Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bada Bhangal Crisis

Overview :-
Bada Bhangal village

Bada Bhangal

Last year the trail leading to Bada Bhangal via Thamsar Pass got damaged between Palachak and Jhodi . The sliding caused between these points made this trail very risky for mules and horses to cross which carry essentials to Bada Bhangal . Thamsar Pass is the most widely and commonly used trail to Bada Bhangal as it connects Bada Bhangal directly to mainland Kangra . 
The treacherous trail from Bada Bhangal to Nayagram Chamba

The trail from Rajgunda / Badagram is all in the jurisdiction of District Kangra unlike the foot trail from Nayagram / Holi ( Chamba side ) where the trail upto Fared Nallah is in the jurisdiction of District Chamba . 
Thamsar Pass
Thamsar Pass though a high pass at an altitude of 4747 meters remains operational from Mid May to September has always been the first choice for transporting essentials to Bada Bhangal from Chotta Bhangal side because it is relatively safe .
The original trail was somewhere from here but now this stretch is damaged

Last year when the trail got damaged between Palachak and Jhodi all the transportation of essentials to Bada Bhangal came to a standstill. It was impossible for mules and horses to pass this patch in rainy season as sliding continued unabated. Only when monsoons came to a standstill in September last year that a few essentials could be supplied to Bada Bhangal that too only in a very limited quantity. Eventually snowfall led to the closure of Thamsar Pass. So last year only a very few essentials reached Bada Bhangal . The district administration had requested the Forest Department to make an alternate trail bypassing this damaged patch but since this area falls in wildlife sanctuary, there were many complexities involved so it could not get clearance .
In 2018 also this issue is still unaddressed as a result of which nothing has been done so far to restore the Thamsar Pass trail.
Who suffered? The common people of Bada Bhangal as the necessary supplies didn’t reach them this year also.

#SaveBadaBhangal Campaign
Kaleheni Pass connecting Bada Bhangal and Kullu valley
Save Bada Bhangal campaign was launched by a group of mountain enthusiasts who could not see the plight and suffering of the local people of Bada Bhangal . The Kaleheni Pass trail from Patlikul ( Kullu ) to Bada Bhangal was chosen for this purpose because since times immemorial , Kaleheni Pass which too is crossable by mules and horses has been an important trade route between Bada Bhangal and Kullu .

What led to this campaign ?
Addressing the natives of Bada Bhangal
The members of the #SaveBadaBhangal campaign were in constant touch with the people of Bada Bhangal who had made them aware about the famine like conditions in Bada Bhangal . The village was indeed very short on essentials and a few families were finding it hard to arrange meals twice a day. Also the shepherds who stay in Bada Bhangal valley for 3-4 months didn’t have salt in sufficient amount for their sheep and goat .  There were many news  in the local papers claiming that sufficient food grains were there in the Bada Bhangal village but the locals could would not lie about the dire condition in their village .Also common sense said that when a place had not received any supplies for a year , the place was certainly short on essentials . This was reason enough to help out our fellow beings in Bada Bhangal . We have always believed that as mountain lovers , it’s our duty to give back to these beautiful mountains and its inhabitants.
A crowdfunding campaign was launched so that sufficient funds could be arranged so that essentials could be supplied to the village which could last for a month or so .

Preparations for Bada Bhangal

Securely packing

Three layers of packing

The team of volunteers after getting the sufficient funds decided to move to Kullu from where the essentials would be carried to Bada Bhangal . The plan was to initially undertake this journey on 10th August but due to some engagements the plan was postponed to 12th August .
Then came a big blow to this campaign as the head of horse union who had promised 60 horses ditched at the very last moment for obvious reasons . A lot of energy , resources and time was wasted in arranging horses and a good 5 days were spent wandering here and there in Kullu valley making necessary arrangements for the horses . Horses were arranged at last but at almost double the price .
Finally the team left for Bada Bhangal on 17th August .

