A Tyrst with Dhauladhars – The White Mountains

My fondness for the Himalayas started in 2016 when I was at Bir Billing. It is a paragliding destination in the heart of the Himalayas near Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. Witnessing the mighty Dhauladhars and the Kangra valley I felt somewhat connected to the mountains. Maybe it was their tall and grandiose appearance that led me to climb them. But I found it was the sense of accomplishment that I got after climbing one. The views of the stalwarts of the Himalayas basking in the morning’s glory of the sun was truly unparallel. 

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You may be wondering why I am mentioning my first experience with the mountains here. Well, It was this place where it all began, Triund. Yes, a quite familiar name with every trekker nowadays as it is easily accessible. This travelogue is not only about Triund but also what lies beyond it. They say ‘mountains call you back’, and I think that is why I was here in summer of 2019.

I was planning to my next trek and a lot of options came into my mind such as Great Himalayan National Park, Hampta Pass, Chitkul etc but I narrowed down to visiting Dhauladhars and see what lies beyond.

So what lies beyond Triund?

As you start from Gallu Devi, a place about 2 km from Dharamkot in Mcleodganj you have to trek 6 km to reach  Triund hill. The trek passes through the Alpine meadows, verdant forests and trail of Glaciers. Triund is located on the ridge below the Dhauladhar range, which offers you the picturesque view of the Dhauladhar range. From Triund towards the forest rest house side, you have to trek about 6 km and you will reach snowline and finally Laka glacier. The trek from Triund to Laka Glacier is of a moderate level. From Laka Glacier, one can go to Indrahar pass, a strenuous trek, which include a steep ascent on the glacier and a breathlessness climb over the Dhauladhars. Lahesh caves on the way can act as a halt.

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Triund Hill

Indrahar Pass

Indrahar Pass is a part of the ancient route connecting the Kangra Valley to the Chamba Valley. It is often referred to as a tributary of the ancient Silk Route extending from China to Europe. This ancient route starts from Mcleodganj itself. The native tribe of this area the Gaddi Rajputs carry their goods and sheep from Kangra to Chamba via this ancient route from past thousand years. This glorious history of this ancient route and the picturesque Dhauladhar mountains have made this trek very tempting and exciting.

The trek

Paras & Navrit my colleagues at office were quite fascinated to about my travels and wanted to experience the cold vibes of the Himalayas. So I told them that I am planning to go to Mcleodganj and you can come along. Three of us embarked our journey from Chandigarh on 4th June night and reached Dharamshala early morning by 7:00 AM. We rented a cab to reach Mcleodganj. On arriving Mcleodganj we found that all the hotels were mostly pre-booked as it was a peak season. On searching here and there we finally found a hotel to rest for a while an freshen up. We then embarked our journey to Dhauladhars.

Day 1: Triund: 05.06.2019

After having a sumptuous breakfast at the famous Mcleoadganj chowk we left for Triund. We hired a cab till Gallu Devi temple as there is metalled route available till Galludevi temple. One can start the trek from the Mcleodganj via Dharamkot also. The cab costs Rs. 400. The trek from Gallu Devi involves walk over steep curves and moderate trails. The trail is mostly is rocky thus shoes with good traction capacity will be of great help.  Earlier when I came here in 2016 the place was very much less crowded. Organisations such as waste warriors as well as forest department, Himachal have come up to sensitize the trekkers to take care of the place and avoid littering. You have to register yourself and show them te pre-book camp receipt well before you start your trek otherwise they don’t allow you to go. We booked a tent for three of us for Rs. 1500. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to reach Triund Hill depending on your stamina. On our way to Triund, we came across many refreshment shops, but the oldest one among them is Magic View Cafe, the oldest Chai Shop. We relaxed there a bit and hydrated ourselves.

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View from Magic view cafe

The weather was quite sunny and you feel thirsty many times during the trek. The trail is well marked and beyond the woods lies the rockscape in the entire route. Finally, we reached the Triund top. The grassy meadows of Triund and the Glistening snow-capped Dhauladhars takes your breath away. The view was truly unparallel. I removed and kept aside my backpack and shoes, and laid there on the green grass beholding the beauty in my eyes and hoped this moment never ends and the time stops moving.

