My host, a lovely elder lady, at the saddle of Deep Goth wakes me up with three cups of hot chai. Fully energized, I pack up and search for my socks which appear to have mysteriously disappeared overnight. I bid adieu to my host at this scenic hamlet as I have to hike another 1 hour to reach the base of my next target: the Gaj pass 4100m.The trail dips down steeply from Deep Goth into the valley and then contours right along the valley slope towards Bagga temple. There’s another small hamlet here inhabited by a few shepherds which i met when I crossed the same place last week coming from Kareri lake.I start the steep 1900m climb from Bagga to Gaj pass across the snow covered gully which appears to have been traversed by shepherds already. The gradual slope and rough texture of the snow make it easy to walk on even without polesAbove the initial snow section a clear rock trail ascends through the forest. The Gaj pass is the shortest pilgrim route to the Laam Dal lake 3900m above. The trail hair pins very steep upwards the Dhauladhar range. As per Rijul Gil’s blog it’s a steep 6 hour climb to the top.Similar to Indrahar further up I come across 3-4 steep side gullies covered with hard snow which I have to cut through with my ice axe. One wrong step here and you slip hundreds of metres down into the valley. The entire route is very clear with nice rock steps.After a 3 hours intense climb I reach the top offering beautiful views on the Kangra side of the Dhauladhar range steep down below. The North facing Chamba side is still mostly covered by snow. From Gaj it’s a short 200m descend into the valley of Laam Dal.The initial descend into a valley is a bit steep so I use my ice axe to arrest myself while sliding sideways into the soft late morning snow. Once into the valley one can easily walk upright into the snow. I make my way downstream into the Chamba valley.The Baleni Nala is mostly covered by thick snow and periodically makes its way to the surface where the snow is melted. I can see significant changes already in melting compared in just a week when I passed through from the Baleni pass to Laam Dal lake.Further down into the valley a clear path emerges on the left side slope and runs through beautiful forest above the still snow covered stream below. The path is very clear and appears to be frequented by pilgrims in Aug-Sep.The Baleni Nala keeps flowing down large snow sections appearing periodically to the surface wherever there is a drop in the stream. After about 15km I reach the first hamlet of Darkund, a settlement of just 3-4 homes. After that there are ruglar hamlets till you hit the road head at Barethi.With no food the entire day I grab two cups of curd in a local shop and request the lady shop owner to remove a few thorns from my fingers. I hitch a ride in a Maruti car to Dunali in the Ravi river valley. From here I get into a bus to Chamba town 30km away.I reach Chamba by night and indulge into lip smacking rottis and dhal in a small dhaba, curd and coke to regain my lost calories and energize for the next target, the Gadasru Mahadev lake near Bhanjraroo. The next morning bus leaves early and with no place nearby to sleep I finally settle down on top of the bus.
I sleep of deeply, satisfied having covered the beautiful Dhauladhar extensively in the last 10 days through Baleni, Minkani, Indrahar, Waru, Gaj passes after last year’s Jalsu and Thamsar. Almost feels like a second home now.