Pin Parvati Pass is a great Trans Himalayan trek for seasoned trekkers. One can easily be dazzled with the spectacular beauty this trek has to offer and overlook the challenges it throws back. Regardless, Pin Parvati Pass trek is a 100 km trail of nonstop thrills for those who seek adventure with reasonable risks. To begin with the trails are ill-defined and badly washed out in rainy season. Route finding inside the thick forest of Great Himalayan National Park can confuse even the experienced trekker. Crossing Parvati River and its tributaries can be a harrowing experience and traversing the un-roped deceptive crevasses of the high altitude Pin Parvati Pass has its risks.
So why does Pin Parvati Pass still score so high in being one of the most sought-after high altitude pass treks in the Indian Himalayas? We asked Amitava Chakraborty and Vaibhav Chauhan to answer this question and here is a summary of what they had to say.
1. Pin Parvati Pass trek provides the most spectacular traverses from the forest and verdant meadows of the Parvati Valley to the Buddhist villages in the trans Himalaya region of Spiti. The sharp change in contrast of landscape, people, flora and fauna completely takes you by surprise as you leave behind the rich biological diversity in Parvati Valley and enter the cold dry mountain desert region of Spiti.
The day one walk from Pulga to the picturesque meadows of Khir Ganga pass through the densest Himalayan forests one can find- well complimented with some lovely waterfalls. On day 3, the experience of crossing the Parvati River by a pulley bridge used by dam workers is an adventure in itself. On day 5, you get to witness a small glacial lake at Mantalai at an elevation of over 13,450 feet going via few “Gaddi” encampments making it a most pleasurable experience. As you climb higher to Pin Parvati Pass, the bird’s-eye view of the Parvati and Pin valley is fantastic. The exhilaration of traversing a 17,457 ft pass is an experience of a lifetime. The views of Pyramid Peak and White snow Peak are also outstanding.
2. The natural splendors of Pin Parvati Pass trek is beyond comparison. The vast meadows of Odi Thach, Thakur Kuan are so full of a wide variety of alpine flowers that it puts the Valley of Flowers to shame. The raw unspoiled beauty of the valley is unparalleled. Be it the countless waterfalls cascading down or the natural made bridges or the myriad rock formations of Pin Valley, they collectively give an impression that one has been transported into the Garden of Eden.
3. The trek is an absolute must for wildlife enthusiasts. As you descend down from Pin Parvati Pass towards Paldor and Mudh, you can get lucky and spot an elusive Snow Leopard which is a rarity but a possibility nonetheless.
4. The hot water springs of Parvati Kund at Khirganga draws huge number of people and is something not to be missed. Words cannot describe the experience of a hot water bath here after a hard day of trekking. It is a five star sauna experience on a trek which you seldom get in any Himalayan Trek.
History & Folklore:
The British explored this pass to gain access to the once difficult to reach Spiti valley. It made for the shortest route between Kullu and Spiti which has remained popular with shepherds. The pass was first officially crossed in 1884 by Sir Louis Dane. Himachal Government opened this route for trekkers in 1993 popularising tourism to Kullu Great Himalayan National Park. The meadows of Khirganga are revered as Lord Shiva is said to have mediated here for 3000 years. The hot sulphur springs of Parvati kund here are said to have remarkable healing properties. The two natural bridges on Parvati River known as Pandu-pul are dedicated to the Pandav brothers who are said to have built them. The sacred site of Mantalai Lake is an open temple dedicated to Shiva.
The documentation & photographs are based on the experience of Amitava Chakraborty’s trek to Pin Parvati Pass.
Dreaming Pin Parvati: Standing upon the high pass a porter makes a humble offering of camphor and incense burning in a small brass container protected from the blizzard by a the wind breakers that the cairns offer here at over 5300 metres. As the wind scatters the white wisps of smoke the fragrant smell of camphor and juniper spreads over this area which is between a rock and a hard place. All the fatigue is gone and the mind is alert to this vast amphitheatre spread below the team members’ legs.
In this interplay of snow and cloud the sun comes and goes and we have crossed into another land. On one side green pastures where flowers of various hues have coloured our imaginations for days together and on the other side a barren desert of Spiti known as the Pin. Now high mountain peaks are visible wherever the eye wanders, and our luck holds as the weather does not pack in and bright sunshine clears the gloom that we trudged through to reach this high place.