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Dhauladhars – The Granite Wall
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My favourite spot at Triund

There is a small forest rest house at Triund located on a big and green subsidiary ridge of the Dhauladhar range. The forest rest house was built some years ago. Originally, the rest house has two cosy suites and a lobby. Adjacent to the rest house is a guardhouse with two small rooms which can be used as an emergency shelter. Bookings for the rest house are made by the forest department at Dharamshala This beautiful camping place has wide alpine meadows and a pasture ground of Gaddis, strewn with stone huts.

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View from Triund

Triund is one of the largest meadows of Dhauladhars. Triund offers a most spectacular and panoramic view of the Shivaliks and the plains of Punjab. You get to witness the mighty Dhauladhars one side and the entire Dharamshala city on another side.  The picturesque cricket stadium is also visible from the triund hill itself.

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Dharamshala stadium, Photographed from Triund

The view of the majestic snow-capped peaks is just jaw-dropping. Dhauladhar or earlier known as Dhaoli Dhar range is a granite wall of mountains rising abruptly from the Kangra plains to an average height of some 14000 ft. The highest peak The Dhauladhar Matterhorn extends approximately from Dalhousie in the North West to Palampur in South East and is some 50 odd miles in length. The range divides Chamba in the North East from Punjab on this side, and at its South-Eastern extremity joins the Bara Bhangal ranges where the Thamser Pass leads over from Baijnath into Bara Banghal.

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Dhauladhar Matterhorn – 4946 m

Peaks & passes visible from Triund, Laka Glacier are Indrahar Pass – 4342 m , Mon Peak – 4610 m named after General Money of the erstwhile Ist Gurkhas, Gauri Junda (Dhauladhar Matterhorn) as “Monarch of the Glen”  – 4946 m, Talang Jot – 4647 m,  Christmas – 4581 m, Kundali Pass – 4550 m,  Toral Peak – 4686 m, Cairn Peak – 4450m, Camel Peak – 4520 m with its distinct hump , Slab Peak – 4570 m, Dromedary Peak – 4553 m, Riflehorn Peak – 4400 m, Lantern Peak -5100 m, Gaj Pass – 4109 m, Karan Khal – 4159 m, Two-Gun peak – 4469 m are twins with domes.

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To the extreme left is Gajj Pass – 4109 m
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Camel Peak -4520 m

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Indrahar Pass – 4342 m

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Mon Peak – 4610 m
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Gurla Dhar Peak – 3204 metres (Bottom Right)

After getting some beautiful pictures of Dhauladhars we camped for the night under stars. The guy from whom we rented the tents had installed it on sloping ground. We faced great difficulty in the sleeping whole night as our sleeping bags kept on skidding over the mattress. After having our dinner dal & rice we rested under the stars. I was very excited about the next day. 

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Sleeping under stars

Day 2: Illaqa Got: 06.06.2019

The next day was an important one as I had never ventured out beyond Triund. We started at around 10:00 AM for snow line & Illaqa Ghot. Illaqa Got (3350 m) is below Indrahar Pass. Snowline from Triund is around 2 hrs of the trek and here the trail is not that easy as it was up till Triund. The trail is marked with red arrows on the rocks and boulders on the way.  The route marred with boulders was making our trek somewhat treacherous and intimidating at times.

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Towards Snowline

Since a lot of people were going towards snowline we didn’t feel the requirement of a guide. After trekking for around 1.5 hours we reached snowline. A huge rock stood as an indication of the same. From snowline, Laka glacier is clearly visible and we thought of staying near Illaqa rather than snowline as it was quite crowded and we would have to trek an extra mile in the morning for the Laka glacier. So we ended up staying near Illaqa at Himalayan Quest camp. It took us around 20 to 25 minutes to reach this place.

