Sunday, September 25, 2016

Zanskar “The forgotten Rome of the Himalayas”

Central ZANSKAR
Introduction:-
DRANG DRUNG glacier near PENSI LA pass , the source of STOD river

Zanskar is a remote valley which lies in the Kargil district and is a part of Ladakh region. The valley lies primarily along the two branches of the Zanskar river. The first is the S-tod river which originates from the glaciers of Drang Drung near Pensi La (4400 meters high pass separating Zanskar from the Suru valley) and it flows south-east along the main valley leading to Padum the administrative capital of Zanskar. The second branch is formed by two main tributaries known as Kargyak river, with its source near the Shingo La (5,091 meters) and Tsarap river, with its source near the Baralacha-La (4890 meters). These two rivers unite below the village of Purne village to form the Lungnak river (also known as the Lingti or Tsarap). The Lungnak river then flows north-westwards along a narrow gorge towards Zanskar's central valley (known locally as gzhung khor), where it unites with the Doda river to form the Zanskar river. The Zanskar river then takes a north-eastern course until it joins the Indus in Ladakh. High mountain ridges lie on both sides of the Doda and Lingti–Kargyak valleys, which run north-west to south-east. To the south-west is the Great Himalayan Range which separates Zanskar from the Kishtwar, Chamba and Lahaul basins. To the north-east lies the Zanskar Range, this separates Zanskar from Ladakh. The only outlet for the whole Zanskar hydrographic system is thus the Zanskar river, which cuts deep and narrow Zanskar gorge through the Zanskar range. These topographical features explain why access to Zanskar is difficult from all sides. The only road leading to Zanskar from Kargil via Pensi La remains open for a few months only (June to October). Thus communication with the neighbouring Himalayan areas is maintained across high mountain passes or along the Zanskar river when frozen. The Great Himalayan Range acts as a formidable barrier separating Kishtwar ( Paddar Valley ) , Pangi valley ( Chamba ) and Lahaul valley which lie in the windward side and hence receive all the precipitation whereas Zanskar lies in the rain shadow area (leeward side) and hence gets almost no rainfall. There is a sharp contrast in climate and vegetation as one crosses over to Zanskar. The Paddar, Pangi and Lahoul valleys are greener with a lot of vegetation and receive some precipitation whereas Zanskar is a lot drier with scarce green patches. It exhibits very dry characteristics just like Ladakh and hence is also called as a cold desert area. The people of Zanskar follow Tibetan Buddhism. Padum is the main central town of Zanskar.

SANI festival ZANSKAR
KARSHA Gonpa , Zanskar

Guru PIBTING , Zanskar


PADUM town

History:-

The word Zanskar is derived from “Zangskar” which in Tibetan means copper valley (Zangs = copper and Kar = valley). The famous Hungarian explorer Alexander Csoma lived in Zanskar for a year during the period 1826-1827 and he stayed at Phugtal Gonpa where an inscription of his name can be still found. The great Dogra general Zorawar Singh marched into Zanskar from Paddar valley via Omasi la pass with him army in 1834 and conquered Zanskar and Ladakh. Zanskar was once an important trade route for traders travelling to Tibet but post independence in 1947 all trade routes was closed. Zanskar was restricted for foreigners till 1974. The only motor able road leading to Padum Zanskar was built in the year 1979. 

BARDAN Gonpa , ZANSKAR and LUNGNAK river
AKSHOW village , ZANSKAR

Passes of the Great Himalayan Range leading to Zanskar:-

Atop KANG LA pass


“Zanskar had always fascinated me. I had always wished to trek there someday in my life but little did I know that I would end up visiting Zanskar 4 years in a row over some of the most rugged and difficult passes of GHR. Crossing a pass in GHR is an experience of a lifetime, leave alone the vistas that awaits one ahead at the beautiful Zanskar Valley.”
Crossing over to Zanskar from Paddar valley, Pangi valley and Lahaul valley means traversing the main Great Himalayan Range.
The passes leading from Paddar, Pangi and Lahoul to Zanskar are as follows:-

