It was 23 years ago, to the day, that we crossed the Pin Pass at the commanding altitude of 5319 meters. The numbers in itself were unique, 9. 9.1999, and the trek was exciting, eventful and forever to be memorable. It all began on September, 4. 1999, around 14:00 hrs., when Dr. Goraya, then heading the Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI), Shimla called me to his chamber and informed me about the offer of Sh. Sanjeeva Pandey, Director, Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) to trek across the Pin pass. I barely knew about the pass, but readily agreed, and we began our frantic preparations. The team from GHNP, Shamshi had already left in the forenoon from for the night destination of Barsheni, while we were still in Shimla. At home we put in all essentials available, despite knowing little about the difficult trek that lay ahead. We left Shimla around 18:00 hrs., while the GHNP team had already reached and travelled to Barsheni for the night halt. We reached the Forest Rest House at Kasol around midnight and quickly got into bed to take as much rest as possible. Got up early around 04:00 hrs., for an early start to catch up with the GHNP team. During those days the road was much short of Barsheni and we had to leave the vehicle and walk some distance to FRH Barsheni. At Barsheni we were informed that the GHNP team had a four-hour head start to us. After a quick breakfast we began our trek uphill to Kheerganga, and it was during this trek, that I noticed Dr. Goraya feeling a little uneasy in his gait. It was then that he told me that he was running a fever and finding it difficult to continue. By the time we reached Kheerganga, Dr. Goraya decided to drop out, but urged me to continue with the Forest Guard and one porter, left behind to take us along. It was really an upsetting moment to leave Dr. Goraya behind.
I accompanied the support staff and continued the long trek ahead with brisk pace and caught with the GHNP team after dark at thakur kuan. The fast-paced trek soon made me forget the upsetting moment and I needed to focus on the winding path ahead. All along the way, the Pin River became a constant rushing companion, strewn with giant boulders deposited by an eternity of its gushing waters. At thakur kuan, I get to meet the team leader, Sh. Sanjeeva Pandey for the first time. I get introduced to the team, which comprised of the renowned botanist Dr. Gopal Singh Rawat (Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun), Sh. Amar Chand Sharma (then Divisional Forest Officer, Parvati, Kullu), Sh. Inder Paul (HPSFD Photographer and oldest member of the team at 52 years) and a number of forest officials and staff, along with the porters. The camp is amok with laughter and kind energy, as the meal of vegetable, dal and chapatis is prepared and relished. I get into my sleeping bag, with no time to reflect back on the long journey covered in one single day.
Next day we start early and reach Mantalai, the source of the river Parvati. After performing a small puja and prayer, we began our arduous climb up the mountain. As you climb higher, the bird’s-eye view of the Parvati Valley is just amazing. By the time we reach the ice mantle, the weather soon turns bad and we are left standing amidst fresh snowfall, visibility almost vanished. It was at this moment that we realized the gravity of the danger to be in this situation. We all huddled together, not knowing what to do, except pray and pray. However, we were lucky as the weather cleared to a bright blue sky, around 13:00 hrs., bringing some cheer to us all.
The entire team owe Punjab Singh, Beat Officer, Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary (popularly known as “Ibex” among his friends), the guide and relentless hero of the trek, and also Dr. Rawat for getting us over the pass that day. Both were nearly 200-300 m ahead of the team, who were waiting for instructions from them. Both, were moving ahead cautiously, continuously poking the ice sheet for any crevices. The presence of deep crevices, coupled with the rough weather, and ill health of a few porters, besides my small fall on ice, causing injury to my leg, had made the team leader pretty concerned about the situation. I was limping across the ice with a porter instructed to be with me all along. It was a slow gait for me, occasionally blowing my numb fingers and often wiping my running nose, with my scarf.
At around 13:30 hrs., Punjab Singh had left us behind discarding an easier looking approach towards the pass, and taken a more difficult detour. This, coupled with rough weather and ill health of a few members, had caused some of us to be very concerned. Other teammates had even raised serious doubts about Punjab Singh’s knowledge of the area and proposed to return back to the base camp that was some 4 kms down the valley. I had been asked to closely follow Punjab Singh and find out from him whether he was very sure about the route, and also assess if all the party members would be able to negotiate the trail left by him. Dr. Rawat had a walkie-talkie to maintain a constant communication with the team leader.
There were fears, that if the party failed to cross the pass before 17:00 hrs or so, it could result in a disaster as we didn’t have enough equipment to camp on the snow and the weather could change at any time. Also, some of the porters were suffering due to insufficient clothing and improper shoes. Dr. Rawat, contacted Mr. Pandey around 14.30 pm, stating that Punjab Singh had taken the best possible route and the team should advance without any further delay. Within half an hour the team members began arriving on the ice field one by one, cheered on by Mr. Pandey and Mr. Sharma. Punjab Singh continued his ice poking forays and led the group slowly but steadily towards the pass. By god’s grace and that of Punjab Singh and Dr. Rawat, all of us were on the pass greeting and hugging each other around 16:30 – 17:00 hrs., me being the last one limping up and being cheered by all.
Many among us that day remembered the local deities and on reaching the top had tears of joy and success. We could see the tears of joy streaking on the cheeks of our team leader. Having offered prayers for an eventful and lucky day, we quickly descended on the other side of the pass to a place called Thangpat (5000 m asl) before it was dark. At the top of the ascent, after all joy and jubilation, my expectation that we are almost at our next camp is dashed. I mustered additional physical and psychological resolve for trudging downhill on now dangerous freezing ice for about an hour. It is near dark when I arrive and fortunately, the tents are gone up and I quickly scramble get into my sleeping bag for a much-needed sleep, all without a bite. It was so damn cold that I put on an additional trouser over the track pant. The day was a difficult and demanding one, that pushed me and many others in the team to the limits.
We wake up next day to a bright warm sunny morning and way make way towards Tiai by passing through cold icy streams and the lush green Pin Valley National Park. Seeing my limp, Sh. Pandey sent an advance party to bring horses from the village of Mud. Next day, I am privileged to get on the Chamurthi or Spiti horseback, among the six recognised indigenous breeds of horses or ponies in the country. The horse ride became even more memorable, when I got to cross the Pin river on its back.
Although several trekking parties and local shepherds have traversed through the Pin Parvati Pass, it still remains a remote trek largely due to its rugged and distant terrain. The inner area of Parvati valley has recently been included in GHNP and it adjoins Pin Valley National Park. These protected areas, flanked by Rupi-Bhaba Sanctuary on the east, form one of the richest biodiversity and contiguous conservation areas in Himachal Pradesh. The Pin Parvati Pass is a thrilling challenge for any seasoned trekker. An expedition that provides a gigantic dose of adventure, beauty and a sense of achievement. The exhilaration of traversing a 5219 m high pass is an experience of a lifetime.
Each year, this day, I always look back with nostalgia, and reflect on this once in a life time experience. I once again visualise the physical and psychological challenges encountered during the trek, and the desire which came from within to meet them. During the trek, there was a myriad variety that nature showcased; we walked past beautiful thick forests, sparkling waterfalls, lush green meadows, gushing milky streams and rushing rivulets, vistas of the infinite white capped mountain ranges accompanying all along. My body, mind, and heart have swelled to the brim and these experiences, pictures and impressions will be part of me for the rest of my life……Thank you Dr. Goraya and Dr. Pandey for making it happen!!
Photos by Inder Paul