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We got a tent for three of us and thought of going towards the Glacier as we had the daylight with us. We trekked further towards the Glacier and reached Illaqa Ghot. There are two temporary shops near the glacier. We thought to ourselves that we could have stayed here as it was very close to the Glacier and we were planning to go to the Indrahar Pass the very next day. We reached there at around 1:45 PM. We met some guys around here from Delhi and Madhya Pradesh who were also keen to trek Indrahar Pass. But on seeing the snow and the steep inclined, Yes it is extremely steep. One has to cover around 3 km to reach Indrahar Pass but the altitude gain is of around 3500 feet !!! Laka Glacier is at around 11000 feet while Indrahar Pass is at around to 14500 feet.

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Paras agreed to trek the Indrahar Pass while I choose not to because there was no equipment such as crampon, Gaiters etc and moreover I forgot my Jacket. Navrit was not sure whether he would go or not as he had a sprain in his leg. So after having some maggie and stuff, we trekked back to our camp. We were feeling so tired that the moment we reached our campsite we dropped dead on the mattresses kept outside in the sun. We then had some tea and moved into our tent. The tent wise quite big as compared to the one at triund as well laid on a flat platform. The tent owner provided us with sleeping bags which could resist minus degree temperatures at a cost less than what we paid at triund. I would really suggest you not to stay at triund and trek towards snowline or Illaqa and stay there. 

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On the left of the snout of a glacier, about 1.5 km from Illaqa Got towards Indrahar Pass, is the Lahesh Cave at 3500 m, a natural rock shelter which can house seven to eight persons in an emergency. This camping place makes the next days climb to the Indrahar pass very easy after an early start. Beginners should follow the stages to get themselves properly acclimatized to the thin air of high altitude. The terrain is mostly rugged and dry with temperatures touching zero at night. Proper equipment is, therefore, an absolute must for trekking groups.

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Raven at Illaqa

While we were resting a group of about 10-15 people came with equipment, tents, cameras and whatnot.  On asking we found out that they were here to shoot a movie !!! Yes, you heard me right !!! We talked to them about their movie. The name was so funny we could hardly control our laugh. “Googly Gum Hai” is the name of the movie, Lokesh the theatre artist in the group told me. Later on, these guys took their stuff and moved towards Laka glacier as these guys had planned to there only. Apart from them, there were two foreigners one lady from Israel and a guy from Netherland who were staying in the second tent pitched next to ours. We had a little conversation with them and their guide and learnt that the guy had come here to celebrate his graduation. These guys along with their guide started collecting woods for the bonfire in the evening. Seeing them Paras also insisted that we should also collect some wood for a bonfire in the evening. So I and Paras started looking here and there to get some firewood and luckily we got an old broken wooden log. We collected some small wood pieces and lighted up the bonfire in the dusk as the weather seemed to be changing. However, the foreigners thought not to set up the bonfire and wait for the evening.

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Beautiful sunset

Just as we thought around 6:00 PM the weather changed to rainy. The wind started gushing like anything. The lightning along with rain started immediately. All their preparation for the bonfire went into the doldrums. They were looking at us and were feeling somewhat jealous. Soon the rain turned deluge and we feared that our tent would be blown away. But thank God rain subsided in time giving a sigh of relief. We then had our dinner and started making plans for the next day. Paras insisted to go to Indrahar Pass, Navrit had developed a sprain in his leg and I was reluctant to go due to safety reasons and time and again I insisted Paras not to venture out in such conditions.  I said no to Paras. Paras was very adamant to go to Indrahar Pass. Navrit was not sure whether he would go or not as for the Pass as one has to leave early in the morning at around 5:00 AM. It is very difficult to walk on the snow after the sun comes up. Finally, we rested for the day in our camp.