1) Hagshu La Pass 5270 meters – This difficult and rarely used pass leads one from Gulabgarh in Kishtwar to Akshow village in Zanskar. The climb to this pass is very steep and the Zanskar side of this pass is highly crevassed. The route for Hagshu La and Omasi La is same till the Doksa grazing grounds. The trail for Hagshu La is along the Hagshu Nallah beyond Doksa.
HAGSHU LA pass , ZANSKAR / PADDAR

The grueling ascent on a ledge to the top of HAGSHU LA
HAGSHU Peak , ZANSKAR

ZANSKAR side of the pass

2) Omasi La / Umasi La Pass 5350 meters – Umasi la is the most frequently used pass by the locals and trekkers to enter the Zanskar valley from Paddar side. The local Bhots of Paddar use this route for trading with Zanskar. They sell local tea, wooden snow shovels made in Zanskar and buy Zanskari horses, yaks and Zanskari sheep and goats which they later sell in Paddar valley. The route for Omasi La splits from the Sumcham village and heads to Haptal glacier and then to Omasi La pass. The climb is very steep and one reaches Ating village after crossing the Omasi La pass.
OMASI LA Pass

KISHTWAR SHIVLING from PADDAR valley
ZONGKHUL Gonpa , ZANSKAR

3) Poat La Pass 5490 meters – Poat La pass connects Dharlang valley of Paddar with Zanskar. The Kaban and Gandhari sub valleys of Paddar and Sural valley of Pangi Chamba are connected to Dharlang valley via the side axis of GHR and bhots from these areas cross this range to enter Dharlang valley via Kaban La, Muni La (Dharlangwala Jot) and Shiv Shankar / Sersank La passes. They then cross the Poat La pass to enter Zanskar. This pass is not very often used. Long distances have to be covered en route this pass over big boulders and moraine fields. This pass leads one to Bardan Gonpa in Zanskar.
SERSANK LA / SHIV SHANKAR PASS , SURAL PANGI / PADDAR

Prayer flags , cairns marking the top of POAT LA pass , ZANSKAR


ZANSKAR from the top of POAT LA Pass
The final ridge leading to Poat la pass from Dharlang side

4) Kang La Pass 5450 meters – Kang La pass connects Miyar valley of Lahoul with Zanskar. The trek is over the 34 kms long Miyar glacier. This pass is used very rarely and only by trekkers and climbing parties. The glacier is very heavily crevassed and utmost care has to be taken to negotiate these crevasses. It is a very long march to the top of Kang La Pass from Shukto village. The trail from Poat La and Kang La pass run parallel beyond Khanjor. The trail coming from Poat La is along the left bank of Temasa nallah while the trail of Kang La runs along the right bank of Temasa nallah. One reaches a road head near Pipcha village.
KANG LA pass from LAHAUL side
ZANSKAR side of the pass

MIYAR glacier , LAHAUL

5) Shingu La / Shingo La / Shinku La Pass 5050 meters – Shingo La is the easiest and most commonly used pass of GHR to enter Zanskar from Darcha in Lahoul. A road to Padum is coming up via this pass and has already reached beyond Chumi Nakpo on Himachal side. This is the most frequented pass by trekkers and locals. Kargyak Village is the first village of Zanskar en route to this pass. The road head is at Angmo and work is on in full swing to connect the pass via a motor able road. This pass lies on the once famous trek route from Darcha to Lamayuru but with construction of roads this month long trek route has been reduced to a mere week’s trek.
A small lake seen from the top of SHINGO LA / SHINGU LA pass
GUMBURANJON The Holy MOUNTAIN of ZANSKAR
There are many interesting treks over the TRANS HIMALAYAN RANGE leading from ZANSKAR to LADAKH and MARKHA valley. I wish to undertake these treks in future and visit "The lost kingdom of ZANSKAR" over and over again because "Once a ZANSKARI, forever a ZANSKARI"


PARFI LA pass , ZANSKAR / LADAKH on the PADUM LAMAYURU trek route over ZANSKAR RANGE ( TRANS HIMALAYAS