The boot blisters, backaches and parched swollen lips are a forgotten thing as our eyes feast on the vast array of peaks with the sun igniting the Pyramid Peak at 20,105 feet and a thousand feet below the Parbati South - another beauty. Far up in the sky lammergeyers ride the currents scouring the skies looking for prey or carrion. Here the only sounds are that of the wind blowing and our hurried breath as the whole team bowed in obeisance to the Gods for having brought us safely to this magical place. From here we could see the Shrikhand Mahadev complex and Kinner Kailash with Jorkhanden resplendent on one side and the Dibibokri complex on the Parvati side that we left behind us.
On this precipice, people through the ages have built cairns out of boulders where offerings like incense sticks, walnut shells, and a few torn prayer flags from the last expedition lay scattered. As the team were praying bent in supplication my eyes took in all these details and I lifted my eyes again to take in this paradise full of mystery and promise.
Down below one can see the tributary of the Pin river coursing through a land of hues that range from orange to vermilion or is it hallucinations at such a height ; nay this is the land of the ibex and Tibetan wolf and Monal- an exotic bird of amazing coloured plumage. We were so glad being here till a cold wind brought up a flurry of snow and the skies become overcast and we are all reminded of our mortal selves in this high place where time has no meaning and our lives feel almost fulfilled being here at this very time and place.
Day 0: Unpacking and planning for the trek in Pulga ahead of Manikaran
The Pin Parvati trek involves reaching Manikaran from Delhi in a 18 to 20 hour drive via Chandigarh, Anand Saheb Gurdwara and then up Swarghat to Bilaspur and turning from Bhuntar airport to Manikaran. Knowing the kind of ramshackle shack like sunless town that Manikaran has become, one finds it prudent either to stop before at Kasol or carry on through a mountain drive to Barsheni the last road head.
Once in the 80’s I had stopped at Manikaran to take a bath at the temple’s hot spring there and also ate rice and lentils boiled in a cloth sack by my friend who was of a religious bent of mind. He was also was a student of history and informed me that the area above towards Barsheni were rich in silver and were known as Waziri Rupi way back in the early 1800’s. The mines later fell into disuse due to high costs of extraction and transportation. From Barsheni one spots the hydel power project that spans the Parvati River and then carries downwards to the bridge and cross over to Pulga, 2 km ahead.
This little town is of a group of three sisters Pulga, Kalga and Tulga and provides trekkers, after a bone weary drive, cheap accommodation and food at 9,154 feet. Way back till the early 90’s there was no road till Barsheni and one had to walk about five hours to Pulga but in the days of yore oak forests and bird song rent the pristine location where clear felling of trees has created quite a dusty road till Barsheni. Barsheni which was a beautiful village covered by green trees way back when I first spotted her in September 1991 now is a very dusty group of huts from where one espies the mountain range that leads to the Pin Parvati pass and has forests of pine, holy oak and silver fir. In Pulga, if one is lucky, accommodation in the forest lodge which is a classic treat.
British cottage can be available. But other homes are equally comfortable and most homes are built in the Pahari style of architecture with two stories of which the lower half is where the cattle is kept. The walls are alternately built of stone and wooden planks over which there are deodar planks covered by wooden shingles. These houses are surrounded by small orchards of pear and apples and of course some even have ten feet high stalk of marijuana growing as a cash crop.
After rest the bone grinding journey was forgotten in Lal Singh’s cottage for Rs 200 to 500 -depending on one’s bargaining powers. The sleepy hamlet of Pulga which is a green little town with soaring snow clad 2000 feet high Papidarm peaks towering over the meadows where cows graze on grass interspersed with yellow flowers and one does not wish to leave early. So it is better to use the day for unpacking and distributing the load as one cannot leave belongings behind unless somebody has a team member or back up team that will carry the left behind equipments or clothes back to Delhi. The whole plan is to leave the beautiful Parvati valley and exit via the Pin Parvati pass at 17,450 ft into a stark barren landscape of craggy peaks of Spiti which is very close to the market. For good bread and cheese one can always shop for such in the little hamlet of Kasol which caters to Israeli tourists who throng this idyllic village much before Manikaran.
Breaking out one’s rations the team set up kitchen cooking up a hearty meal of bread, cheese and mutton curry which is a rare pleasure soon to be forgotten in the wilderness that lay ahead.
The local porters were given money and despatched to pick up chicken for the trek that lay ahead. Vegetables having been picked up from Kullu and also rations such as rice, lentils etc. and the team was ready for what lay ahead.
Day 1: Pulga (7218 feet) to Khirganga (9,180 feet), 10 km, 4 hours
Leave early morning and walk on through the village downhill and traverse the mountain for one hour forty five minutes after which the valley narrows and the trail goes through a dense forest. You now reach a bridge which you cross and continue up the right bank of the river where the river turns to the right. Here the Parvati is joined by the torrential Tosh Nullah which rises from the snows of the main valley.
