Pangi – notes from a hidden hinterland

Pangi valley, Himachal Pradesh

…When it rains, it pours…

Raindrops keep falling on my head

…Rain on your parade…

Why does it always rain on me

There we were, all primed up for Panpatia Col in the third week of September, supposedly having given the monsoons a wide berth… but then came a spell of rain that battered most of the country let alone the mountains, yet another one of those ‘unheard of’ phenomena added to the fast growing annals of climate change and the Anthropocene… for the most part, one remains firmly within a pall of an aloofness, but before you know it, things start to get personal…

So the day we were to drive to Joshimath was spent frantically trying to conjure up a plan B… the whole of Uttarakhand was a no go with rains forecast everywhere… same with Himachal… but we decided to place our bets on the latter and head out towards Lahaul expecting a relatively drier clime… sourced a few numbers of trek guides with most not reachable and the ones we were able to get through to quite reluctant to go… desperate, we headed with a plan to plan as we went along…

Continuous rains for two days in Delhi is a rare phenomenon these days, but that was what we got as we hit the highway the next morning, rain accompanying us throughout the day in varying levels of intensity, like a lost singers that suddenly rediscover their vocal range… driving with no breaks save for nature’s calls and refuelling, we managed to reach Keylong at 8 pm, 14 hours after we started… the skies showed some promising blue signs the next morning… we’d thought of trying to crossover from Miyar to Pangi but could find no one to arrange porters… so we decided to head to Killar and then roam around in Pangi valley… a far cry from the boundless ice fields we’d been dreaming of, but we were beggars here, not choosers…

After Udaipur we got a first taste of the fabled roads leading to Pangi that I’d been hearing about for the past 4-5 years… accessible from Lahaul through Udaipur, from Chamba via Sach Pass or from Kishtwar, we chose the first, and the ‘easiest’ route… 80 kilometers, 4 hours… never have I driven for so long solely in the first two gears of a car… the road was broken, not really dangerous in the sense that the narrow bits were liberally interspersed with places to pass and overtake, but these weren’t the roads for a sedan, and a sedan was what we had… ‘twas a choppy ride to say the least… bumper bashing water crossings, loads of oohs and aahs… I snuck a glance or two at the angry Chenab once in a while just to break the monotony of looking at potholes, the river as eager to get out of this narrow gorge as us it seemed…

We reached Killar an enlightened lot, the taste of the road lingering in the bones for a long time. Patching up with a guide, we made plans to head out to Sural Bhatori the next morning… but then it rained, and rained the whole day… we waited for the 12 pm bus, then the 5 pm bus, but it wouldn’t stop raining… both water and rocks… the road to the village now blocked by a rockslide… it’d been a week like that, where it just wouldn’t go your way no matter how hard you pushed… so we let it be, and lay our hopes on the 7 am bus the next morning…

There was a 7 am bus, but still no road for it to ply on… exasperated, we took a shared taxi till the point where the road was blocked, and it wasn’t too far away… after trying to move some rocks in a skit of futile bravado, a motley group of a dozen comprising villagers from Sural Bhatori, who’d come to visit a lama in Killar the previous day (as had our guide), an elderly French couple and us walked on, crossing the village of Dharwas before finding an unloaded construction truck heading our way… another bumpy ride, this one more painful on the arms as they hung on to the vehicle, which was engrossed in a fierce argument with its carriageway…

But then we finally reached Sural at nine thirty on a crisp, sunny morning, after three days of a rather hectic and at times directionless meander… ‘Bhatori’ is suffixed to name of villages in this valley which have the Buddhist settlements, located a little bit higher than their Hindu or tribal counterparts… Sural, Hudan, Chask are the villages with their ‘Bhatoris’… these areas have huge swathes of bhojpatra (Himalayan birch) forests that are strictly guarded by the local communities, and add dollops of colour and contrast to the valley…

