Trans Himachal 2018

Peter Van Geit

Trans Himachal 2018

From Teppa village I climbed along the Cheni pass – the ancient gateway to Pangi – across the Pir Panjal range back into the Chenab river valley near Mindal, one of the longest days in my journey, running non-stop for 16 hours.

My name is Peter Van Geit and I am an ultra-runner. In July 2018 I undertook a 1500 km 75-day journey across 40 high altitude passes in the Himalaya. Alpine style, self-navigated and with minimal gear, I ran through forests, alpine meadows, moraines, glaciers, snow and wild streams; through extreme climate, scorching sun of the high altitude deserts, monsoon rains, freezing wind and snow near passes. I lived in shelters with shepherds and mountain tribes, experienced heart-warming hospitality in remote villages and indulged in lip smacking local cuisine. I encountered hikers and wildlife and listened to beautiful music on local instruments. Join me on this life changing journey towards nature and discovery of true humanity.

Trans Himachal
Trans Himachal
Trans Himachal

The journey started from Kullu through monsoon rains running across the Hampta and Kunzum passes into the barren high altitude desert of Spiti where we explored the lesser known trails between remote hamlets of Dhankar, Lalung, Demul, Hikkim, Langza, Tashigang and Gette climbing through narrow gorges deeply cut in the surrounding highly eroded landscape. The unusual textures and gradients of this barren landscape above the main Spiti valley forms a stark contrast with the small green fertile patches around these small Buddhist settlements. We passed through Hikkim village, at 4400 m one of the world’s highest villages connected through motor road.

Trans Himachal

From Spiti the journey continued along the high altitude lake of Chandra tal running upstream through alpine meadows and shepherd settlements, through three dangerous stream crossings to reach the Baralacha la along the Manali-Leh highway. Hitching a short ride to the Gata loops I entered the remote Tsarap river valley running past several deserted ghost hamlets which appeared to have once been vibrant settlements like Tso Mesok, some 30 km into the Tsarap valley, where residents left everything behind in search for an easier life than the hardship faced in these barren, remote locations.

Climbing out of the Tsarap valley through the Gotunta la and Nialo Konste la passes offering spectacular views on an unearthly highly eroded desert-like landscape of Zanskar, I reached one of the remotest villages in Ladakh – Shade. Joining two boys who had returned home after three years in a Leh boarding school, I was soon indulged in Buddhist hospitality, drinking local Kang wine and eating spinach momos along with the elder ladies of the village.

Trans Himachal

Proceeding through the interior, remote Zanskar mountains, navigating using Swiss Olizane maps picked up from a Belgian couple in Pukthal, I climbed across the Rotang la, Lar la and Padang la passes heading towards Zangla in the main Zanskar valley. At the base of the Padang la I encountered yak herders grazing and milking their herds, producing 100 kg of cheese and butter each day which were transported on donkeys and horses back to Shade to survive the six months of total isolation in winter.

Climbing out of Kargiak chu valley through the Phirtse la at 5600 m which offered stunning views on the distant snow-capped peaks of Zanksar and Lahaul, we descended into the beautiful Lingti chu river valley crossing a few wild streams. Having to insert an extra day of acclimatization for my newly joined friend we ran out of food and as luck would have it, encountered a friendly shepherd offering us fresh tea and yummy rotis while camping in his open shelter amid a herd of 700 sheep and goat.

Trans Himachal
Trans Himachal

Crossing the confluence of the Yunam and Lingti chu near Sarchu we hitched a bumpy ride on an army truck across washed away patches of the Manali-Leh highway due to a recent cloud burst. From Keylong we took a bus to Killar through the Chenab river valley where we met a few friends who joined in through the Sach pass to explore the lesser known side-valleys Hudan, Sural and Saichu of Pangi with pink alpine meadows beyond the last settlement of Twan.

We climbed across the Tinglotti pass between the Buddhist settlements Hudan and Sural Bhatori. After a first unsuccessful attempt to cross over from Saichu to neighbouring Miyar valley we decided to head out to Udaipur and try crossing over from barren Lahaul to green Chamba across the Kugti pass. At the base of the pass we encountered two shepherds who were planning a crossing the next morning. Ascending and descending a pass along with a large herd of sheep is a unique experience.

Proceeding solo into Chamba, I spent the night at the home of a friendly villager in remote, picturesque Kugti. Next I headed towards Mani Mahesh, one of six Siva’s adobes, across the Dham Ghodi and Sukh Dhali passes. Around one lakh pilgrims visit Mani Mahesh Kailash every year in the month of September. Running down the steep rock path descending from Sukh Dhali with glacial water falling from the clouds along vertical rock faces into the lush green valley was simply mesmerizing. After a very long day warm hospitality was waiting at the first village of Upper Tiyari with a foot massage, apples, rotis, mutton and a warm cozy bed.

Next destination on the map was the interior Chaurasi pass connecting remote Tundah and Datuin villages of Chamba. While climbing up the ridges towards the pass I came across the fairy-tale style settlement of Mumbardar, a remote hamlet of mountain tribes living in mud homes with their cattle, indulged in misty yellow alpine meadows high above the Ravi river valley. Without a common language to converse, friendly smiling faces quickly invited the lone traveller into their home for a lip smacking dinner and night shelter.

From Teppa village I climbed along the Cheni pass—the ancient gateway to Pangi—across the Pir Panjal range back into the Chenab river valley near Mindal, one of the longest days in my journey, running non-stop for 16 hours. Back with a vengeance in Saichu valley I was determined to successfully cross over to the Miyar valley this time. Near Twan village I met a shepherd who guided me to the base of the Pratap Jot pass from where they he entered from Miyar. As the sun set down over Saichu valley I pitched up my tent surrounded by 600 sheep.

