Last month, in October, I visited India for the first time. One of the main highlights of this journey was a 4-day long trek in Himalayas Mountains on the trail called Hampta Pass.
The trek starts in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, a small town situated in Kullu Valley in the north part of India. Just getting there was a bit of a journey that included an overnight, +12h bus journey.
We met in the morning at the organizer’s base camp in Manali. After a short briefing, we departed to the starting point. We had around 1-hour car ride that covered a significant altitude difference between Manali and the trail head.
The first day was relatively easy, just a few hours of hiking through a beautiful valley, around 5km and 300m of elevation gain - from 2700 to 3000m.
Immediately we were surrounded by beautiful and magnificent nature. Tall trees, sharp rocks and vertical walls of the valley made an unforgettable impression.
The first part of the trail led us through some pine forest, navigating the valley sides decorated with rocks, giant boulders, and fallen trees.
The weather couldn’t be better. A warm afternoon sun, blue skies with a tiny bit of clouds and a light breeze. After around an hour, we left the forest behind and navigated the path following upstream the gentle flow of water sourced from the higher mountains around the Chandra Valley.
Walk on the valley was relatively gentle, but the walls around us were pretty tall, sometimes with mist & clouds covering their top.
Our trek crossed paths with Himalayan shepherds and their flocks.
The mist was playfully dancing in the high peaks.
At the same time, the sun was painting the scenery, slowly extending objects’ shadows and gently flooding the sides of the valley with warm light.
We reached the camp quite early, with enough time to settle down, relax our shoulders, get refreshing chai and enjoy the serenity of this place before settling for the night.
I used the extra time to take a slight detour towards the nearby waterfall to make long-exposure capture of the flow.
Looking back from the hill, I could again admire the fantastic spectacle of mist and light dancing in the sharp crags of surrounding mountains.
We woke up before sunrise to pack things, get chai and breakfast and get ready for the second day.
It took some time for everyone to prepare, so in the meanwhile, I was watching how the sunrays slowly moved, illuminating the peaks with golden light.
After 8AM, we left the camp and headed up the trail. The second day was going to be more challenging, with around 600m of altitude gain and a 7km distance.
The first hour of the morning was a bit chilly. Still, the sun quickly rose above the mountain range, and we could take off our jackets and again enjoy the good, warm weather of the Himalayas fall season.
The scenery started to look different than on the first day, with steeper climbs on our path, large boulders sprinkled on the sides of the valleys and sparse vegetation.
The vast space around was impressive, almost overwhelming sometimes, yet it felt good. Everywhere we stopped, I could just soak the stunning views in every direction.
We were still traversing the sides of the Hamta Nallah stream that was cutting through the valley. Still, the trail became more technical as we climbed up.
Near our next campsite, the valley revealed stunning views of rough, snow-covered Himalayan peaks, with altitudes reaching above 5000m.
Finally, early afternoon we approached the camp at an altitude of around 3600 meters. The environment was more barren. Some sparse vegetation, mosses and lichens cover rocks from time to time.
A few hours in the afternoon were gloomy, with clouds rolling over the ridges around us.
Luckily, the weather cleared just before sunset, and we could admire dangerous, stunning, snow-covered peaks.
The third day started early again. We woke up before sunrise and got ready for the day.
It was pretty chilly, so again, we were trekking wearing multiple layers to keep us warm for the first hour or so. Luckily, as the sun started to rise above the mountains, its rays warmed up the surroundings.
The moment of sunrise was splendid. The sun rose slowly above the slow peaks in front of us. The light was blinding if you looked towards that direction, but at the same time, I was drawn to it.
We walked up, finding a way between huge rocks scattered across the valley.
After a few hours, we reached our first rest stop, which was some kind of flat area formed by the stream. The scenery was fantastic. It’s hard to describe the sensation I felt when the view first came into sight.
The plain was massive, spreading over couple hundred meters between the sides of the valley. The stream meandered gently, glimmering with light. The patches of green grass contrasted strongly with bare rocks forming the mountain walls surrounding us. The whole place was serene, peaceful and quiet.
The rest was welcomed. It was still quite early in the hike, but the terrain and altitude made it quite challenging.
With every few hundred meters of the trail, we climbed higher, and the mountains grew bigger and bigger. They also become more unwelcoming with their steep walls, sharp crags and patches of snow.
Day 3 was the culmination of the trek, with our trail reaching Hampta Pass at 4270 meters. It was the highest altitude I’d reached so far. The final approach was tough. We moved at a slow pace, making stops almost every hundred meters to catch our breath and rest.
We reached the highest point at around 2PM. The place was bare, with some short, flat rocky surfaces to sit and rest. Everyone felt quite tired, but also very happy to reach it.
The views were lovely, although we didn’t stay there long to celebrate.
The place felt bare, cold and exposed. Wind and cold quickly penetrated the clothes, and after half an hour, I was more than ready to descend into the valley on the other side.
A few hundred meters of the descent were also really challenging. The path was very steep and challenging to navigate.
But the views…
The vast space of the valley was breathtaking. It was shaped by the mountain glacier, with some parts still visible in the upper area.
We continued our trek to the last campsite located down in the valley. It was a small, flat area next to the stream. It was definitely colder here, although we were also camping at on slightly higher elevation than the day before.
Before the evening, the sky was clear and again painted some distant peaks with its golden light. Everything looked so peaceful, but when the darkness came, the temperature dropped significantly, so we tucked into our tents and quickly fell asleep, trying to rest from the challenging walk.
The snowfall began in the evening when we were getting to sleep, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to wake up covered by the 20cm layer of snow.
Actually, I woke up in the tent because I almost couldn’t breathe! The snowfall was so intense that the sides of the tents nearly collapsed, reducing the space inside but also covering all the ventilation areas.
You get the feeling if you have ever covered yourself with a thick blanket for an extended time. After struggling for a few minutes, we were forced to go outside to get some air and brush off the snow covering the tent.
The morning was not pleasant at all: it was windy and cold. It looked like the snowfall would continue.
It took a bit of time for everyone to pack and get ready to depart. Finally, around 9AM, we left the campsite to leave the valley and return to Manali.
I don’t have photos illustrating it, but the walk started with what is now my most extreme memory from this trek: the winter crossing of the river.
We had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot over the snow to enter freezing cold water, crossing the knee-deep stream to the other side. Luckily it was only 6-8 meters wide, but it was still the most gruelling experience I have ever had. It took 20+ minutes of walking to start feeling my feet again.
The conditions were challenging, with snow covering the trail, making it slippery and wet. But we walked in the group and moved slowly down the valley, eagerly looking for sights of the road and the parking that was our rendezvous point for return.
We made it there in the early afternoon, and I was so relieved when we finally could rest and warm up in the cosy cabin of the 4x4 taxi that awaited us.
Hampta Pass was my first trek in the Himalayas and my first multi-day trek in conditions like this. It definitely wasn’t easy, but it was also one of the best experiences I have ever had.
I can’t express my gratitude to my Indian friends. They shared the experience with me on the trail and earlier through travel in India. I’ve met many friendly people, and I’m grateful for all our memories from this remarkable journey.