Biru had a nice little campsite of about a dozen odd tents with comfortable mattresses and quilts. After breakfast, we hung around in the sunshine, I chased some bumblebees and butterflies. We’d reached around 3,500 meters in altitude, so it made sense to acclimatize in the village for a day. After lunch, we headed out to do some local sightseeing, namely the village monastery and a waterfall… no one was quite willing to take up any crossover into Miyar valley, so we set our sights (quite literally, since you could see it from anywhere in the village) on Tingloti pass, which connected Sural and Hudan valleys…

In the evening we had the famous roasted (red-skinned) potatoes of the region, full of taste of the fertile grounds they emanated from, followed by some mutton and the local hooch, which was surprisingly ubiquitous, and quite smooth for something brewed domestically, tasting and feeling like an aperitif… one felt quite guilty of living in luxury while the original plan was to revel in the annals of misery… but tomorrow would bring some of that hopefully…

We started leisurely around 9:30 am the next morning… if starting early, one can easily cross over and reach Hudan Bhatori in a day, but we had time to kill and could afford to take it slow… crossing the river after a couple of kilometers, we reached a shepherd camp (which they interestingly call a got like in Uttarakhand), and started climbing through the birch forests from here… a nice gentle trail offering views of the Shiv Shankar (Sersank) peak, a 6,000-er with liberal spreads of snow…

Climbing for about 3.5-4 hours, we decided to camp next to a stream beyond which getting water might’ve been an issue… it was an early camp at 2 pm, just above the treeline and overlooking Sural Bhatori… one of the porters’ year and a half old bitch had excitedly followed us till the shepherd camp after which he’d sent her back, but she appeared again near the camp and no one had the heart to send it back then… Taishu she was called… levelling the ground for tents took some doing but all was managed within 3 pm, including a lunch of… potatoes…

This wasn’t the outdoors to be precise, ‘twas probably just… out and about… it started drizzling at three thirty, just for a while but concentrated on our own makeshift patch, the outer dregs of a snow dance atop the pass maybe, for Sural down below was enjoying some nice sunshine… but then it stopped and we spent the next few hours watching the sunlight get all aerobic with colours till dusk settled in…

Another crisp morning, and we packed up and left around eight thirty… briskly walking up ahead while the others followed, I looked down and chewed upon a bit of the grass, and the fact that the #GenNext of porters is firmly upon us, the ones still fleet footed while fixated upon the mobile instead of the trail, the ones fully cognizant of ‘content’… from vines to reels… ‘forwards’ or backwards?… all in all, it’s just how we evolve… enough people have seen enough change that seems enough yet is never enough…

The snow, then, got interesting… soft and slippery… mischievous on a steep slope… took about a good three and a half hours to break the trail to the top… a few slips here and there, but none with a sense of foreboding that sometimes comes before a bad fall… the clouds were starting to build up on top of the pass as they quintessentially would around noon… but we were all about cussing the snow as we reached the top…

Only to realize that we would be cussing it even more for a couple of hours down towards Hudan Bhatori… this side of the pass is supposed to a decently well marked trail with monies being (maybe judiciously, maybe not) spent towards the endeavour… we unfortunately had to deal with the whole canvas derived of any structure… and well-endowed with snow… the kind sans any traction… where every second step is just a calculated guess… and the only goal is to get the ankle through unscathed, period… all of us managed it pretty well though, and in time… about three thirty saw us on the cairns signalling the end of the snowline… and ‘twas a gentle stroll downhill to the meadows above Hudan Bhatori, where we rested for a couple of hours and feasted on rice and roasted chicken before trudging down to the village… only spoiler being the dog chasing all the pikas way, so the best one could get was a habitat shot… and then the canine disappeared from our lives for the rest of the trip… just like that… the owner quite chilled about it, knowing it would come back, but even if she doesn’t it wouldn’t really bother him…

Hudan Bhatori, as we’d been forewarned, wasn’t as picturesque as Sural… Biru had us stay at his brother-in-law’s house and we had a warm and cosy room, butter tea, chicken and hooch… and unintelligible yet comprehensible family banter to observe… another bout of guilt… not enough suffering for a holiday… but one starts to temper… with each lost strand of hair maybe… that’s the smallest unit of measurement I can get it down to…

