven days! We finally descended the mountain into the folds of the Duhangan valley, resolving to come back in the near future, to finish off the balance climb. It was a tribute to our deep friendship and intense camaraderie, which we enjoyed every minute on the mountain!

The Biodiversity of the Duhangan valley, is one of the richest that I have seen in the Himalaya. As one moves up from Jagatsukh to Khanol, the last road head, the valley is covered within dense forests of deodar, Khorshu (Himalayan oak) and walnut. As one ascends higher into the valley, deodar is slowly replaced by spruce, blue pine, silver oak and the Himalayan horse chestnut. The tree line finally peters out at 3000 m en route to Seri but sporadic clusters of the Himalayan birch, dwarf rhododendron and juniper, still make their presence felt especially juniper, even beyond Tainta. The valley is abound with varieties of wild Himalayan flora such as the Himalayan iris, Geranim Wallichi, marsh marigolds, potentillas, monks hood, Himalayan blue poppy, asters, saxifrage, the wild sorrel and the Himalayan edelweiss near Tainta.

The valley is equally rich in avifauna, which includes the brown dippers, the white capped water redstarts and the occasional Monal pheasant, in the forest near Khanol. Higher up the valley scarlet and long tailed minivets, redstarts, citrine and white wagtails, the bull flinches and the lone alpine accentor can be noticed. The majestic lammergier, the Himalayan griffon vulture and golden eagle, also inhabit the precipitous crags of the valley. The valley is also home to the Himalayan black and the brown bear along with a variety of weasels, martens, pikas and the ever wily Himalayan fox, who have a thriving habitat here.

The Duhangan valley in the Western Himalaya is a priceless jewel in the shadow of the Himalaya. Revered by the locals and frequented by mountaineers for over five decades, the valley continues to mesmerise all those who visit it. Easily accessible from civilization, yet aloof, the valley has largely retained its sublime character and natural splendour. Whether its pristine natural environment survives man’s deadly onslaught in his quest for development, will only be ascertained with the passage of time. I sincerely hope and pray that ‘Thakshak Nag’, the resident protector can protect this valley and preserve its sublime beauty, for not only generations of climbers and mountain lovers who venture into its folds, but most importantly for the inhabitants of the valley, who have lived in these exquisite ‘god gifted’ natural surroundings since time immemorial!

A foray into the Duhangan valley and an attempt on Deo Tibba (6001 m) in September 2010.


  1. Local name for natural grazing pastures or alpine meadows.
  2. Spirits of nature and mountains, as referred by the locals of Jagatsukh.
  3. HJ Vol. XVII, Page 126.
  4. Kulu and Laholll. C. G. Bruce, London; Himalayan Wanderer C. G. Bruce, London, 1934.
  5. Moulltain World 1954. Page 217.
  6. HJ Vol. XVII, Page 118.
  7. Exploring the Hidden Himalaya, Soli Mehta & Harish Kapadia. 2008 Edition. Page 135
  8. HJ Vol. XXVI, Page 122.
  9. HJ Vol. XXVII, Page 185.
  10. HJ Vol. XXX, Page 206.
  11. HJ Vol. XXXIII, Page 206.
  12. HJ Vol. 40, Page 191.
  13. HJ Vol. XXXII, Page 89.
  14. HJ Vol. XXIII, Page 110.
  15. HJ Vol. XXIV, Page 90.
  16. Exploring the Hidden Himalaya, Soli Mehta & Harish Kapadia. 2008 Edition Page 137.
  17. HCNL Vol. 58, Page 9.
  18. HJ Vol. XVII, Page 126.
  19. Migratory shepherds, who move with their flocks of sheep from one pasture to another.
  20. Natural roots and herbs with medicinal properties.

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