Monday, 30 September 2013

Dibibokri Dreaming - Part 1. Freedom of the Hills.

The ice scraped against the stubble on my chin as I lay horizontal at the edge of the runnel. I could hear the muted roar of the water and the icy blue sides and bottom of the channel glowed dimly in the fast fading light. Clutching a bottle, I reached down with my right hand to scoop up some water. The water level remained tantalisingly close, but not near enough to be of any use. I angled the toes of my boots on the glacier ice and thrust my body forward, hoping that this would give my arms the extra reach.

Unfortunately, the thrust generated by my legs was a little too much and I was plunged unceremoniously into the crevasse! I was brought up short when my shoulders jammed against the sides and I felt ridiculous, dangling with my legs soaked up to the thighs in frigid water and wondering how long before the pressure and friction of my body would melt the ice just a tad for me to slip through and be swept away in the icy torrent, knowing full well that I was unlikely to survive the long, cold and slippery journey to the snout of the glacier.This grim prospect hastened my efforts to extricate myself and a few minutes later I was staggering back to the tent thirty yards away. I handed over the water bottle to Harsha who was crouched over the stove preparing our evening repast. I removed my wet clothes and squeezed the water out before it could freeze to ice, dried my limbs and crawled into the comfort of my sleeping bag. When I recounted my little misadventure, he chuckled and we both had a good laugh: we were in a great mood. Our little expedition had tasted the sweet fruit of success just two days earlier and we were anticipating the prospect of perhaps another little summit.

View of the West Glacier from the slopes of Rubal Kang
We were camped high up (at approximately 17,800 feet) on the West Glacier of the Dibibokri basin, at the foot of Rubal Kang (Tibetan for turtle, as it truly resembles one). Our original objective, Kulu Makalu (also called Lal Kila by some) towered at the head of the glacier, its wedge of rock flattened at the top like a broad chisel. Circumstances had reduced the climbing team of five to just two even before we left Mumbai in August 1991. The plan now was that Harsha and I would potter around the West Glacier of the Dibibokri system of the Kullu Himalaya and look for a modest summit, Franklyn would hold the fort at the foot of the glacier, and Aneeta Wadia would walk with us to the Base Camp as her introductory trek in the Himalaya.

Franklyn and I arrived in Manali with all the gear on 30th August, after an exhausting journey from Mumbai by train and bus. Harsha and Aneeta decided to join us a week later later, flying into Bhuntar airport on a Vayudoot flight.

The next day Franklyn and I decided to hike up to Bhrigu lake. We walked up to the village of Vashisht and continued past the hot springs.We had not reckoned with the nearly eight thousand feet height difference between Manali and the lake and this took its toll on our non-acclimatised bodies and we pitched camp late in the afternoon in mist and rain, with no sight of Bhrigu Lake yet.

Tarachand and his dog lead us to Bhrigu Lake
The next morning we followed shepherd tracks which contoured round the green hillsides, thinking that the fabled lake was just round the next turn, but no, we might as well have been walking round in circles. Just then salvation appeared in the form of Tarachand Thakur, a shepherd whose flock of sheep and goats roamed in the high pastures. He offered to show us the way and in half an hour we were at Bhrigu Lake.

Tarachand poses in front of Bhrigu Lake
I must admit that I was a little less than elated: I had expected to be greeted by a picture postcard rendition of a heavenly tarn; instead, Bhrigu Lake turned out to be a fairly nondescript body of water, the mists lifting off the surface to reveal the hundreds of votive coins that pilgrims had cast into the pond over the years. The tourism brochures touted it as a favourite place of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. As far as we were concerned, the politicians could have it all. We retreated to a little alp where Tarachand had set up shelter in a stone enclosure. He allowed us to pitch our tent a little distance away while he strode off to collect his flock and corral them for the night.

When our stove malfunctioned, we crawled into his shelter to cook our meal on the small fire he had going inside. The mists closed in once again, darkness swarmed over the mountains, the sheep and goats settled down outside. It was a good time to chat, our faces lit up in the best dramatic fashion by the flickering flames, our voices punctuated often by the comforting animal sounds emanating from the mass of four footed creatures surrounding us. Tarachand's lone pony stood sentinel with a little help from his sheep dog.

Tarachand told us his story, in between long puffs from his hookah. His home was in the Kangra hills lower down and he had adult sons minding the crops in the fields that the family owned. He had a wife and grandchildren, but he was also possessed of a restlessness that only the freedom of the hills could assuage. He had spent decades working in a government office in Dehra Dun and the Kafkaesque routine had eroded his soul. When he retired, to the shock of his family, he took up the shepherd's staff again and set off each summer for the lush grazing grounds of the upper Kullu and Lahul valleys. Up here, alone for weeks and months at a time, with his pony and dog and goats and sheep for company, he tasted true freedom. "Azaadi", he used the Urdu word, "that is what I had been missing all those years!"

During the course of the night we heard him go out many times with an old blunderbuss he had proudly showed us in the evening, to deal with any bears that might be preying on his flock.

Thus refreshed in body and soul, Franklyn and I caught the bus to Kullu on 3rd Sept to get our Inner Line Permits, for the Dibibokri basin fell into the restricted zone. Our trip couldn't have been more ill timed: the Himachal State Governor was in town and all the government machinery was fully occupied in various forms of bandobust! Nobody had the time nor the inclination to listen to our pleas. To compensate, we gorged ourselves on mutton chow mein at a small Tibetan dhaba when we returned to Manali at seven in the evening.

