Trans Himachal 2018 – The Journey

My name is Peter Van Geit and I am an ultra runner. I was born in Belgium and settled in India since 1998. Since childhood I have been passionate about being close to nature and the mountains. I love endurance sports, wilderness hiking and open water swimming. In July 2018 I undertook a 1500 km 75 day journey across 40 high altitude passes of the Himalayas. Alpine style, self navigated and with minimal gears, I ran through forests, alpine meadows, moraines, glaciers, snow and wild streams. Through extreme climate, the 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.

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. Shown in the photo is Hikkim village, at 4400m one of the world’s highest villages connected through motorable road.

From Spiti the journey continued along the high altitude lake of Chandra Taal 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 be once time vibrant settlements. Shown here is Tso Mesok, some 30km 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 returned home after 3 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.

Proceeding through the interior, remote Zanskarian 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 transported on donkeys and horses back to Shade to survive the 6 months of total isolation in winter.

After hitching a ride and picking up a friend at Padum, the journey continued South, upstream along the Lugnak river crossing several lush green fertile hamlets of Lchar, Cha, Purne, Testa, Tangze. Along the way we met Tenzing, 82 years young, on his daily 20km walk along a steep rock trail to offer puja at Phuktal gompa. The stark contrast of the steel blue Tsarap river and surrounding brown-orange canyon like landscape of Zanskar left a permanent imprint in our memories.

Climbing out of Kargiak Chu valley through the Phirtse La at 5600m offering stunning views on the distant snow capped peaks of Zanksar and Lahaul we descended into to 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 rottis while camping in his open shelter amid a herd of 700 sheep and goat.

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 bursts. From Keylong we took a bus to Killar through the Chenab river valley where we met up a few friends who joined in through the Sach pass to explore the lesser known side-valleys Hudan, Sural and Saichu of Pangi. Shown here are the pink colored alpine meadows of Saichu valley 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 neighboring 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 most unique experience. Shown here is the cloud indulged Chamba valley as seen from the top of Kugti (5040m) pass.

Proceeding solo into Chamba, I spent the night at the home of a friendly villager at the remote, picturesque village of Kugti. Next I headed towards Mani Mahesh, one of 6 Siva’s adobes, across the Dham Ghodi and Sukh Dhali passes. Around 1 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, rotties, 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 common language to converse, friendly smiling faces quickly invited the lone traveler in their home for lip smacking dinner and night shelter.

From Teppa village I climbed up along the Chaini pass – ancient gateway into 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 into a successful cross over to the Miyar valley this time. Near Twan village I met a friendly 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 after yet another sumptuous dinner among friendly hosts.

Climbing up through up through steep meadows from the shepherd shelter towards the Pratap Jot at 5150m I traversed a large glacier hanging from the Pir Panjal range separating the Miyar and Saichu valleys. Lots of meltwater below the mid-day sun on top of the glacier’s surface was channeled into large vertical crevaces below the ice sheet. Stunning views from the top of the pass onto the high ranges of Zanskar and the moraines of Kang La, one of the largest glaciers of Himachal, giving turbulent birth to the Miyar Nalah 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 (4966m). On the other side I descended through snow and steep meadows and got stuck in a whiteout – a dense fog – losing the trail of the shepherds. Having lost my tent in Miyar valley I spent the night at 4100m below a small tarp in the cold rains 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 up with a 72 year old localite 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 Barmour.

The journey continued across the Dhauladar range separating Chamba valley from the Kangra plains, crossing the Jalsu and Thamsar passes. Meeting several pilgrims who started their annual yatra to Mani Mahesh 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 beautiful white colored meadows of the Kullu valley where the apple harvest season was in full swing. Hopping across the Chandrakhani, Rasol and Sar passes into the beautiful Parvathi valley I encountered a lone female hiker climbing up the Sar pass offering stunning views on the Parvathi valley below.

The late monsoon continued to drench us into September as we enjoyed a rejuvenating bath in the hosprings of Kheerganga. From here I proceeded solo across the Pin Parvathi pass at 5300m 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 Baba pass from Kinnaur into Spiti. Setting up camp at the Baba pass for an early morning crossing into beautiful Kinnaur the villagers treated us with a sumptuous dinner of freshly cooked food which was a luxury to the minimalist runner carrying packed chapattis. Early morning we climbed up to a beautiful glacier hanging above the Pin Baba before taking in mesmerizing views while descending into Kinnaur.

Hitching a ride from Kafnoo 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 rest at beautiful 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, hazel 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 preparing lip smacking dinner, lending warm blankets and a tasty breakfast before sending us of the next morning.

Descending into beautiful meadows and forests of the Shimla district bordering Uttarakhand we finally reached the remote hamlet of Dodra, a beautiful settlement taken straight out of a drawing book where all houses were beautifully sculpted using traditional, natural materials of wood and stone. Taking a U-turn across the Chansal 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 beautifully handcrafted temple.

After exploring the Palchan Gad and Tirthan valleys of GHNP I proceeded hiking several lower – but equally beautiful – altitude passes in Himachal including Himri, Bhuvu, Norhu and Sari passes, possible now that the monsoon had ended towards the end of September. A final attempt to cross the Dhauladar range once again through the steep Indrahar pass was unsuccessful through recent snowfall bringing in an early winter. From  near the top of Dhauladar 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, 2 beautiful 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 6 months journey across 100 new passes would have been started by the time you read this article.

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