Next morning, the village rose as usual and so did we… heading out with the head of the family… makes one wonder on the constructs of gender equality… for in most of the mountain hinterland at least, patriarchy seems as much of a façade as democracy is in the rest of the world… are gender defined roles necessarily bad?… a debate I often feel is contested with myopic perspectives… I could afford to feel like that maybe, as I walked with a male and a female shepherd on either side of me…  

From climbing to a face of Shiv Shankar peak on our horizon, we were now headed up to the valley of Shiva peak… another 6,000-er dedicated to the… blue… …god… too much liberty being taken off an already forgiving immortal, one muses… ‘twas another gentle walk up a meadow… we were casually tracing up possible routes up the surrounding peaks into Parmar valley when the clouds started sniffling up snowflakes, just enough to deem it as precipitation but otherwise quite mellow… it took us around four hours from the village to reach a big rock overlooking Shiva peak at a perfectly complete geometry… a feast of triangles… similar, congruent… right, isosceles… a landscape in its daily turmoil… while a so proclaimed civilized world below continues degenerate…

We camped around three, and waited for this freak snowfall turned drizzle turned hailstorm turn drizzle again to pass which it did in an hour… our hosts started a search for fuelwood and us guests for frames… as we hit twilight, the weather cleared up beautifully and Shiva peak gave us all its palette of colours…  blues fading into amber and then stumbling into myriad shades of purple before the stars come in two phases… a twilight trickle followed by an almost debauchery at dusk… I had a lot of failed attempts at shooting star trails on these hikes… Biru served up the most sumptuous chicken…. fried atop an oiled slab of flat rock… we slept in contentment… and in shadow of the Milky Way…

Biru and I went up till the end of the valley the next morning, from where the scree leading up to the snows of the peak began, enjoying a large, flat valley, little icicles coalescing into melting morning streams, and the skull of a dead ibex… ‘twas all downhill from here on, so we jogged down to Hudan Bhatori, and decided we’d try to cover some bit of that monster of a road from Killar to Udaipur today itself… we walked down from Hudan Bhatori to a bend in the road that had the Tundru swords, old rusty iron swords and knives stuck up on a precarious rock face… a work of superhumans, threatening bad omens on mortals that dare question its untouchability we’re told…

There was a bus to Kilar thereafter, followed by a quick booking of a forest rest house at Purthi twenty five kilometers ahead of Killar, a two hour drive that was really taxing after a long day of walking… down from meadows into this caricature of a road… we reached Purthi at around eight in the night though, and managed to get tucked in by eleven… next morning we tackled the rest of the road to Udaipur, still feeling every inch of the road, and immensely grateful once we were through, for we’d forgotten to take the car jack, and had managed to get through without a puncture… From Udaipur to Mandi then… and in Delhi the next evening…

A long glacial traverse still remains in the bucket list then… Pangi, one’d leave this experience in a corner of the bookshelf and wait for it to work its way up to the middle with the passage of time…

Pangi valley
Sural Bhatori, that quintessentially quaint Himalayan village


If I had to name just one Himalayan muse, I’d say a bumblebee


Dark clouded yellow


Pangi valley
Tingloti pass (4,700 mts), the notch to the left of centre


Pangi valley
Bhojpatra (Himalayan birch) forests are a delight in these parts


A Buddhist monastery
The monastery at Sural Bhatori


Pangi valley
Chabi waterfall


Himalayan cinquefoil


Pangi valley
A couple of kilometers of gentle walk before we crossed the river and started climbing towards Tingloti pass


Shiv Shankar peak
We climbed up to Tingloti pass with a view of Shiv Shankar (Sersank) peak, 6,100 mts), a pass near the peak leads into Zanskar valley


Pangi valley
Chabi waterfall starting to seem insignificant from above


Pangi valley
How one overestimates the power of vision, see if you can spot a small hut in the centre of the frame


Pangi valley
We hiked through some of the most pristine Bhojpatra forests


Pangi valley
As usual, the weather starts turning around noon


Pangi valley
A camp is always lush when there’s water nearby


Pangi valley
‘Twas drizzling at the camp while Sural was basking in the sun


Pangi valley
Twilight gave us the full palette of colours


Pangi valley
We spent a good two hours just staring at the changing light and hues