Day 3: Laka Glacier: 07.06.2019

Paras had left the camp early in the morning as he had to trek Indrahar Pass while we stayed there had some shots of the morning sunrise. After having our breakfast Navrit and I decided to go to Lahesh caves. So we embarked our journey to Lahesh caves. We reached the Laka Glacier by before 11:00 AM. One cannot go till Lahesh caves on your own but beyond that, you would definitely need a guide and ice axe as you can’t walk on snow without making space beforehand to keep your foot. Those who want to visit the Triund Hill or go beyond it till Laka glacier: don’t hire a guide. The hike to the Triund hill is an easy to moderate hike and you can make it to the top in one day. Plan your visit, book the forest rest house, or stay in the tents at the top, you certainly do not need those guides.

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Navrit & I at Laka Glacier

We went without a guide and the moment we crossed the boulders and grassy land and kept our foot on snow we slipped. The snow had become hard and extremely slippery that we could barely walk a step. Even my Quechua Foreclaz 100 shoes which have good traction slipped like anything. So we decided not to take any risk and head back to Mcleodganj same day.

I would like to quote some excerpt from the post of Vamini Sethi who returned back from her Mount Everest Expedition. She was just short of 548 m to conquer Mount Everest and had to return back due to bad weather.

Everest – Beyond The Glory

At the baggage check at Kathmandu airport, the security personnel looked at my t-shirt that read Scale Your Summit – Everest. He asked me in Hindi – Upar pahunche (did you reach the top)?

With disappointment on my face, I said our team was unlucky and had to turn back from the last camp at 8300 meters due to bad weather. He heard me and showed me a paper that had two names – Kaplana Das and one more. He asked me if I knew them. I read the paper and nodded my head and said that I knew of them. Both of them had passed away on Everest this year. The security personnel said their bodies are going back with you in your aircraft. And they summited. You are lucky to be going home on foot. I looked up, smiled through my own pain, said nothing and proceeded to the next counter.

The words of the security personnel echoed in my ears through the rest of my journey.

“Sometimes you have to step back to move forward” and “We should only risk as much as we can afford to lose”

I think I took the right decision and with those thoughts in my mind, I retreated and started our descent towards Mcleodganj. We started at around 12:10 PM and reached Mcleodganj by 5:15 PM. The total descent was around 15 km and was quite tiring. After reaching Gallu Devi we took a cab to Mcleodganj. However, due to the huge influx of tourists, the Mcleodganj was choked. We luckily got a hotel just before Mcleodganj main chowk. We refreshed ourselves got went to celebrate what we had achieved. We had told the camp guys to intimate Paras that we are waiting for him at the hotel however to ur surprise Paras left for Chandigarh next day alone as he thought we had abandoned him. We were very worried about his safety and at times we thought we took a wrong decision in coming back, and we would have waited for him at the glacier itself. We then received a call from him that he has left for Chandigarh. I asked about his safety. Thank God he was hale and hearty. I also asked him whether he was able to conquer the Pass or not. He told us yes he did !!! We were really happy about his achievement and congratulated him. We then left for Chandigarh as we already had explored the markets of Mcleodganj.

The next day Paras told me about his expedition. It took him nearly 13 hours to conquer Indrahar Pass and return back. He reached Himalayan quest camp at 6:00 AM and stayed there. Paras along with six other guys attempted the summit supported by two guides but only two could conquer it and five returned back. He told me that at least 5 times it came to his mind to step down as it was so risky and steep and at times he thought he might not return back. Anyways he was hale and hearty and accomplished what he desired for. Cheers to him for such a great accomplishment.  He had that courage and zeal which was the only requisite to conquer the 14500 ft mountain.

Indrahar Pass – The Journey and beyond

The trek to the Indrahar Pass starts early with the day. Paras started from Himalayan quest cafe early as the group was scheduled to leave for the trek at 6:00 AM. The Golden orb of the sun rising above the horizon greeting the dhauladhars set the mood upbeat for the day. Paras reached the Laka Glacier in 25 minutes as the terrain was already known from the previous day’s venture. A lean breakfast and two bottles of water for the climb were all he gathered from the last cafe. He started with another guy a little early as rest of the group was still getting ready. Time is the key to walk on the snow. If you start too early you get very hard snow which is difficult to break even with an ice axe and is slippery and hurting on slightest fall and if you start too late the will become too soft that on the last leg that it can barely support you. As they were early starters they had to wait for the group and guides as they had already reached the actual start point where you cannot venture any further without walking over ice through a path made with an ice axe. The guide told them the basic rules on how to use toes while climbing up and heels while coming down.