After crossing the Tosh Nullah the trail meanders along past a number of villages the last of which is Nakthena. After passing fields of hashish you reach a small clearing in the forest where you see a waterfall and a small temple dedicated to Shiva. You now cross the Parvati River to the left bank over a beautifully constructed wooden bridge.
Now a steep climb through a thick forest will bring you to Khirganga at 9,180 feet which is an alpine meadow with sulphur springs the likes of which are found below in Manikaran. Having walked upwards for two hours from Rudranag you reach the hot springs of Khirganga which are about twenty minutes walk above the campsite of this retreat of Shiva. As the porters set up camp you can soak in the spring waters that are said to have healing powers. The upper tank is fed through a spout in the hillside covered in a yellowish golden hue due to sulphur the smell of which pervades the air. A Shivling with its accompanying Yoni and trident are present near the baths with saffron flags fluttering in the air.
Day 2: Khirganga to TundaBhuj or Bhojtunda (10,499 feet), 12 km, 6 hours
Now the walk continues up the left bank all day and it is a steady ascent from 9,180 feet to Tunda Bhuj at 10,499 feet. You will cross three streams over some log bridges of which some look like they can be easily washed away when nature’s fury strikes.
Then the walk continues through forests of birch, fir and rhododendron after which you reach open meadows after an hour of walking. Here you may encounter sheep dogs guarding sheep as they graze on Himalayan wild flowers that are mostly blue poppy, causing a blue hue to highlight the whole area. An hour’s walk will lead you to the camping grounds of Tunda Bhuj which is a meadow at 10,516 feet. This place is named after the birch trees also known as Boj Patri the bark of which was once used to write manuscripts. Here you can take shelter in a few log huts or camp outside in your tents. There also is an expensive dhaba that has come up where none existed before and some may give in to the pleasures of relaxing and not having to cook .
This is an amazing camp-site where the views of the summit of the Kullu Eiger come into view and many cascading waterfalls provide trekkers a photo opportunity like none other. The rocks from where the waterfalls cascade down are called the Pandushila rocks.
Day 3: Tunda Bhuj to Thakur Kuan (11,155 feet), 12 km, 5 hours
Now comes a day of which seems like intense labour after the peaceful hikes of the days before and this is a boulder strewn zone on a narrow and slippery path. Initially there is a log bridge after which you need to climb a cliff face and perform rock climbing for almost an hour. The trail often disappears and there is no well defined path till one reaches the river.
Here a pulley bridge is used to cross the river and the trail then follows the true right of the valley and followed by re-crossing to the true left by another make shift bridge to Thakur Kuan. An hour of walking has its rewards as you are welcomed by a flower strewn meadow on which you walk for close to an hour to reach Thakur Kuan.
Here overlooking the camp, the Dibibokri River gushes out of a narrow gorge and the Parvati River is serene at last as it flows past the campsite. The view of the Kullu Eiger is nothing short of spectacular. A dam now exists on the Dibibokri and is the cause of intense debate over the requirements of electricity in Kullu and Manali and of course the environmental degradation caused by its construction and the men and material invadingthis pristine location in the upper section of the Parvati valley.
Day 4: Thakur Kuan to Odi Thach (12,517 feet), 12 km, 5-6 hours
Several Gujjar encampments exist after the trail leaves Thakur Kuan and in two hours you reach a natural rock bridge which is a stone staircase cut into huge boulders also known as the Pandu Pul or Pandav Bridge.
After clambering over another massive boulder under which the Parbati meanders its way, you cross meadows after which you reach Oriage (Odi) Thach. Here porters usually break journey about two to three hundred feet above the river at Bakar Bihar Thach at 12,517 feet.
This whole area for miles is carpeted with flowers ranging from Himalayan blue poppies in one meadow, then red poppies in another level interspersed by anemones, edelweiss,buttercups, daffodils and wild rhubarb.
The place is so magical that leaving this place becomes difficult.
Day 5: Odi Thach to Mantalai Lake (13,367 feet), 10 km, 5 hours
Wake up and start early so that you reach the Parbati pass in fair weather and forge ahead towards Mantalai lake which involves a walk over flat ground followed by a stream crossing hopping over boulders and then an easy climb in the shadow of the towering Kullu Eiger.
An hour long ascent leads you to a dead moraine of a glacier descending from a glacier crossing when you reach Mantalai at 13,367 feet.
