Cdr Satyabrata Dam, a submariner with the Indian Navy and passionate mountaineer who also heads the navy’s mountaineering cell, takes time off every alternate year to conduct exploration expeditions in the Himalayas. “Our aim is to look for valleys, glaciers and passes—blank pockets—that have not been explored before,” he says. In August 2007, Cdr Dam, with a team of 10, undertook a circular trek from Manali, Himachal Pradesh, to Kashmir and back. In July, he and his wife Namita Dam—a reflexologist and avid trekker—made their way through Hagshu La pass. If you are a veteran trekker and ready to venture into the unknown, go ahead and follow his steps. Beginners, though, need not apply.
Trek to Miyar and Pangi valleys
Virgin territory: Trekking through Hagshu La pass involves crossing moraine fields. Satyabrata Dam
This trek starts at Manali, from where you catch a bus or hire a jeep to Udaipur, Himachal Pradesh. You reach this hamlet after Rohtang Pass. “At this point there is a bifurcation. Take the turn right which goes north towards the Miyar Nala valley. You will reach a small village, Tingret,” says Cdr Dam. Head out on foot from here. Next, cross the Miyar Nala, a small river. There is no bridge here, only a rope across the river with a jhoola (swing) on a pulley.
After trekking for three days along the Miyar Nala, you reach the Miyar glacier. “Walk lengthwise along the glacier, all the way down until you reach Zanskar in Jammu and Kashmir. This is a broken glacier with huge crevasses and hard ice, so be careful,” he says.
Once you reach the Kang La Pass and cross it, another bifurcation comes up. One route goes left towards Tidu glacier while a trail on the right heads towards Padum. Take the road to the left, and trek across the Tidu glacier lengthwise again. “There are no records of Indians crossing this glacier in the last 20 years,” says Cdr Dam. The Tidu glacier is dotted with peaks of 20,000ft-plus height (about 6,100m). “As a professional climber, I am certainly going back to climb these peaks.”
After crossing the glacier, camp at Pota La Pass, at a height of around 5,500m (nearly as high as the highest peak in Europe). “It is a tricky pass and the descent is like going down a vertical wall,” says Cdr Dam.
After Pota La, you will reach the Zanskari Kanthang glacier. “This glacier is bound by all kinds of peaks—hard rock routes, hard ice routes, mixed climbs—and is a climber’s paradise.” From here you will reach the Dharlang glacier and then you’re in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir. “Since the Shivshankar Pass was tough to cross, we tried another pass, Dharlangwala Jot, which was marked on the maps, but again there are no records of people crossing this pass in the last 20 years,” he says. Across the pass is Pangi valley, back in Himachal Pradesh, “an enormous climb, almost to 1,500m upwards, and very steep.” From here you will descend along the Huram glacier and nala (rivulet) exiting at Killar, Pangi valley. At the Pangi valley you can take a bus back to Manali.
Trek through Zanskar to Kishtwar via Hagshu La pass
This is a hard trek and takes about four days. It includes “navigating moraine (accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris) fields, and a terrifying descent,” says Namita Dam. Start from a village called Akshoo, and head for Hagshu La—a pass at 5,300m in the Kashmir region which connects Zanskar to Kishtwar. “This pass hadn’t been crossed by any outsiders in decades,” says Namita. The trek is demanding and there are no beautiful monasteries or cheerful people waving you on. “Moraine-walking is no easy business. An hour of such vertical zigzag is equivalent to 2 hours of surface walking,” she says. After crossing Hagshu La, you reach a village called Sumcham, from where you have to head off to Gulabgarh and then take a bus back to Jammu.
The Himalayan Club will host a talk by Cdr Satyabrata Dam today at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
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