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The first few footsteps on the ice took all the fear of ascent away as they all thought it was quite easy to walk any distance over ice. Then came the land of big boulders, wading through them after resting for short intervals the group reached Lahesh Caves. Things seem to be fine till here unless one looks towards the pass right up at a neck-breaking angle. Once you leave this point, the mountain starts to dominate you. A 40-60 feet deep rift in the Laka glacier on one side and spine chilling waterfall on other clearly warn that the terrain ahead is not going to be humane. The journey continued over big boulders for a while after which the riskier snow walking became inevitable. Walking over the glacier at a slope more than 55 degrees on foot sized crevices was the real test of nerves. Just one wrong step and you enjoy a thousand metre of a free slide to the heavens. Two members of the group slipped in one of such crossings but were luckily saved. However, the morale of the group went down and at that point, 6 members decided to quit. Paras and one another guy decided to continue the journey. Guide also appreciated the decision of the ones who quit as the path ahead was far more challenging than what it was up to here. Guide gave them two chapatis, pickle and biscuits to replenish much-needed energy lost. Every metre you tread becomes more and more difficult than the previous. Snow crossing which is even 100 metres wide seems to be so long that it seems you have been walking over them for hours. Each step is a thin line between life and death. At this point, Paras felt that he has taken too much risk. Anyways the journey continued with glorious views of Mon Peak on the right and of the frightening glacial slide a bit more right. They sat on nearby boulders to catch a breath after reaching about 4100 metre which was the last GPS point he could mark on the map as his phone battery had exhausted.

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View from Indrahar Pass, Extreme right is Manimahesh Kailash – 5653 m

At such a height they experienced a strange phenomenon a cloud getting formed from frosty air rising along the slope and gathering at a point and starts moving. it eventually approached towards them and at a point, they were within a cloud. Though it seems fascinating but was actually frightening as the visibility dropped to zero. A strange fear gripped him but the encouraging loud slogan of “Indru Naath ki Jai” weeded out the ill thoughts. Guide told him to stay calm and stay positive. The final ascent was technically challenging with slopes on the positive side of 70 degrees, it was the real test of abdomen muscles too. Fear in those final moments has blurred out most of the memories of final ascent which took about 2 hours from 4100 metres to 4316 metres. Then finally came the moment. The moment that had its own energy no matter how tired they were they had conquered THE INDRAHAR PASS. Every moment they suffered for this very moment was worth it. The bliss is not in the views it’s not in the height it’s just your presence at the place which has its own strange charm. They thanked God for the safe ascent and prayed for a safe descent. This pass provides a very scenic view of both the Kangra and Ravi valleys and offers a distant view of the Middle and Greater Himalayas. The other side of the pass remains snow-covered till the middle of July. The trek heads down and reach a place known as Chhata Parao, which has a natural cave shelter and an improvised hut for a night halt. The mountain ridges are free of snow during July, August and September and October when they transfer into pastures for the Gaddis who stay there with their sheep and goats till the end of October. The area has a variety of alpine flowers and herbal plants. 

