The Blue weather cover of our tent fluttered against the high gusts of wind from the valley. The weather was clear with the temperature around 1-degree Celsius. I did expect it to be foggy though. After a steaming cup of tea from the snowline cafe, we packed up.
With no water source nearby, we had to postpone our breakfast till Lakha got, that's where we would be getting water. The route from snowline was gently sloping down, but there was a hillock which we need to cross. Being a grazing area, thousands of cattle droppings blanketed the place and twice, I slipped and fell. My old shoe with worn-out sole was to blame.
The sun rose above the mountains and started soaking warmth into our bodies, and It was a pleasure to experience this along with the open land of Lakha got that wheeled into view. It was a level ground in between three valleys of Dhaulandar Ranges, and hundreds of goats and rams scattered across it.
The water source was next to a small shop which sold biscuits and crisps. Filled with ready-to-eat poha, we started up the valley with a goal of reaching Lahesh caves by afternoon. The glacier was far ahead, and so the route was clear. Red arrows painted on the boulders showed us the trail, and there was no difficulty following them till we were midway. That's when they disappeared.
At a distance, along with the valley, we spotted a small gang of trekkers, and we assumed that we have to go towards them, but after we met them and exchanged pleasantries, we realized that we were away from the trail. Not new to being off, we located Lahesh caves using our GPS and found, it was closer than we thought. Just 200m away aerial. But we had to climb a steep, thorny slope. Summoning our energy, we headed up and finally by 2 pm we were reached the caves.
A huge rock probably weighing 10 tons formed the roof of the cave, and held off the ground by another stone on the left, which extended away from the slope creating a platform for viewing. The rest two sides were covered using piled up rocks with one entrance in between. The inside was disappointing in contrast. The floor was straw-lined, with plastic packets scattered all over. On one corner, we could see a pile of egg crates, more plastic covers, torn clothing. Shame that neither locals nor the travelers cared for the place.
We started cooking outside, but raindrops started pelting us. Over time they started getting heavy, and we had no choice but to move inside. The rain lasted till 3 pm, and we knew we could not cross the pass by sundown. Some of us took a hike to explore the region around the caves while the rest.
Night befell, and a shining moon and million stars were looking down upon us. We sat on the overhanging rock and enjoyed the lightly lit panoramic scene.
The Trail started as spiraling stone steps right behind the caves which took us on a stony ridge. Today, it was quite hot, and we had to remove our jackets to reduce sweating. As we crossed 3700m at around 11 pm, a dense fog started settling around us. We could see a triangular red flag at the top, and we knew it was the pass. The sweating forced some of us to drink more water, and soon we were left with reserve amount. With no sources, they filled their bottles at pools of rainwater trapped between rocks. Slowly, the visibility came down to 20m.
The weather took a turn for the worse when hailstones started falling. We huddled to take shelter under overhanging stones, and over the next half hour, we watched the shiny white hailstones melt and make the path muddy.
We were now at 4100m, and we left the fog below us. The air was thin but comfortable enough. The last few hundred meters of the mountain presented us with a near vertical set of rocks which we had to climb using both our limbs. Ropes were deployed for safety since the mud made the climb slippery. After huffing and puffing, we reached the pass.
On one side, the rocky Kangara district valley and on the other, lush green Chamba district valley and in between were two snow-filled peaks. The 360-degree view was far better from being called majestic. A small idol was wedged up against a rock along with holy offerings. Some distance away was a second idol which was more significant and decorated with dozens of tridents driven into the ground and arranged menacingly. The flag we saw earlier flapped in all its glory.
The way down was harder with loose rocks, wet mud, and steep slope. We took our time to get down without a scratch. Finally, we saw a glacier. It was not fresh, and so was the water melting out of it, and so we decided not to use it.
Time was running out, and the planned campsite seemed hours away. Soon daylight shied away, and we were forced to camp on rough grounds and ration on the water we had left. We skipped dinner that night and set our alarms for 5 am next day