Trans Himalaya 2019 – Kalicho pass, July 9-10

After a day’s halt at Tundah to recharge my depleted powerbank and enjoy the wonderful hospitality by a local shop owner who took care of me like his own son giving free dinner and overnight stay in a comfy room, I packed up and was heading towards Banni Mata, the road head towards Kalicho, the last remaining pass across the Pir Panjal to enter into Lahaul.I strolled along a peaceful dirt road passing through the hamlets of Tulad, Silpadi, Mandah, Patal offering breath taking views on the valley below in the Tundah wildlife sanctuary. I grabbed breakfast at a shop cum dhaba in Mandah, carrying only dry fruits and snacks for the next 2 days.The road ends at Banni Mata which spots a nice temple and you get a bird’s eye view on the entire valley below. From here a path runs along the steep valley slope towards Bhadra, the last village in the valley of the Kalicho Nala which cuts deep into the surrounding mountains.You cross a small bridge and climb up to Badhra which is built against a steep valley slope. The path to the Kalicho pass climbs up on the ridge above the village and its step plantations into beautiful open meadows.From here a clear wide trail contours gradually up high above the Kalicho valley through scenic pine forest alternated with open meadows. Along the way you ll pass by two lonely “koti’s” or Gujjar homes who graze their cattle in the surrounding grasslands.The path hops across side ridges and dips through side valleys. I meet a few shepherds on the way which inform me that their are gaddis staying deeper inside the valley giving me hope that some of them might have opened the pass.The trail eventually dips down 400m to the confluence of two valleys (left one goes to Kalicho) where there is a small hamlet of Bansar Koth which has two kotti’s of which one only is inhabited by a family of Gujjars. The man of the house spots me near the stream and invites me into their home.It s a picture perfect location next to two streams and a day’s walk from the nearest village. The family grazes their buffaloes and sheep freely in the nearby meadows. The family is nice offering tea, dinner and night stay in their kotti. 6 rottis and mutton gravy energize me for the pass crossing the next morning.The man takes strong interest in my torch, powerbank and tent and is requesting me to gift one. I explain that as a minimalist I carry only essential gears, none of which I can spare. The kids have a eagerly looking at the photos in my phone. I sleep off deeply beneath blankets in the suprisingly warm home.The next morning I head out early after a cup of tea, hopeful in catching up with any gaddis who can guide me across one of the thoughest passes of the Pir Panjal range. The green valley gradually ascends along the Kalicho Nala which is still partly covered by snow bridges.Along the way I meet a few shepherds who tell me that a group of theirs just left this morning towards Lahaul. Excited I pick up my pace hopeful in catching up with them. Only the gaddis know the exact trail through steep rock faces towards the pass.As the valley turns towards the base of the pass the meadows make way for moraines partly covered by snow. Kalicho shows itself as a near vertical wall rising up 1000 meters above its base. I wonder how I can ever get up there.Suddenly I hear a faint sound of sheep and whistling shepherds and my heart skips a beat. The gaddis are climbing up from the left side of the valley towards the pass. A line of sheep poop through a snow gully gives away their approach. I hurry up my ascent hoping to catch up with them before I lose the track.After a 30min heart pumping ascent following (and losing) their tracks through a steep rock face I am able to catch up with the sweeper gaddi. Relieved I catch my breath knowing I can now simply tag along with them into Lahaul.In the back of the gang I spot a little sheep hardly a week old struggling to keep up with the herd. I take him on my arm and both we climb up towards the front of the gang. The trail switches between rocky slopes and snow covered gullies.Hundreds of sheep have made a nice path through the snow brown coloured of their poop. Shepherds in between whistle and shout to keep the long queue moving forward. With the snow the way up seems easier then while returning at the end of the summer through land slide phrone slopes.Finally at 4800m the Kalicho pass shows itself in between the clouds. Cairns (pile of rocks marking the route) and a colourful mandir mark the shepherd gateway into Lahaul. At the other side the way down is more gradual and straightforward.After an initial steeper descend along a rocky slope we simply walk through the snow covered gradual descending valley. Much flatter and easier then walking on top of moraines at the end of the summer.Once on solid ground (rocky ridge below the snow) the shepherds regroup the entire herd and plan to pitch up camp a little bit further down the valley. I bid goodbye to my companions and guides and move on towards Triloknath the first village down in the Chenab river valley below.The trail continues along a small rocky ridge into the valley below. A large moraines covered glacier appears from a right side valley. Buddhist prayer flags welcome us into Lahaul as the streams appear from underneath the snow sections and rocks and flow into the barren landscape below.A few kilometres further I finally see the first villages in the Chenab river valley surrounded by lush green farmlands in the barren rock desert of Lahaul. Intelligent irrigation has transformed these hamlets into major suppliers of cauliflower and other veggies.I jump into a cab towards neighbouring Udaipur where I prep myself for my first big crossing of the Kang La into Ladakh. An estimated 5 day passage I stock up food ration, fully charge my powerbank and indulge in some yummy fried mutton mommos. I settle down for the night on a big open breezy platform next to the beautiful temple of Udaipur.