Trans Himalaya 2019 – Waru pass, June 23-25

From Kuvrasi a scenic path descends through farmlands and pine forest. Further down it runs along steep rock faces high above the turbulent Kuvrasi Nala.

One reaches the road head after crossing the Kundli Nala which cuts through a narrow gorge and joins the Kuvrasi Nala. A hydro project is built near the confluence of both streams.

A bit further we pass through Hilling 1950m from where I hitch a ride in a Maruti to Lamu 1870m in the Ravi river valley. Too early for the 9am bus I continue walking along the road towards Holi village upstream. A friendly gentleman calls me over for a chat and cup of chai.

I catch another ride to Holi with a young guy who teaches in the NIM mountaineering institute and works in the local hydro project. He drops me at Holi where I pack up new ration for the next 2 days (Waru pass crossing), grab some lunch and charge my phone. I continue walking further and get a ride in large earth mover lorry.

The friendly driver drops me near his hydro project work site at a small dhaba where I wait for the bus to reach. In the bus I enquiry about Thanatre from where the path to the Waru pass starts however no one seems to know about this remote hamlet. At the final bus stop I enquiry in a local shop and the owner draws me a rough sketch how to reach.

I hitch a final ride in the back of a jeep to Lake Wali Mata temple 2260m. Before getting into the trail I grab a few Maggie’s and mountain dew to energize for the pass crossing ahead. I was at the same place last September on my way to the Jalsu pass in the next valley.

From the temple a concrete path climbs up to Dhougi 2450m a small hamlet where I enquiry how to proceed next. A friendly elder person kindly walks me 1km to the next hamlet of Chunade 2570m and shows me the direction of Tundha Munda 2960m a small mandir leading to Thanatre.

From Chunade I follow a small trail through a silent pine forest which gets me to a ridge where I locate the mandir. From here a wider path contours down the valley to the remote hamlet of Tanethar 2650m. After a 6km hike I reach the hamlet of 5 houses beneath the snow covered Dhauladhar range.

I meet several shepherds along the way grazing the vast meadows in this beautiful hidden valley. A gentleman in Tanethar explains the further trail towards the Waru pass.

From Thanethar the trail drops down to the Waru Nala where I cross the turbulent stream to the left side through a proper bridge. From here a steep, draining 900m hair pin climb starts through the forest up to the opposite ridge.

As the sun sets behind the Dhauladhar range I get onto the ridge and end up in good company for the evening. Two friendly bakris (shepherds) with 300 sheep are pitched up here and immediately invite me over for tea with fresh goat milk.

I put up my bivy next to their shelter with stunning sunset views on Mani Mahesh Kalash across the Ravi river valley. Below the ridge I see the familiar trail leading to the Jalsu pass in the next valley below.

Not sharing a common language the three of us have a nice evening singing songs and showing them photos of my journey so far. As the night falls and the temperature drops we settle around the campfire and they prepare thick rottis and dhal mixed with goat milk. Nothing beats a sumptuous freshly cooked dinner high in the remote mountains at the end of another long hiking day.

Stomach full and feeling sleepy I settle in my cosy little bivy and warm quilt in the cold night at 3400m surrounded by 300 sheep and goats to blog the proceedings of the day and process my photos. The moon light lits up the snow peaks around us. Home is a feeling, not a place.

Thank you Huzefa Siamwala for the feather light, super warm bluebolt quilt which keeps me comfy in these cold high altitude nights.

The gaddis wake me up the next morning with a cup of hot chai as the sun rises above the Eastern Dhauladhar. I pack up in 15min, bid goodbye to my hosts and climb back up to the ridge. I check for directions with an elder gentleman who stays in a cave nearby. He points me to a clear path descending into the forest on the other side of the ridge.

Soon again the trail fades out into the meadows and I navigate my way through the contour maps. I see two large herds of sheep on the opposite side of the valley which appear to have followed the opposite path from the stream below Thanethar.

I come across a first side gully which has cut steep into the valley and try to find a way across the vertical drop. I finally get into a narrow rock crevasse and am able to climb down to the snow covered side stream. Once you are “off trail” you have to scramble your way through the steep terrain and dense vegetation.

Without a proper trail the effort increases dramatically and your progress becomes very slow. Feeling my empty stomach growl I gobble up the aloo parotta and omelette which I had packed in Holi village. After 24 hours food remains fresh in this colder climate.

I continue traversing along the left valley slope and finally reach to the ridge I was planning to climb up to the pass. A closer look at the contour map reveals that there is one more major side gully between the ridge and the pass. Also seeing shepherds on the opposite side I figure I must be on the wrong side.

