Buran Ghati: A Tale in Green and White 

We went to sleep in our tents at 8 pm, not knowing what the following day would hold for us. We had reached Dhunda, the last campsite on the trail before Buran Pass, at a lofty 13000 feet. After braving the biting cold, inclement weather and treacherous terrain, we were here. But whether we would cross the Buran Pass, the raison d’etre of the trek would be decided by the weather gods. The trek leader would wake us up at 1:30 am, only if the weather stayed clear to the pass-crossing. 

The wake-up call never came. Instead, I woke up at dawn to find the campsite bathed in powdery white snow. I was instantly overcome with the disappointment of not getting a chance to cross the pass. It was to be the high point (quite literally!) of the trek. Not crossing over felt like unfinished business. I would forever wonder what lay beyond on the other side. But if something had to deny me the opportunity, I am glad it was the first snowfall of my life. 

The Essentials

Buran Ghati in Himachal Pradesh is considered among the most beautiful treks in the country, and justly so. It is a moderate-difficult trek because it climbs up to an altitude of 15000 feet. Indiahikes does a fantastic job of documenting treks and you can read the detailed itinerary on their site. I’ll focus more on my personal experiences and reflections here. 

I and a group of friends trekked with Trek the Himalayas (TTH) in May’23. The trek takes 7 days including transportation from and back to Shimla. The fee including all stays, meals, guide charges and transport was approximately Rs 16,000. 

The Journey Begins

Enroute Janglik

After a scenic 8-hour drive from Shimla, we reached Janglik, the tiny, postcard-pretty village that’s the base for the trek. With its charming traditional houses in wood and stone, beautiful temples and meandering paths through terrace farms, Janglik is a delight to walk around. 

Postcard-pretty Janglik

Here we met our trek leader, the local guides and our fellow trekkers. Our trek leader, Satyaprakash, was a stoic man of the mountains who would awe us by completing the entire trek in a pair of slippers. The local guides were a jolly bunch from Janglik, very hospitable and always at hand to help. Techies from Bangalore made up most of our trekking group. A welcome exception was 13-year-old Aarav, a spirited young boy who had already done other Himalayan treks and always stayed at the head of the group. 

We spent the night in a dorm in an austere homestay. The spartan homestay was a nice bridge between the comforts of city life and the frugal tent stays that were to follow. 

Our Homestay in Janglik

Paradise Found

Out on a walk the next morning, I crossed a lady who was carrying a big basket full of firewood from her farm on the slopes to her home up the hill. When I requested a photograph, she not only obliged happily but also invited several of her friends to get their portraits clicked! Soon a gaggle of Himachali ladies was crowding around my camera, giggling at their photos. Their faces were full of character and their easy, confident gaze had none of the bashfulness that characterizes their counterparts from the more conservative lowlands. They make light work of the arduous task of carrying manure, firewood and cattle feed up and down the hill between their farm and home. 

And on that note, we set off. Over the next two days, we trekked through gorgeous pine forests and lush green rolling meadows, soaking in the incredible Himalayan landscape. The big, snow-capped mountains of the Dhauladhar range kept us company throughout. The only people we met were either goatherds or fellow trekkers. 

The Campsite at Dayara Thatch
No words to describe this setting

Each campsite on the trek outdid the previous one. The campsite at Dayara, set amidst the meadows with grand mountain views, was absolutely gorgeous. The next one at Litham was set on deep-set snow with nothing but white snow all around and not a speck of green in sight. 

We also got used to being pampered with delicious, warm meals. The modern trekker need not bother with carrying provisions and cooking for themself. The good trek groups all provide simple but delicious and nutritious hot meals. Over the course of the trek, TTH treated us to an array of desserts including Shahi Tukda, Custard and Jalebi.    

Atop Frozen Chandranahan Lake

On the third day, we made an excursion to Chandranahan Lake from Litham. This alpine lake, flanked by tall mountains on all sides, is the source of the Pubber River. After the challenging hike up, we reached the top and found the lake completely frozen. The expansive mountains surrounded us on all sides and made us realize just how puny we are when juxtaposed with the might of nature.    

Nature dwarfs us

Not All’s Well

The excursion to Chandranahan had been taxing for some in our group. Their bodies were not acclimatizing well to the increased altitude of almost 14000 feet and they had struggled to maintain pace. Some of them were also experiencing increased heart rates or low oxygen saturation levels, both of which can be potentially dangerous. The trek leader had to turn some of them back. The news from the next camp at Dhunda was not great. It had been snowing incessantly, the tents were wet and the chances of pass-crossing were dwindling. All this prompted more than half of our party to turn back from Litham. 

