The call of the Kanamo Peak
The great Himalayas have seen the unending strives against height for long. It entails you with a mysterious quest to go up further and further to higher peaks. This land of snow and cold is inhabited by a people, unarguably one of the most innocent people in the world with telling common traits - deep-set eyes and short upward noses. These Himalayan hamlets preserve an enviable simplicity of life and its cultural traits intact.
The district of Lahaul-Spiti is in the north eastern corner of Himachal Pradesh. It consists of beautiful villages, valleys and mountains ranges. Kasa is almost 200 km away from Manali. I managed to get a seat in a Sumo which started early morning 6 to Kasa. The trip proved to be what I had been expecting in a place locked by mountains. At many areas, roads were just an imagination. The Sumo journey virtually was an off-road through the rugged path with pits and boulders thrown all over.
After Rohtang Pass, the road takes a diversion. If you turn left from there, it will take you to Leh. We turned to the right. On the way, we passed Chandratal Lake behind which is considered to be prettier than moonlight and travelled along the banks of the historically renowned Chenab River. It was almost four when we finally reached Kasa through the rugged mountain road with curves and turns bordered by gorges.
Kasa is on the banks of Spiti River. I hopped on a Bolero to Kibber from there. Kibber is on a clear 14,108 feet above in the mountains. It is one of the highest inhabited villages in the world which can be assessed by vehicles. It is just 19 km from Kasa to Kibber. The road was just hopeless. It was completely dilapidated, quite often all of the passengers had to get down and had to push the Bolero ahead. We were just three kilometres away from Kibber when finally the Bolero refused to move ahead. It was almost dark by that time. Walking was the only way. I walked in the company of the villagers with my shoulder bags and all. The villagers soon deviated from the vehicle route and took some shortcuts and finally, we reached much earlier than I expected. Darkness grew thicker by then. Kibber was impossibly cold. Without much difficulty I found a home stay to spend the night.
The very next morning I had to join my trekking team- we were a group of six, Naresh Gupta and his friends Raghav, Mohan, Gulam, Haseeb and me.
Penglu Lam was our guide, a native of Kasa. He was in his thirties. He talked English, Hindi, and Tamil with an effortless ease. He learned Tamil while he had been working in a factory in Coimbatore. Penglu’s face always wore a ready pleasant smile. His small eyes shrunk further when he smiled. He talked to us about the trekking in a surprisingly low voice.
Trekking at Kanamo peak is not at all easy. The trail is very difficult. Continuous ascent to the peak, with the last four hours of climbing is on a steep incline completely on scree in the biting cold, screeching winds and intermittent rains. The next morning we got to the base camp, and the following two days were for acclimatization. We tried some small trekking trips that time. Those who showed any symptoms of health problems would be spared from the trekking. Penglu also added that the Kanamo peak trekking is one that had the least number of participants compared to other trekking. Anyway, his words gave us a pretty good picture of what was in store for us during the trekking. We planned to start at 7 in the next morning.
The mornings in Kibber are ice cold. The whole of Kibber was under the cover of a thick blanket of snow. Even the sunrays seemed to be affected by the cold and it reluctantly peeped through the thick snow cover. Translating the beauty of Kibber into words is next to impossible. It was so beautiful. All the buildings in the village had the same structure, even the paint on them was of the same colour.
The village exuded an air of faraway bliss as if it was reluctant to wake up from a beautiful dream. Yaks were languidly moving around in the grass. The mountains formed up gradually from the lap of the valleys and grew in heights abruptly spreading its arms around. The square shaped buildings were scattered in the mountain-locked plains. Villagers were squatting on the sides of the road and were leisurely whiling away time. Babies peeped out of baby slings tied around the back of their mothers. Life is leisurely as it could be in these villages.
Evenings in the mountain villages are spectacular. On the advent of the sunset, the firmament would erupt in a riot of colours -- orange, pink, yellow and red in all imaginable shades and hues spread across the sky. A look at the evening skies would instantly put you into a trance. Even the most untrained eyes to the finer aspects of beauty could not remain aloof to its effect.
Kanamo was following me as a dream for the last three years. I had visited Kibber, Chicham, and Hikkim several times, but Kanamo evaded me on all those occasions. I heard a lot about the Kanamo peak then.
People would dare to the area only rarely. July, August, and September are the best months to visit the area. There were no regular trekking programmes to the peak. So I widened my search to find information on trekking options if any. Finally, now that chance came to me. The Kanamo peak towering up to 19,600 feet and I was about to touch my feet on its summit in three days. Unbelievable!
Penglu reached by 6.30 in the morning. He was accompanied by Ravi Chand and Kirmani. Ravi was a native of Kibber, about 25 years old. Kirmani was a very tall 18-years-old with a lean face and pale skin. We started at 7 and had a breakfast on the way -- Chappathi, dal curry, and coffee.
