Time: 2-5 days
Ideal season: May to June, September to October
Location: Indrahar Pass is located opposite the Dhauladhar range between Kangra and Chamba districts
If you’re on holiday in McLeodganj, and if you just have a night to camp, or want to do a day hike, head to Triund. It’s a nice three to four hour hike to the top. Of course, if you want to be more adventurous, you can go see the Indrahar. This is the most visited pass on the Dhauladhar and is known by several names: Laka, Indrahar in Quarsi. I crossed it on my way to Bharmour in November 2002. At 7:30 am, on a cold late autumn morning, there was not a hint of wind at the top. The Kangra Valley spread below like a green and brown checkered carpet. Silver lines marked the streams, picked out by the rays of the morning sun as they carved the checkerboard in frenzied patterns.
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We spent almost two hours at the top, basking in the warmth of the sun and absorbing the surreal image of a serene and still world in the valley below. A Gaddi we met just below the pass led us to Na Dal. The nearly hour and a half drive to the left of the pass was over snow and boulders, and we followed a bear’s footprints all the way to the lake. A large number of Gaddi herders choose this pass for their seasonal migration. For those seeking the thrill of standing atop a high pass, Indrahar offers the perfect option, and they can return to Dharamsala the same way. The trail is well marked, no guide is needed and even a lone trekker can safely enter and return in two days of running.
DISTANCE 9 KM TIME 4 HOURS
Although you can drive the 2 km to Dharamkot from McLeod, it is more fun to walk. A number of yoga and meditation centers are located in the forested serenity of the Dharamkot area. With a bit of luck it is possible to spot leopard and habit (wild goat). In winter, even the monal has been known to descend to this belt. Galu Devi (2130 m) in Dharamkot has a small temple and a water point. From here the trail ascends northeast through a mixed forest of oak and rhododendron.
Triund is famous for its views, and is a popular hike with visitors to Dharamsala and McLeodganj. The well-trodden route is therefore peppered with tea houses and dhabas from spring to the beginning of winter. Making your way through a ‘Magic View’, a ‘Scenic View’ and even a ‘Snowline Café’, the trail rises sharply in the final stretch to Triund (2,975m). Triund’s majestic views include the peaks of Mun (4,610m), Slab (4,570m), Rifle Horn and Arthur’s Seat up in the Dhauladhar, and the wide sweep of the valley below. Birdwatchers and stargazers alike are also well rewarded in the Triund area.
There’s one fly in the ointment: water can be scarce in Triund and its source is a kilometer below the Triund Ridge, down a steep and narrow track on the western side. This is the only source and the road to it is slippery and risky in the monsoons. After the monsoon, the water volume decreases significantly and occasionally goes dry. In that case one has to go further in the same direction to get water.
There is no permanent residence at Triund but one Forest Rest House, located on a side channel of the Dhauladhar, can be booked in Dharamsala. Nearby shelters (on the right) can be used in an emergency. For those who carry their own tents, there is plenty of room to camp in the grassy meadows. During the trekking season, a few dhabas arrive to cater to traffic, but their prices can seem quite exorbitant to modest wallets.
DISTANCE 6 KM TIME 3 HOURS
It’s a moderate, northerly climb from the Forest Rest House for the first hour and a half, shaded by oaks and spruces. Going slightly steeper after that emerges Laka Goth (3,350m), a small, grassy campsite marked by a trekking shelter in a ruined state. From here the trail turns right (north-east), goes over a small ridge and then turns left (west) to climb up north to reach Lahesh Cave (3,500 m), a natural shelter for 20 people. It takes less than an hour to reach Laka Got Cave.
An additional attraction at the cave is a small waterfall. There are a number of other huge boulders that can serve as emergency shelters for four to five people. But in this boulder-strewn maze, it’s easy to miss the cave without a guide. When we passed the pass in 2001, when we reached Lahesh cave, we saw two people waving at a distance. We signaled them to come over. They came from New Zealand and were on their way to Bharmour. They had tried to find the cave and found a place to spend the night under a rock that forgot it for the cave of Lahesh!