Monday, November 23, 2015

Friends of ZANSKAR

I have trekked to ZANSKAR thrice over the passes of GREAT HIMALAYAS connecting ZANSKAR with MIYAR ( LAHOUL ) , PANGI and PADDAR . What makes me travel again and again into this rugged ZANSKAR VALLEY ?
Yes , the motivation to cross passes of GREAT HIMALAYAN RANGE ( GHR ) leading to ZANSKAR is surely what makes me keep visiting this lost kingdom . The other is the beautiful landscape of Zanskar but the driving force that draws me every year to this valley are the people of ZANSKAR .
STOD / ZANSKAR VALLEY 

The recent visit to ZANSKAR turned out to be tragic but I met some wonderful noble souls in ZANSKAR who were ready to help me out by putting their life at stake . This is a separate story which I will narrate some other day .
TENZIN'S sister ( L) and AMA LA (R) with her grandson



Recently my friend Tenzin came to my place from his village SKYAGAM / HAMILING in ZANSKAR . I met him this year at TANKAR village after crossing  OMASI LA pass  where I was welcomed into his sister's home.
Tenzin helped me out when I needed someone the most . He accompanied me to PADUM where I could get help. I stayed at his Achi Ley's place in PADUM before I could get help from the army . His family and my friends were always there to support me emotionally and even ready to accompany me to the pass . Zanskari's are a very friendly lot who will win over your heart by their charm and hospitality . When I left ZANSKAR , I left them with a promise that I would come back to  Zangkar next year.
WELCOME 

ACHI LE'S home in PADUM


I had requested my friends at Zanskar to come to my place someday and they promised me saying that they would visit me for sure as they had a plan to pay obeisance to "HIS HOLINESS" at his abode in DHASA .
A few days back I got a call from TENZIN telling me that he was in MANALI and he would be coming to my place. I was surprised and asked him " How did you come ? " He said " I crossed SHINKU La ".  I was surprised that he had crossed SHINGU LA in such extreme snow conditions . I asked him " What makes you cross SHINKU La in such hostile conditions ". His answer was simple " To see you my friend "
TENZIN at NORBULINGKA

After staying with us for only 5 days he bid a goodbye saying that he would love to see me in ZANSKAR next year as well. He now faces a return journey from LADAKH to ZANSKAR over the FROZEN ZANSKAR RIVER popularly known as " CHADAR " , The Ice Trail . The passes are too risky to be crossed so he will be travelling to LEH from JAMMU via road .
Tenzin is a simple hardworking chap who visits Paldar ( PADDAR ) in summer months to get local tea and wooden sledges which he sells in Zanskar to make his living . He also trades sheep and goats across passes of GHR and helps his family in farming .

P.S.
From ZANSKAR with love

His sister had specially knitted a pair of woollen socks for me and I cannot thank her in words nor can I ever repay her for her love and affection .  One day I wish to return to Zanskar and do all I can for the people of Zanskar , my friends in Zanskar .

JULLEY !

Sunday, July 19, 2015

MEETING THE LEGEND

SIR SATYABRATA DAM
It was a rainy Thursday evening and probably the biggest day of my life . After years my dream was coming true !!!
It was raining incessantly and I reached ISBT DHARAMSHALA at 4 : 47 PM  all drenched . I was looking for that one face among the crowd . After waiting and searching for a few minutes he appeared like a DEMIGOD seated just in front of me . It was the legendary Sir. SATYA BRATA DAM , the leading mountaineer of the world .

A word on Sir SATYABRATA DAM :
He is a renowned mountaineer who has been on Everest , climbed all the highest peaks of the 7 continents , been on both the poles and  climbed  K2 almost !!! Words would fall short but to describe him but to sum up he has climbed Mountains all across the world . He was a commodore in the elite submarine division of the Indian Navy and he took voluntary retirement just to climb more . He is a motivational speaker and encourages youth all across the globe . He has penned down many books and one will come across blogs and posts of his climbs and  treks very often . He has explored everything !
SATYABRATA SIR (LEFT) sitting with the GADDI SHEPHERDS atop TORAL PASS