123 They were barely a few minutes on the top of that the guide started asking what would be their choice for the descent. A mega slide down the glacier or the rocky way. The slide looked simpler but was way riskier thanks to the sharp rocks underneath and on the other hand, the rocky descent looked tiring but safe. Already frightened enough, Paras chose rocks and the other guy chose to slide down. The Guide went with him and told Paras to stay along and keep an eye on them. The vastness of the mountain again started shrouding his will. Soon the guide and the slide guy were out of sight owing to the speed. Paras had to manoeuvre the ice crossings all alone now and that too when all the water was finished. Paras ate snow once or twice to stay hydrated but all this was turning out to be an ordeal. Few hundred metres down the top the urge of water started becoming irresistible. In order to reach the glacial waterfall which he saw near Lahesh Caves, he decided to take shortcuts as visible from uphill. It is strongly advised not to go for shortcuts in such situations as you can hit a dead-end at any moment and multiple ice crossings compound the risk. He too realised his mistakes as he had lost a lot of time and energy hitting dead ends in the form of sharp falls which cannot be predicted from the top. Dragging himself in extreme thirst just to the point of losing all hopes he reached near the waterfall but didn’t have enough stamina to fetch water. Two passer-byes who were staying at Lahesh Caves for the night and were just venturing out for water proved to be the Messiah. He drank the chilled glacial water to his fill and again started with the descent as he had a major worry of getting stranded for the night if he waited too long. Suddenly at this moment, he spotted a guy with a bright orange t-shirt sitting across the rock. Voila!! It was the guy sliding with the guide waiting for him. Paras than too decided to complete the rest of the journey the same way. Within a few minutes, they all reached the cafe enjoying free slides over the glacier. What a sigh of relief it was, he sat on the grassy patch looking at the Indrahar pass and thanking the mountain for keeping him alive and relishing his achievement. He screamed out the name of both of us but no response… He thought that we might have returned to Himalayan Quest cafe contrary to the plans of spending the night at the glacier. After 15 minutes of rest, he started onward journey waiting for a tent to sleep in but to his surprise, we had left for McLeodganj. Left with no juices in body, Paras decided to stay at the Himalayan Quest cafe. The owner was too generous to him that night and provided him with a light meal with fermented goat curd which cured acidity conditions he developed due to long fasting. He spent the night in three warm blankets in a cosy blissful hut, just all what he needed after enduring a great climb.

Peaks visible from Indrahar Pass are Manimahesh Kailash 5653 m, Arthur’s Seat (4525 m),  Bara Bhangal – 5,002m in Kangra connecting Kangra, Kullu with Chamba, Lahaul region and several other named and unnamed peaks and other Dhauladhar ranges.

Summarizing the journey, the trekking trail to Indrahar pass starts from Galu Devi temple above Dharamkot village near Dharamsala and passes through the camping ground of Triund, Ilaqua/Laka Got, Laka Glacier and Lahesh Caves.

The trek starts from McLeod Ganj and continues as follows:

  1. McLeod Ganj main market (1750m) to Galu Devi temple at Upper Dharamkot (2100m) | 2 km | 1-2 hour walk or a 45-minute cab ride.
  2. Galu Devi temple (2100m) to Triund (2825m) | 2-3.5 hrs walk (mix of easy and uphill).
  3. Triund (2825m) to Snowline Cafe | 1-2 hour uphill walk.
  4. Snowline Cafe to Ilaqua Got (grazing grounds) | 1-hour easy walk (mostly flat/downhill).
  5. Illaqa to Laka Glacier & Lahesh cave (3300 m) 2-3 hours.
  6. Lahesh Cave to Indrahar Pass (4342m) | 6 hours of a steep climb. 

This trip taught me some lessons which I would like to share:

  1. Take only the risk you can afford, you have a family to look after. Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.
  2. Don’t be stubborn that you have come so far and you have to conquer the mountain.
  3. The art of mountaineering is knowing when to go, when to stay and when to retreat not just blinding take decisions as others are going.  Your body, your mental ability, your stamina is very different from the other person.
  4. Always listen to your group, the time spent with your friends and the journey are the memories that you will take back.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sounds like a great area. When we were in McLeod Ganj it poured every day so we didn’t even get to Triund. About what you learned, I’ll add one, as we do a lot of mountaineering. Communication with your partners is very important. Communicate about the conditions, the route, how your body feels etc. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hiking Singh says:

      Thanks !! Indeed communication is very much important. Some times just in the haste of getting to the top we let our body face the things which it hadn’t been too. One must share everything with the group so as to trek safely.

      Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    Amazing …. 👍👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

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