“You mean Hampta Pass trek?”
“No. Hamta Circle trek.”
“I have never heard of it. What is it? Ok. Let’s do it. ”
Introducing the Younger Sibling
That was the first time I heard about this lesser known trek near Manali. Often overshadowed by its glamorous elder sister, Hampta Pass Trek, the Hamta Circle (as is often true amongst siblings too) is often confused with the former. Not to compare between siblings but Hamta Circle is probably as beautiful and more untouched compared to Hampta Pass.
This 5-day trek is rated somewhere between easy and moderate. “Easy” if you get good weather and “moderate” if you have to make your way through slush and rain or snow.
To be honest, I did have slight apprehensions about this trek initially. One, I had never heard of it before. Two, no one I knew had been here and researching the internet wasn’t much of a help. Third, we were planning to do this on our own.
The Multi-Talented Ashokji
Since we didn’t know the route, we sought help from our friend-philosopher and guide Ashokji who is actually based out of McLeodganj. Being a Himachali himself, he has travelled across this state extensively and knew this area as well. He was everything we prayed for. A guide, an amazing cook, a storyteller, a philosopher (after a couple of Whiskey pegs down) and to top it off, he makes the most amazing food especially coffee. After he agreed to come to Manali and trek with us again, we spent the next few days planning and preparing for the trek. After chalking out the entire plan with him, we reached Manali and immediately started preparing for the trek.
Apple Orchard and my pet Nemesis- The STAIRS
We started our trek from Jagatsukh village, which is one the other side of Beas river, close to Manali. The trek started easy, with me trying to touch each and every apple as I walked on the trail. I admit, I also ‘stole’ an apple or two may be on the way. I mean it was right there dangling all around me, too tempting and hard to resist if you ask me. This went on until the start of a seemingly never ending line of stairs towards Bhanara village. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but I hate stairs. The weight of my backpack, plus the heat and the steep climb. It was too much. Plus I hadn’t really prepared to for the trek. I was supposed to run thrice a week and all that. But the early morning rhythmic sound of the Bombay monsoon has a very convenient lullaby effect on me. I never woke up early enough to go workout and now I was totally regretting it. First day of all my treks have always been terrible and this one was no different.
We slowly walked past the village, silently awing at the amazing woodwork on the village houses. Once we were out of the village, we reached the Takshak Nag Temple or Bhanara temple where the village deity resides. Built amidst cider trees, it has an air of serenity around it. We took our break here and chitchatted and shared our theplas with a group of villagers who told us more about this Shiv temple which keeps a watch over the temple and wards away evil. From here the trail goes further up into the forest through some lovely solitary path until we reached a small meadow.
A Dog, a Boy and a Tent
After the hustle bustle of Manali, wait, no, not just Manali but life, this was just what I needed. This campsite was simply, Picture Perfect. Green grass, surrounded by soaring trees, mountain views and a crisp chill in the air. After pitching our tent, and setting things for the night, we went about doing our chores. Cleaning, chopping, cooking and scouting the area for potential poop spots. This wasn’t a Sahib Style trek where things would be laid out when you reach the campsite after a long tiring walk. Or food would be laid out for you to just make an effort to eat. In this trek, we all had a part to play. I don’t know but the sense of contribution is something that makes the concept of camping and outdoor life appealing to me. To actually depend on nothing but yourself and your outdoor skills.
And after we were done with all that, we spent our time snuggling with dogs and staring at trees.
It is at times like these that I feel so blessed. Happy with whatever I have and whoever I am. I know things or moments don’t last forever, good or bad but for now, for this moment, this was my almost perfect life.
A Snuggly Dog, a Boy and a Warm Tent. *Sigh*
Buffalo Milk Tea and Kind Gujjars
You know one of things I really love about small group treks/ non- commercial treks is that there are no toilet tents. Yes! Ridiculous it may sound but I cringe at the mere thought of pooping in a place where I can see and smell a pile of human poop (Because many people still don’t know/ care about covering it with dirt after their business. This angry rant for another time.) This was a poop finder’s paradise! Not to deviate from the journey. Ah yes, the day 2 of the trek and we were climbing deeper into the forest.
Through towering pine trees, through giant leaves, through fields of prickles, through patches of scratchy Bitchoo Buti (stinging nettle leave), we walked on. The path was gradual and once we were above the tree line, we could see Manali between the clouds that chose to play hide and seek.
By afternoon we reached a vast meadows with nobody around except one Gujjar hut and their cattle. Also known as the ‘Gypsies of the Himalayas’, they move from one place to another in search of greener pastures for their sheep, goats, cows and buffaloes.