The talk was very subtle . We talked about Mountains out first love . The ones who know and have met SATYA sir know that he is a very simple and down to the earth fellow . He was very encouraging and he gave me the tips as to how I could make my passion my career . He gave me all the vital inputs and introduced me to the mountaineering fraternity . We spoke for almost an hour .
SATYA sir is a wonderful human being . He comes very often to DHARAMSALA to meet his old friends and he helps them in the best possible way . He is truly a mountain man devoted to the Mountains and its people .
Before we bid a farewell I ceased the opportunity to take his autograph , a memory that I will cherish throughout my life .
CARPE DIEM !!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GHEPAN GHAT / ALYAS LAKE 4050 METERS , LAHAUL SPITI , HIMACHAL PRADESH

GHEPAN GHAT / ALYAAS LAKE
GHEPAN GHAT / ALYAAS LAKE Iis a relatively unknown lake above SISSU / SHASHIN village the seat of the most powerful deity of LAHOUL , RAJA GHEPAN . The presence of this lake which remained hidden for so long was always known to the GADDI shepherds of KANGRA who graze their flock of sheep and goat here in summer months . Google maps first suggested that a lake existed above SISSU and a team of scientists set out to study and see the lake that was shown on the map . A lot many theories were put that since it is formed by melting of glacier it would burst one day and cause extensive damage to SISSU and SHASHIN villages but the outflow of this pro glacial lake is very smooth and its a broad passage so this lake poses no threat but the receding glacier is surely a cause of concern . The trail though is relatively marked but since even the locals are unaware of its presence getting inputs on this lake are almost negligible. We set out to explore this lake and somehow made it to the lake despite losing the trail . We were holed up in our tents due to inclement weather but we set out on a rainy morning from the base camp to the lake . The views were rewarding and it was one of the most beautiful lake we had ever seen . It was raining and it was a foggy day so the views were limited but nonetheless our efforts paid off as we finally made it to the lake .The sacred Ghepan ( Ghepang ) Goh peak is to the North of this lake and there is no connection of this lake with LORD GYEPHANG . 
                                                              YOUTUBE VIDEO LINK 
ALYAS LAKE

Friday, June 19, 2015

MESSENGERS OF DHAULADHAR "SHIV BHOOMI"

My friend AMARNATH 
Meet my dear friend Amarnath Singh. He is a Gaddi shepherd who crosses Indrahar Pass of Dhauladhar Range every year in early summers ( MAY MID ) . He undertakes this tedious journey to his homeland in Gadheran " SHIV BHOOMI "( Bharmour / Holi ) Chamba with his flock of sheep and goat from the winter grasslands of lower Kangra ( Jayanti Mata ) in the month of May . Since his home is in Gadheran he is in a hurry to reach his homeland so that he can plough and cultivate his fields and then take his flock to the high pastures . He returns back to Jandar ( Kangra ) in early October crossing the Toral Pass which is nearer from his grassland ( Kukru Ka Kanda ) above his hometown Kuther . He is a very selfless , God fearing , honest and hard working man . I met him on my way to Indrahara Pass near Tirange Wale Mata temple  from Dharamshala / Mcleodganj ( Triund ) . I asked him if I could accompany him all the way to the top and then to Kwari ( Holi / CHAMBA ) . He was more than happy that I was willing to cross the 4350 meters high pass with him . 
Descending INDRAHAR PASS  ( Chamba / Ravi Valley )
INDRAHARA crossing did turn out to be one of the toughest crossing of my life but I will remember this walk only because it gave me a good friend like Amarnath . He not only took care of me but also cooked meals for me , helped me cross glaciers , made steps in hard snow and taught me how to glissade and walk in soft as well as hard snow . 
Reeti Prakash , Shayam Lal Kapoor and Amarnath on top of INDRAHARA PASS
He lives for a good part away from his home in the high slopes and grasslands of BHARMOUR . He too has a family and he misses them a lot . I spent  some of the best days of my life walking with him . When we parted ways at Hilling , a road head near Lamu ( Holi ) I felt as if I had left a good part of me with him in the high Mountains of DHAULADHAR Range . I wanted to do a lot for him but this man was so humble that he wanted nothing but my love and respect . My sincere question to everyone " Do we ever meet such pure souls ? " 
I was lucky that I found such a wonderful friend . My Guruji Respected Sir Romesh Dutt always said " There is nothing like best friends " . When he said it , it really meant a lot but then there are people like Amarnath who defy everything . 
My friend Amarnath still calls me whenever he is in network range just to know my well being and whereabouts . He taught me the mountain code that will be an integral part of me for as long as I live . 
I dedicate this post not only to my friend Amarnath but also to all my Gaddi Shepherd friends who have been such wonderful hosts at such high altitudes . 
P.S. The unthankful people that we are always expect them to help us out at such high altitudes when we know that they have a flock to look after but how do we return favors ? By hurling abuses at them when they are walking on road with their flock only because we can't wait for a second and want to get out of traffic , by stealing their flock by pointing guns at them and threatening to kill them . 
Before doing that think twice! Gaddis still are very warmhearted and wonderful hosts unaffected by these mean acts