Reaching Bada Bhangal
Mules and horses crossing Kaleheni glacier

Kaleheni Pass

Glacier traverse

Descending Kaleheni

Kaleheni Nallah 

On reaching Bada Bhangal Village
On the way to Bada Bhangal the team met many locals and shepherds who made many startling revelations . The videos of the same shall be uploaded in coming days so that the people who claim that everything is normal in Bada Bhangal and try to brush aside the truth will hang down their heads in shame and really do something concrete to end this crisis and come up with a lasting solution . We shall elaborate about this campaign and this journey in next blog but here we shall focus mostly on the problems faced by the locals of Bada Bhangal and ways to come up with a lasting solution .
Distributing notebooks, stationary and sweets  
The government had sent 25 mules to Bada Bhangal via Kaleheni Pass from Kullu and had done many sorties to Bada Bhangal to air drop the essentials . This indeed is a very costly affair . It will provide temporary relief for a few months but what about next year ?
This is an expensive affair and the amount spent on airdropping the supplies is actually way more the cost in which the Thamsar Pass trail can be restored and also the alternate mule track from Chamba can be made .

Problems and solution :-

During the team’s visit to Bada Bhangal for carrying out relief work , following problems came to their notice :-

1. Permanent solution to this problem ( Airdropping the supplies and carrying essentials via Kaleheni are temporary solutions to this problem ) a) Restoring the Thamsar Pass trail which is the lifeline to the locals as well as the shepherds as it connects Bada Bhangal directly to Kangra.                                  b) Making a mule track from Dhardi ( Holi / Chamba ) to Bada Bhangal as it a shorter route and provides quick access to Bada Bhangal .
2. The shepherds in Bada Bhangal area were very short in basic food commodities and didn’t have any salt for their sheep . They also didn’t have medicines for their livestock . A provision must be made where they will get all the necessary commodities at Bada Bhangal itself.
3. The Mini Hydel project is not operational for over 5 years now as a result of which there is no electricity in the village . This project must be restored to bail out the future of Bada Bhangal from darkness.
4. The High school at Bada Bhangal has only PTI and Drawing teachers . The future of Bada Bhangal and India is at stake . Necessary steps must be taken
5. There is no medical staff at Bada Bhangal . Even there is noone to administer First Aid just in case of emergency . There is no Vet also at Bada Bhangal to cater to the need of shepherds.
6. The village gains nothing out of tourism . The tour operators are mostly from Dharamsala or Manali . Their staff including guides , porters and horsemen are all non locals , so tourism which can change the fortunes of Bada Bhangal is actually contributing nothing for the local economy .
7. Connectivity to the outside world is limited only to the satellite phone which works only if it’s charged sufficiently during the day using solar power . Many a times , it doesn’t work also because of inclement weather . All in all the villagers remain disconnected to the outside world and are not aware of what’s going on around . This issue also needs to be addressed because in 21st century when we are talking about digital India , we are not anywhere near this Dream of digital India .
8. The most rampant problem faced by not only Bada Bhangal but the rest of India also is unemployment . Very few people complete their education in Bada Bhangal and the ones who do so don’t get job also because they can’t compete with their peers from other parts of Himachal as they don’t have proper exposure .
9. Last but not the least , it’s been a long pending demand of the people of Bada Bhangal that they must be given tribal benifits as Bada Bhangal is the remotest area of Himachal . Their demand is highly justified and giving Tribal benifits to the 700 odd people of Bada Bhangal will hardly cause any imbalance to our system .
Ravi river flowing across the Bada Bhangal village

Bada Bhangal village from Baggi fields 

The beautiful but remote Bada Bhangal Village

The real enemies of Bada Bhangal
No captions needed. Pictures are self explanatory 

Well one would wonder how can this heaven on earth have enemies ? To be honest this place doesn’t have threat from outside world but from people within Bada Bhangal . There is a rich class which now lives permanently in Bir and can’t see Bada Bhangal progress . They try to create obstacles in any developmental scheme that’s sanctioned for Bada Bhangal . The poor people of Bada Bhangal , mostly 15-20 families are  suffering so badly that they are the ones who are actually finding it hard to arrange meals twice a day .
Even a remote place like Bada Bhangal is not untouched from the evils of modern world like corruption . Yes , you heard it right , corruption !
We are not a detective agency going about chasing these cases but seeing such sad state of affairs depressed our heart to the core .
Well ,  we wish to stay away from this filth and as mountain lovers we wish that the crisis which Bada Bhangal is going through presently comes to an end and a lasting solution is found out to all the problems so that the common people don’t suffer .

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Zanskar “The forgotten Rome of the Himalayas”

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.

KARSHA Gonpa , Zanskar

Guru PIBTING , Zanskar

PADUM town


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.

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.
The grueling ascent on a ledge to the top of HAGSHU LA

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.


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.

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 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

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"