The climb was difficult. Very steep climb, you have to inch your way up through huge boulders with great difficulty. Don’t forget many rocks scattered over there were not just rocks but fossils. Penglu pointed his finger to certain such rocks and said that those were all fossils. I gulped the information with a shock; though it was difficult to decipher clear forms from the fossils. Plants, animals or men like us who had lived here long years ago, eating, breathing and drinking the same way like us are scattered over the area as repositories of fossils of all types. The realization pulsated unceremoniously in my nerves.
Spiti valley down there was spectacular. The ice-capped mountain tips reflected the sun like mirrors. Kibber was seen as a vague picture down in the valley. Kasa was also spotted a little away from Spiti. Spiti River was glowing in the sunlight. We went still higher, now the images of villages down in the valley became less clear.
We continued our walk through the rugged mountain terrain passing small patches of grasslands behind. The sun was beating down mercilessly, never even had a shadow to get relief throughout the way up. The rocks around us multiplied the effect of the very powerful sun by radiating the heat. The can water we brought with us was all gone. The steep climb over scree and boulder moraine slowed our way up. Finally, after five hours we reached the banks of a small lake.
The water was very cold, though it was pretty clean to drink straight. We washed our faces in the water that washed away all the remnants of a tiring, hard trekking instantly. The lake was surrounded by mountains. We rested there for a while and then resumed our journey.
The trail evens out into a level walk for a short while. So before long, we reached base camp. We put our entire luggage down and rested. By the time Penglu and his friends pitched the tents in a jiff and cooked a meal. Soup, dal curry, pickle, and chappathi. The dal curry had a different aroma and taste as it was strewn over with seasoned jeera. Pickle had a mixed taste -- soar, hot, sweet, salty at the same time. We slurped down the very hot soup blowing into it now and then.
We left our luggage in the tent and ventured out. We had to spend the coming two days in the base camp itself. After two days we would start to Kanamo. The place where we had the base camp was very beautiful. It was surrounded by planes with thick grass growth. It was just like a valley formed in between two towering hills. Straight ahead of the tent there was an incline, it was covered by thick grass, and it ended up in a deep gorge. From the gorge very light, sparkling white clouds were being wafted up with the winds to the pristine blue sky.
Among the grass there were some flowering plants, just looked like wildflowers. Penglu said that some flowers among them were Brahmakamalam. I wanted to see some of them but had to be satisfied by buds which were yet to be bloomed.
We started to walk towards a big hill. It was very steep. The base camp itself was 15,700 feet high. Now the change of the climate was perceptible to the senses. With much difficulty, we reached the top of the hill in half an hour.
The sight from there! It couldn’t be expressed in words. The sky had already assumed a reddish colour portending the approach of night. The towering Kanamo Mountain is on one side, the other side is Shila Mountain, an equally mighty one. Kasa village and the golden coloured Spiti River were visible from there. But no sign of Kibber at all. Suddenly the sky had been brightened with umpteen colours; it had its reflection on the mountains and the valleys. Winds screeched through incessantly. The cold became unbearable. We moved back to the base camp, reluctantly though.
By the time we reached the base camp darkness had fallen. Kirmani and Ravi together made a small campfire. They were getting ready to cook night time meal. We moved closer to the campfire. The heat from the fire was very comforting. They prepared chappathi, green peas curry, soup, and salad. Just like the other day the food was very tasty.
Nothing had been planned for the next day. Everybody retreated to their tents. Naresh and Haseeb were with me in my tent. They slept in no time but snored loudly. I couldn’t sleep because of the snoring, and after lying still in the bed for a while I slowly stepped out of the tent.
The moon glistened very brightly. It was the third day after Pournami (the night of full moon). The sky was very clear without even a trace of snow. You can see the extent of grey Himalayan terrain in the clear moonlight. It looked like heaven. I walked a bit and sat there right in front of the deep ravine, from there I watched Kanamo Mountain glistening in the moonlight. The ice-covered part of the mountain was seen in pristine white colour. The rest was in grey and black colour.
Here, breathing had slowed up a bit. I felt my body became light as the moonlight, just as I was also flying like that loosened clouds above the valleys and mountains. That feeling overpowered me to such an extent that I forgot myself, everything else was erased from my mind, all the worries and concerns nothing remained. Suddenly I was filled with happiness; it spread throughout my body like a wave. You could feel it in every nerve of you. All the built up egos crumbled down like an old edifice. How insignificant are we all? Swept away by the current of unending waves of happiness, a new sense of the essence of life was dawned to me- love and peace. Jealousy, hate, anger and all such negative feelings left. I felt innocent like a new born; tears welled up in my eyes and streamed down, but didn’t know why.
All my efforts to stop crying rendered futile. I was not sure how long I stood like that. The dew drops which trickled on my face brought me back to reality. Oh! It started to snow again.
The moonlight was not as bright as earlier, because of the thick clouds. I walked back to the tent and snuggled into my sleeping bag; some 3, 200 km away from my home, above some 16,000 feet the sea level, in the lap of Himavan and soon slithered to a sleep.