Thursday, April 23, 2015

GREAT HIMALAYAN SAGA ZANSKAR CALLING PART: 1

                                      SHIV SHANKAR PASS / SERSANK LA

ATOP SHIV SHANKAR JOT / SERSANK LA PASS


“Pangi pakki thangi Lahoul pakka zeera lo,maan mera rahi go PANGI ho”. The very thought of the PANGI valley brings these lines to my mind. I had always dreamt of going to the beautiful PANGI valley. Our plan was called off in July when after crossing DARATI Pass we didn’t have the legs to cross passes in GREAT HIMALAYAN RANGE from PANGI side. I was desperate to cross a pass in GREAT HIMALAYAN RANGE.As always we underestimated the mountains and overestimated ourselves and without thinking twice we decided we would cross SHIV SHANKAR PASS/SERSANK LA connecting PANGI valley with DHARLANG valley and then cross POAT LA to ZANSKAR. If that was not to be, we even thought that we will make a return back via KANG LA PASS. How badly were we mistaken!!!!
Panditji and I set out one rainy evening for CHAMBA. The start was ominous. Heavy rains cut off CHAMBA from rest of the world. We were stranded as roads leading to CHAMBA were blocked from all sides. It was not raining it was pouring!!!My parents called me up and asked me to immediately abort my trip but the desire to see the PANGI and ZANSKAR valley made me turn a deaf ear to all their advice. After being stranded for well over 12 hours finally we made it to CHAMBA. Buses and cabs plying to KILLAR, PANGI leave early (7 am max.) from CHAMBA. We were late and had to halt at CHAMBA that day but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Our dear friend TARUN who made arrangements for our stay in CHAMBA recommended a DHABA (MAME DA DHABA) which specializes in CHAMLAYI DHAM especially ‘PURE GHEE RAJMAH MADRA’. The food is finger licking good and we had two meals at that place. It’s a must stopover at SULTANPUR, Chamba.
Next day our bus to KILAR was supposed to leave at 5 am. It was a fun filled ride over the mighty SAACH PASS leading to PANGI Valley. The road was dangerous at places and was rough after BAIRAGARH. We made it to the top of pass by 12. The moment we entered the beautiful PANGI VALLEY I couldn’t resist myself and started humming “Jaana main PANGI re desa ho”. We reached KILLAR by 5 and immediately got into a bus leaving for SURAL BHATORI.SURAL is a beautiful village (comprising TAI and BHATORI) which lies in the SURAL sub valley of PANGI. SURAL NALLAH/SHIV SHANKAR NALLAH originating from the glaciers of SHIV SHANKAR PEAK flows through this beautiful village. BHATORI is the last village of SURAL.”BHOTS” who are Buddhists live in SURAL BHATORI village.
SURAL BHATORI
They are very enterprising and hard working people. They have been crossing passes of Great Himalayas for centuries trading sheep, goats, yak for salt and other essential commodities. Heavy rains had damaged the road leading to the last village BHATORI and we had to walk on foot to reach this village. It was late by the time we reached this village and we took refuge in an old deserted home.