Now this was my first trek with TTH and I have no major complaints. But I strongly feel they should have taken greater care to ensure that trekkers came prepared for the challenge. Indihikes is extremely professional in this regard. They insist that trekkers furnish proof of meeting their fitness goals before commencing the trek. TTH pays no heed to such stipulations and takes along everybody who shows up, irrespective of their fitness levels. They seem happy making a quick buck.  

Those of us who stayed back were dejected to see so many of the group leave. But we were determined to take our chances at crossing the pass. After all, that’s why we were here. 

Ascent from Litham to Dhunda

The ascent from Litham to Dhunda on the fourth day was a mild one and our group made short work of it. The Dhunda campsite is well above the treeline and entirely engulfed in snow. The first look at the Dhunda campsite took my breath away. Summit or no summit, this alone was worth soldiering on for. This winter wonderland was enveloped in fresh snow as far as the eye could see. 

Dhunda Campsite

Uncertainty & Speculation

We were all sitting clustered together in the common dining tent, discussing our prospects of crossing the pass, when suddenly, magically, it started snowing. This was bad news for our chances of crossing the pass the next morning but my heart spontaneously leapt with joy. This was the first time I was experiencing snowfall. I immediately sprinted out of the tent, rediscovering the child within. Within minutes, powdery white snow had covered all our bright red tents.

After a spell of fresh snow

We spent the entire afternoon observing the shifting weather and speculating how it would turn out the next morning. And the frequently changing weather kept us guessing. Rain and snow followed overcast skies but every now and again the sky would turn clear and the sun would peek out, giving us hope. I told myself that I had already gotten more on the trek than I had bargained for and the pass crossing would only be the cherry on the cake if it happened. After an early dinner, we went to sleep with nervous anticipation.

Heartbreak

The weather gods were not kind. After relatively clear skies till one in the night, it had started snowing again and it continued to snow incessantly till dawn. We all woke up dejected but took it in our stride and saw it as an excuse to come back again to cross the pass some other day. As if we needed an excuse to come back to this paradise!    

We started our descent along the same route we had taken to climb up. Along the way, we were rekindling memories of crossing these same places on our way up. The stretch from Dhunda to Litham was laden with foot-deep fresh powdery snow. What’s more, it was still snowing. Trekking down amidst the snowfall felt surreal.  

First sight of green while descending

Coming back below the treeline and rediscovering the specks of green after being surrounded by a sea of white for three days was deeply refreshing. We completed the last hour of the descent towards Janglik in incessant, piercing rainfall. But the allure of reaching the base camp to a flat bed and a warm, dry blanket brought a spring to our strides.

The last mile

The homestay at Janglik which had seemed spartan when we had arrived at the beginning of the trip now felt like the epitome of luxury for our wet, muddied and tired bodies.     

This was the end of a memorable adventure. We headed back to Shimla the next morning, to civilization as we know it. 

Why do we trek?

I have often wondered what makes me want to trek. The terrain is strenuous and often treacherous. Sleeping inside tents in cramped sleeping bags is certainly not my idea of comfort. The toilet tents, despite best efforts, are invariably stinky. But the opportunity to experience the majesty of nature, away from the maddening crowds, trumps all manner of discomfort and has made trekking an addiction. 

I have also thought deeply about the morality of trekking. Trekking takes us to untouched but fragile ecosystems. We leave our biowastes behind which can, despite precautions, seep into the water stream and impact communities downstream. Most trekkers and trek operators are very conscientious and try their best to leave no plastic waste behind but lapses certainly occur. The mules carry heavy loads of provisions and tents for the group up and down the treacherous slopes and fatalities are not unheard of. 

The dark side

But on the credit side, the revenue from the trekking groups is a vital income supplement for communities hitherto dependent entirely on animal herding and seasonal agriculture. Many young men from the surrounding villages now choose to guide trekking groups over herding cattle. It also draws away the tourist load a little from the more commercialized hotspots.    

For trekkers, it’s a motivation to invest in one’s fitness. It certainly has been the driving force behind my attempt to maintain at least modest fitness levels. Trekking also stirs up consciousness and a leaning towards a more minimalistic life in harmony with nature. At least some of it stays with us, even after we are back in our urban jungles. 

But whom am I kidding? All said it’s just a drug that keeps me coming back for more. 

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