By the time I woke up, it was already morning. Naresh and Haseeb were still fast asleep. I went out and walked to the opposite direction of where I went the last night. That side was also bordered by a ravine. Standing there you could watch the sights you had from the top of the hill the other day. Sun started to brighten up all the places. But the sun rays didn’t reach our camping ground till then because of the thick carpet of clouds.
I heard the whistle of Penglu and walked back to the tent. Kirmani had already prepared the breakfast. Chappathi, dal, and salad. While we were having it, Penglu gave us a short description of the two small trekking we had planned for the day. But Naresh and Ghulam who were very tired decided to stay back in the tent.
By ten along with Penglu and four others, I began to walk towards the first trekking route. After a short walk through the planes, we began to walk down. We walked to the narrow strait between two hills. The walk was not at all difficult. The path was filled with short grass. Sometimes the wind brought layers of fog from down the planes. After walking half an hour, we reached at the end of that strait. The sight from there was breath-taking.
We were standing at the beginning of a ravine. Only valleys and mountains were there in the visibility. We didn’t feel the harsh sun because of the thick fog thrown up from the depth of the raven along with the wind only to be swept away by another wind. The sight was unbelievably beautiful. We spent a long time there. All the faces were beaming with happiness while we returned from there.
We walked back to the base camp. After the lunch, all slipped into an afternoon nap. In the evening we went to another hill nearby. After spending a long time enjoying the scenic beauty we came back and had food. Naresh, Ghulam, and Raghav were in a very bad condition, affected by mountain sickness. Tomorrow they had to stay back in the tent itself along with Ravi. Penglu, Kirmani, Mohan and I started off early morning at four. We had shed our entire luggage in the camp. Penglu went in front. Kirmani came from the back. We went ahead in their cautious guidance.
It got increasingly cold and the wind bit. It was like the touch of razor-sharp knives. We soon covered our face with balaclava except for the eyes and moved ahead. The last leg of the climb was very steep. We were not climbing from one rock to another, but inching forward a steep ascent of about 80 degrees on the scree slopes. It is easy to slip down each time you take a step up. Kirmani ran up and set a belay for us. We tightened our grip on the rope and climbed up. Nothing else was visible other than mountains which were towering up. My head spun whenever I looked back. Finally, after a trekking of six hours, we touched the summit of Kanamo peak.
19,600 feet height, Kanamo is the highest summit I conquered in the Himalayas. I walked up myself to the top of 14,000 feet high Chandratal, 16,000 feet Goecha La and 18,000 feet Gurudongmar. But what bliss I experienced at the top of Kanamo was much more than all of them put together. While I touched on the top of the peak, I knelt down and offered my prayers to the almighty God.
From the summit, one gets a 360-degree panoramic view of Ladakh, Spiti, Kullu and Kinnaur peaks! The snow-capped mountains were glowing like diamonds in the clear sun. The clear turquoise sky accentuated the beauty. Loosened clouds were wafting in the air like feathers. The mountain tops covered with snow glistened like molten silver. A cool but comfortable breeze lingered in the air. It was all nothing but peace and happiness.
In the presence of such an immense and unspoilt beauty our minds were also cleansed involuntarily. We felt a sense of calm and peace slowly infiltrating into our hearts also. Everything else rendered unimportant. My heart danced with joy in tune with the cool gentle breeze on the top of the mountains. Again and again, I bowed down before the immense capacity of Mother Nature.
Our plan was to stay there still breathing became difficult. After some time Hazeeb and Mohan climbed down, Penglu also followed them. Kirmani and I stayed there for some time more. Going away from the presence of such a beauty was not easy, my heart insisted on staying there forever. I even wished to be born as a rock shred there. If one can be there forever, even if it is as a rock, then breathing and life are all inconvenient embellishments. The place was so beautiful, so sacred and it cleanses your mind forever. Kanamo conquers you by emanating a sense of uncomplicated peace.
Translated by Madhuvan Geeth
This is the recapitulation of a treak done years ago. An ever reverberating memory is shared here. The trip worth all pains. Try it once, if you have time and readiness. Though the trail is hard, the trek is quite enjoyable. It has all charms and churns you inside out, so that you can see your innerself clearly.
Manali (6700 ft MSL) to Kasa (12500 ft MSL), 200 KM, approximately 200 kilomtere. Shared sumo or bolero is available.
Kasa (12500 ft MSL) to Kibber (14100 ft MSL), 20 KM, approximately one hour drive, Shared bolero or sumo is available.
Kibber to Base Camp (15800 ft MSL), 5 KM, 7 hours trekking
BaseCamp to Kanamo Peak (19600 ft MSL) and back will be covered in about 12 to 14 hours of trekking. This is the toughest part of the trek, which is to be completed up and down on a single stretch. Really tiring. But it is worth all the effort and pains. Believe me, Kanamo is just superb. Sorry for being too detailed and the lengthy narration.