Pangi valley
Not climbing up to this campsite the previous day turned out to be the right decision, with all water sources frozen


Pangi valley
We tried to send Taishu back on the first day, but she came back so we let her wing it, she had a tough time in the snow after an initial bout of frolicking though


Pangi valley
The snow got deep and mushy, the going got tricky


Tingloti Pass (4,700 meters)
It took three hours of thrashing through the snow to reach the top of Tingloti pass (4,700 meters)


Pangi valley
But the downhill turned out (as it ususally does) to be more challenging


Hudan valley
 Once out of the snowline, one could look finally up at the turns of weather


Royle's pika
The one disadvantage of having a dog around was that it chased the wildlife, like this pika, away


Hudan valley
Hudan valley looked content with its daily quota of sun


Hudan valley
A pond on the outskirts of Hudan Bhatori, used for village ceremonies and celebrations


Pangi valley
Ceremonial stones near the pond


Hudan valley
We crossed the river on the outskirts of Hudan Bhatori and started climbing up after a shepherd camp


Pangi valley
As we were enjoying the meadows, the weather was slowly turning


Pangi valley
It started snowing around 1 pm, but thankfully it was quite weak and we were almost near the camp


Shiva peak, Pangi valley
We were treated to a sumptuous sunset over Shiva Peak, another 6,000-er, first the snow cone lit up


Shiva peak, Pangi valley
And then one last hurrah from the sun


Shiva peak, Pangi valley
Before twilight created more magic


Pangi valley
‘Twas a sunset feast galore, any side one looked


Pangi valley
A clear night, and a cold and crispy morn


Pangi valley
The guide and I decided to walk till the end of the valley


Shiva peak, Pangi valley
We sauntered through the meadows for a while, soaking in the morning


Pangi valley
This trip was all about habitat shots when it came to wildlife, I’d left the telephoto lens at the camp so could only frame the marmots as a tiny speck in the centre


Tundru swords
Tundru swords are a bunch of metal stuck atop a pretty steep rock face



Day 1: Delhi – Keylong, 660 kms, 14 hr drive

Day 2: Keylong – Killar, 130 kms, 6 hr drive

Day 3: Killar… couldn’t move… raindrops keep falling on my head…

Day 4: Killar (2,600 mts) – Sural Bhatori (3,410 mts), drive up to 2 kms before Dharwas village, walk for a while, hitch a truck ride – 30 kms, 3 hrs… visit Chabi waterfall 3 kms from Biru’s campsite…

Day 5: Sural Bhatori (3,410 mts) – Camp below Tingloti pass (4,010 mts), 5 kms, 3.5 hrs

Day 6: Camp below Tingloti pass (4,010 mts) – Tingloti pass (4,720 mts) – Hudan Bhatori (3,520 mts), 7 kms, 10 hrs

Day 7: Hudan Bhatori (3,520 mts) – Shiva peak base camp (4,110 mts), 7.5 kms, 4 hrs

Day 8: Shiva peak base camp (4,110 mts) – Base of Shiva peak valley (4,300 mts) – Shiva peak base camp (4,110 mts) – Hudan Bhatori (3,520 mts) – Tundru swords (3,423 mts), 15 kms, 7 hrs, drive back to Killar and onward to Forest Rest House at Purthi

Day 9: Purthi – Udaipur – Mandi, 270 kms, 7 hr drive

Day 10: Mandi – Delhi, 440 kms, 9 hr drive


A week in Pangi valley, Himachal Pradesh, Sep – Oct 2022

Author: Parth Joshi

Mountain lover ⛰️ | Hiker 🥾| Runner 🏃‍♂️ | Cyclist 🚴 | Photographer 📷... allured by the outdoors, the author is a quintessential lost soul craving nature while suffering in a desk job...

1 Comment

  1. Parth ji,

    Such a good feeling to read your travel experienc. Read a good blog after a very long time… Pangi is my native village and I’m always delighted to read views from travellers like you.

    Ashish Rana
    North Deodar Camps, Kasol

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