Next day we went to the village enquiring about a good knowledgeable guide who would help us to cross SERSANK LA and POAT LA passes. SONAM JI was the one who had crossed these passes many times with foreign groups and he would often go in search of BLUE STONE (NEELAM PATHAR), BLACK STONE and other precious stones. He knew every nook and corner of that region. We were told by everyone that he was the best man in that region who had explored the ZANSKAR area. We were quick enough to engage his services as our guide as he was scheduled to go with his son in law to one of the BLUE STONE MINES in that area. After settling everything, it was decided that he would be our guide and we would take a porter as well because it was impossible for us to carry ration supplies for good 8-10 days. SONAM JI directed us to a shop in SURAL (TAI) village from where we would get all our ration supplies for the trek and in the meantime he would prepare meals for us. Arun sir, I and SONAMJI’s son had to go back to SURAL VILLAGE to get ration supplies. It was a warm day and it was business as usual for the people of BHATORI. They dry grass on their mud rooftops which serves as fodder for their animals in winters. We got the things that we needed from the only Karyana shop in Sural. The shop was far off and by the time we reached back we were already tired. The lunch was ready and we ate Peas with rice and Ghee. The weather changed all of a sudden and it started raining. Our start got delayed .It was only in the evening that we set out for our trek .Before starting our trek we offered prayers at the SURAL GONPA. The clouds that had covered the SHIV SHANKAR PEAK disappeared and we had the first glimpses of this holy peak .
SHIV SHANKAR PEAK
It was all covered in snow. Its mere sight gave us goose bumps and we were all set for the trek. It was getting late and we had to reach the TIASO campsite but to our horror surprise our guide SONAMJI got drunk. He refused to go for this trek and said we won’t be able to do this trek as SHIV SHANKAR LA is a very difficult pass. He said how we would carry such a heavy load for 10 days. I was clueless but Arun sir handled this situation diplomatically. He struck the right chords with SONAM JI and we started with us (ARUN sir and I) only ending up picking more load than our guide. He would tell us time and again that we should abort this trek and I would grow restless but Arun sir advised me to keep walking and he dealt with SONAMJI .Since we had started late it was dark and the night had set in . We reached TIASO very late in the night and we pitched our tents on the roof of a shepherds hut. It was an eventful night and I just prayed that it would soon pass away. We slept without having dinner.
Next day we woke up fresh and it was nice to see our guide SONAMJI all geared up for the day. It was quite a contract from yesterday when he was not ready to walk an inch. We decided to walk little ahead and prepare our breakfast. We reached a beautiful meadow (KUNTHANG) in an hour and had our breakfast there. The valley was lush green and SURAL nallah was gushing through.
SURAL NALLAH
The holy SHIV SHANKAR PEAK stood right in front of us.
SHIV SHANKAR PEAK from KUTHANG
We kept on walking along the SURAL NALLAH but the peak seemed to only get farther and farther. There were ample signs which testified the presence of wildlife in the area. The footmarks of brown bear were very fresh and it was just few hours ago that he has been on that trail. The SHIV SHANKAR PASS was once used frequently by the BHOT COMMUNITY of SURAL to trade salt and other necessary items with ZANSKAR Region of LADAKH but since roads have come up till SURAL things have changed drastically. Barring a few trekkers and locals hardly anyone crosses this pass. This was very much visible since the trails were very faint and missing at most of the places. Finally we crossed the SURAL NALLAH and kept walking along a ridge.
Looking back at the SURAL VALLEY