Since not many trekkers come this way, they were intrigued about us and came over to inquire. Before we knew, they invited us to their makeshift hut. A simple hut made with a wooden framework, stone slabs and covered in patches of tarpaulin. The three of them along with the tiny calves, cooked, ate, slept right there while the bigger buffaloes stood guard outside. They belonged to Mandi (en route Manali from Chandigarh) and camp around here in the summer months and head back to their village during the winters when this is covered in snow. In spite of their hard life here, they offered us food and tea and a drag or two of their desi hukka. We politely declined but after insistence agreed on the tea. While the tea brewed, they told us stories of bear sightings and their life back home, life as a nomad.
There was something wrong with my tea. I couldn’t point out what but it felt weird. Tasty but weird. I didn’t want to be rude so I tried to sip the tea. But there was something. At one point I realized I couldn’t hold it any longer and told Ashokji that I was unable to have the tea and I had no idea why and also hoped that they wouldn’t get offended. He knew me and also being a local, he knew why I couldn’t finish my cup of tea. Well, it was made from pure unadulterated Buffalo milk (with probably 50% fat!) which was way heavier than my “city double toned milk”. It was then I realized that my body had adapted to the city taste so much that I couldn’t even ingest something as pure as this!
The Gujjars understood my plight and smiled.
Next morning, I wondered, how my lungs were taking to the pure mountain air. So far, it wasn’t rejecting it!
Chilling Nallah Crossing and Pooping Buffaloes
Today was a L O N G walk. Though it was intense and demanding, it did come with some really fabulous views. The trail we followed had a typical view you would expect in Manali. Green mountains, soft clouds, waterfalls and streams. If you are lucky with the cloud, this is the section where you can get a fabulous view of the Bara Banghal range.
As we moved on, the vegetation just got thicker especially while climbing towards the Phahi Nullah. I think at some points we felt lost. It was Day 3 and apart from the shepherd, we hadn’t seen anyone else on this route. As we neared the nullah, I could hear the sound of water. Being the monsoon season, the nullah was in full power.
The ferocious sound of it and the power it proudly displayed made me nervous. We sat there as Ashokji assessed the depth. He said it was freezing cold but doable.
Precariously we crossed one by one. It was cold and it was over fast. Just as I sighed with relief, came to view the actual hard part. Climbing along the nullah and through the super steep, super dense and super slippery forest.
After what seemed like eternity we reached our campsite, which I can say with absolute certainty was a terrible one. It was a small grass clearing surrounded by big bushes and oak trees. That wasn’t the terrible part. The campsite was filled with big blobs of buffalo poop. I think it was the place they had marked as poop zone! Generally I love animals and I don’t mind buffaloes but the ones here seemed pissed about us being around. I could see them behind the big bush and giving us the dead stare as we pitched the tent, as we cooked, as we did everything. It looked like they were silently waiting for nightfall to come and eliminate us. Once the darkness enveloped the campsite, we could see their eyes shine in the darkness and once in a while they bellowed loud enough for us to lose sleep but the day had left us so tired, we didn’t have the energy to think or do anything.
Next morning the dead stare continued, especially when we used their poop zone for our purpose! Ha.
Abode of the Clouds
We climbed through the forest until we reached the green meadows. It was a walk that dreams are made of; green rolling meadows, specks of flowers, carelessly floating clouds and the sound of the trickling stream.
Since we had stretched ourselves yesterday, we didn’t have much to cover and we stopped at every place that caught our fancy.
At one point we decided we did not even want to go ahead. The spot was so beautiful and had fresh water nearby, so we decided to call it a day and set shop right there. That is another beauty of independent trekking. You are flexible and don’t need to be ushered into doing anything, or keeping up with people, or being herded around. You can actually enjoy the sound of the elements around.
This campsite was engulfed in clouds most of the time and was the perfect example of a trek in the monsoons. Monsoon tends to bring out the best of nature’s beauty. A time when it unleashes all its colour. Dramatic and Fresh.
For me, it was my place. The rain kept me in my sleeping bag, inside my tent with my chocolates and a book. Ashokji also made me some amazing coffee. Life was peaceful for one more night.
This was our last campsite and we stared at nature till the scary buffaloes went back home and the last light faded away.
Hamta Circle Trek- The Conclusion
From here it was back home. We trekked down till Hamta village where we joined the road head back to Manali.
In conclusion, if you are in Manali especially during the monsoons, this trek is definitely a good option. It isn’t as glamourous as the Hamta pass trek or as difficult, but it is probably as beautiful. Also, if you don’t like places filled with tourist-trekkers, especially the loud ones, this trek should be on your list!
You might be wondering why I haven’t shared the names of the campsites, well that is because we more or less camped out wherever we wanted to. So I have no definite names but I have a general path and names of the villages we crossed. This might help you plan your trek.
Day 1- Jagatsukh village to Tilgan meadows via Bhanara village
Day 2- Tilgan meadows to Sarotu
Day 3- Sarotu to Jogi Dug
Day 4- Jogi Dug to Chikka
Day 5- Chikka to Hamta village (drive back to Manali)
In fact, I say go explore on your own. Find your own campsites, places you connect to. Be an adventurer.
Ok then. Goodnight.