Time for my second publicly organized trek in the Himalayas. Prashar Lake was the people’s voice in a whatsapp group I was part of, and so made my mind to go there. Recon with friends who recently went there told me that there was no snow, though it was cold at night. Official requests at PWD and Forest guest house was turned down as they were closed till Mid April. That’s where I started thinking, why should we stick to comfort of a guest house, let’s camp underneath the stars. Rest of the planning went in a blur, inviting friends, arranging the logistics, booking tickets. The day we took the bus to Manali, the group size grew to a whopping 20.
Co-organizing with me was Deepanshu and Joel. I met both of them in my Triund trek last month. Wait a min, i just remembered that I have not written about my previous treks. I got 5 of them in my drafts. I should publish them soon. Back to the trek, Deepanshu and Joel were already enjoying the scenery Manali had to offer and so they were able to arrange local transportation. Just before we left from Delhi, Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment put out an advisory to people to not trek in places above 3000m in certain places. After confirming with the the people there who said Mandi district is safe to trek, we started from our places. As I came closer to the ISBT bus stand, the sky started growing darker. Dark clouds were gathering and peppered Delhi with a light rain.
The Bus Journey was uneventful (as usual) and we reached Mandi at 7am. I had booked 3 rooms at a hotel where we freshened up and took the pre-arranged taxi to Baggi. Apparently, we were cursed with light rains , ever since we started from Delhi, this rain has been following us. An hour later, we got down at Baggi. Since one of the group member, Carlotta was injured previously, I sent her and her friend Samatar on the car directly to Prashar Lake along with our tents. They were the lucky people in our group to see Prashar lake without snow.
While at Baggi
The First hurdle we had to cross was the icy cold criss-crossing streams bordered with chunky rocks. The rains had done it’s job of boosting the stream’s flow and so the stepping stones were hard to find. Many of the stones were loose but we braved them anyway. After a couple of slips and falls, we managed to put the streams behind us, ventured up into the valley side and hit the dirt trail. It was a very gentle slope and the lush green valley became more clear as we moved on. Houses surrounded by small step farm dotted the valley on the left while the one on the right was wild and virgin, well almost virgin.
The Wrong Turn
Taking the responsibility of tailing, I made a mistake while handing over the GPS with the route to Joel. Instead of selecting the trek route, I selected the road route and that mislead Joel into not taking a right at a minor valley from where we were supposed to climb up a ridge. I was too engrossed in chatting that i did not realize that we had a hard climb to take. Thankfully, someone had asked a local who showed us the right entry point onto the ridge. Reversing ourselves, we took the steep ascent along the thin trail and within 5 minutes some of the group members started showing signs of fatigue. The canopy was thick to show any view of the valley but when we reached a clearing, the view was gorgeous. The subtle green and the near golden brown mixture was such a pleasure to watch. There was also clear signs of attempt to make this “near-virgin” side of the valley a farm, but something stopped it. (Thankfully)
The light drizzle was now becoming heavier making the ground extremely slippery. Even the thick canopy could not shelter us from it. The group size became smaller and smaller with people taking breaks at different times. Since the climb would lead directly to Prashar, it did not matter. All we could do is climb and climb we did till we reached a point where the rain was replaced with snowfall.
We were chilling out there!
We were not prepared for snow. Half of the group did not have gloves or proper head cap. Our skin was under the mercy of the the weather. We found shelter in an abandoned animal hut. The cow droppings and the dried straw stirred up warmth and gave us temporary relief. Some of us including me felt the numbness creeping into our hands. Head count revealed that not even half had reached this point.
I started the journey downhill when I met up with Deepanshu who reported that apart from a couple of people who were with Joel others are with him. Now I was up against a critical decision. I had the choice of going further downhill and assist the people lagging behind up till the shelter or Taking faith in Joel and ensuring that everyone is taken to a place where it is safe to stay for the night. After giving a lot of thought about it i decided to go with the latter because of the uncertainty with the snow storm. Giving instructions to Deepanshu to scram towards the Next shelter they could see once the storm clears up, I wore my trusty woodland Jacket and ventured into the storm towards the Prashar Temple. It was not easy, the storm kept blowing the flakes into my eyes and my numbness in my hands got to the level of deep concern. Reaching the Temple fencing, i jumped right into the first open shelter I saw and there was Silvia and Samatar, safe and warm. I had a talk with the Temple who agreed to accommodate my group most graciously, then I became my trip back to the animal shelter when i saw them coming towards me. Not feeling the need to go down when my hand is in a terrible condition, i rerouted towards the cafe and ordered food for all.
When everyone reached Prashar
Within minutes, the food was ready and the cafe owner told that my group would have gone towards the PWD which was more close to the animal shelter and advised me to take the food over to them. Carrying a huge jar of maggi, I made my way to the PWD where i found almost everyone. Distributed the food to them and tried to get information regarding the missing people. As i ventured out, I saw two guys nearing Prashar. Thinking it was my missing friends, I walked towards them. But when i reached them, I found that i was mistaken. Talking to them yielded no information. But soon The wind speed picked up, the visibility came down to couple of meters and one of the guy while trying to shift his coat, caught the wind, tipped over and fell down the slope and disappeared. The slope was only for a limited distance yet, not knowing the condition of the guy, me and his friend slid down the slope, helped him up on his feet. By then the poor chap was shivering as the snow went inside his clothes. Supporting him, we took him to the cafe and then I returned to PWD and I had a burst of relief when I saw Joel and the missing people there. Made sure that most of them are comfortable and then i started heading for the Cafe for the third time, but this time took Deepanshu to bring along blankets, more food and water to everyone. I heard an earful from my friend Swetha who pushed me and Deepanshu in front of a heater. Now, All that is left is to crawl inside my sleeping bag and sleep.
Waking up to a White sea
I open my reluctant eyes, Waking up is always a difficult task for me, especially when i have to pull myself out of my sleeping bag and venture out. Even with a snowfall, the terrain had patches of brown the day before, now it was spotless. Pure white snow surrounded us. The weather was clear with light breeze tickling the skin and without further ado, we went till the Actual Lake.
Even though I had been near the lake thrice, only now have i been able to enjoy its beauty. Sprawling around 200m wide and some 80m breadth wise, the water was calm that only danced to the occasional wind. At the right end stood a solitary island at peace. Locals told us the legend of the saint Prashar meditating on the island. They say the island moves as the year progresses. I should probably come here after some months to see if it actually moves. I have photos for comparison.
Local children walked barefoot on the snow. A Salute to them. I can’t wake a couple of steps without my leg going numb. As usual, you have to remove all footwear before entering the shrine. Although I could’nt enter it, I managed to get a view by peeking through the door. The Temple was small but decorations was not spared. Golden frames, snf leaves went well with the icy frost that covered it. The inner shrine was closed but remains of camphor lined along the foot of the door. Offering a small prayer, we started back
Skilled HRTC Driver to the Rescue
The heavy rains and snow meant taking the trek route back to baggi will be tiring and also risky given that some of the group members were extremely tired. There is a bus that comes up to the lake and returns back but today the snow kept it away. The PWD caretaker called the driver and managed to convince him to come up till the point of safe return. We were to take the road route down till we rendezvoused with the bus.
Of course, seeing the bus was such a relief. Throwing everything we had on our shoulders onto the front seat we took the seats and enjoyed the view as the old rickety bus groaned along till we reached Mandi.