Trans Himachal

Climbing up through up through steep meadows from the shepherd shelter towards the Pratap Jot at 5150 m I traversed a large glacier hanging from the Pir Panjal range separating the Miyar and Saichu valleys. Lots of melt water below the mid-day sun on top of the glacier’s surface was channeled into large vertical crevasses below the ice sheet. The stunning views from the top of the pass were of the high ranges of Zanskar and the moraines of Kang la, one of the largest glaciers of Himachal, giving turbulent birth to the Miyar nala below.

From Miyar I entered back into the Chenab river valley where I undertook the most challenging part of my journey – crossing the dangerous Chobia pass only traversed by shepherds. From Arat village I climbed up along landslide prone trails, across vast moraines and following sheep poop through a heavily crevassed glacier below the Chobia pass (4966 m). On the other side I descended through snow and steep meadows and got stuck in a white-out—losing the trail of the shepherds. Having lost my tent in Miyar valley I spent the night at 4100 m below a small tarp in the cold rain waiting for the sunrise to clear the way the next morning.

On the other side of Chobia recent flash floods had washed away all bridges across the stream which meant we were trapped on one side having to traverse steep, trail-less slopes of the valley and makeshift bridges. Luckily I met a 72-year old local who was navigating the steep slopes faster than a mountain goat and guided me out of the valley followed by—once again—heart-warming hospitality with his family at Seri Kao, first village while entering into Bharmour.

The journey continued across the Dhauladhar range separating Chamba valley from the Kangra plains, crossing the Jalsu and Thamsar passes. Meeting several pilgrims who started their annual yatra to Manimahesh across the Jalsu pass I reached the plains near Utrala through dense tropical rainforest. Taking a U-turn at Rajgunda I climbed up again to Bara Bangal through landslides, ice bridges and a large glacier encountering a remote shepherd shelter below the Thamsar pass with stunning views on the cloud covered peaks of the Pir Panjal range separating Kullu and Kangra.

Resupplying food ration at Bara Bangal, one of the most remote and picturesque settlements at the start of the Ravi river valley, I crossed over the Kaliheni pass descending into a white meadow of the Kullu valley where the apple harvest season was in full swing. Hopping across the Chandrakhani, Rasol and Sar passes into the Parvathi valley I encountered a lone female hiker climbing up the Sar pass offering stunning views on the Parvathi valley below.

Trans Himachal

The late monsoon continued to drench us into September as we enjoyed a rejuvenating bath in the hot springs of Kheerganga. From here I continued solo across the Pin Parvathi pass at 5300 m across three glaciers covered by fresh snow to the high altitude desert of Spiti. Beautiful pink and green shades of the highly eroded rocks and high altitude vegetation welcomed me to the remote village of Mud.

I left Mud in company of a group of mules which were carrying food and shelter for hikers planning to cross the Pin Bhaba pass from Kinnaur into Spiti. I set up camp at the Bhaba pass for an early morning crossing into Kinnaur where the villagers treated me with a sumptuous dinner—a luxury to the minimalist runner carrying packed chapattis. Early morning we climbed to a glacier hanging above the Pin Bhaba before taking in mesmerizing views while descending into Kinnaur.

Hitching a ride from Kafnu to Sangla, next on the plan was a crossing of the Baspa range through Rupin and Buran passes, hopping between Kinnaur and Shimla districts of Himachal. After a day’s rest at Sangla indulging in Tibetan food and heritage temples, we climbed up to Sangla Kanda to be met with stunning views of harvest ready farm lands and surrounding snow-capped peaks. A late afternoon crossing of the Rupin pass amid freezing rain, hail and snow made us descend quickly to warmer altitudes. After crossing a wild stream below a huge falls we received a warm welcome by a few shepherds who prepared dinner, lent warm blankets and a made a tasty breakfast before sending us off the next morning.

Trans Himachal

Descending into meadows and forests of the Shimla district bordering Uttarakhand we finally reached the remote hamlet of Dodra, a settlement straight out of a drawing book where all houses were sculpted using traditional, natural materials of wood and stone. Taking a U-turn across the Chanshil pass I ran back across the Baspa range through the Buran pass. Hitching a ride to Rampur and Jaon I next entered into the Great Himalayan National Park through the Bashleo pass where I was witness to a beautiful local music festival attended by hundreds of locals to celebrate the opening of a handcrafted temple.

After exploring the Palchan gad and Tirthan valleys of GHNP I hiked over several lower altitude such as Himri, Bhuvu, Norhu and Sari, possible now that the monsoon had ended towards the end of September. A final attempt to cross the Dhauladhar range once again through the steep Indrahar pass was unsuccessful as recent snowfall seemed to bring in an early winter. From near the top of Dhauladhar I took in stunning views of the Dharamsala plains below.

Hereby I completed my first alpine style trans-Himalayan journey across 40 passes of Himachal and Zanskar. The entire journey is documented extensively with thousands of photos, two short-films, interviews, route maps, presentations on preparation and planning at Waiting for the snow to melt again on the passes in spring 2019, a six month journey across 100 new passes would have been done by the time you read this article.

In July 2018 Peter Van Geit undertook a 1500 km 75 day journey across 40 high altitude passes in Himachal Pradesh. He ran Alpine style, self-navigated and with minimal gear.

About the Author

PETER VAN GEIT is an ultra-runner. He was born in Belgium but settled in Chennai, India over 20 years ago. His passions include endurance sports, wilderness hiking and open water swimming.

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