I climb around the ridge and come across a huge vertical drop to the gully. Again I look for a possible way down but all along there seems to be a steep rock face. I suddenly encounter a few goats which also appear to be stuck on this steep side of the stream. Not giving up that easily I traverse above the rock face till I find some lesser gradient and vegetation.

I descend carefully holding on to rocks and trees and finally end up approx. 20 meter vertical drop above the gradual slope. Feeling so close to my way out, I get into my “free solo” moment climbing down mountaineering style through protruding rocks and small bushes. I finally step down on firm ground and feel a huge relief.

I cross the snow covered side stream and meet up with the shepherd and his large herd of sheep. As I plan the final ascent to Waru it starts raining. With my rain jacket missing near the base of Indrahar I have no other option then to take take cover in the shepherd shelter below an overhanging rock and wait it out till the weather clears up.

Getting wet in this cold climate is not an option. Need to get a new rain jacket as soon as I reach a bigger town. After an eventfull morning I take a small nap while waiting for the rain to stop. At 3pm the weather is still not clear and it’s getting late to attempt a pass crossing.

I do a small reccie but am unable to find any trail on the right valley slope. The only way up to Waru seems to climb up the snow gully. The shepherd is also not very clear in giving proper directions. At 4pm a misty fog cover indulges the valley and it becomes clear that Waru will have to wait till the next morning.

In the evening a few gaddis carrying food supplies from Kandwari across the Waru pass reach our campsite. Headcount is five now. We have tea around the campfire surrounded by the snow covered Dhauladhar peaks and some 400 sheep and goats. The gaddis smoke some “berries” and pass around the hukka pipe

Later in the evening while preparing dinner the rains set in again. We fill our tummies with thick rottis and lip smacking sabji mixed with fresh goat milk. The calories lost during the day are regained. After dinner the six of us settle for the night in our cave shelter next to a cosy campfire.

Next morning the skies are still overcast but rains have cleared. I share a cup of hot chai with my hosts and am off to the Waru pass. As there is no trail to be found I simply climb up in the frozen snow covered gully towards the pass.

I follow the trail of the gaddis on the snow who came over from the other side. Black residue on the snow is goat poop and they also appeared to have dragged some bushes with them for firewood. The gully is quite gradual and the snow surface is rough so I can easily make my way up without slipping down.

500m from the pass I climb out of the gully through a rock ridge cleared from snow giving me firm grip to climb up the final steep ascent. The pass is covered with snow on the Northern side while the South is clear, similar to the other Dhauladhar passes I crossed.

On top there is a small shelter and temple. I get treated of beautiful views on the sun lit Kangra plains below the cloud cover. The South facing side of the Dhauladhar range always drops down steeply to the plains. I find a small passage where the trail appears to come up and start my way down.

Here and there the trail used by the shepherds fades out and I get stuck on deadly drops from the steep rock faces while climbing down. I retrace my steps and keep searching for goat poop to figure out how they climbed up through this steep section. I am able to successfully stay on track till I completely lose the trail.

I go my own way now following my instinct and the contour map finding the most gradual way down into the valley below. Far away down I see the shelter of a shepherd hoping to reach eventually. I descend through a steep gully holding on to my life, rocks and bushes.

I slowly get closer to the snow covered stream below hoping to set foot on firm ground soon. Some 50 meters above I get stuck once again above steep drops in the rocks. Once again I get into “free solo” mode traversing a couple of technical descends to get further down towards the valley.

After a steep 1200m climb own I finally set foot onto the snow covered valley. Phew! I can feel my heart racing. Regaining my breath I start sliding down the initial steep section of the snow until I can start walking as if slopes out. I reach the shepherd shelter at Satchali who immediately calls me over for a welcome cup of chai.

He invites me to stay over for lunch but looking at the time and long way to reach the Kangra plains I bid goodbye and continue down the valley through a clear trail now. I have to drop another 1500m to the Kangra plains below.

The trail contours on the left side of the valley from the meadows into scenic forest. Total peacefulness with no living soul around. I take a refreshing bath in a stream along the way clearing of the sweat piled up over the last few days. I reach down to the highway by 4pm and jump into a bus to Palampur.

After three days in the wild it s time to indulge in some yummy food again and regain my strength. I buy a new rain jacket, selfie stick and stock up ration for my next pass crossing. Take an evening bus to Chamunda at the base of my next section settling down in an empty complex along with some other homeless souls…

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