This is a lake formed by a natural dam created by the glacial moraine and the camp site is about a half hour away signified by a group of tridents sticking out of rocks where every porter prays to Shiva for offering safe passage by burning incense and this is an area where boulders are strewn all around amongst a vista of spectacular rock formations and scree slopes descending from glaciers.
Day 6: Mantalai Lake to Pin-Parvati base camp / Glacier Camp, (15100 feet), 12 km, 6 hours
Forget the rigours of reaching Thakur Kuan from Tunda Bhuj ; this is start of the toughest part of the trek where three steep gullies exist to the left of the camp site and you have to choose the third gulley with a steady climb over terminal moraine consisting of boulders. Follow the cairns marking the trail to save energy or if you lose sight of these painful boulder crossings.Keep to the right now and after passing the ice pools and steep rock and snow patches you reach a plateau at 15,150 feet.
Reaching the campsite ordinarily takes 7 hours which can go up to 9-10 hours if you lose your way. The summits of Parbati South (19,049 ft), Pyramid Peak (20,105 ft), Ridge Peak (19000 ft), and Snow Peak (18550 ft) are in full view from here.
Day 7 & 8 : Parvati Base Camp to Pin Valley’s Dhumdhar Campsite (15,770 feet) via Pin Parvati Pass (17,457 feet), 12 km, 5 - 6 hours
Day 8 has another tough series of steep ascents over boulders of a terminal moraine for an hour. Keep to the glacier’s left and reach a plateau with a hanging glacier in your face. The trail now climbs for an hour between the glacier and a rock face.
You now reach a snow field with a steady incline. Move to the left of this tricky place as there are many crevasses here and after reaching the high point of this snow field the pass becomes visible. Two hours of steady climbing and you reach the top of the pass at 17,457 feet from where you can view all the way past Pin valley towards Kinner Kailash and Srikhand Mahadev and also the Bara Shigri complex from here.
Peaks in the Dibibokri and Bara Shigri glacier region like Parbati, Kulu Makalu, Fluted Peak and Rubalkang the Goat Head can be seen with binoculars from here.
The Pin Parvati pass was first discovered from the Spiti side and not from the Parbati side by Sir Louis Dane in 1884 and from the Parvati side the crossing was made by H. Lee Shuttleworth in 1921.
After resting here for a while you can take pictures of the Spiti valley below and then proceed down a snow slope to cross a stream. After two hours of steep descent you reach the campsite of Dhumdhar at 15,770 feet.
Day 9: Dhumdhar Camp to Mudh via Wickhkhurang Camp (12,600 feet), 20 km, approx. 7 – 8 hours
Dhumdhar campsite is at the confluence of the Pin and a side stream and after a short climb up the side stream’s glacier continue 600 to 700 metres down on the true left of the valley. There are two methods of crossing here as the nullah from the glacier becomes a roaring river at points and there are about three side streams. One either fords the river on the left or continue on the right and climb the glacier but the rest of the nullahs stare one in the face. Some have bridges and some a steel bucket on a pulley. After crossing these side streams you reach a point where a trail leads to Rampur Bushahr via the Bhabha pass.
Another hour of walking leads to Wichkhurang at 12,600 feet which is a shepherd’s grazing pasture. Mudh is another five kms from here and the trail descends to a rock and rubble area till it reaches a big cairn. Here you may see few Yak and Bharal in the hills grazing peacefully. This area is a national park where ibex, blue sheep, rare Tibetan gazelle and the woolly hare and their predators like the Tibetan wolf and snow leopard exist in this wild part of the Pin valley where craggy needle like peaks surround a sandy boulder ridden valley floor where the landscape changes to a psychedelic mix of pink, purple, green and maroon hills. These colours were due to pink, purple, white, yellow and maroon flowers and this area of Mudh was an oasis in a high altitude barren desert of Spiti.
You may stay at Tara hotel where a satellite phone provides a chance to contact families and where a warm water bath and clean bed sheets can relieve all aches and pains.
Day 10: Mudh to Shimla via Sangam
At Mudh you can feast on Thukpa and corn cakes and yak meat. Sometimes the road between Mudh and Sangam may be damaged. The road was built all the way to Mudh which previously was only up to Sangam the road head in previous years leading one to Kaza and Shimla. Now due to climatic changes and rainfall previously unheard in this rain shadow area, the road between Sangam and Mudh can be damaged due to mudslides in which case you will be left with no other option but to walk to Sangam.
Sert out for Sangam early morning. After the village follow the left bank and reach the ledge on a cliff which is called Tailing from where the Sangam village can be seen in the horizon. You may stop for packed lunch now. In four hours time you will reach Sangam from where vehicles await you to take you back .