An afternoon trip by myself the next day to Kullu was successful in producing the permits. We reckoned that one more hike on 5th Sept with a 6000 feet ascent from the village of Aleo would do wonders for our fitness. I am not too sure about our fitness, but the deluge of rain and wind that hit us high on the slopes certainly worked its wet magic for our descent. We sloshed down muddy trails running with knee deep water and were glad to reach the little tea shop below Aleo. There were many landslides on the road back to Manali and the road itself was awash with water cascading off the sides of the hills.

There was still no sign of Aneeta and Harsha. Instead, we met up with Jayant and Kum Kum Khadalia (with whom I had shared the Panch Chuli adventure three years earlier: ) who were in town with their two year old son Kunal. Seeing him playing around the hotel corridor reminded me of my own 19 month old son whom I had left behind in Mumbai. The Tibetan dhaba came to our rescue again and we added an extra helping of momos to compensate for the delay in setting off for Manikaran and the Parbati valley.

Aneeta (right) and I on Day One of  the approach walk
Finally, on 9th Sept we left Manikaran and set off up the Parbati river, passing through the villages of Raskat, Tahuk, Burshaini and Nakthan to spend the night at Rudra Nag. Our baggage was carried by 7 porters led by Ramlal, all from the village of Raskat. Franklyn and I found the going rather pleasant, our earlier forays above Manali had certainly enhanced our relative fitness. For me personally it was interesting to see the changes along the trail six years after my last walk here ( ). Back then I had turned up the Tos Nala after Burshaini; now we were heading further into the valley of the Parbati river as it carved its way through rocky gorges and steep slopes clothed with evergreens, past the hot springs at Khirganga with its resident baba, up towards the open pastures of Tunda Bhuj and Thakur Kuan.

L to R : Harsha, Franklyn and Aneeta


Aneeta and Harsha opted to stay an extra day at Tunda Bhuj, our next halt, to get over their jet lag - they had flown into Bhuntar from London with just a day halt in Mumbai!. An even more convincing reason might have been the dead sheep we had bought here for Rs.200/- from a shepherd who told us that the poor beast had fallen from a cliff. There is nothing like fresh mutton to supplement the generally vegetarian diet that we were relying on to sustain us in the mountains.

Our camp at the "dwar" (arch / doorway ) formed by rocks at Tunda Bhuj

Franklyn and I were keen to get the expedition established at a suitable Base Camp in the Dibibokri Nala. Ensuring we packed some of the meat, we continued with Ramlal and four of the porters. We crossed over to the true right bank of the Parbati river on a "jhoola" ( a metal basket suspended from cables and operated by pulleys) at Thakur Kuan. Our trail began to hug the cliffs on the north side of the Dibibokri valley. Late in the afternoon we stopped for the night in a stone shelter built by local shepherds. Mutton and rotis for dinner concluded a satisfying day.

One of our porters with his load

The "Jhoola" crossing at Thakur Kuan
This striking peak ( 5810 m  / 19,057 ft on the Survey Of India map) above Thakur Kuan on the left bank of the Parbati would be an excellent technical challenge for the competent climber. This view from just below our Base Camp in the Dibibokri.
More mutton curry accompanied with rice and khichri comprised "breakfast" the next morning: thus fortified, we couldn't possibly go wrong! We crossed a turbulent little nala cascading off the cliffs on our left and were soon at the Base Camp site, just in time to say goodbye to a large party (12 members) from Bengal who were vacating the place. Eight of their members had climbed Rubal Kang, with the help of 5 High Altitude Porters (HAP). Chaman Singh, one of the HAPs, was the brother of Ramlal who was with us. Chaman Singh hailed from the village of Raskat and had shared many mountain adventures with my friend Jayant whom we had met only a couple of days earlier in there was much exchange of news while tea was passed around. Chaman Singh generously offered me his bivouac sack and an extra stove for Base Camp, both of which I accepted gratefully. Then, with a final wave of his hand he went down the valley with his charges. I suggested to Ramlal that he should also go down to Thakur Kuan to help Harsha and Aneeta and the two porters with them when they came up the next day, Friday 13 Sept.

Porters crossing the torrent before arriving at Base Camp
Base Camp in the Dibibokri Nala
Ramlal also helped us over the next couple of days to stock up our Advance Base Camp at the foot of the ice fall leading up to the West Glacier. Harsha, Franklyn and I occupied this camp on 17th Sept after Ramlal and Aneeta began their hike out to Manikaran. Three weeks after arriving in Manali, we were finally poised at 15,000 ft. on the threshold of our little river of ice.

A view up the Ratiruni valley, en route to our Advance Base Camp
Dibibokri Pyramid (6408 m / 21,018 ft) dominates the view up the Main Glacier
Our camp site was perfect: a clear stream flowed nearby, a cave formed under a huge boulder to shelter our kitchen, the toe of the West Glacier was ten minutes away and a grand view of the impressive ramparts of Dibibokri Pyramid completed the picture. As we draped our sleeping bags over the sunlit boulders to air and dry, we revelled in our isolation; as far as we knew, we were the only humans in an area large enough to swallow all of Mumbai. The only link we had to the outside world was a small transistor radio which had to be coaxed to pick out signals from the ether. This was paradise!

The ice fall of the West Glacier at our doorstep

Advance Base Camp


  1. i also want to go in december, how much time for reaching dibibokri?
    Plz. reply me sir/medam. my email address is "".
    and my mobile number is 09429199102. i want to interest to go this type of place.

    1. It would take three days from Burshaini, which is now approachable by vehicle.