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LAHESH CAVE-CHHATA PARAO VIA INDRAHAR PASS
DISTANCE 7 KM TIME 6-8 HOURS
Regular climbing can cross the pass in 3-4 hours. The trail is on a sheer rock face that ascends north over steps that are both natural and man-made. The narrow width is made somewhat dangerous in the rain, as numerous streams run along the face. Post monsoon, most of these go dry and don’t pose a problem. It is generally not advisable to cross the pass after midday as the weather on this pass is unpredictable and can drastically reduce visibility in a very short time. It is best to wait out such periods as it is easy to lose one’s way in such circumstances. A small rock temple embedded with trishuls marks it Indrahar Pass.
Local travelers and Gaddis usually stop to pray for safe passage. In clear weather, both the Pear tree and the Great Himalaya series are visible from the top. The view of the Manimahesh Kailash is particularly rewarding after the stiff climb. The descent to Chhata Parao, a small camp site with a stone shelter (3,700 m), is burdensome as it runs along a path obscured by thick grass. From the top, the trail heads left (west) in easy steep steps through the rocks about a hundred feet. Then it turns left once more, descending a bit before turning right and descending steeply north to Chatta Parao. The trail is on the left side of the gully formed by the glaciers and avalanche cones below the pass.
After descending for nearly 2 hours, a vertical rock wall must be negotiated on the right side of a side stream. Fortunately, the Gaddi herdsmen have cut steps into the rock face that have made things a little easier even for the faint of heart. After crossing the stream over boulders, the path enters the meadow. A huge rock overhang marks the Chhata Parao campsite and there is plenty of space nearby to pitch tents. There are a few glacial lakes to the left of Indrahar Pass and rare bears can occasionally be spotted here in autumn. The larger Nag Dal is further up the left side of the pass. Tucked away in a niche on the bare slopes, it is not visible from the trail and the services of a guide are required to visit. The lake remained frozen until mid-July.
DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 4-6 HOURS
The trail down follows the Chhata Nallah, staying on the left for several kilometers and then drops off steeply to cross Chhata Nallah over a wooden bridge. This is an easier transition than the small currents encountered previously. The trail climbs to the left and crosses a landslide area before gradually descending to a tributary which is crossed on a trangari (wooden block bridge). From here the track turns left and a steep climb through coniferous forest leads to a ridge that offers the first view Kwarsi Village. The trail descends for nearly half an hour to reach the Trekker’s cabin and then turns right to enter the village.
The route after Chhata is well marked but has its dangers. In May, the hard snow in the hollows can be treacherous and in the rain, melting snow and dense vegetation can be annoying. Although, the riot of wildflowers on the slopes is compensation enough. Kwarsi (2,730m) is set amidst fine groves of deodar and blue pine. It has a few shops and a sea temple, which is worth a visit. Kwarsi roofs are a pleasant sight in autumn with corn cobs, tomatoes and grass spread out to dry for the winter months. Kwarsi boasts of a Tractor cabin and a Forest Rest House. The rest house, located behind the village, has not been in use for years, but is an ideal place for camping.
KWARSI-HILLING IN CHOLI
DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 4-6 HOURS
From Kwarsi, the mule track to Hilling Village has a few tricky sections. After the village, the bridle path crosses fields and then descends to the left through a thick expanse of forest. After about 30 minutes, a 100-meter stretch in the rock face can pose trouble for the faint-hearted: the one-foot wide trail hangs over a steep drop! The descent is steep until Hikkim Nallah is crossed over a permanent wooden footbridge. After that, the path is gradual (mostly on the road), through Hilling and Lamu villages to choli. Hilling is connected by jeep road to Choli. However, not many vehicles will fit on this section.
Van Deepak Sanan and Minakshi Chaudhry
About the Authors: Deepak Sanan is an IAS officer, Himachal Pradesh cadre, who has toured extensively in the state. His writings include a book on exploring Kinnaur and Spiti as well as numerous articles on Himachal in magazines and books.
Minakshi Chaudhry has been touring Himachal for the past decade and has written two books: Verkenning van Pangi Himalaya: A World Beyonf Civillisation in A guide to trekking in Himachal. Her interest in studying nature and people’s lifestyle grew in Nigeria, West Africa, where Sge spent her formative years. This was nurtured upon her return to Himachal Pradesh, where she traveled extensively as a correspondent from De Indian Express.