Ridge leading to the base of SHIV SHANKAR JOT
The pass was still very elusive and all we could see was the huge icefall and crevasses that lead to the mighty SHIV SHANKAR PEAK. I was getting curious to get a glimpse of SERSANK PASS and I kept asking SONAMJI when we would reach the base camp from where we could see the pass. It was a very long and a tiring trek to the base of the pass. The trail was very steep and nonexistent. After a steep climb on boulders we finally made it to the base camp of the pass. It was foggy so the pass was not visible .We immediately pitched our tent on a flatter ground and started preparing our dinner. It rained a bit and I was worried if it would snow. Our chances of crossing the pass would become very slim but God was at our side. After sometime it stopped raining and the fog disappeared. The pass revealed itself and what a majestic view it was!
Base camp UDUTH and SHIV SHANKAR JOT / SERSANK LA PASS in the backdrop

The ascent to the pass from the base camp seemed theoretically impossible. It was very high vertical wall with a glacier that lead to the top of this pass. We could clearly see the cairns marking the top of this pass. I was trying to figure out how we would trek up this vertical wall. I kept asking Panditji and SONAMJI if we would be able to climb this pass or not. They assured me that the crossing was possible and I was not the first one crossing this pass. I couldn't sleep the whole night. I was just praying to the almighty that he grants us a safe crossing and a good weather the next day.
 I was out of my tent early next day at 5 am but it was foggy out there. We got ready in no time and were all ready to cross the pass. It was not a clear day but the pass was visible.
Approaching the pass
After a gradual ascent for half an hour the ascent became very steep (70-80 degree gradient) and we had to crawl on our hands and knees. If the climb was less taxing, a steep glacier crossing made things worse. We had to make steps using an ice axe.
Snow crossing
The pass looked as if it was sky high and it would take us ages to reach at the top of this pass. Glacier crossing was followed by scree and boulder hopping.
Nearly vertical ascent to the top
We had been waking for almost 4 hours now .The weather cleared up in the meantime and we could see the SURAL Valley behind. SONAMJI and his nephew who were way ahead started chanting the sacred Mantra "OM MANI PADME HUM ". We knew that they had reached the top of this pass and we were also a few steps away from the top. Finally we made it to the top of this pass. I was at cloud nine. It was a dream come true. We had finally made it to the top of the SERSANK Pass, a pass that I had dreamt of crossing when I started trekking.
SHIV SHANKAR JOT ( SERSANK PASS )
The views from the pass were breathtaking.
SURAL VALLEY from the pass
On one side was the SURAL valley from where we had climbed and on the other we could see the DHARLANG valley of J & K and GREAT HIMALAYAN RANGE.
View from the top towards DHARLANG VALLEY
SERSANK Pass marks the boundary of HIMACHAL PRADESH and JAMMU KASHMIR. We had a much deserved rest at the pass. We sang, had our dinner and celebrated our climb. I thought the difficult part of our trek was over but little did I know that what lay ahead was even more challenging.

After resting for an hour we started descending and I can say without doubt that this has been the most difficult stretch that I have crossed in my entire trekking.
Descending the pass
After an initial steep descend on boulders and loose rocks we stood bang at the middle of a huge glacier which was highly crevassed. There was no way out we had to cut steps on this hard glacier and walk with precaution because a slip would have been fatal and we would have landed in those crevasses whose bottom could not be traced.
Descending carefully
Moreover they were blue crevasses which signified that they are very wide and deep. Somehow we crossed that snow field avoiding those crevasses.
Ice Field
Soon we were back on the rocks and boulders over a steep narrow cliff. We looked back at the pass which looked like a small Sally surrounded by high peaks.
Looking back at the pass
Shiv Shankar peak was right behind us.
SHIV SHANKAR PEAK from the other side of the pass
After descending for about half an hour we were again in a glacier zone which was very heavily crevassed and we could see the ice fall running across it. I thought this was it and we might have to head back but to my surprise SONAMJI said that we had to find a way across this snowfield. He headed down with an ice axe in his hand and started cutting steps in the hard snow. I was very afraid and initially we had to head down sitting and dragging ourselves. At times SONAMJI held us by his hand and guided us across that patch. It was a blinder. Those 15 minutes were pure adrenaline. Finally we were back on the slope and greener patches were visible now. The descent became less steep and the trek became somewhat easy. It was already 5 pm and we had taken 6 hours to reach that place. We finally pitched our tents on a slope with a small stream nearby. The glacier we had crossed a few moments back looked so treacherous.
Icefall leading to the pass from DHARLANG side
I thanked the almighty that we had reached their safe and sound. It was celebration time. We had our meals, talked our heart out and had a sound sleep. We had finally crossed the Shiv Shankar pass safe and sound. We were in the DHARLANG valley and our next aim was to cross POAT LA PASS.
DHARLANG VALLEY from DUBOS
In mountains what we have achieved today becomes a yesterday's feat the next day. I was feeling very happy. Some of the world's best mountaineers and trekkers had to turn back from the base of SERSANK LA because of innumerable reasons. We were among those lucky souls blessed by the Mountain Gods. I was feeling somewhat satisfied but the real challenge now was to cross the POAT LA in coming days and reach ZANSKAR the place I had been dreaming of for so long .

ZANSKAR SAGA to be continued ....